| BELGIUM

| 22 MARCH 2016 

The Socialist International condemns without reservation the cowardly and indiscriminate terrorist assault on innocent civilians in the heart of Brussels and at Zaventem airport, and expresses its deepest sympathy and solidarity with the victims of these despicable acts, the local emergency services, and all the people of Belgium. We extend our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed and to all those who have suffered trauma and injuries in the explosions that struck Belgium's capital today.
 
The SI equally stands in support of its socialist members in Belgium, the government of the country and all its institutions as they come to terms with this attack and take measures to catch the perpetrators and protect citizens. We look forward to the apprehension of all those responsible for the planning and execution of today's bombings and for justice to be carried out.  
 
Now is a time for all decent people around the world to unite in defence of the universal values of freedom, tolerance and peace, and reject the chaos, destruction and fear caused by terrorism. These acts are above all an attack on our way of life, and the number of major terrorist attacks in recent months in different locations around the world has demonstrated that this is a threat which requires a united global response.
 
The Socialist International once more calls on all its member parties and the entire international community to join in a comprehensive response to terrorism in order to eliminate this scourge without sacrificing the fundamental freedoms and rights that these attacks seek to undermine.

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Israel May Be Trafficking Former Eritrean Slaves
 
This article, by Peter Dorrie suggests that Israel is trading Eritreans for weapons.
Martin
Source: Warisboring
 
 AfricaIsrael March 15, 2016 Peter Dörrie 1

Israel May Be Trafficking Former Eritrean Slaves

In Uganda’s capital Kampala, a sign in Eritrean script points the way to a back alley. There’s a small hotel here with only a few rooms, most of them empty. In room number eight an old man sits on a worn-out sofa. His trousers and shirt are stained and he wears flip-flops. His arms are covered in scars.

The old man’s lawyer sits next to him. Both have requested anonymity. “He has gone through a lot,” says the lawyer. He speaks to his client in Tigrinya, the official language of Eritrea.

The old man — we will call him Aman — describes how he wound up in this dingy hotel in Uganda. And he’s not alone. Aman’s tale is representative of thousands of Eritrean refugees who have been caught up in the deadly nexus of the illicit arms trade … and human trafficking.

Icono WIB

The pattern is often the same. Refugees fleeing one of the most repressive regimes in the world get stuck and eventually arrested in Israel, which bills itself as the only democracy in the Middle East.

Years later, Israel deports them to Rwanda, which passes them on to Uganda and sometimes South Sudan, where the refugees suffer harassment by agents of the regime they were trying to escape in the first place. Their only hope is to begin the dangerous journey through the Sahara again, paying thousands of dollars in fees and bribes to traffickers and border guards.

Many die along the way.

In exchange for helping Israel to get rid of its unwanted refugee population, East African military and intelligence officers travel to Israel to receive training and go on shopping sprees for high-tech military hardware. Refugees, especially from Eritrea, have become a kind of currency in arms deals between some of the world’s shadiest and most corrupt governments.

Eritrean refugees arrive in Romania. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees photo

Eritreans have been fleeing their home country in droves for years now — and with good reason. The regime of the East African country on the Red Sea is second only to North Korea in its repressiveness. Many Eritrean refugees flee the country to escape compulsory military service. Officially instituted by Pres. Isaias Afewerki in 1995, conscription was supposed to provide the necessary manpower for Eritrea’s army. But it quickly devolved into an instrument of repression and exploitation.

For those who can’t afford to bribe officers or government officials, enlistment is essentially indefinite and targets both men and women up to the age of 50. Conscripts receive very little military training and are forced to work on infrastructure projects and in agriculture while receiving less than $30 per month in compensation. Female conscripts are frequently victims of sexual violence.

While some young adults manage to dodge the draft, they live in constant danger of being discovered and can’t access higher education or formal employment. Refugees interviewed for one 2013 study reported to have served an average of six years in the military prior to their escape, with some having served more than double that. For all intents and purposes, military service in Eritrea is a form of slavery.

Aman, the old man in the hotel, says he didn’t flee because of conscription, but the rest of his story is similar to those who do. A high-ranking officer in the Eritrean army, he had to flee the country in 2008 after refusing to carry out an order from Afewerki.

Passing through Sudan and Egypt, he tried to reach Israel by crossing the Sinai Peninsula. There he was abducted by local bedouins. His family had to pay them a $25,000 ransom. If he had refused or had been unable to pay, his abductors threatened to cut out his kidney and sell it on the black market.

