By Henri Fourcadis | MediaPart
I have been able to meet Eritreans on their national territory, Eritreans during their application for refugee status and after obtaining it, staff of NGOs hosting them and also Eritrean authorities in Asmara. Here is what I discovered…
First let’s begin by making a reminder of what is Eritrea. This unrecognized country in the Horn of Africa is located on the Red Sea between Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti and faces the shores of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Strategic location in this region of conflict at the gates of the Middle East and passage required to reach the Suez canal.
Eritrea since the middle of the second half of the 19th century was an Italian colony. Following the defeat of Italy in the Second World War, the United Nations decided in 1952 to federate Eritrea and Ethiopia. The latter annexed Eritrea in 1962. Thus began a war of independence that will last for decades and will end in May 1991. In 1993, independence was recognized internationally.
Since independence, some territorial disputes have emerged in particular with Ethiopia. This conflict ceased in 2000 with the Algiers agreements but Ethiopia challenged the boundary between the two States which earned a deployment of peacekeepers to the region and an arbitration of the United Nations in 2003. Ethiopia rejected arbitration and still continues to occupy a part of Eritrean territory. Many Ethiopian provocations are held regularly in this border area now a climate of tension requiring Asmara (Eritrea’s capital) to remain on the alert and to keep the country in a State of emergency despite the theoretical end of the conflict settled by United Nations agencies.
Eritrea is a country of just over 6 million people with a total area of 121 320 km2. Ethiopia meanwhile has an area 10 times larger and a population of 91 million. It is understood that the balance of power may worry the Eritrean authorities especially when Ethiopia said clearly does not accept the boundaries established by the international community and continues thereby to occupy part of the territory of its neighbor.
The Eritrean government expects an attack from Ethiopia at any time. Let us not forget the strategic location of Eritrea, by the sea, which since independence has deprived Ethiopia of a port, requiring it to pass through Djibouti to import and export by sea. Eritrea is a mountainous region with many metal deposits (gold, copper …). Ethiopia would therefore have every interest in annexing Eritrean territory as its own again.
Due to this state-emergency situation and precariousness of their independence, Eritreans are led by a regime that must be strong. Democracy is not yet possible given the influence and pressure maintained by Ethiopia with the support of some countries still in search of influence for the interests of their economies, like the United States of America. The State of Eritrea is too afraid of losing its real sovereignty by the use of these foreign powers tools of democracy (media, NGOs, political parties) to take power.
The subject can be discussed, but from a Marxist independence movement, the government is wary of the influence of the western world. The result is that the economy is weak and the country is poor. However, the government takes care of the needy, no one dies from hunger in Eritrea. The state organizes free distribution of basic commodities. School and university are free and as well as access to the health system.
Given the very weak economic activity and the state of emergency, the country and its people are in a permanent mobilization to meet the administrative needs and defense of it. Thus, each citizen of Eritrea, after a 18-month military service, is assigned to a work of public utility.A kind of paid civil service, slightly considering the means of the State, and whose duration is variable. Sometimes it can last several years.
The Eritrean government is the target of much criticism and accusations. A commission of inquiry of the Council of Human Rights (HRC) of the UN has even been set up. A damning report was presented by its chairman Mike Smith and his Special Rapporteur Sheila Keetharuth.
For several months we see in the media many Eritreans presented as fleeing the regime of their country and seeking political refugee status. Sometimes, some of the media relay the number of 5000 per month. It is a delusional number because that would mean that 1% of the Eritrean national population would flee the country every year. When one looks at things more closely and that we survey all the world, that is to say the Government of Eritrea, the “refugees” before their request for political asylum and after, and staff framing NGOs who receive them, but also the Eritrean people in Eritrea, one perceives a different truth.
