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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1798

Senator MISSEN —I question the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs about recent reports that the largest refugee camp in Ethiopia-a food, child, nutrition and medical centre run by four relief agencies at Ibnat-has been burnt and its 50,000 inhabitants forcibly evacuated by Ethiopian Government troops? Has the Government been able to assess the extent of this disaster and the veracity of the Ethiopian Government's claim that the refugees were sent home to take advantage of recent rains? Secondly, do Australian Government inquiries indicate whether the allegations of relief agencies that many of the refugees are sick and that as many as half will die as a result of the Ethiopian Government's action are correct? Thirdly, does the Australian Government have any information in relation to Australian Associated Press report of 9 May that talks between World Vision and the Ethiopian Government have resulted in the establishment of a new reception centre at Ibnat for drought victims? Is the Australian Government involved in this in any way? Fourthly, is the Australian Government aware of most recent claims that because of lack of food, shelter and basic camp facilities at Ibnat there is a great danger of an outbreak of disease in epidemic proportions?

Senator GARETH EVANS —My latest brief on this is dated 6 May so I may have to supplement responses to Senator Missen's later questions with further and better particulars. However, as to the reported destruction of the feeding centre at Ibnat, I can say that the Government is aware of reports that some 58,000 people were driven out of the relief feeding centre at Ibnat in Gondar province in Ethiopia by Ethiopian Government forces and that a number subsequently died. The Government is also aware that the Ethiopian Government stated on 4 May that the evacuation of Ibnat was voluntary and that those leaving the centre were provided with food, seeds and farming equipment.

The Australian Government is deeply concerned by reports of forced relocation of residents of the Ibnat camp and its reported destruction by the armed forces. Such action can have only an adverse impact on governments and public opinion in donor countries and international relief agencies. Australia understands the need for people living temporarily in relief centres to be able to return as soon as practicable to their homes. However, the Government would be seriously concerned if people were forced to leave relief centres without adequate food supply and without proper rehabilitation help. Obviously we regard it as important to avoid any actions that might worsen the plight of famine victims in Ethiopia.

Australia shares the concern of other Western donor governments over this incident and will be associated with representations to be jointly made by a number of Western and other donor governments in Addis Ababa to the Ethiopian Government. I am not sure whether these representations have actually taken place-and I will supplement the answer in that respect-to inform the Ethiopian Government of the dismay and concern felt by governments and public opinion in donor countries, to seek assurances that there will be no recurrence of such an incident and that every effort will be made to ensure that relief supplies are made available to those displaced persons.

Senator MISSEN —I ask a supplementary question. Will the Minister investigate the further allegation that a further camp has been set up and that because of lack of facilities there is likely to be a further outbreak of disease?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I will follow that matter up too.