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Eritrea - Overview of ICRC activities in 2001-2002

10-04-2002 Operational Update



 Physiotherapy: a hands-on business  

 Helping the war-wounded and mine victims requires special expertise and skills. In March, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) organised a war surgery seminar for about 130 doctors and other medical professionals involved in helping these patients. Meanwhile, an ICRC expert is advising the authorities on providing prosthesis and orthoses for amputees and other patients in need. However, many patients also require more long-term treatment, which is why the ICRC supports the Ministry of Health in running the first-ever training programme for physiotherapists in Eritrea .

Physiotherapy makes a visible difference in the lives of patients, even those suffering from conditions which, on first sight, may appear hopeless. Jonas is a case in point: since his traffic accident one year ago he is paraplegic, meaning he has practically no control over his legs. However, after only a few days of exercises in the physiotherapy room of Asmara’s Halibet hospital he can now move himself from his wheelchair onto a bed and back. Working with the help of the young physiotherapy students being trained by the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the ICRC, Jonas is also recovering his sense of balance, discovering that he can sit up straight with his arms stretched out without falling over.

Going mobile

Physiotherapy helps to maintain and improve movement; it enables even severely disabled patients to recover some control over their bodies; and it has a positive impact on their mood. “One of the main effects is psychological, it’s in the mind”, explains the ICRC physiotherapist, Emmanouil Kokkiniotis. “The patients start to regain some of their independence of movement; their quality of life improves.”

When the MoH and the ICRC started the training programme, physiotherapy was a relatively new dis-cipline in Eritrea. For the ICRC, the main objective of the project is to ensure that war-wounded patients and mine victims in particular can get the help and assistance they need to recover from their injuries. However, the newly trained physiotherapists will also provide support for other patients like Jonas. Many of them will be able to leave hospital earlier and in better health; they will have a better chance of taking charge of their own lives again.

Students hard at work

“It’s nice to work with the patients es pecially when you can see how they improve”, says Salamawit, one of the 20 students enrolled in the second 18-month training course. 12 students completed their training in 2001, and are now working in different hospitals. Together with the others, Salamawit initially spent six months in the classroom where ICRC and Ministry of Health staff taught them the basic medical knowledge they need to have. Since then the classroom work has been complemented by practical hands-on training, dealing with real patients.

Following their exams in June 2002, the students will be assigned to different hospitals across the country.

The ICRC will provide some basic equipment needed for their jobs such as walking frames and steps and physiotherapy text-books. An ICRC specialist will also be on hand for a further six months to provide practical advice and guidance for the newly aspiring physiotherapists.


 Helping victims of conflict  


 The ICRC’s humanitarian activities in Eritrea focus primarily on helping war victims by ensuring that their basic needs are met and their personal dignity is respected. Many of these activities are carried out in close co-operation with the Red Cross Society of Eritrea (RCSE). The ICRC also works to promote awareness of fundamental humanitarian principles and International Humanitarian Law, particularly the Geneva Conventions, from which the institution derives its mandate.  

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

Working with the RCSE, the ICRC trucked water to four IDP camps in Debub, Gash Barka and Northern Red Se a zobas. In those same camps, it maintained and improved water points and distribution systems, installing generators and pumps where needed. Meanwhile, the ICRC provided about 38,000 IDPs living in camps with essential items such as soap, cooking pots and tents. The ICRC is also monitoring the shelter and

water needs of IDPs who decide to leave the camps to return home.

Vulnerable residents

The ICRC’s continues to support residents of towns and villages in the temporary security zone (TSZ). It has repaired and maintained hand pumps and water supply systems in Debub zoba. A new water distribution system has been installed in Antore in Gash Barka zoba. In Bushuka, the ICRC is trucking water for the population while a new water supply system is under construction.

The ICRC is also preparing the rehabilitation of two health stations in Antore and Awgaro.


The ICRC has been accompanying Eritreans who choose to be repatriated from Ethiopia. ICRC Ethiopia usually transports them to the border crossing at Mereb River where they are received by ICRC Eritrea to be taken safely, with their luggage, across the border. During the transit, the ICRC also assists them with food and water. Between January and March 146 Eritreans including 58 Prisoners of War (POWs) were repatriated under the auspices of the ICRC.

Following their registration by the authorities, they were given the opportunity to write Red Cross messages to their relatives abroad.

During the past three months, the ICRC also

repatriated, on a voluntary basis, 415 Ethiopians including 50 POWs from Eritrea, following exactly the same procedure. 

POWs and other detainees

In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC regularly visits Ethiopian POWs and other Ethiopian detainees held in Eritrea. The aim of these visits is strictly humanitarian – to ensure that the basic living conditions of those detained are adequate and that their personal dignity is respected. From January to March, ICRC delegates visited more than 300 POWs and 163 other Ethiopians in 17 different places of detention. When required the ICRC also provided essential items such as high-energy biscuits, blankets, soap and cleaning materials. A medical expert frequently took part in the visits to monitor the detainees’ health. 