Let’s start with the number of migrants. How can some organizations advance the number 5000? Well, because many African countries or countries bordering Eritrea pretend to be Eritrean, Eritreans say. Why do they do this? Just to get political refugee status because it is systematically given to Eritreans who say are fleeing from the regime. If they did not do that, Sudanese, Ethiopians and others would see themselves taken back to their countries, because of not being in “danger of death”.
You see, the situation is very paradoxical.
Very easily giving asylum to Eritreans because they say they are in danger. Their country being closed to journalists and NGOs, it is very easy for them to tell what they want. Nothing is verifiable. As the thing works so well, it’s always the same story that is told. And if anyone who wants to obtain the status of refugee is wrong in his narrative, it is common that the translator corrects himself to tell the story that has the greatest chance of obtaining asylum. If ever the opinion were not positive, it is advised to say that the translator was mistaken and to ask for another who often will know, to tell him the good story.
So why do they flee?
They are fleeing because they want to escape from the civil service. Service that can last a long time and somehow prevents them from starting their own lives to them. They are also fleeing because the economic situation is very precarious. The average wage is less than $100 per month. Young people, who have not experienced the war of independence may feel less inclined to accept the State of emergency in which they live permanently, especially because they have access to all the imagery and the Western dream by internet. Contrary to what might be imagined, Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, is filled with Internet Café giving internet access via computers or wifi. Eritreans make extensive use of Facebook. The connection is slow, but it is there and it is a window of the outside world. One can understand these young people who aspire to be something else. This also is not true of all, Many Eritrean youth prefer to stay to participate in the maintenance and development of their country.
The government is aware of this and knows that this strategy is, in part, orchestrated by its neighbor, Ethiopia, with the help of the United States. Several emails released by WikiLeaks shows clearly that the Ethiopian government maintains contact with the CIA about the destabilization of Eritrea. The CIA says to his partner how to induce the desertion of Eritrean youth. All this requires, among others, the establishment of opposition websites that boast the ability to obtain political refugee status in European countries, this coming with housing and allowance … This is why that in recent months, the Eritrean authorities organize the visit of their country and opened with caution to journalists to show the truth. They also made a tour of influential European capitals to make their voices heard. The country also seeks to gradually open up to some foreign investors: Canada, Italy, Qatar, China, UAE, Saudi Arabia … It is understandable that the US wants a piece of the cake …
This is the paradox. The more Eritreans leave their country and tell stories to obtain asylum, the more this feeds the thesis that speaks of forced labor, torture, rape..
If all this were true, why after obtaining political refugee visa, do Eritreans living abroad would pay a share of their income to support their country’s reconstruction? Why would they return to their countries to see their families, taking care not to stamp their passports at the border but a small piece of paper with the collusion of customs officers not to leave traces and risking to lose the status of political refugee? Because what refugee would return to his country if it were genuinely threatened death or torture by the regime?
These economic migrants, finally, even if they aspire to a life other than the one proposed today in Eritrea, still love their country.
As you can see, things are quite different views from this angle.
As in many African countries, why don’t the leaders of Eritrea live like kings? Why are their children doing civil service too? Why do they have small salaries? Why aren’t security forces found on the corner of every street? Why do religious and ethnic communities live together without worries? In the streets of Asmara people are smiling. Christians, Muslims and Jews meet and live together without problems. Even mixed marriages are possible. I can testify.
When the Commission submitted its report in June 2015 in Geneva, hundreds of Eritreans, who came from all over Europe, gathered to demonstrate their disapproval with the conclusions of the report. These were the same Eritreans who a few months or years before left their country by distorting their experiences in order to obtain asylum.
So there is a real injustice that is experienced by Eritrea and its people when the CHR report proposes to accuse the State of Eritrea of “crimes against humanity”. The study of this issue is scheduled for June 2016. Here’s how to destabilize a country, how to outcast of the world, because if this qualification is held, how long will it take before American and Ethiopians arrive in Eritrea to “liberate” the country?
Already seen strategy. Hopefully for the State of Eritrea and its people that this time things do not go like this.