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Asmara profiteering from human misery

Ahmed Abdul    03-02-16

The agony of Eritreans has long been a topic of discussion among the international community. The brutality of the regime, the viciousness of its officials and the tribulations of the people had earner the tin African country a nickname: Africa's North Korea.

Africa's North Korea is no ordinary country. It is characterized by every form of maladministration, rights abuse, and violation of international law, among others.

The scale of the suffering is undeniably demonstrated by the ever increasing number of Eritreans flooding that country and hosted as refugees and asylum-seekers in Ethiopia and elsewhere, who according to UNHRC, were "fleeing an intensified recruitment drive into the mandatory and often open-ended national service". As UNHCR's statement described last year:

Most of the Eritreans arriving in Europe have travelled, initially, via Ethiopia and Sudan. These countries have also experienced a dramatic increase in arrivals, including large numbers of unaccompanied children. More than 5,000 Eritreans crossed into Ethiopia during the month of October alone, compared to the average of some 2,000 arrivals per month since the beginning of the year. About 90 per cent of those who arrived in October are between 18 – 24 years old. Seventy-eight children arrived on their own, without an adult family member. The trend seems to continue with more than 1,200 Eritreans having arrived in Ethiopia during the first week of November.

It is estimated five thousand people flee Eritrea each month, mainly to neighboring nations. According to a report, "in October 2014 the registered refugee population was 109,594 in Sudan and 106,859 in Ethiopia. The total Eritrean population of concern to UNHCR in mid-2014 was 357,406 – depending on estimates of the current population, this would constitute between 6 per cent and 10 per cent of the national population".

The suffering is multifaceted. Besides, to the difficulties that are common to refugees in general, they face criminal attacks on their routes, which include kidnapping, selling and re-selling of individuals among smugglers and traffickers who ultimately demand ransom money from them or their families.

Sadly, the regime, which forces these people to flee their homes, is also profiteering from their migration as well. This was indicated in several reports of the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea that Eritrean officials receive payments from the he trafficking of Eritreans and ransom money being paid to those officials. In its 2013 report, the Monitoring Group stated that:

“The kidnapping, ransom and extortion of Eritrean migrants by human trafficking rings is a complex business involving a number of parties. The Monitoring Group has attempted to obtain evidence of extortion payments for which Eritrean agents are the direct beneficiaries in order to demonstrate, as clearly as possible, the continuing involvement of the Government of Eritrea in this trade."

These observations were corroborated by the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea last year. The report reaffirmed that:

"It is assessed by some researchers that between 2009 and 2013, 25,000 to 30,000 individuals were victims of the Sinai trafficking; approximately 90 per cent of them are believed to be Eritreans. This high percentage is explained not only by the preponderance of Eritreans using the Sinai route but also by the fact that Eritreans are seen as the most lucrative of victims.

It has also reported that the Eritrea diaspora network has become known for paying higher ransoms than any other national groups. These requests for Eritreans can reach 50,000 USD per person; sometimes victims are sold a number of times and released only through the payment of progressively higher ransoms, (sometimes ransom have been paid for people who were dead by the time the money was demanded or delivered).

All along the Eritrea regime have been denying these charges. In fact, it has been accusing neighbor countries and the UN for the migration. For example, Eritrea's Ambassador to the United Nations, Girma Asmerom, speaking on the Tigrigna language radio service of Voice of America (VOA) last year, claimed the efforts of Ethiopia and UNHCR to shelter and feed Eritrean refugees was "a money collection scheme."

According to his government's opinion, the refugee camps as "illegal." He said: "when Ethiopians cross into Eritrea we don't put them in camps, we let them move freely. Ethiopia should do the same."

On one side, that seems a confused statement from a regime of indefensible acts. On the other hand, the suggestion seems indicates the Asmara regime wants the refugees to go to Libya and Sinai en masse. But why? Was it just because the regime is irresponsible government and cares little about the security of its people or is there something else? Is it really profiting from the human trafficking on the routes to Sinai and Libya?

The new report by IGAD has solved the mystery for once and all. As the report revealed:

"one NGO official based in the region for a significant amount of time alleges that some remaining diplomatic personnel profit from the irregular migration routes, by charging “fees” to negotiate the release of people from detention centres. Two eyewitnesses appeared to corroborate these allegations when they reported that they have seen high-profile smugglers at the Eritrean embassy in Tripoli.

"Some prominent Eritrean human smugglers appear to be unconcerned that their own government might take action against them [the] make frequent trips to Eritrea.

"A number of known smugglers also appear to rely upon the services of Eritrean diplomats abroad.....Several individuals interviewed for this study also reported visiting the Eritrean embassy in Tripoli during the course of 2015, despite having left their country illegally."

These are adequate demonstrations of the role of the Asmara regime in the human trafficking network. It also explains why the regime has so far refused to crack down on smuggling networks, control its border and cooperate with UNHCR, IGAD and neighbor countries to curb human trafficking.

Instead, the regime makes nonsensical arguments that about letting people free, not maintaining refugee camps, "money collection schemes", etc. When it has no pretexts left, it talks about conspiracy theories.

The disguise could no more mask the reality. The reality is that the regime is deeply involved in the human trafficking network, thereby profiting from human sufferings and undermining international security.

It is high time the international community steps up the pressure on the tyrannical regime in Asmara both to improve the lot of Eritrean youth and the region in general.

Now is the time for the world to stop this abominable conduct of Africa's North Korea.


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