Clampdown on street children, beggars using coronavirus as an excuse, witnesses

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  • Minister of Labor and Social Affairs says it is part of an initiative to rehabilitate children, beggars

The Ethiopian government has launched a massive clampdown on streets children and elderly beggars in the capital using coronavirus as an excuse, a number of witnesses told Ethiopia Observer.

Security forces are routinely and arbitrarily rounding up street children and elderly beggars in various parts of Addis Ababa, and boarding them in buses to take them to alternative accommodation elsewhere in the capital and other parts of the country, according to multiple sources and eyewitnesses.

The clearing up of areas such as Piazza, Tewodros Square, St.George Church, the National Theatre, Ghion Hotel, was ordered by the Addis Ababa City Administration and Addis Ababa mayor’s office, it was said.

Child rights workers say there are more than 80,000 children and thousands of other elderly vulnerable people living on the city’s streets.  “They are telling us we must go back to where we came from. They say we would spread contagious diseases,” said a 14-year-old boy. Zema 16-year-old girl: “They have taken many among us and have taken them to detention centers.”

A street vendor in the Addis Ababa Municipality area said he has seen disproportionate police harassment of youths, elderly people children. “The removal was not done with the individual’s approval and some of them had already left in the knowledge that the clearing up was imminent,” he told Ethiopia Observer.”They might have sought refuge in other nearby areas,” he added.

The Amhara region Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs announced on Saturday that five buses filled with children and other vulnerable peoples from Addis Ababa have been “damped” in parts of the region, “with the claim they asked to be returned to their families.” “Now we are forced to shelter two hundred of them in Bahir Dar University’s Yibaba Campus. We are concerned that they were transported without the necessary care in view of the coronavirus outbreak, » the bureau said on a Facebook post.

Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Ergoge Tesfaye

However, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Ergoge Tesfaye told Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation that the measure is part of an initiative to rehabilitate 22 thousand children, mothers with children, youths and the elderly by signing an agreement with 27 non-governmental organizations. She said the project is being implemented in Addis Ababa, Dessie, Mekele, Hawassa, Harar, and Gambella. “The project has been in the pipeline for some time but now it being accelerated with the outbreak of the virus,” she said. Ergoge was quoted as saying that in order to avoid the risk of coronavirus contamination, the operation is being implemented with caution.

The removal of homeless people from urban areas and relocating them elsewhere has been tried many times under different regimes and has proven often problematic, specialists say. “If it does not go along with other measures, social protection, job opportunities, skills training, land access many are likely not to adapt well and to come back,” a social anthropologist told Ethiopia Observer.

Main Image: Street children beg on the streets of Addis Ababa recently. Photo Ethiopia Observer

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