Somalia and Sudan: Passports issued to Eritrean refugees by the governments of Somalia and Sudan (1960-1980) [ZZZ106138.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Historical Context

In 1962, Ethiopia declared Eritrea to be a province of the country, abolishing the federal entity status that the territory had previously enjoyed (BBC 10 July 2018; Last and Markakis 31 Aug. 2018), thus "giving impetus to the [Eritrean] independence struggle" (BBC 10 July 2018). The independence war, led by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), lasted 30 years (Weldemichael 22 Nov. 2013, 872). In 1993, Eritrea gained independence (BBC 10 July 2018; Last and Markakis 31 Aug. 2018). Eritreans fleeing the conflict began to arrive in Sudan in the mid-1960s, with the number rising to 500,000 in the mid-1980s (UN 29 Jan. 2002).

2. Issuance of Passports

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, Awet T. Weldemichael, an associate professor at the Department of History at Queen's University with a research specialization in the Horn of Africa (Queen's University n.d.), stated that since the 1960s, the governments of Somalia and Sudan issued passports to Eritreans (Weldemichael 12 June 2018).

2.1 Sudan

Sudan's Regulation of Asylum Act, which regulates the issuance of passports to refugees, provides the following:

Subject to the Passports and Immigration Act, 1961, the Minister in his discretion, or any person he authorises may issue a passport to any refugee who requests the same. The Minister of Foreign Affairs may in exceptional circumstances specified by him by an order, issue a diplomatic passport to a refugee. (Sudan 1974, Art. 12)

According to Weldemichael, Sudan's response to Eritrea's request for assistance in its struggle with Ethiopia manifested itself, among others, in the issuance of passports to some leaders and "mid-ranking members" of the ELF (Weldemichael 12 June 2018). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2.2 Somalia

In his book chapter on Eritrea's relations with Somalia, Hussein M. Adam [1] states that

Somali regimes have all been too willing to issue Somali passports to Eritreans, includ[ing] diplomatic passports to certain elements in the leadership. These passports allowed Eritreans to travel in search of education and jobs. … The leadership was also able to undertake travel for organizational purposes and interest. (Adam 1994, 146)

In his paper on the diplomacy of the Eritrean independence movement, Weldemichael states that

[a]s early as November 1961, on [ELF leader's Osman Saleh] Sabbe’s request, the Somali Foreign Ministry issued passports to Eritrean activists in Saudi Arabia after Ethiopia revoked their passports. Ever since then and throughout the war, almost all independence fighters trotted the globe on Somali diplomatic or regular passports. (Weldemichael 22 Nov. 2013, 879)

According to Weldemichael,

because of the geographical remoteness and linguistic and cultural differences between Eritreans and Somalis, average Eritrean neither fled to Somalia nor sought refugee status there. As such, Somalia only issued passports to Eritreans affiliated with the independence movement and whom the latter approved and for whom it actively sought Somali passports. (Weldemichael 12 June 2018)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Procedures and Appearance

Weldemichael stated that, to the best of his knowledge, the appearance of passports issued to Eritrean refugees by Sudan and Somalia did not differ from that issued to citizens of those countries (Weldemichael 12 June 2018). According to the same source,

in Sudan, ordinary Eritreans would go through the normal process that Sudanese citizen do: start at a local or provincial office with your birth certificate, identity card(s), an application form and whatever associated costs. It is not clear how members of the Eritrean liberation movement got it as they were unlikely to have had the necessary documents. I know of a handful of cases that were handled by senior government officials … .

In Somalia because all of the cases of Eritreans holding Somali passports that I am aware of involved members of the independence movement, the latter managed it through its own mechanism at higher levels of government of embassies overseas. (Weldemichael 12 June 2018)

According to the same source,

[e]arly on, Eritreans (especially in the case of Somalia) had to take on Muslim sounding names (in the event that they were Christian Eritreans with distinctly Christian sounding names). Toward the 1980s, however, Eritreans acquiring Somali passports could retain their given names or take on pseudonym that are non-Muslim or -Muslim sounding. (Weldemichael 12 June 2018)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


[1] Hussain Mohammad Adan was a Somali scholar, a professor of political science at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and a founder of the Somali Studies International Association (Hiiraan Online 16 Jan. 2017).


Adam M. Hussein. 1994. "Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland and the Horn of Africa." InEritrea and Ethiopia: From Conflict to Coopertaion.Edited by Amare Tekle. The Red Sea Press: Lawrenceville, NJ.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 10 July 2018. "Eritrea Profile - Timeline ." [Accessed 19 Sept. 2018]

Hiiraan Online. 16 January 2017. "Remembering Somali Scholar Dr. Hussein Tanzania ." [Accessed 30 Aug. 2018]

Last, Geoffrey Charles and John Markakis. 31 August 2018. "Eritrea." Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. [Accessed 19 Sept. 2018]

Sudan. 1974. The Regulation of Asylum Act 1974 . [Accessed 14 June 2018]

Queen's University. N.d. "Awet T. Weldemichael ." [Accessed 14 June 2018]

United Nations (UN). 29 January 2002. High Commissioner for Refugees. "Background Note on Eritrean Refugees in Sudan ." [14 Aug. 2018]

Weldemichael, Awet T. 12 June 2018. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Weldemichael, Awet T. 22 November 2013. "African Diplomacy of Liberation: The Case of Eritrea's Search for an 'African India' ." Cahier d'études africaines .Vol. 212. [Accessed 21 Sept. 2018]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources:Five academics specializing in history and refugee studies in the Horn of Africa.

Internet sites, including:Awate, Roma Tre University – Somali Archive; US – Department of State; UN – High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Associated documents