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  • David Dijkhuis

The Tribulations After; beyond Eritrea

In my last blog post on Eritrea, I have laid out a basic assessment of the situation in Eritrea, of the eextreme poverty and the violent and repressive totalitarian regime that rules the country. This post builds on that, and explains beyond the nation itself. Because the trials of the Eritreans are far from over once they cross the border.

So, you escape Eritrea. But wherever will you go? The road out is dangerous, there are soldiers, policemen and border guards everywhere. If you get spotted by the police or any other institution of the authorities, there is a significant chance you will either be conscripted, or sent to jail. Many Eritreans attempt to flee to either Europe or Israel, both seen as developed lands of freedom and opportunity. But even if they escape Eritrea, the road out is treacherous. Most Eritreans flee to Ethiopia, where the locals and authorities welcome them and will not send them back. But Ethiopia is often not the final destination. They often make their way through the treacherous Sahara desert with minimal means, through violent and dangerous zones in Sudan, to Libya, where they are then put in camps while they wait for a chance to cross the Mediterranean, to Italy. Even if you’ve made it to Libya, the chances of survival are still extremely slim.

Treacherous Trail. / Sources: The Wall Street Journal; U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; interviews with refugees.

And after all that, if and when Eritrean refugees make it to the relative safety of Europe, they are not free from the Eritrean government. According to former Eritrean journalist Ghezae Hagos, the government still inspires fear in Eritrean diaspora;

“There is no diaspora in the world that is more afraid of a government than the Eritrean [one],” he says, explaining that the “long tentacles of the regime” suffocate “healthy community integration and development.”

The Eritrean government tries to keep its diaspora on as short a leash as possible. Eritreans are forced to pay taxes to the Eritrean government to get anything from the government, like a will or a passport. For example, the Metropolitan Police in London examined the practice of Eritrean embassies levying taxes to punish and control Eritreans in the UK.

Despite all this, the diaspora stands divided. Some are much more positive to the state than others. Many Eritrean diaspora love Eritrea, but despise the government. The governing Popular Front of Democracy and Justice has many daughter-organizations operating in nations where Eritrean diaspora reside, including the Netherlands, to keep a grip on what is happening within the diaspora. Alongside control of the embassies and of political movements abroad, the PFDJ also controls the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Since the diaspora are disunited in their attitude towards the regime in Asmara, and given the pervasiveness of the party in the everyday life of the diaspora outside Eritrea, it is hardly surprising that an air of mistrust pervades the Eritrean community.

The Dutch government is completely aware of why people flee Eritrea. Yet, there is a discrepancy between what the government says, and what the government does. The government recognizes that there is a legitimate reason to flee Eritrea, they acknowledge the trouble Eritreans have with life in the Netherlands, mainly due to the enormous differences in the way of life. Despite them knowing the difficulties that Eritrean migrants face when they find themselves amidst Dutch society, and them knowing that Eritreans complain about their lack of guidance from Dutch institutions. It seems contradictory that the SCP is aware of the problem, yet the situation most Eritreans face is still very bad. In migrant centers, many refugees are unable to even learn Dutch, don’t get stimulated in terms of activity, get served poor food and women feel unsafe. Perhaps it is time for the west to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk.

Eritreans protest next to the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. Sources: Indepthnews; Klara Smits.

The trend of talking the talk but not walking the walk extends itself much further than just the Dutch government or the western world. In 2019, the State of Eritrea became one of the 13 African nations who had seats in the United Nations Human Rights Council. According to the Human Rights Council, they are an ‘intergovernmental body within the United Nations system, responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.’ It seems perverted then, that the government of the country which ranks as one of the worst in terms of respect for human rights, the government which the same United Nations Human Rights Council described in 2015 as ‘responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labor and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country,’ is now part of that very council.

The stories coming from Eritrea are appalling and shocking. No one can better explain the experiences of an Eriteran refugee than those who have experienced it first hand. Join us on AISA's storytelling night on February 20th, from 7 to 9 PM. Further details can be found on Facebook and on Instagram.

Sources and additional readings;

"Seeking Refuge and Asylum: Surviving in Israel." Eritreanrefugees.org "Outside Eritrea looking in: a diaspora that stands divided." The Guardian, August 20th, 2015.

"Diaspora tax for Eritreans living in UK investigated by Metropolitan police."

The Guardian, June 9th, 2015.

"Niets is wat het lijkt: Eritrese organisaties en integratie." DSP-Group Amsterdam and Tilburg University, 2016.

“Why are the world’s worst violators joining UN human rights council?”

The Guardian, October 11th, 2018.

“UN Inquiry reports gross human rights violations in Eritrea” United Nations Officer of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, June 8th, 2015.

“Eritrese Statushouders nog weinig vertrouwd met Nederland” (In Dutch) Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, November 15th, 2018.

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