The pace at which Eritreans are leaving the country is increasing rapidly.
With the Ethiopian border open at 18 entry points, hundreds of Eritreans are arriving daily in busses, cars and on foot.
Between 250 and 500 were reported to be crossing daily at the start of September, but the numbers are now rising.
Many are seeking asylum at the Endabaguna screening centre, which is struggling to register all those who arrive. As many as 600 a day are asking for asylum, some of them Eritrean troops, stretching the centre’s handling capacity.
It is reported that the crossings were closed yesterday (19th September). The official reason given was that this was ‘due to the security situation’. The border is said to have re-opened again today.
Eritreans registering at official centres may only be the tip of the iceberg. Others don’t bother with registration, instead going to join friends and family already living in Ethiopia.
Professor Mirjam van Reisen, of Tilberg University in the Netherlands, who was recently in the Ethiopia-Eritrea border area, is concerned the situation could escalate out of control.
“Visiting the area we saw the joy of people crossing into Ethiopia, but the numbers are now huge. This is becoming an uncontrolled flight from Eritrea. Ethiopia will need substantial international assistance if it is to cope with a major exodus,” warned Professor van Reisen.
Eritreans say they are leaving because their government has failed to institute political and economic reforms in their country. Others say they are joining family members already living in Ethiopia.
There have been long traffic jams at the border town of Zalambessa as the trade between the two countries has built up. Trucks with grain, flour and building materials are leaving Ethiopia, while electronic goods and other consumer goods are being taken in the opposite direction.