Tigray: What happened when Eritrean troops captured the refugee camps of Shimelba
According to a witness who was an Eritrean refugee in the Shimelba camp in Tigray Eritrean troops entered the camp on 17 November at 14:00 hours. In the previous days, from 15/11 to 17/11, people from the Hitsats refugee camp came to the Shimelba refugee camp.
The witness says that the Eritrean fighters collected all the young refugees. They took us for a meeting and told us “we control 80% of Tigray. We fight to control Mekelle. Now we control this area.”
The Eritrean troops that entered Shimelba stated on the 21th of November that “The Government of Eritrea forgives all of you and you can go back to your country.” They also told us not to leave the camp, because we would be shot, killed, says the witness: “anyone who goes outside will be our enemy and you must inform us if someone leaves the camp. Otherwise hard punishment will follow.”
According to the report, refugees “remained silent” when asked if they would return to Eritrea. The Eritrean soldiers then went from house to house to ask each of the refugees. We told them “We do not want to go, if we are to go then the Red Cross can take us, not the Eritrean Government.” The members of the Shemelba Refugee Committee gave them this message, so they were blamed.
Then there was a curfew set by the Eritrean soldiers, who were taking things by force from the shops in the camp and moving around in the camp. From the 23rd of November they started to arrest people in the camp. On the 25th of November, the chairman of the Refugee Committee was arrested together with two other members of the committee, including two singers, said the witness.
The witness says that the chairman of the youth club was arrested; the chairman of the youth club disappeared or escaped. They arrested four women and their children: “We do not know why. In the evening seven children were arrested, and again we did not know why. They disappeared.”
During this time from 28/11 – 17/12 nine children died. Six persons near zone 1 in Shemelba were killed and 5 refugees who had come from Hitsats were killed and one Tigrayan who was in the camp.
“The six people that were killed were put in front of us”, says the witness, “They were together in one hole and they shot them from the back of their head. You could not recognise their faces. They had been kicked in their faces.”
“On 17 December there was fighting between Eritrean troops and the Tigray troops. At that time they were arrested and the situation in the camp was very bad. They kept us for many hours. They killed many animals and also people. We saw corpses on the way on the ground. No one of them had weapons, they were wearing normal clothes. Near Shemelba they threw many bodies.” he states.
The witness states: “There are fruit gardens and in one of them they threw 23 persons in a well. There were many bodies in the well and the smell was very bad.”
“On 17 December we were collected, the last group to leave Shemelba” the witness states, “we were more than 300, the last group to be arrested. They took us to Shiraro. We were there until 25 December. Then they took us to Badme, to take us to Eritrea. We were arrested before they told us, we will take you to Eritrea. The guards were very tough.”
In May Hansi five pregnant women delivered babies between May Kohli and Shiraro and we didn’t know what happened to them, the witness states.
The witness says that just before they arrived in Badme a shoot out started and in the chaos they were able to escape: “some to the West, some to the South. Even soldiers were running to different places.”
The group of four that escaped together reached Shiraro, one of them wounded and they went to the Christian church where someone gave them some “small money”, also in the mosque they received some food and then traveled to Shire. The group arrived in Mekelle on 28/12.