Eritrean asylum-seekers wait to board a ferry in Greece. U.N. photo

Aman’s experience of abduction and ransom is the norm rather than the exception for Eritrean refugees who pass through the Sinai, says Mirjam van Reisen, a Dutch scholar and co-author of the 2014 report “The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond.”

“Because of the long history of Eritreans fleeing their home country, they form a large, tightly-knit expatriate community abroad,” van Reisen tells War Is Boring. “Combined with the desperate need of people to escape the Eritrean regime, this makes them an attractive target for abductions and ransom demands.”

Van Reisen’s report details many cases of Eritreans who suffered tremendous abuse on their way from Eritrea to Israel and other destinations, at the hands of both criminals and government security agents.

Aman’s captors set him free on the Egyptian-Israeli border, from where he was able to cross into Israel.

In theory, his plight should have ended here. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a party, host countries are required to treat refugees fairly, give them access to the labor market and guarantee their freedom of movement. Importantly, host countries are explicitly forbidden to expel refugees, especially “in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened.”

Migrants sneak into Hungary. Photo via Wikipedia

Unfortunately for Aman and thousands of other refugees from Eritrea and beyond, the Israeli government completely disregards its obligations under international law. Politicians refer to refugees as “infiltrators.” Current Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev called displaced people “a cancer in the body” of the nation.

For several years Aman was able to live and work in Israel, cleaning rooms to make a living and learning Hebrew. Every three months, he stood in line at the immigration authority to prolong his papers.

That changed suddenly in July 2014. “They took my papers and locked me up in Holot,” Aman says. Both Holot and nearby Saharonim are camps in the middle of the desert close to the Egyptian border. Around 50,000 refugees, most of them Africans, are housed at these facilities. While inmates of Holot are allowed to own mobile phones and keep in contact with the outside world, Saharonim is comparable to an actual prison.

Both facilities represent a clear breach of Israel’s obligations under international law, organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have said. Former interior minister Eli Yishai made clear their purpose. As long as Israel was unable to deport all asylum seekers, he said he would “lock them up to make their lives miserable.”

And in December 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his party would move to the “second stage, that of repatriating the infiltrators who are already here.” Every month people would be repatriated “until the tens of thousands of people who are here illegally return to their countries of origin.”

Migrants arrive in Germany under heavy police security. Photo via Wikipedia

Officially, those refugees who leave do so “voluntarily,” but in reality they face either indefinite detention or simply have no choice at all, as was the case with Aman.

Eighteen days after his initial arrest, he says, he and five other Eritreans were escorted by uniformed security guards and two men in civilian clothes to the airport in Tel Aviv. He didn’t go through any passport or security checks and did not receive any documents. Instead, an official gave him $3,500 in cash, for which he had to sign a receipt, and then he got put on a plane.

Most refugees get deported on commercial airlines such as Turkish Airlines or Ethiopian Airways, but Aman says his plane “was small.” The other passengers were official-looking and wore passes on lanyards around their necks. Aman says he thinks they were diplomats. There were also bodyguards on board, complete with small Secret Service-style earpieces.

Nobody told him where the flight was going to. “Only when I saw the airport building, I knew — we are in Rwanda,” he says.

The official-looking passengers left the plane and were driven away in sedans with blue lights. “I was led away by Rwandan agents in civilian clothes,” Aman recalls. Again, he passed no official controls or checks. Nothing documents his entry into Rwanda. Together with the other Eritreans he was driven to a house in the capital Kigali. “The guy who set us up at the house introduced himself as John.”

Migrants arrive by boat in Greece. Photo via Wikipedia

Many Eritreans, even those who arrive in Rwanda on commercial airliners, confirm this chain of events. All describe the same house and the same “John,” who told them that the Israeli government would pick up the tab for three nights of lodging. John would return on the second day and tell them that a car would wait for them the next morning and would bring them to Uganda. The car ride would cost them each $250.

Aman was brought by said car to the hills on the Ugandan border, from where he was guided by a shepherd across the border, again without passing through an official crossing. At no point was he offered the opportunity to apply for asylum in Rwanda, as would be required by international law.

On the Ugandan side, a minibus awaited the Eritreans. The driver again demanded $250, this time to bring the group to Kampala. Just outside the city, the driver received a phone call and stopped. Shortly thereafter, an SUV pulled up and two Eritreans stepped out. They greeted the driver, demanded more money from the passengers and finally brought them to the dingy hotel in one of Kampala’s back alleys.

