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Switzerland has given police protection to three UN investigators into Eritrea's human rights record after a top official said they had received threats on the streets of Geneva and at their hotel.

The security measure was put in place on Wednesday, a day after the UN commission started a two-day testimony before the Geneva-based council on Tuesday.

Joachim Ruecker, the president of the council, said on Tuesday that the investigators had been subjected to "various threats and acts of intimidation in their hotel and in the streets since their arrival in Geneva".

He did not give details but said security had been redoubled, Eritrea's police had been contacted and security measures had been taken to ensure the council meeting could go on "with calm and dignity".

Sheila Keetharuth, one member of the commission, said the threats were "specific" but declined to give details.

A Reuters witness saw Swiss police guarding the team even though the meeting was held within the United Nations compound in Geneva.

The inquiry's report published earlier this month showed human rights violations in Eritrea that may amount to crimes against humanity, including extrajudicial killings, widespread torture and enforced labour.

Mike Smith, who led the inquiry, said the Eritrean government had a choice between carrying out meaningful political reform or further UN scrutiny that could lead to it being referred to the International Criminal Court.

"The government must understand that the system that they have set up is simply unacceptable in the modern world," Smith said.

The UN inquiry, constrained by its terms of reference, stopped short of declaring whether Eritrea's government was committing crimes against humanity but recommended this be examined further, so that a decision could be taken about whether to refer the case to the ICC.

Eritrea's neighbours Djibouti and Somalia are backing a Human Rights Council resolution to extend the team's mandate for a year to enable it to say if crimes against humanity were committed, and to ensure "full accountability".

Eritrea has not cooperated with the investigators nor let them into the country. It has tried to discredit the methodology and motives of the report but has not shown any contrary evidence, Smith said.

Tesfamicael Gerahtu, Eritrea's ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, was upbraided by Ruecker for telling the council that the commission was "ignorant" and had "a sinister political agenda" and that their report - based on 550 interviews and 160 written statements - was "a travesty of justice".

Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in Africa, declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993. An exodus of Eritreans fleeing to Europe by crossing the Mediterranean is widely blamed on the harsh conditions in the country.


Shipwrecked migrants disembark from a rescue vessel as they arrive in the Italian port of Augusta in Sicily on April 16, 2015

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Peshawar (Pakistan) (AFP) - The United Nations refugee chief Tuesday warned the European Union about its planned military operation to target people-smugglers in the Mediterranean, saying migrants attempting the risky sea crossing must be protected.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed the initial intelligence-gathering phase of the new mission, which could begin as early as next week, but said rescuing migrants at sea should be the top priority.

More than 100,000 people have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, and some 1,800 have drowned trying.

Many of them have been fleeing war or poverty in parts of Africa and the Middle East and paid huge sums to risk their lives in barely seaworthy boats for a chance of reaching Europe.

EU leaders agreed at a summit in April, overshadowed by the sinking of a rickety migrant boat with the loss of 800 lives, to formulate a plan to tackle the crisis at source on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, including a military option to go after smugglers in Libya.

On Monday EU foreign ministers approved the launch of a three-stage military strategy beginning with intelligence-gathering.

Guterres, visiting Afghan refugee facilities in Pakistan, said the lives of those attempting the crossing must come first.

"Our position has been very clear: first priority rescue at sea -- lives need to be saved, nobody should be left to die in the Mediterranean," he said.

The 28-nation EU scaled down its search and rescue operations last year, to the dismay of Italy, where the bulk of the migrants arrive.

The new military mission, dubbed "EU NAVFOR Med", will initially involve five warships, two submarines, three maritime patrol aircraft, drones and helicopters.

- 'Protect victims' -

Guterres said action to deal with those who were cashing in on the Mediterranean migrant crisis was welcome, but international law must be respected.

"Smuggling and trafficking are horrible things. People are exploited, their rights are violated, people die in unseaworthy boats," he said.

