Some 528 Ethiopian servicemen, serving with the UN contingent in Sudan, refused to return to Ethiopia at the end of their tour of duty, seeking political asylum from the government in Khartoum.
The soldiers, mostly of Tigrinya ethnicity, have justified their choice claiming to fear for their freedom and safety on their return home, as a result of the arrests conducted in the recent past especially in the capital Addis Ababa.
The contingent of UNISFA, with almost 4000 men and stationed in the area of Abey, on the border between Sudan and South Sudan, was until last year mainly composed of Ethiopian soldiers, then replaced by a multinational contingent during the last months, as a result of the deterioration of relations between Ethiopia and Sudan caused by the dispute over the disputed area of al Fashaga and for the filling of the reservoir of the GERD dam, on the Blue Nile.
Within the Ethiopian contingent present in Sudan there are still a number of ethnic Tigrinya soldiers, who have declared their intention to seek political asylum and refused the order to return home.
The request for asylum has led to a legally complex case for the United Nations, which has ordered the transfer of the Ethiopian soldiers to a safe place and contacted the Sudanese authorities, who will have to decide on the asylum request made by the soldiers.
According to information gathered by the international press, which has interviewed some officers of the Ethiopian contingent, they fear the possibility of indiscriminate arrests in what they now consider a conflict characterized by an ethnic profile. Some soldiers who returned from Sudan, in fact, have been arrested or even killed – according to the version of the Tigrinya officers – who believe they represent a threat to the federal government as a result of their military training.