On October 3, 2013, 369 Eritrean refugees were drowned off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy while crossing the Mediterranean’s sea from Libya to Italy. The international communities were disgusted and in shock. Holy Father Pope Francis expressed his sadness and put pressure on the European Governments to increase the rescue mission on the Italian coast.
In 2015/ 2016 about 10,000 refugees at a time, camped in Calais/France known as the jungle. The life in the jungle where there is no running water and no lights has exposed France and UK of their indifference to the pains and suffering of their fellow human beings.
Seeing life in the camp on their TV the reaction of the man/woman on the street was extraordinary. They expressed their anger and sorrow in rallies, demonstrations, Theatres and in songs. They mobilized people to collect warm clothing and food and delivered to the Calais.
The slogan was “Refugees Welcome”. They were extremely successful. One grass root organisation, Cal Aid, in its meeting on 22/02/17 reported that it has taken basic material worth more than £ 7 million. Today the jungle in Calais is demolished and they are doing incredible job helping refugees, mostly Syrians, stranded in Greece.
Since Lampedusa tragedy the EU started to put pressure on the Eritrean Government to improve its human rights violations.
In December 2014, the British Government sent a high level delegation to Eritrea led by James Sharp, the Foreign Office’s director of migration and Rob Jones, the Home Office’s head of asylum and family policy and secured a promise from the Eritrean Government that it will limit the indefinite national service to 18 months.
Change of policy by EU countries that threatens the safety of Refugees:
The hope of the peace and justice loving people to see the beginning of the end of repression was dashed by the EU Governments change of policy. The Eritrean Government called their bluff and refused to honour the promise of ending the indefinite national service. This is to be expected since the reason for the indefinite service is to control the youth and not because of the threat of Ethiopian invasion. Eritrea focus has pointed out this clearly in its discussion with the British Authorises in the past. The shameful reaction of the EU including the British Government is to bow to the wishes of the repressive regime to continue the indefinite national service and concentrate on preventing refugees to leave their country of origin and keep a blind eye to the gross human rights violations perpetuated by the Eritrean Government. The EU entered an agreement with the Horn of Africa countries labelled “Khartoum process” which Eritrea and Sudan are involved in which the EU will train and equip the border control guards to prevent people crossing the border. The Eritrean guards will have a free hand to step up the shoot to kill policy it has on its borders and that women and underage children have been killed and some are in prison. All these moves of EU puts the life of refugees at risk.
In addition of empowering the repressive regime the policy is undermining and ignoring the report of the (UNCOI) that “crime against humanity has been committed by Eritrean authorities and the work of International and local human rights advocates.
The decision is encouraging other countries to adopt policies against refugees. Switzerland has tighten its asylum policy towards Eritreans. The Government in Israel is starting to deport African refugees labelling them as infiltrators.
However, there are voices of protest and appeal against the new EU policy
There was a strong reaction from Amnesty International (AI), UNHCR, and International Organisation for migration (IOM) and Doctors without Borders (MSF) and many others opposing the EU policy saying clearly that it puts the life of refugees at risk.
The Journalist Martin Plaut who is monitoring the situation in Eritrea has this to say. “What the Europeans Union is doing is not only a shame; it is a political mistake of historic proportion.” Unfortunately, there is a blanket silence from the Eritrean Civil Societies justice seekers. they are conspicuous in their absence in many demonstration organised by “Welcome refugees” groups. They are supposed to be the ambassadors of the unheard, claim to be the “voice of the voiceless” oppressed people of Eritrea.
It is not too late though, the Year 2017 is a defining moment for Eritreans in Diaspora to stand up to the challenge presented to them by the Eritrean regime in collusion with the European Union. This case merits protest in the form of vigil, demonstration, writing letters and involving once MPs etc. The protests can provide the Diaspora activists with an opportunity to learn and grow by exercising their right as citizens in their adopted countries. .
However there are some initiatives of protest and letter writing, a harbinger of more to come. A demonstration has taken place in Holland exposing the Israel Government of its decision to deport African refugees. It is the duty of all Eritrean leaving in a safe place to show solidarity. It will give confidence in the activities they do to stop getting deported.
2 Eritrean organisation has written a strong letter on the Guardian protesting why Eritrea is excluded in the appeal to get humanities aid we quote “As Unicef put it: “Malnutrition rates already exceeded emergency levels, with 22,700 children under five projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2017. They are Selam Kidane Director, Release Eritrea UK, Noel Joseph Executive director, Eritreans for Human and Democratic Rights UK, Redi Aybu EHDR UK
There was similar letter in the Daily Telegraph written by Habte Hagos chairman of Eritrea Focus.
The Diaspora Eritreans can link their activities with grass root movement like “welcome refugees”, “Refugee organise”. Today “Welcome refugees” have become a formidable campaign force opposing the anti-refugee anti-immigration and Islamophobia campaigns in Europe. The refugee case is one of the burning issues which took centre stage in the European political landscape. It is time for the Eritrean Diaspora to exploit the momentum and step up their activism.
There is a new book by Mirjam van Reisen and Professor Munyaradzi titled Human Trafficking and Trauma in the Digital Era that “Sheds new light on the thriving business of human trafficking for ransom and presents findings that suggest the involvement of the Eritrean government in the trafficking. It represents a powerful material to use against the EU decision propping up the Eritrean repressive regime to perpetuate repression.
Israel is also imprisoning and deporting Eritreans to other African countries. Israeli Newspaper HAARETZ editorial says “Israel Must Provide Asylum Seekers with a solution”. To give them status that enable them to work and make a living to improve their situation and that of the wider population. It is accompanied by continuous demonstration by Eritreans, Sudanese and Ethiopians in Israel.
1. Sigal Avivi + 972 Blog Published on January 20, 2017 wrote. “The Israeli government must not withhold information from the public about the dangers faced by Eritrean asylum seekers it is planning to deport”
2. Doctors without Borders: MSF said “EU prevention policy puts Eritreans at risk of imprisonment, torture and death Monday, February 27, 2017 — London
3. In the view of Sophia Wirsching, European Union and Africa cooperation expert: compacts like this sacrifice peoples' lives and fundamental values of the EU. The interview is in German.