Ethiopians flee Djibouti as coronavirus cases rise

Ethiopia is imposing tighter controls at its border with Djibouti after authorities noticed an unusual spike within the number of returning nationals from the Red Sea nation.

Officials said they were guarding against importation of the coronavirus from Djibouti, which has seen quite 1077 cases thus far , the most important tally within the Horn of Africa.

They also said the returnees tried to enter Ethiopian territory illegally.

In recent days, many Ethiopians residing in Djibouti have illegally crossed the border, raising concerns among Ethiopian health authorities.

The mass exodus from Djibouti comes after the tiny nation saw a rapid spike in Covid-19 cases.

Djibouti, by Tuesday, had only two deaths and 477 recoveries. But the increase in infection tally has jolted neighbouring Ethiopia which has 131 confirmed cases thus far .

Ethiopians flee Djibouti as coronavirus cases rise
Health Extension workers of the Ministry of Health measure the temperature of a woman during a door to door screening to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus in Addis Ababa , Ethiopia, on April 20, 2020. PHOTO | MICHAEL TEWELDE | AFP

Those numbers are a results of a ban on international flights, tight quarantine conditions and restricted land border entry points.

Late in March, Ethiopia closed land borders with six neighbouring countries, affecting movement and border trade.


The illegal entry of migrants has become a replacement challenge for Ethiopia because it further complicates the country’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

The migrants are entering Ethiopia through three adjacent regions without being screened and in breach to the mandatory two-week quarantine.

As a result, bordering regional states have began to establish quarantine centers at border crossings.

A report by state-affiliated media Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) cited Lemlem Bezabih, Head of the Dire Dawa City Health Office, as saying that the office is functioning with community members to tackle the challenge.

According to Ms Bezabih, a number of the illegal returnees have tested positive for Covid-19 and her office is tracing individuals who had contact with them.

The health official admitted that the illegal entry of migrants from Djibouti has negatively impacted prevention efforts taken thus far .

Despite limitations in terms of controlling illegal entry to Ethiopia from Djibouti, regional doctors have intensified containment efforts and surveillance against individuals who had contact with Covid-19 patients.

Last week, Ethiopian authorities said that that they had quarantined over 300 illegal migrants and try to trace others during a bid to stop a possible community spread.


It is not yet clear if Ethiopia is trying to repatriate citizens stranded in countries hard-hit by the worldwide pandemic.

Reached by phone, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Nebiat Getachew said he couldn’t comment as an outgoing spokesperson.

Ethiopian Ambassador to Djibouti Abdulaziz Mohammed declined to comment.

As Ethiopians in Djibouti take desperate measures to return home, crossing borders on foot, some residents of Addis Ababa stressed the necessity for the govt to repatriate nationals.

“Ethiopian Airlines is transporting stranded passengers across the planet in charter flights while ignoring own citizens including those nearby in Djibouti,” said Seyoum Tsadik, owner of a construction company.

“Ethiopian Airlines shouldn’t only specialise in its business. it's the responsibility to repatriate citizens during these difficult times."

Under charter flights, the airline has recently flown Americans and Canadians from Lagos in Nigeria to the US and Canada.

It has also flown Peace Corps from African countries to the US and cruise liner crews from the US to the Philippines.

“Ethiopian Airlines has got to rescue every Ethiopians first," said Azeb Teka, who lived in Saudi for eight years as domestic worker.

“Ethiopian embassies across the world should arrange repatriation for citizens in desperate need."


According to an Al Jazeera report last week, the jump in coronavirus cases in Djibouti is due to challenges in mass testing and defiance to precautionary measures including lockdowns.

Until Saturday, Djibouti, with a population of but a million , had conducted about 11,431 Covid-19 tests, about an equivalent number as Ethiopia, which has quite 100 million people.

In just fortnight , Djibouti has recorded a seven-fold increase in cases.

Last Thursday, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that with 98.6 cases for each 100,000 people, Djibouti has the very best prevalence on the continent.

Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh has warned the general public against defying the government's measures to contain the spread of the virus.

"The confinement has not been respected by everyone and unfortunately many of our compatriots still take this disease lightly," Mr Guelleh said during a televised address to the state last week.

"You still circulate, not observing minimum distances, not isolating yourselves and spreading the disease. If this behaviour doesn't change, i will be able to take even tougher measures. this might go as far as a curfew, which might be the sole thanks to stop the spread of this virus."

Djibouti may be a strategic location because it connects the Red Sea and therefore the Gulf of Aden, and hosts the military bases of several world powers.
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