The UN refugee agency has begun the resettlement in the United States of some 700 ethnic Kunama refugees from Eritrea, flying out a first group of 29 from Addis Ababa after years of exile in northern Ethiopia.
The refugees left Shimelba camp earlier this week and flew out from the Ethiopian capital on Wednesday evening after a pre-departure briefing by staff of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is handling the logistics of the resettlement operation.
The 700 due for resettlement in the United States were displaced by the 1998-2000 border war between their native Eritrea and Ethiopia. The UNHCR-assisted operation is due to last until September and the Kunamas will be flown to several US cities, including Atlanta, Orlando, Seattle and Las Vegas.
The refugees are members of a largely rural ethnic group of about 100,000 people who reside on the disputed Ethiopia-Eritrea border. They crossed into Ethiopia complaining of alleged persecution and harassment by the Eritrean government.
But she was also apprehensive. “We are just illiterate farmers from rural Eritrea and adapting to a modern lifestyle in a community whose language we do not understand worries me a lot,” she said. She hoped that her son-in-law, who speaks English, would join them soon and make life easier for the family.