by Benjamin Abtan, President of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement – EGAM,
For the end of the oppression of the Eritreans, it is morally right and politically urgent to act.
Totalitarian system, generalized oppression of the population, national service for life, total absence of freedom, lack of means of communication, no future other than the pursuit of enslavement: this is the hell in which Eritreans people live, this is the hell that some are trying to flee.
Issayas Afeworki, hero of the war of independence against Ethiopia which lasted thirty years, became the tormentor of his people. Without a Constitution, without a Parliament, without an opposition, without elections, without free press, he governs with terror.
On the 18th of September 2001 he had his main opponents rounded up and put in prison. For the last sixteen years, no trial has taken place, no charges have been raised, and no news has reached the families. Are they even still alive?
Through Herculean efforts, some courageous people have managed to flee, eluding the sadistic vigilance of the State security. After months, sometimes years, wandering, traveling on foot, by truck, by boat, they arrived in Europe. Many have experienced torture, kidnappings and ransoms, or rapes. They all have seen friends and travel companions die.
How are those courageous survivors welcomed in Europe?
Both the most elementary morality and international law state that they should be received with dignity and should be granted refugee status immediately.
However, while asylum applications are successful in almost all cases, many delay the initiation of the procedure due to lack of information and accompaniment by the public authorities.
Moreover, those, who after several years apply for naturalization, are asked by authorities to go to the embassy of the country they have fled to obtain a passport, as necessary for the procedure. In order to do so, they have to sign a self-incriminating declaration in which they apologize for fleeing and claim to accept any punishment the government may take. As it exposes their relatives staying in the country to serious threats, many give up the process.
What is the attitude of Europe toward Eritrea?
Obsessed by the fear of seeing refugees reach the continent, the European states grants Eritrea hundreds of millions of euros, in the hope that it will prevent Eritreans from fleeing their country. Moreover, they let it extort under duress a “Tax of 2%” of the revenues of the diaspora, despite UN condemnations of it. They also reach agreements with the criminal regime of Sudan, which entrusts to the former militia responsible of crimes against humanity in Darfur the control of certain parts of the border with Libya. There, they sometimes engage with somewhat questionable actors who exploit and mistreat refugees. Wrongly, Europeans are inspired by the disastrous refugee agreement with Turkey, with devastating effects on democracy and human rights.
The consequences of that policy are the opposite to the aims sought, and contrary to the fundamental values of the European Union: the regime in Asmara has not become less totalitarian, but stronger. Thus, the reasons to flee are reinforced and the dangers to do so are aggravated. The number of departing candidates does not decrease, and the number of dead and oppressed is increasing.
In order to help Eritreans build a future of freedom and prosperity and not of suffering, enslavement and exile, a few simple key actions must be taken.
Firstly, public authorities in European countries must promptly inform the Eritreans who have reached the continent, with the aim of issuing them refugee status as soon as possible. The naturalization procedure must also be amended, so that Eritreans do not have to choose between access to citizenship and the safety of their relatives.
Next, European policies related to Eritrea must be profoundly changed, and the “2% Tax” must not be tolerated anymore, in order to stop contributing to the reinforcement of the totalitarian regime and of the oppression of its people, in particular the ones who are trying to flee.
To accomplish that, we must stop being paralyzed by the fear of seeing the damned of the Earth join Europe, and understand that the agreement with Turkey on refugees is an example to avoid, not to follow.
Finally, the families of the imprisoned opponents and anonymous ones must be supported, notably to obtain news from their relatives, for example by the sponsorship of public figures.
Opponents, activists and journalists in exile must also be supported so that a society made of diversity of opinion, vitality and freedom may be rebuilt.
President of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement – EGAM
Coordinator of the Elie Wiesel Network of Parliamentarians of Europe
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