There is this inexplicable weirdness about Eritrea and it’s been there all the time. It is a country, per head of its population, one of the nations that exports the highest number of refugees while whatever is happening within its borders is always explained away as something that has be dealt with or accepted for reasons or treasons of national security.
On the media front, it is probably the only country in Africa with no independent media and the highest number of journalists dying and rotting in prison for almost nine years while a few more are added now and again. Even those who used to be employees of government-run media have met the same fate. It is a country where no foreign correspondents are allowed except for those who take the risk to do an interview with the deluded President who seems hell-bent to show his contempt for openness by blaming and treating everyone as a threat to Eritrea’s very existence but whose survival he refers to remains to be seen.
By the end of 2009, it has even managed to be included on the UN Sanctions blacklist.
“For what?” one might ask. It was for supporting a Somali insurgent group and violating the national borders of Djibouti. Governments do plant or generate conflict within or outside their ‘jurisdiction’ to ignite various denominations of national passion on grounds of national security to shift attention from much more pressing local issues or to cover up incompetence and that is exactly what has been going on in Eritrea for quite some time now.
The irony is, while most people are aware what the word ‘Somalia’ signifies, almost none ever heard about Eritrea. You can try it on anyone and take your chances. Just say Eritrea and all they will say is, ‘what?’ or ‘what is it?’ It is not even a question of ‘where’.
In spite of being so tragically unknown, Eritreans refugees have crossed their borders to travel as far as Australia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Libya, Egypt, Israel, the Middle East as a whole, Europe, USA, Canada and even to countries in Latin America.
What a trajectory! What an achievement for a country with an estimated population of 5 million and a standing army of at least 300,000 with an absolute minimum income while they are literally used as ‘slave labour’ in any government project as part of their obligation to national military service that is not limited to any number of years.
There is always that level of acceptance burdened with the hope that if one is given some space to maneuver, things might improve. But there comes a time when it rises beyond tolerable limits. That is where the Government of Eritrea has, yet again, upgraded itself to achieve new heights of belligerence to the outside world coupled with absolute contempt to its own people.
And why wouldn’t anyone take action and decide to flee such conditions in their own country and become refugees in another? It is most reasonable thing to do. The big question is how does one stop or discourage such events from happening again and again.
Unfortunately, it is always in the hands of all sorts of governments who, by the way, take national interest/security quite seriously while turning a blind eye to repressive regimes (like the Government of Eritrea) and complaining about refugees crossing their borders or landing on their shores.
The Rate of Refugee Influx
As it is, the world is changing right in front of our eyes while our pace of adjustment is lagging so far behind. This is true for every nation on this planet... it is a global thing. While migration is a natural phenomenon, it is immigration that poses itself as something not easy to deal with. People do move from place to place for all sorts of reasons. But, for fear of going out of context and out of bounds here, let’s focus on Eritrea.
There are Eritreans out there who managed to leave their country by paying huge amounts of money to Eritrean military or government officials to cross to the Sudan or acquire a visa to board a plane from the capital Asmara to wherever the flight takes them. There are also those who try on foot and attempt to cross the Ethiopian or Sudanese borders at the risk of being shot or spend years in prison if caught.
It has been going on for quite a number of years now and yet, western governments, the UN, EU and the African Union took quite a long time to take action and whatever action has been taken is not enough.
Eritrea is extremely good at exporting its human resource with the audacity of incessantly declaring its commitment to self-reliance and, to add insult to injury, it puts on the mask of national security and territorial integrity as an added value – not a tasty combination of contradictions. The sad part is some Eritreans can easily swallow and digest that faulty line of self-delusion with that passion of a patriot – a kind of nationalism that has lost the very ground it was supposed to stand on – without even chewing.
On the other hand, over the decades and depending on their circumstances, there are the nations of the western world and neighbours of Eritrea that have been open to a massive influx of Eritrean refugees.
A friend and a member of a dissident group of Eritreans based in London, relating a story about their encounter with a Foreign Office civil servant in London, has the following to report. He says: after listening to our lament on what is and has been going on in Eritrea, the civil servant reveals his overall knowledge about what is happening and provides details we were not even aware of. At the end of the session, all we got in response was to stay assured that the British Government is following developments in Eritrea and that it will act accordingly.