"So whatever can be done to crack down on traffickers and smugglers is positive, with one essential condition -- that the protection of the victims is guaranteed and the access to European territory is guaranteed."

Last week the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on the EU to open its doors wider to migrants and said the bloc could easily take in a million refugees.

The Mediterranean migration crisis has become a hugely sensitive political issue in Europe, driving gains for far-right and eurosceptic parties across the continent.

The second phase of the EU mission involves intervention to board and disable smuggler vessels and arrest the traffickers, while the third would extend these actions into Libyan waters and possibly inside the country itself.

Recognising the reluctance of some members to commit to the potentially complex and dangerous second and third stages, the April summit agreed a UN Security Council resolution would be needed before they went ahead.

The situation is complicated by the unstable picture in Libya, where rival factions are fighting for control and the internationally-recognised government has been forced to flee the capital.



The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is debating a report on human rights abuses in Eritrea. Each month, 5,000 Eritreans flee their country.

A recent report by a three-member panel from the United Nations alleged that the Eritrean government was responsible for systematic and widespread human rights violations on an almost unprecedented scale. These abuses are driving thousands of Eritreans out of their country. Many of them end up making the perilous sea journey to Europe - Eritrean migrants are the second largest group after Syrian refugees.

DW spoke to Barbara Lochbihler, vice chairperson of the subcommittee on human rights at the European parliament.

DW: What should the European parliament be doing in order to help put an end to these abuses in Eritrea?

Barbara Lochbihler: Already in March we had a debate in our human rights subcommittee. It is quite difficult to influence the Eritrean government to change its policy. We have to think about the possibilities how we can do this. Since they [Eritrea] got independence in 1991, there are no political parties, there is no independent media, there have not been any elections and, as stated in theUN inquiry report, the country is run not by law but by fear. This is very widespread and so I think we should view the migrants who come to Europe from Eritrea with the knowledge that they are coming with a political background;they cannot continue to stay there. They have this abusive military and national service which on paper says it is only for 18 months, but de facto they can go on to spend their whole working life in such service. When we discussed this on the human rights committee, we can say this is some sort of slavery-like practice.

Are those Eritrean refugees who arrive in Europe getting the asylum to which they are entitled?

Not always. But to my understanding, at least from my country [Germany], they are not being sent back. We know from many individual cases they are very poor, they take the little money they have and escape by taking very dangerous routes through the desert and also perhaps staying in other neighboring war-torn countries. We have examples, years ago when they were stuck in the Sinai, they were treated like kidnapped people and some had their organs taken away. They are subjected to all kinds of cruelty. We have to see their desperate situation and give them some form of preferential status that can allow them to come to Europe and receive asylum status.


The European Union finances development programs in Eritrea which it enacts together with the Eritrean government, do you think those programs ought to be stopped or at least reviewed?

I think we should review them and we should clearly state that if we want to continue, then the human rights situation has to change.

Barbara Lochbihler: 'EU needs to review its aid policy with Eritrea'

The UN inquiry report also says that some of the human rights violations documentedmay constitute crimes against humanity. This is not a term you use easily. All things together, disappearances, killings, this permanent surveillance, no freedom of movement and all these abuses at the national and military services, all this together, these are very serious human rights violations.


I think the European Union should not continue with their development aid as it is. They have to make a special effort to influence the Eritrean government and perhaps demand that what is on paper concerning the 18 months of military service will then definitely be implemented.

Do you think the Eritrean government will be susceptible to that kind of pressure?

It's very difficult. What we heard is that no foreign government has influence there but we have to give it a try. Eritrea is also part of other consultation forums like the Khartoum process, where the European Union and member states are discussing with the Eritrean government how to fight the spread of human trafficking and also terrorism. In all those occasions where we have the possibility of direct dialogue with them, we should let the Eritrean government know. Perhaps also in the future in the European parliament we have to make our own resolution.

