Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fleeing Eritrea

Leaving Eritrea without permission is a criminal offense. There has also been a noticeable increase in controls on the Eritrean side of the Sudan-Eritrea border in the last two months. People are being intercepted and sent back. Eritrean soldiers are instructed to shoot at anyone they discover trying to leave the country illegally, a policy that hasn’t prevented thousands from fleeing across the border every month. Eritrea’s stepped up border controls may be partly related to security concerns as it celebrates 25 years of independence, but that they were also about “trying to make themselves look like a good partner” to the EU. While the majority of Eritreans remain in camps in Sudan and Ethiopia, over 70,000 applied for asylum in Europe during 2014 and 2015, according to EuroStat figures.

Authorities in Sudan have launched a crackdown on Eritrean migrants - arresting those living in the capital, Khartoum, and intercepting hundreds travelling north through the country towards Libya, the launching point for smugglers’ boats heading for Europe.

Reports that 900 Eritreans were rounded up in Khartoum on Monday and that a further 400 arrested en route to Libya have been deported to Eritrea, come amid recent revelations in the British and German media that the EU is planning to deepen its cooperation with a number of African countries, including Sudan and Eritrea, to stem migration towards Europe.

A spokesperson with UNHCR’s office in Khartoum confirmed that a number of migrants, including Eritreans, had been intercepted in northern Sudan heading towards the Libyan border. Sudan has a prior record of deporting Eritreans without allowing them access to asylum procedures, a practice that UNHCR has condemned in the past as amounting to refoulement.

The EU has increasingly sought the cooperation of African states to control the flows of migrants headed for its shores by using the promise of aid and trade agreements. Critics argue that such policies have contributed to states viewing migrants as bargaining chips to be leveraged for maximum political capital with disastrous results for their safety and human rights. Der Spiegel and the New Statesman reported on a leaked plan to increase cooperation with African countries of origin and transit for migrants. The articles alleged that the EU plans to use funding from the recently launched Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to send equipment and vehicles to help Sudan police its border with Eritrea and to assist with the construction of two closed reception centres in Gadaref and Kassala. Eritrea would be given assistance to develop or implement human trafficking regulations. Europe’s engagement with Sudan and Eritrea, and other countries along the Horn of Africa to Europe migration route, dates back to the Khartoum Process, launched in November 2014. The Khartoum process risks legitimizing the governments of Sudan and Eritrea by treating them as partners in tackling irregular migration, when in fact those countries’ own policies are a major factor in driving migration and fuelling migrant smuggling and trafficking. Sudanese officials have repeatedly been accused of colluding with or turning a blind eye to traffickers who kidnap Eritrean refugees and hold them for ransom.

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