Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fleeing the Nightmares

Migration and xenophobia against those seeking a better life has dominated the news about Africa in recent months.

In a speech commemorating Africa Day on 25 May, African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma expressed her concern about the migrants who have died in the Mediterranean. 'We must address the very circumstances that lead our nationals to leave our shores...' she said.

AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, in a recent interview with the Institute for Security Studies' Peace and Security Council Report. Kaloko says the AU realises  'We have to make the member states of the AU stable and friendly to the young people who are trekking out to the Mediterranean,' says Kaloko. 'In the 1970s, I was growing up in Sierra Leone and if you asked me to migrate to Europe, I would have said no, because my country was doing well, I was very comfortable.'

Eritrea is a small country and probably would not  attract much attention if it weren’t for the fact that Eritreans account for about a quarter of the migrants trying to reach Europe and are the second-largest group by nation, after Syrians. More than 300,000 people have fled the country since 2000 and 4,000 leave each month—incredible numbers for a country of just 6 million people, despite the government’s shoot-to-kill policy at border crossings.

The U.N. Human Rights Council released a report on abuses by the Eritrean government. The East African dictatorship’s practices, include the training of children to act as spies for the regime, an extortive “coupon system” that maintains government control over nearly every aspect of daily life, and the widespread use of gruesome torture methods against prisoners. “The commission finds that the use of torture is so widespread that it can only conclude it is a policy of the Government to encourage its use for the punishment of individuals perceived as opponents to its rule,” the report states. Isaias Afwerki’s government maintains a conscription system for government service that forces citizens as young as 15 into servitude that can be extended indefinitely. Taken together the policies are designed, according to the commission, to keep the population in a state of permanent anxiety. "It is not law that rules Eritreans—but fear,” the report concludes.

Eritrean migrants are willing to face from their own governments and from transit through war-torn neighboring countries, predatory human traffickers, and the perilous voyage across the Mediterranean. The UN report states that “to ascribe their decision to leave solely to economic reasons is to ignore the dire situation of human rights in Eritrea and the very real suffering of its people. Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection.”

With the number of those making the perilous crossing regularly breaking records, it’s worth remembering what exactly is driving the exodus. 

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