Barbara Lochbihler is the vice chairperson of the subcommittee on human rights at the European parliament


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Verfolgung und Folter treiben Eritreer in die Flucht nach Europa. Wenn die EU nun ihre Abschottungspolitik gegenüber dem Land öffnen will, sei Vorsicht geboten, sagt der Bundestagsabgeordnete Frank Heinrich im Interview.

Ein Afrikaner, ein Australier und eine Frau aus Mauritius sind die Mitglieder der UN-Untersuchungskommission zur Menschenrechtssituation in Eritrea

UN-Untersuchungskommission zur Menschenrechtssituation in Eritrea

Deutsche Welle: Herr Heinrich, Überwachung, Zwangsarbei und Folter - die Bilanz des Berichts, den die UN-Kommission zur Untersuchung der Menschenrechtssituation in Eritrea am Dienstag dem UN-Menschenrechtsrat vorlegt, ist erschütternd. Ist das für Sie eine Überraschung?

Frank Heinrich: Es ist keine Überraschung. Ich habe mich schon seit zwei Jahren verstärkt mit dem Thema beschäftigt und mit Personen gesprochen, die das immer wieder benennen. Selbst "Human Rights Watch" konnte nur einen Bericht schreiben mit den Zeugenaussagen derer, die das Land verlassen haben. Auch die Untersuchung, die jetzt vorgestellt wird, konnte nie vor Ort stattfinden, weil die Menschenrechtssituation so restriktiv ist.

Ist die Tatsache, dass der Bericht entgegen üblicher UN-Praxis nicht vor Ort vorbereitet werden konnte, eine Einschränkung für dessen Glaubwürdigkeit?

Natürlich muss man sich in Bezug auf Einzelinterviews fragen: Wie viel ist davon subjektiv? Man selber ist immer zu einem Maße geprägt und damit auch die Interviews. Wenn aber 550 vertrauliche Gespräche für die Untersuchung geführt wurden, konnte man für den Bericht die Schnittmenge berücksichtigen und Randaussagen herausfiltern. Die drei UN-Experten (Siehe Artikelbild, Anmerk. der Redaktion)bekamen keine Erlaubnis, im Land zu sein. Auch die 550 (Zeugen) waren zu verängstigt, um genau zu sagen, wer sie sind. Man kann das für unglaubwürdig halten, aber bei dieser Menge gibt es schon deutliche Überschneidungen, die auf gravierendste Menschenrechtsverletzungen hinweisen.

Was für Konsequenzen hat das für die internationalen Beziehungen zu so einem Land, das immerhin schon seit 24 Jahren unter der Führung von Staatschef Issaias Afewerki steht?

Bundestagsabgeordneter Frank Heinrich. (Foto: Susanne Domaratius)

Bundestagsabgeordneter Frank Heinrich

Beziehungen muss man haben, um überhaupt noch sagen zu können, was man über die Situation im Land denkt. Man darf sie nicht einfach abbrechen. Wenn sie sich aber auch finanziell ausdrücken sollen, ist höchste Vorsicht geboten. Wenn Eritrea eine Zwangssteuer für die eritreische Diaspora erhebt und die zum Teil auch eintreibt, muss unser Auswärtiges Amt denen sagen: Das geht auf deutschem Boden so nicht. Der Bundesentwicklungsminister Gerd Müller wird in wenigen Wochen dort hinreisen. Dann wird er diese Themen natürlich auch ansprechen. Das kann man aber nur, wenn Beziehungen bestehen. Bei Geld sieht das anders aus: Wenn dort Menschenhandel betrieben wird, wenn Korruption und Ausnutzung von Menschen immer wieder vorkommen, dann darf man keine finanziellen Beziehungen aufnehmen.

Welche Fragen würden Sie als Bundestagsabgeordneter und Mirglied des Ausschusses für Menschenrechte des Bundestags in Eritrea stellen?