It is hard to overstate how irregular this procedure is. The techniques employed in the transfer of refugees such as Aman from Israel to Rwanda and onward to Uganda are comparable to those of sophisticated human-trafficking operations. But the details leave no doubt that all of this happens with government participation.

A Ugandan Su-30 fighter. Photo via Wikipedia

Both Rwanda and Uganda are tightly-run authoritarian states with incredibly well-resourced militaries and intelligence services. There is no conceivable way that the security establishments of both countries are not aware of the movements of refugees like Aman, and in Rwanda’s case the government seems to be actively participating.

But officially, all participating governments deny the existence of a deal to facilitate the deportation of refugees from Israel. “Israel is a good friend of Rwanda and we work together closely, especially in the fields of agriculture and technology,” Rwanda’s foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo said. But there is “no special package” for the refugee question, she added.

While this “has been discussed” in earlier negotiations with Israel, “negotiations ultimately weren’t finalized.” Ugandan authorities also said that they were unaware of any deal.

So why is this trade in refugees conducted in secret when the Israeli public should be overwhelmingly in favor of it and African countries such as Rwanda could find ways to justify their actions? Maybe the reason for so much secrecy is not the government-sanctioned human trafficking, but what Rwanda, Uganda and other African countries get in return for taking refugees from Israel.

When the deal was first discussed around 2013, the Israeli government openly floated the idea of providing military hardware and training at heavily discounted prices, or even for free, to the participating African countries. The packages would also include agricultural and technological assistance.

Uganda has acquired Orbiter 2 drones. Aeronautics Systems photo

At the time, government officials said that they were “close” to finalizing these deals. And indeed, Rwanda entered into a partnership agreement with Israel in 2014, and Israeli businesses invested heavily in the Ugandan agricultural sector in the following years. Conspicuously absent from any official celebration of the agreements was any mention of either refugees or arms.

A Ugandan official even told Vice that “no such agreement is in place between Uganda and Israel” and that “Uganda fully respects and encourages state parties to respect rights of refugees, including the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ and burden sharing.”

Strangely, though, this was also the exact period when pro-refugee organizations began to report the first cases of “voluntary” deportations of African refugees to Rwanda and Uganda. And at the same time, Israel suddenly embarked on a program of close cooperation with African countries in the defense sector.

Traditionally, Uganda and Rwanda have been close military allies of the United States and the United Kingdom. America has spent billions of dollars on military training and equipment for East Africa. As a result, the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries are among the most capable and effective on the continent.

While Rwanda’s army primarily focuses on internal security and projecting the country’s influence into the volatile Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as contributing substantial forces to U.N. peacekeeping operations, Uganda has taken on the role of a veritable regional military superpower.

11983305234_3c57363f95_kRwandan soldiers deploy to Central African Republic. Rwandan government photo

Ugandan soldiers are fighting Al Shabab in Somalia as part of an African Union mission and have, at one point or another, intervened militarily in the majority of countries across the region. Uganda’s military provides the forces that secure Pres. Salva Kiir’s position in the South Sudanese civil war, for example.

Rwanda and Uganda have foreign assistance to thank for these military capabilities. The regimes in both countries rely on a constant flow of modern hardware and training from international partners.

Rwanda is a military state with an all-mighty intelligence community that has virtually stamped out internal dissent. The Rwandan government’s main security challenge today emanates from hostile groups active in eastern Congo. To guard against incursions, the Rwandan military covets aerial surveillance equipment, among them modern long-endurance drones. It also requires training and equipment to guard against terror attacks and bombings inside its own borders.

Likewise, this type of high-tech military hardware and know-how is on the shopping list of the Ugandan military, together with other modern surveillance gear, multi-role fighters and air defenses. Pres. Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, recently faced a highly contested election that only served to underscore his reliance on the security services to guarantee his continued control of the state. For its international adventures, especially in Somalia, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces have to be equipped and trained in counterinsurgency and close-quarters urban combat.

There is a limited number of countries that offer this sophisticated technology and training and would be willing to provide it to Rwanda and Uganda at the prices that these developing countries can afford.

The U.S. and U.K. have pulled back their cooperation over Rwanda’s support for the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo in 2011, and since, Uganda’s Museveni made clear that he has no intentions of relinquishing power any time soon.

Fortunately for both regimes, a few years ago Israel was searching for a solution to its “infiltrator” problem.

