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Ethiopia Plans to Close Eritrean Refugee Camp Despite Concerns

Ethiopia is stepping up preparations to go ahead with a planned closure of a camp for Eritrean refugees, despite concerns among residents and calls by aid agencies to halt their relocation over coronavirus fears.

Home to some 26,000 people, including some 1,600 minors, Hitsats is one of four camps in the northern Tigray region hosting nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Earlier this month, Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) announced to residents in Hitsats camp that the federal government had decided to relocate them to Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, or offer them the possibility to live in towns.

The plan has yet to be executed amid the coronavirus pandemic, but officials say preparations continue, Al Jazeera reported.

“We are ready to start the relocation at any time,” Eyob Awoke, deputy director-general of ARRA, told Al Jazeera, noting that the declaration of a state of emergency last week due to the pandemic had forced authorities “to timely adapt the initial plan.”

“External factors are hampering us but we can start with small numbers,” Eyob said, Al Jazeera reported. “Hitsats refugees are suffering a lot from shortage of water, shelter and access to electricity. Merging of these camps is mainly required to ensure efficient and effective use of available resources.”

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