Red Cross Messages

Between January and March, the ICRC and the RCSE collected nearly 3,000 messages sent by Eritreans to their relatives in Ethiopia and other countries. More than 3,200 Red Cross messages from Ethiopia and other countries were distributed in Eritrea.


 Promoting International Humanitarian Law  

 Raising awareness of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is a key element of the ICRC’s mandate. IHL aims to minimise human suffering during armed conflict by protecting those who are not or are no longer taking part in the fighting. The ICRC works with different groups including the authorities, the security forces and academic institutions to make sure that IHL is known and respected.  

Police training

In March, the ICRC delegation is Asmara further strengthened its relationship with the Eritrean Police Force by organising a ‘train the trainers’ workshop. The six-day course, which was attended by 12 senior police officials and instructors, mainly covered the legal framework of IHL and human rights law. It was facilitated by a specialist ICRC delegate, who, based on hi s experience as a former police official in Denmark, focused in particular on techniques for the teaching and day-to-day application of these laws. The course also included discussions of ethical and legal police conduct and the relationship between the forces of law and order and vulnerable groups such as women and juveniles. It follows on from a series of introductory workshops organised with the police last year.

Talking to students

Activities such as the police-training course are an important part of the ICRC’s mandate as the promoter and guardian of IHL. In Eritrea, the delegation has also developed contacts with the University of Asmara. A wide selection of books relating to IHL has been donated to the law department and the ICRC has been invited to make proposals as to how IHL can be integrated into the curriculum. The ICRC also gave a basic presentation on IHL to about 70 students at the school of journalism.


 A constructive partnership – the ICRC and the RCSE  

  As an organisation with strong local roots, the Red Cross Society of Eritrea (RCSE) plays an essential role in the ICRC’s activities to help war victims in Eritrea. For its part, by supporting the development of the RCSE the ICRC hopes to ensure that the humanitarian needs of vulnerable Eritreans are met in the long term.  

Co-operation now…

The RCSE is actively involved in many of the ICRC’s efforts to support people suffering because of the war. It has, for example, provided tanker trucks to ensure that IDPs living in camps have sufficient access to water. RCSE branch and headquarters staff collects and distributes Red Cross Messages, helping families separated by the conflict to stay in touch. RCSE volunteers support ICRC operations to ensure the safe transfer of Eritreans and Ethiopians across the border.

…and in future

Meanwhile, the ICRC has been building up the capacity of the RCSE, equipping it with the facilities and know-how needed to address current and future humanitarian problems. This included funding and technical advice to improve RCSE logistics and fleet management. Earlier this year, the ICRC also donated two fully equip-ped ambulances for the existing RCSE fleet, ahead of a planned full technical survey of the ambul-ance service. Moreover, the ICRC trains RCSE tracing and commun-ication personnel.


 In 2001, the ICRC in Eritrea…  

Medical activities:

· …provided more than USD 110,000 for the rehabilitation of Tesseney hospital.

· …rebuilt Forto health station (Debub zoba) and provided medical equipment. 

· …supported Ministry of Health physiotherapy training courses for 39 students.

· …organised training programmes for surgical and intensive care nurses at Halibet hospital.

· …donated drugs and materials worth about USD 157,000 for war-wounded and other patients.

Relief assistance:

· …distributed items including soap, tents and tarpaulins to some 17,000 IDP families.

· …provided essential non-food and food items to over 46,000 persons in the Senafe sub-zoba.

Water and sanitation:

· …together with RCSE, trucked emergency water to seven IDP camps addressing immediate needs.

· …r ehabilitated hand pumps and drainage systems in Debub zoba, benefiting some 22,000 people.

· …improved access to safe water for residents in Barentu, Senafe, Shambiko and Haikota.

· …supplied safe water to IDPs returning home to Bimbina, Bishuka and Antore.

Protection activities:

· …visited nearly 700 Ethiopian prisoners of war and some 2,000 other Ethiopian detainees.

· …collected and distributed some 25,000 Red Cross Messages.

· …ensured the safe repatriation of more than 23,000 Ethiopian nationals from Eritrea.

· …organised the safe passage of some 2,700 Eritrean nationals arriving from Ethiopia.

Promotion of international humanitarian law:

· …organised an inaugural IHL workshop for 25 senior police officials.

· …made presentations at the University of Asmara and supplied didactic materials.

· …promoted awareness of IHL and the ICRC among the media and general public.

· … carried out a series of information sessions on ICRC/IHL for UNMEE peacekeepers.

Co-operation with the Red Cross Society of Eritrea (RCSE):

· …provided technical advice and finance for the RCSE ambulance and First Aid service.

· …supported RCSE water and sanitation projects as well as relief activities.

· …assisted in the development of RCSE workshop and logistics facilities.

· …helped the RCSE to carry out family tracing activities.