Israel is among the world’s top-10 arms and military services exporting countries and has an incredibly well-developed defense industry, largely focused on providing the capabilities that Israel itself needs — high-tech military systems for counterinsurgency and surveillance. Israel is one of the few countries that exports high-endurance surveillance drones, for example. The Israeli military and Israeli contractors are renown for their expertise in counterterrorism training and doctrine.

Israel has a long history of exporting arms to Africa, but the pace of its exports has picked up substantially over the last few years. Sales doubled between 2012 to 2013, around the time that Israeli officials said that deals for trading refugees against arms were close to being finalized. They rose again by around 40 percent in 2014, reaching the second consecutive all-time high of $318 million, a remarkable increase compared to just $77 million in 2009.

The same year, Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman toured several African countries, among the Uganda and Rwanda, with a large group of defense industry executives in tow.

When Uganda’s Museveni visited Israel in 2011, he stopped by the facilities of Israel Aircraft Industries and showed great interest in drones. In the following years, his minister for security Aronda Nyakairima, who also handles immigration, visited Israel frequently. Nyakairima, who has died, was the army’s chief of staff before his government appointment.

Uganda has dramatically expanded its aerial capabilities in recent years, buying Russian Su-30MK multi-role jets and other highly advanced equipment. At Kajjansi Flying School, Uganda’s only flight academy, training is handled by Orlando Barak, an Israeli arms dealer.

Quite a few other Israeli arms dealers are running private security companies in Kampala. When two of them were arrested at Entebbe’s airport in November 2014 in connection with a shady arms deal involving Ugandan special forces, Museveni himself intervened to free them. The special forces, incidentally, are under the command of Museveni’s son, Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

Rwanda for its part formalized its relationship with Israel in 2015, opening an embassy in Tel Aviv. The first ambassador was Col. Joseph Rutabana, who up to that point served as an undersecretary in the Ministry of Defense with responsibility for procurement. His appointment coincided with a marked increase in deportations to Rwanda.

All three countries treat their arms imports and exports as highly confidential matters of national security. Details on individual deals and transfers are virtually non-existent in the public domain. Still, sources with knowledge of the matter have confirmed to War Is Boring, on the condition of anonymity, that military assistance and cooperation between Israel and Rwanda and Uganda is substantial and linked to the willingness of these countries to accept refugees deported from Israel.

On the surface, this may seem to be just a simple act of Realpolitik, the political elites of these countries simply coming together to satisfy their individual political and security needs. But this perspective glosses over the immense personal suffering that results from this intermingling of the trade in arms and people.

These two trades are responsible for some of the worst suffering in the world, but they are also among the least regulated trading regimes in existence. Where the transfer of foodstuffs and consumer goods is tightly controlled and governments have subjected themselves to independent judicial bodies for oversight, the trade in weapons of all kinds, as well as the treatment of refugees, is governed only by some international agreements that profess great respect to national sovereignty and security. Non-complying states have to fear few consequences apart from diplomatic finger-wagging.

Rwandan soldiers deploy to Central African Republic. Rwandan government photo

Of course, most refugees would prefer to live free in Uganda rather than be imprisoned in Israel, and deportations to a third country are not illegal in all circumstances. But with neither Israel nor Rwanda nor Uganda admitting to any bilateral deals, the refugees face huge problems upon arrival.

“Eritreans are in a very precarious situation when they arrive in Uganda,” Meron Estefanos, a human rights activist and journalist, tells War Is Boring. “The Israeli authorities take away their documents and because the participating governments deny that there is a deal, they have no residency or refugee status in East Africa. Especially Eritreans also live in constant fear of being in some way forced to return to their home country.”

The Eritrean regime treats escapees like traitors, sentencing them to essentially indefinite prison under the harshest and most brutal conditions imaginable.

An obvious solution would be for Uganda to recognize those deported from Israel as refugees and provide them with official documents, but it seems likely that given the scale of the trade, Uganda has made a conscious decision to avoid giving Eritreans and others protection under the law. As many as 262 asylum seekers have “voluntarily” left Israel every month since the beginning of 2015, according to the government.

But these are only a fraction of the up to 50,000 people who are still locked up in Holot and Saharonim, all of whom likely will be deported as soon as possible. Uganda’s government may hope that by not providing these people with permanent status, most will choose to use their money from the Israeli government to try to reach Europe again.

Estefanos says that because they live in constant fear of being caught and arrested by the Ugandan police or discovered by Eritrean intelligence, many Eritreans decide to make another attempt at reaching Israel or Europe. “The money that they receive from Israel lasts them only to Khartoum,” the Sudanese capital, Meron says. On the way they have to pass through South Sudan, which is still in the throes of a civil war.

