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Some fear arrest on arrival

The Ethiopian and Norwegian governments have reached an agreement to facilitate what they call a voluntary return of rejected Ethiopian asylum seekers currently residing in Norway. However, the two countries admitted that the agreement which entered into force on January 26th would also be applied to force a departure of rejected Ethiopian asylum seekers who wish to remain in Norway.
The signed Memorandum of Understanding lays down the basis for ‘a closely coordinated, phased, dignified and humane process of assisted return for Ethiopian nationals residing in Norway,’ says the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). “This is primarily in respect to a voluntary return and to the importance of a safe and dignified return and sustainable re-integration into their communities in Ethiopia.”
“The agreement can also be applied to those rejected asylum seekers who have no protection or compelling humanitarian needs to justify prolonging their stay in Norway, but who nevertheless continue to refuse to avail themselves of the option of a voluntary return and who may be ordered to leave Norway,” also said MoFA in a weekly statement released on February 3.
The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa says the agreement concerns both current and future Ethiopian nationals who may opt for a voluntary return to Ethiopia after a final negative decision by the competent Norwegian authorities on their asylum claims.
Some Ethiopian asylum seekers that would be affected by the latest agreement have been protesting since the news of the two governments’ negotiation for such an arrangement surfaced a year ago.
Some Ethiopians staged a hunger strike at Oslo Cathedral protesting against the Norwegian Immigration Bureau’s handling of their cases, reported various media outlets in Norway.
According to one report close to a hundred Ethiopians defied the cold, snowy weather to take part in a demonstration, chanting ‘justice’ in front of the Norwegian parliament last year.
“Our country is under the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi. We are here in Norway because we fear for our lives as our government is not a democratic one”, Solomon Zegeye, a representative of the asylum seekers, told reporters there, according one report.
Some of the asylum seekers say they could be arrested on arrival in Ethiopia and prefer to be transferred to a third country. However, under the latest arrangement they will be brought here regardless of their wish.
A total of 10,100 people applied for protection in Norway in 2011 and more than half came from Africa, says the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration. Most African asylum seekers came from Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
Most of the 510 Ethiopian applicants stated that they sought protection from the authorities in their home country, according to the directorate. “There were also relatively many female asylum seekers from Ethiopia compared with other countries,” explains the directorate.
150 Ethiopian asylum seekers received consent to remain in Norway during 2010, while 314 had their applications rejected.
“There are offers related to reintegration as part of the bilateral agreement,” said the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa in an emailed response to Capital’s quires about aide to those who may consent voluntary returns.
The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration says people who return voluntarily will not have to pay the cost of the trip and will not be accompanied by the police.  “The Norwegian authorities would like more people to choose to return home voluntarily. That is why the financial support offered to people from most countries was doubled to up to NOK 20,000 (approximately 60,000 birr),” says the official website of the directorate.
While Oslo’s latest moves of curbing the number of immigrants are being criticized by some rights groups, it is unclear why Addis Ababa is cooperating for the initiative.
“The agreement further enhances the bilateral ties between Norway and Ethiopia, and the two parties are cooperating closely and responsibly for its implementation,” said the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa.