With the historic peace agreement signed in July, they can now cross without a passport or permit, and they don’t even have to confirm if or when they will return.

By James Jeffrey (IRIN) |

A group of Eritreans lines up outside a small, green army tent surrounded by yellow scrubland at the top of a ridge marking the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.

After having their details jotted down by bored-looking Eritrean soldiers they get back into the white minibus taking them from the city of Mekelle in Ethiopia’s Tigray region to the Eritrean capital, Asmara. As they set off, another minibus passes them going the other way.

A short time ago, such scenes were unthinkable.

After being sealed for 20 years – following growing tensions at the end of the 1990s and then a two-year war – the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea finally re-opened in September.

To escape the realities of life under President Isaias Afwerki – enforced military conscription, indefinite national service, lack of freedom of speech and movement, and the potential for imprisonment for opposing the regime – Eritreans used to have to risk everything, including a border patrolled by guards with a shoot-to-kill policy.

With the historic peace agreement signed in July, they can now cross without a passport or permit, and they don’t even have to confirm if or when they will return.

This lack of restrictions is being embraced by people on both sides, but the sudden freedom of movement has also seen a surge in asylum seekers crossing in search of new lives, placing an additional burden on Ethiopia’s Tigray region and beyond.

While arrivals have since stabilized, the unrestricted opening of the border initially led to a fourfold daily increase in Eritreans crossing and applying for refugee status. There are now around 175,000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia.

Continue reading this story at IRIN News
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