Mir ist bewusst, dass ich nicht sofort auf Konfrontation gehen darf. Es gibt aber Fragen, auf die ich Antworten will. Zum Beispiel: Warum lassen Sie die drei UN-Experten nicht ins Land, wenn Sie uns mitteilen wollen, dass an den Vorwürfen nichts dran ist? Und warum haben Sie bestimmte Sachen unterschrieben, wenn Sie sich offensichtlich nicht daran halten? Diese Fragen würde ich ihnen stellen, und wenn sich vertrauenswürdige Gesprächssituationen ergeben, kann man auch mal tiefer gehen und einzelne Vorwürfe benennen.

Wie sehen Sie die Rolle der Europäischen Union, die bisher eine Politik der Isolation gefahren hat?

Es ist gut, nach so einem Bericht neu darüber nachzudenken. Damit sind wir im Ausschuss noch nicht fertig. Teilweise muss man Gesprächsebenen aufrechterhalten und zu einem gewissen Maß dem anderen erlauben, sein Gesicht zu wahren. Man darf aber damit auch keine Kompromisse eingehen, was Menschenrechte angeht, die unteilbar sind. Förderung über staatliche Stellen darf es nicht geben. Wenn sie von Nichtregierungsorganisationen geleistet werden kann - vorausgesetzt, diese dürfen frei arbeiten - dann könnte ich mir eine Unterstützung und eine verstärkte Auseinandersetzung mit dem Land sehr gut vorstellen.

Wäre es ein richtiger Schritt, die Beziehungen nun zu öffnen?

Wenn es Signale gibt, dass die Kritik auf fruchtbaren Boden fällt und das Land sich gesprächsbereit zeigt und nicht nur diplomatische Floskeln ausgetauscht werden - dann sehr gerne. Das ist meine persönliche Meinung. Dann sollte man gerne auch Schritte auf Eritrea zugehen. Bis jetzt sehe ich solche Signale nicht. Ich erhoffe mir aber, dass der Minister solche Signale aus Eritrea mitbringt, die zeigen, dass eine Bereitschaft zur konstruktiven Zusammenarbeit da ist.

Seit seiner Unabhängigkeit Anfang der 1990er Jahre entwickelt sich Eritrea nicht zum Guten. Das zeigen nicht nur die Erkenntnisse der UN-Kommission. Schon die Tatsache, dass eine Verfassung von 1997, die Hoffnungen auf eine Demokratisierung im Land weckte, bisher nicht implementiert ist, ist bezeichnend. Lassen diese Entwicklungen noch Hoffnung zu?

Die Umsetzung der Verfassung von 1997 wäre einer der Schritte, die kommen müssten, und auch die Anerkennung einiger Menschenrechtsverbrechen, die seitdem passiert sind.

Was in Eritrea passiert, betrifft Europa ganz konkret. Die Menschenrechtssituation treibt unzählige Menschen in die Flucht. Ein großer Teil der afrikanischen Flüchtlinge, die an den Küsten Europas ankommen, stammt aus Eritrea. Müsste die EU nicht noch viel stärkere Konsequenzen ziehen, um die Situation der Menschen in deren Herkunftsland mit zu beeinflussen?

Als Sprecher für humanitäre Hilfe und Mitglied von zwei Ausschüssen, sage ich ganz klar: ja. Daran müssen wir einerseits als deutscher Staat mithelfen und andererseits unsere Stimme in Europa dazu einbringen. In Deutschland werden aus keinem anderen Land Flüchtlinge zu so hohen Prozentzahlen willkommen geheißen wie aus Eritrea. Syrien versteht im Moment jeder. Bei Eritrea wird sehr deutlich, dass diese Menschen aus tiefster Not und Leiden unter ihrer eigenen Regierung kommen. Darauf müssen wir Einfluss nehmen. Dazu müssen wir Stellung beziehen. Wir können schlecht nur sagen, was andere Länder machen müssen. Die müssen das auch mit uns wollen.

Frank Heinrich ist deutscher Bundestagsabgeordneter. Er ist Mitglied im Ausschuss für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung und als Obmann für die CDU/CSU-Fraktion im Ausschuss für Menschenrechte und humanitäre Hilfe.

Das Interview führte Philipp Sandner.



Born on Eritrea’s battlefields

Tuesday, 23 June 2015 09:48 Written by

Aster Fesehatsion 

22 June 2015, 10:45 UTC

Ibrahim’s parents were veteran fighters in Eritrea’s long war for independence from Ethiopia. After it ended in 1991, his mother, Aster Fissehatsion, became a high-profile politician, and his father, Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo, was appointed Vice-President. In September 2001, both were arrested after criticizing the President, and never heard from again. Ibrahim tells us their story.

(Image above: A rare photograph of Ibrahim with his mother, Aster Fissehatsion, Eritrea, 28 April 1990.)

Like many children of my generation, I was born on the battlefields of Eritrea. In our camouflaged shack – a natural extension of a rocky hill – I spent happy times with my gentle, soft-spoken father and my loving mother. I knew no other life but one filled with stoicism, bravery and camaraderie.

My best friends were other children who were used to life saturated with chaos – explosions, scurrying for safe places during aerial bombardments, being herded in and out of bomb shelters, seeing combatants going to or returning from battlefields. We sang songs for Eritrea – about the history, traditions and struggles of our people.

My parents were freedom fighters, always on military missions that took them away from me. But I felt I lived in luxury because I knew other war-children never saw their parents return.

Life felt like a party

As soon as our freedom fighters liberated Eritrea in May 1991, I moved to the capital, Asmara. Life there was strikingly devoid of fear. I made new friends, attended pre-school, played in the neighbourhood playgrounds.

I was astounded by many things around me. I lived in a household with running water and electricity, wore nice clothes and proper shoes. Life in Asmara felt like a big party.

The President and his cohorts are guilty in the court of conscience; therefore, they are the real prisoners. My parents’ conscience and ideals are roaming free within and beyond the four walls of their cells.
Ibrahim Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo

The following years were by far the best of my life. But in 1998, as I was about to finish Junior High School, Eritrea went to war against Ethiopia. In 2000, as I moved on to high school, the war was ending, leaving 19,000 young Eritreans dead.

Disharmony among top government and ruling party leaders flared up over this war, which had left Eritrea badly bruised, including with major territorial loss to Ethiopia.

Never seen again

In May 2001, my parents and other government critics were suspended after they published an Open Letter calling for peaceful, democratic dialogue. It sealed my parents’ fate: on 18 September 2001 they were picked up by security agents and never seen again.

Aster Fesehatsion2

“People have the right to know what happened to Aster,” Ibrahim's family says. “They need to know what her mother is going through, as she holds on to the gradually fading images of her beloved daughter.”

I remember my parents with pride and admiration. I don’t know their physical condition, medical needs and psychological state. But they are very much alive in my heart and in my mind. And their ideals will stand the test of time. 

The President and his cohorts are guilty in the court of conscience; therefore, they are the real prisoners. My parents’ conscience and ideals are roaming free within and beyond the four walls of their cells.

Take action

Aster Fissehatsion was the only woman among 11 political leaders shut away in Eritrea’s notoriously harsh prisons in September 2001. Sign our petition to free her and tweet Aster’s family a message of support using #FreeAsterNow

Ibrahim is campaigning to free his parents alongside other children of Eritrea’s detainees.  

7 facts about Eritrea

A longer version of this story will appear in the July-September issue of Wire, Amnesty's global magazine.


Every year the Bay Area Eritrean democratic forces remember Martyrs Day with candle lights and prayers. This year was not different. On Saturday June 20, 2015, the Bay Area Eritreans for Democratic Change (aka DaEro) hosted Martyrs Day in a special way; members experience or memories about our Martyrs, invited former fighters to give their reflection and how do the local opposition build an energetic opposition and focus in toppling the sitting dictator.

