Eritrea + 3 more

Horn of Africa: IRIN News briefs, 18 February

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ERITREA: Government, UNHCR dismiss "opposition" claims
The Eritrean government and UNHCR have denied accusations allegedly from the opposition Sewrawi Democratic Front for Eritrea (SDFE) that the decision to repatriate Eritrean refugees living in Sudan is "short-sighted" and does not care about the future of the returnees. "Organised or spontaneous repatriation has been going on for the past eight years in which some 160,000 people have returned to Eritrea," Eritrean government spokesman Yemane Ghebre Meskel told IRIN on Wednesday. "These people are usually repatriated on a voluntary basis with the help of the government's Commission for Relief and Refugee Affairs and UNHCR," he said. "It has been established that there are about 100,000 Eritreans currently in Sudan but their return all depends on whether they want it or not," he added. Ghebre Meskel also dismissed the whole report as "Ethiopian propaganda" maintaining that there is no "opposition" in Eritrea.

UNHCR, for its part, told IRIN that it is planning to go back to the country after being expelled in 1998. "It is true recently UNHCR discussed the return of its staff to Eritrea and about the refugees in Sudan," UNHCR spokesman in Geneva Jacques Franquin told IRIN. "It is UNHCR's mandate to facilitate the return of refugees who indicate the desire to do so on voluntary basis," he said. "It is true we negotiated on the possible return of the refugees, but it is untrue that we are colluding with the government and there is no evidence that the refugees could be forcefully conscripted," he added. He said the agency will redeploy staff and "monitor" the situation in the country before it can possibly facilitate any returns.

ETHIOPIA: Rebel group denies attack on MSF staff

The rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) last week said it had no doubt that it was the Ethiopian government that carried out the attack on members of Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) on Jijiga-Degeh Bur road in eastern Ethiopia on 7 February. The 'Hadas Eritrea' newspaper quoted a statement from ONLF as saying that it was the government which carried out such acts and "did not only target the Ogadeni people and NGOs, but other people in other parts of Ethiopia, as well as in the neighbouring countries". It called on the international community and NGOs to "safeguard" the security of their employees and noted that the humanitarian assistance to the area should not be hampered by "this wicked act carried out by the Ethiopian regime". The Ethiopian government blames the ONLF for the attack, the third in the last 12 months in which humanitarian actors have been targetted. The MSF car was on its way from Jijiga to Degeh Bur town when a group of 10 heavily armed men jumped out of the bush and opened fire on the vehicle. The driver was killed on the spot, the expatriate received one bullet in the chest and another in the side, and the third person had a superficial wound. The agency has since suspended operations in the area.

SOMALIA: Cholera cases and deaths reported in parts of Somalia

Eighteen people have died and 54 cases reported between 1-13 February following a cholera outbreak in Marka and Qoryooley in central Somalia, an official of the Somalia Aid Coordination Body's (SACB) Cholera Task Force told IRIN on Thursday. He denied press reports that between three to four people were dying in these areas every day. He said in Forlanini in northern Mogadishu where MSF-Spain has set up a cholera treatment centre, three deaths and 100 cases have been reported. He also said that in southern Mogadishu at the Action Contre la Faim (ACF) centre in Hirja 11 cases have been reported with no deaths. "The situation is not as alarming as portrayed by the news organisations," he said. WHO is also providing assistance to the centres.

SOMALIA: Severe food insecurity noted in some districts

Severe food insecurity has been noted in Hudur and Wajid districts of Bakol region, southern Somalia. The latest Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU)report said lack of cereal stocks and severe water shortage, in addition to the lack of social services, has worsened the situation in general. It said that information from Wajid confirmed that food aid distributed towards end-January will play an important role in decreasing the flow of people moving from Wajid towards Bay and Gedo, except those who evacuate because of water shortages. FSAU reported that the region was "relatively" calm and stable.

SOMALIA-KENYA: UNCHR begins voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees

UNHCR on Wednesday began the voluntary repatriation of about 1,000 Somali refugees from Dadaab and Kakuma camps in northern Kenya. The first of the eight UNHCR-chartered flights departed from Dadaab with some 100 refugees returning to the northern Somali sea-port of Bosasso, a statement from the agency said. It said that over the next eight days it will assist the refugees to travel to Bosasso in northeastern Somalia or "Puntland" and to Berbera in "Somaliland". "The returning refugees have each received a repatriation grant which will help them to start life anew in homes they left nearly a decade ago when civil war broke out in Somalia," the statement said. About 140,000 Somali refugees, mainly from southern Somalia, are in camps in Kenya.

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