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Red Cross says keen to assist Ethiopia, Eritrea repatriation operation

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

March 1, 2010 (ADDIS ABABA) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday that it is ready to closely collaborate with Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities to facilitate the currently frozen repatriation operation, if agreement between the two concerned states is reached to resume the operation.

"ICRC is closely watching the situation and should the two countries agree to restart the process of repatriation, we as a neutral intermediary agent, are ready to swiftly re-engage in providing the assistance in accordance to international humanitarian principles" ICRC communication delegate, Umesh Kadam told Sudan Tribune.

The ICRC-assisted repatriation process to nationals from both countries was suspended early in 2009, after Eritrean authorities then informed the Red Cross that Asmara no longer was to be involved in any repatriation of Ethiopians from the Red Sea nation. According to authorities, the decision was motivated by the unilateral cancellation of two repatriation operation in late 2008 and early 2009 by Ethiopia.

Red Cross’ Ethiopia branch has expressed concern on the fate of the hundreds of stranded Ethiopians who were about to be repatriated prior to the terminated operation and who currently are believed to be sheltered in Abaguna camp of Eritrea.

"Although resumption of repatriation would depend up on the approval from both Ethiopia and Eritrea, right now the ICRC is deeply concerned about the fate of over 500 Ethiopians who were to be repatriated from Eritrea to Ethiopian on February 2009," said Umesh Kadam.

According to the Red Cross official, since repatriation planned for May 2009 was suspended there has been no green light from the side of the Eritrean government on whether to resume the process or not. He declined to comment on reasons for the decision of the respective parties.

ICRC is an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war, internal violence and provide them assistance with well established principles and rules of international humanitarian law that are aimed at reunion of families dispersed as a consequence of an armed conflict.

Red Cross has been repatriating Ethiopians and Eritreans after the two rivals in December 2000 signed an agreement to end the 1998-2000 border war that claimed the lives of over 70,000 people.

Over 43,000 people including prisoners of war from both sides were repatriated to their respective home with their full consent under the auspices of the ICRC repatriation operation that began in June 2000.

The repatriation process was conducted as a collaboration of the two governments and Red Cross officials and ICRC delegates based in the two countries.