Martyrs Day Bay Area 1

The Board of Bay Area Eritreans for Democratic Change (BAEDC) opened the meeting with silence of prayer in memory of our Martyrs and delivering a message from the leadership. Then, the Board opened the stage for the audience to share their first hand experience with Martyrs in the battle field. Many attendees shared the bravery and selfless sacrifices our Martyrs showed on the last minute of their precious life. They fought and sacrifice their lives to better Eritrea and the Eritrean people. Memories were shared from attendees about gallant sacrifices that was given in Asmara and Massawa. One attendee shared the sacrifice that was given by civilians and most of them women from the dungeons of the enemy. A truck driver at the Badme war shared his eye-witness on masses of Martyrs by the roadside that remained engraved in his memory. An incredible eye-witness was shared by a young woman about martyrdom in the Revolutionary School in Sahel. The care takers of the children were very caring and loving and gave their lives while protecting them from Ethiopian fighter jets. The graphic story of the event was echoed into the audience’s faces and dark cloud of sadness loomed in the hall. All members who shared their firsthand eye-witness said they could not erase the graphic pictures of those moments from their memory.

Martyrs Day Bay Area 2

The audience shared many stories of firsthand experience with martyrs. The meeting acknowledged that story of martyrs is endless, but the cause of their martyrdom didn’t materialize yet. Their sacrifice was not to hand the free land to a monster dictator, but for its children to enjoy the fruit of liberty together. The Martyrs are crying from their graves to carry their cause of martyrdom to end, and audience responded they will. With this, the first part of the meeting came to conclusion.

The second part of the meeting was to discuss about creating a healthy working relationship within the pro-democracy forces and individuals. The Board asked what they can do to better and advance the vision of the BAEDC. The audience discussed this topic with openness. They appreciated the Board’s work so far, and encouraged them to continue on the same trend. Some of the suggestions that came were; to reach out, to conduct more members engaging events, diner events every month or so, etc. Reminders also came to the attendees; not to live in past grudges, to focus on toppling the dictator, to put the horse before the cart, to say sorry to each other, to think about positive things and not consume in negative staff against each other, etc. Some mentioned of the round sitting arrangement contributed to communal effort and facing each other allowed attendees to dialogue fact to face. An approach we Eritreans would benefit from.

Martyrs Day Bay Area 3

In conclusion, the meeting chemistry was weighted towards new and young members. It carried very healthy spirited discussions, and members were very determined to make BAEDC work and advance it to a higher level of struggle. The Board assured members that there will be more members engaging meeting to establish more bonding and trust.

Our Martyrs Dream will Live!

Bay Area Eritrean for Democratic Change (BAEDC)

As Europe's leaders argue over the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, Paraic O'Brien travels with a family of Eritreans as it makes its way from Italy to Germany, encountering chaos on the way.

At 11 o'clock every night, two coaches on the Bolzano-bound train out of Rome are full of immigrants. They do not have travel documents, just train tickets.

The increasing numbers of immigrants arriving in Italy by boat was discussed by David Cameron and the Italian prime minister this week. As they were talking, immigrants were making their way to the Italian city of Bolzano.

The tale they told was a familiar one: held by Libyan people traffickers until their families paid up.

When they arrived at Bolzano on the Austrian border, the Italian police initially tried to stop them from travelling on to the southern German city of Munich, but they made it there eventually.

It was the moment one family had been waiting for. After leaving Eritrea as asylum seekers, they crossed the Sahara, encountering people traffickers in Libya before taking a boat across the Mediterranean.

When the immigrants arrived in Munich, the larger group was placed in a holding pen by the German police before being taken to a detention centre. But for the family, with an asylum claim, it was a different story. Another long journey beckoned - to Holland.

June 18, 2015

The United Nations refugee agency has just announced that more people are on the move – driven from their homes by conflict and human rights abuses – than at any other time in history: 59.5 million to be precise. Yet governments all over the globe contend that most of these people, who risk their lives on the high seas or trek for weeks or months across deserts with often abusive smugglers or traffickers, are just looking for a job. 