That is the UK Government talking with the Labour Party in power.
In view of the currently heightened issues on immigration and cutting public expenditure, what is the UK Coalition Government’s position on Eritrea now?
The British Government was one the prominent members of UN Security Council that voted for UN Sanctions on Eritrea back in December 2009 that would be obligatory to all members of the UN by April 2010. The US Government has even gone further to restrict Yemane Ghebreab – probably the second in command in Eritrea – to enter the United States. In early August of 2010, he manages to fly to Sweden and still has the nerve to publicly defend (in an interview conducted in Sweden) the position of his government in putting Dawit Isacc (an Eritrean-Swedish journalist) in prison for over 8 years without trial and on grounds of national security. The UN resolution is very clear on that specific area of travel restrictions and yet, there appears to be no statement and no action taken at all by the Swedish Government or any other member state beside the US Government.
There is so much talk about terrorism and refugees in the air-waves and online and it has become part of our daily bread. Eritrea seems to fit into these conditions that satisfy both requirements – as one factor obviously feeds into the other.
Take Somalia for example. For lack of a stable and responsible government for quite a long time, Somali refugees are all over the planet. Somalia has become an established base for anyone who is interested to launch all sorts of activities that endanger peoples’ lives and threatens international businesses and national securities. What is interesting here is that the UN Sanctions on Eritrea are primarily informed by associations of the Government of Eritrea to insurgent groups in Somalia who are not interested in the stability of Somalia. What is more interesting is that while Somali insurgents act in an extremely visible manner (as in claiming responsibility, among other subversive activities, for the recent bombing in Kampala – Uganda), the Government of Eritrea is so devious as to hide behind international laws on non-interference while aiding insurgents, silencing dissidents and starving its own people. The outcome is the same for both countries – refugees and instability. One is visible and the other isn’t.
A simple and obvious strategy (when it comes to Eritrea) would be to look into what the Government of Eritrea is doing even after the imposition of UN Sanctions.
According to UK Border Agency, Eritrean refugees were at the top of all asylum seekers that entered UK in 2009. The same trend is possibly occurring in Italy, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Libya and Israel.
Although conditions of reception and living conditions for refugees are different for host countries in Africa, most western governments are wired by aid and diplomatic niceties while the public awareness is confined to charitable donations and activities. Both attitudes seem appropriate on the surface but they fall short from preventing, addressing or tackling the root causes of the problem. Refugees, asylum seekers or migrants leave their home countries for various reasons. However, when the causes are as clear cut as what is happening in Eritrea, would it not much more strategically sound, less expensive and time-saving to deal with the source of the crisis rather than create social tensions in the host nation?
If refugees and asylum seekers are being upgraded to a level were they are being perceived as a threat to national identity, security, culture, employment, social values and the rest, would it not be wiser to abide by and act on the UN resolution that imposed sanctions on Eritrea? Incidentally, the Government of Eritrea is destroying the very fabric of its own economic and social asset that make a nation what it is while wrecking the values of countries beyond its borders.
Eritrea is a country that exports refugees just like any other country that feels proud to export its produce.
Eritrea manufactures refugees and is proud of it and what will it take to stop buying it?
By 2011, Eritrea’s mining prospects (valued at billions of dollars) will come to full production and it will only serve as a god-given right for the Government of Eritrea to continue and upgrade its belligerent behaviour that undermines national or international relations. It shouldn’t overlooked that these mining resources (gold, silver, tin and copper) are being developed by western companies that have absolutely no restraint by their respective governments to invest in repressive regimes.
Why would one wonder if Eritreans are fleeing their country in their thousands then?
In the meantime and to top all that, Eritrean embassies in the western world are literally reduced to money transfer establishments and fund-raising government outposts wherein festivals and national events organised year and year out. There are also those Eritreans with dual citizenship who willingly go to these ‘embassies’ to pay or give 2% of whatever income they have to the Government of Eritrea.
How can anyone make sense of that? Normally, one would come across stories about people who would go to whatever length to avoid paying taxes.
What is scarier now is that the Government of Eritrea will be boosted by a huge amount of financial input from the production of its mineral resources very soon and there will be under less pressure to have any need for its base of human resources – meaning, more refugees for other countries.