UNHCR Transfers Deputy Representative after Government Complaint

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The UNHCR has decided to transfer its deputy representative of Ethiopia, Mathijs le Rutte, after receiving complaints from the Ethiopian government. 

According to BBC Amharic, who reported the news, Rutte, who has been serving as deputy head of the organization in Ethiopia for the past year and two months, will be moved to a new country. 

BBC, who talked to employees of the organization and government sources, reported that the decision to transfer Rutte to another country came after complaints made by the Ethiopian government and that complaints is related to the crisis in Tigray Regional State. 

Since 2003 Mathijs le Rutte has been working as a protection officer for the UNHCR in Chad, Switzerland, Lebanon, and Senegal before becoming Deputy Representative in Ethiopia in 2020. He has a degree in International law

In addition to the Deputy Representative, the Ethiopian government had also lodged another complaint against one high female official at the Agency.

In the investigation conducted by the BBC from staff members and other sources, the individual is a senior coordinator of the Agency’s activities related to internally displaced people, and Rutte held the fifth highest position at the organization.

“In general, we have logged complaints on several staff members at the UN refugee agency. We believe that these workers did not meet the political neutrality required of them, “a senior anonymous Ethiopian government official confirmed to the BBC.

The senior government official added that the issue of neutrality was raised on the worker’s activities related to the conflict in Tigray Region State.

The UNHCR also has confirmed complaints have been received on the deputy representative.

“Officials of the Ethiopian government have submitted their complaints on one of our colleagues,” the organization said in an email response to the BBC.

“The Agency has transferred the individual, but this move is linked to the structural improvement work, which we have already been working on,” UNHCR added.

Aid agencies had stated that more than 70 thousand people crossed the border into Sudan following the military crisis in Tigray, while hundreds of thousands were reportedly displaced in the region.

After the Federal Government announced the end of the war after the army took control of the regional capital, UN institutions and other aid agencies have been demanding the opening of an undisclosed line of humanitarian assistance in Tigray.

Following the request, the government allowed aid agencies to enter the region and provide support to residents.

In addition to the residents of the Tigray region who are exposed to various problems in the conflict, Tigray is home to Eritrean refugee camps such as Shimelba and Hitsats that are supported by the UN refugee agency.

The UNHCR released its report last week after gaining access to the Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region for the first time since November 2020, amid ongoing security concerns.

In its visit, the aid agency found both camps completely destroyed and all the humanitarian facilities looted and vandalized.

In Hitsats, most of the shelters in an area known as zone A and UNHCR’s offices and staff guest houses were found burnt to the ground. The mission also confirmed what satellite imagery and accounts from refugees had indicated at the beginning of this year.

Of some 20,000 refugees that lived in the two northern camps of Hitsats and Shimelba prior to the crisis, more than 7,000 have either made their own way or were assisted by Ethiopian authorities to reach the other two Eritrean refugee camps, Mai Aini and Adi Harush.

In its report, the UNHCR had stated that it is deeply concerned for the well-being of the Eritrean refugees who had been residing there, all of whom have fled the camps.