Eritrea is one such government. Responding to media questions on a June 8 UN report on Eritrea’s atrocious human rights record, and the resulting mass exodus from the country since 2004, Eritrea’s ambassador to France said, “Let me tell you, all those ‘refugees’ are economic migrants.”

But the UN’s damning 500-page report on Eritrea tells a different story, one of extrajudicial killings, widespread torture and arbitrary detention in inhuman conditions, forced disappearances, and forcing men and women into decades of abusive military service for slave-like wages. The UN says some of these abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.

The report echoes dozens of human rights reports on Eritrea over the past decade. It also resonates with stories Human Rights Watch colleagues and I heard from Eritreans arriving in Italy by boat in May from Libya. An 18-year-old man called Tadesse, who tried to escape lifelong military service in Eritrea only to be caught at the border, told us, “I was thrown in a shipping container for five months. They used to tie us up and leave us in the hot sun for days on end as punishment.”

The UN report is based on hundreds of interviews with Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees across the globe but doesn’t include a single interview with Eritreans living in their own country. Why? Because repeated UN requests for its human rights experts to visit Eritrea were met with a deafening silence.

Putting aside the plethora of evidence from Eritrean refugees, the answer to this “debate” is quite simple. If Eritrea is so confident that hundreds of thousands of its citizens abroad are lying about why they left their country, why not fling open the doors and allow the UN and the rest of the world to see for itself?

With World Refugee Day coming up on June 20, as Eritrea continues to hemorrhage thousands of its citizens each month, it seems that’s the easiest way for the authorities to prove their spurious claim that Eritreans should not be part of the latest shocking global refugee statistics.


Italian Police remove migrants in Ventimiglia, at the Italian-French border Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Police at Italy's Mediterranean border with France have forcibly removed some of the African migrants who have been camping out for days in hopes of continuing their journeys farther north. The migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, have been camped out for five days after French border police refused to let them cross. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP)Italian Police remove migrants in Ventimiglia, at the Italian-French border Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Police at Italy's Mediterranean border with France have forcibly removed some of the African migrants who have been camping out for days in hopes of continuing their journeys farther north. The migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, have been camped out for five days after French border police refused to let them cross. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP)The Associated Press

LUXEMBOURG (AP) — Italy urged reluctant European Union partners on Tuesday to sign up to a plan to share 40,000 refugees, as police forcibly removed migrants trying to cross their common border.

At a meeting of EU interior ministers, Italy's Angelino Alfano called for solidarity with front-line countries Italy and Greece as tens of thousands of migrants cross the Mediterranean in search of sanctuary in the EU.

"We are working to avoid the political bankruptcy of Europe," Alfano told reporters in Luxembourg.

The ministers were meeting to debate a plan for obligatory relocation of Syrian and Eritrean refugees to other European countries over the next two years. Only about 10 of the EU's 28 nations support the plan and even those that do disagree with the calculations for distributing the refugees.

Earlier Tuesday, police in Ventimiglia on Italy's border with France forcibly removed a few dozen African migrants who have been camping out for days in hopes of continuing their journeys farther north.

Some migrants held onto signposts and others tried to resist being loaded onto a Red Cross bus. Migrants on rocks jutting out into the sea were left alone, with police apparently unwilling to move into a more treacherous location.

Alfano said that the scene in Ventimiglia is "a punch in the eye for those who refuse to see."

His French counterpart, Bernard Cazaneuve, denied that France has closed its border there.

"When migrants cross borders and it is established that they arrived in Italy, then it is only normal that they return to Italy," Cazaneuve told reporters in Luxembourg.

"We have agreements and we are currently doing checks to ensure that those agreements are respected," he said.

Meanwhile in Greece, hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, including women and children, protested Monday on the eastern island of Lesvos, demanding better living conditions and faster processing of their registration.

They also want to be housed separately from Afghan arrivals after a fight broke out in one of the island's camps.


Nicole Winfield in Rome, and Elena Becatoros in Lesvos, Greece, contributed to this report.


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