Ethiopia is negotiating a deal with the European Union to deport nationals without the proper paperwork back to the east African country.
The discussions include dispatching agents from Ethiopia’s intelligence and security agency to EU member states to identify people and then getting the EU to pay for reintegration costs once they are returned.
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“It is indicated that member countries would first submit the names to Ethiopia to identify and then we will issue travel documents and then the return process would then take effect,” Teshome Toga, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the European Union, told this website last week.
He said Ethiopians in Europe that had qualified for political asylum or for legal residency would not be affected.
Toga said the European Commission’s development branch, DEVCO, would finance reintegration costs and that Ethiopia would only accept nationals who agreed to return of their own free will.
“The fundamental human rights of our citizens and of course the migrants will be respected,” he said, noting that there were around 3,000 Ethiopians in Europe.
Anyone residing without legal means in Europe will have their names submitted to Ethiopia’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), however.
An internal draft copy of the agreement says interviews may be “conducted by a dedicated mission from Ethiopia, the costs of which would be fully covered by that EUMS [EU member state].”
Ethiopia last year chaired the so-called Khartoum Process to fight migrant smuggling along with a handful of regional countries and EU states. Italy has since taken over the chair.
Toga’s comments also came ahead of Ethiopia’s decision to drop charges against jailed Ethiopian opposition leader Merera Gudina.
Gudina was released on Wednesday as part of a government-led effort to smooth tensions after popular protests in 2016 that triggered a 10-month long state of emergency in the country. Several hundred others were also reportedly freed.
Arrested after addressing European Parliament
Gudina had been arrested in November 2016 upon return from Brussels where he had addressed the European Parliament.
Last summer, MEPs demanded his release along with a list of other activists and opposition leaders.
The country has jailed scores of other high-profile dissidents under repressive anti-terrorism laws, including journalists and bloggers.
Earlier this month, its prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said their release would “widen the political space” ahead of an African Union summit set for the end of the month in Addis Ababa.
But Human Rights Watch, an NGO, in its annual report out Thursday said abuses such as arbitrary detention and torture remained rife in the country.
Security forces over the years are said to have killed over 1,000 protesters and detained thousands of others. Some are locked up in secret detention centres, the NGO said.
Ethiopia’s government denies that those whom it released were political prisoners, despite allegations by human rights defenders.
But the website of Ethiopia’s embassy to the European Union itself recently published an article with the headline “Ethiopia to pardon political prisoners, shut prison”.
The article was later removed.
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