Those who manage to come up with the funds to continue their journey are likely to again find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous traffickers, professional abductors or even on one of the many boats that have dragged their passengers to the bottom of the Mediterranean. Their suffering is testament to the intermingling of nationalist and securitized politics, regional military grandstanding, domestic suppression and a system of international trade that makes it easy to treat people like currency to be exchanged for arms.

And it may be the case that instead of facing international scrutiny, Israel’s approach will find imitators. With many European countries struggling with the influx of Syrian and African refugees, some might be interested in getting rid of them on the cheap. If this can be combined with developing new export markets for the domestic defense industry, politicians may be even more inclined to ignore any moral qualms.

This, of course, is terribly short-sighted. It will strengthen criminal smuggling operations, many of which have links to terrorist organizations, because many refugees will just attempt to again reach Europe. And providing regimes like Uganda and Rwanda with even more weaponry and tools to suppress their domestic populations and intervene in neighboring countries will only serve to ultimately increase the refugee population.

Source=https://martinplaut.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/israel-accused-of-trading-eritreans-for-weapons/

March 18, 2016 | 20:34 GMT
 

Analysis

After two days of negotiations, Turkey and the European Union reached a compromise agreement on a plan to reduce the flow of migrants from the Middle East to Europe. At a summit concluding March 18, the heads of government of the 28 EU members and their Turkish counterparts approved the plan, which should take effect March 20. While the deal could help reduce the number of migrants arriving in Europe, questions remain about the signatories' ability and commitment to fully enforce it.

With the March 18 agreement, Ankara agreed that all migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey will be sent back to Turkey. And for every Syrian migrant sent back to Turkey, a Syrian in Turkey will be given asylum in the European Union. The plan, however, caps the number of Syrians who can be sent to Europe from Turkey at 72,000. If that limit is reached, the European Union and Turkey would have to renegotiate.

The agreement makes partial concessions to Turkey. In exchange for accepting returned migrants, Turkey wanted to open five chapters of its accession negotiation with the European Union. (In EU accession talks, chapters represent aspects of an applicant country's policy that must be evaluated in comparison with EU standards before it can join the bloc.) The Cypriot government countered with demands for a stronger Turkish commitment to reunifying Cyprus, which was divided into distinct Greek and Turkish states after Turkey invaded in 1974. As a result of the talks, EU leaders compromised, agreeing to open only one mostly technical and not particularly controversial chapter.

The European Union also vowed to speed up the disbursement of 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion) in financial aid that was promised to Turkey last year, and to grant Turkey an additional 3 billion euros in the future. This funding will, of course, come with strings attached, and EU leaders asked their Turkish counterparts to present concrete proposals for the use of the funds within a week. Additionally, the European Union promised to grant Turkish citizens visa-free travel to Europe by the end of June, but Ankara must first meet a long list of requirements. This is a controversial issue for several Northern European countries, so this part of the deal could be derailed in the future. 

Some EU members pushed for a fast implementation of the deal, fearing that delaying its introduction would encourage migrants to cross from Turkey to Greece before the agreement takes effect. But this could be problematic. Before migrants can be legally returned to Turkey, the Greek Parliament has to recognize Turkey as a "safe third country." The Greek government must also improve its ability to register newly arrived immigrants and speed up its process for reviewing asylum applications. Since the beginning of the crisis, Greece has struggled to provide housing for an ever-growing number of asylum seekers and to reduce the time required to process their applications. And some EU members warned that expelling people without first analyzing their cases would be illegal.

Turkey's treatment of migrants is particularly controversial. The Turkish government has given some limited rights to Syrians. But there are questions about the situation for migrants from countries such as Iraq or Afghanistan who will also be sent to Turkey from Greece once the agreement is in place. Ankara promised the European Union that all migrants will be treated in accordance with international humanitarian law, which includes guaranteeing that the migrants not be sent back to their countries of origin. But to meet international standards, Turkey will have to pass new laws improving the quality of life for migrants. Failure to do so quickly could give rise to legal challenges to the EU-Turkey agreement.

If implemented properly, the new plan could discourage migrants from trying to reach Greece. The idea is to punish people who try to reach Greece illegally by sending them back to Turkey, relegating them to the bottom of the list of asylum applicants. At the same time, people who wait in Turkey and use official channels to pursue asylum will be rewarded for their patience. But for the deal to work, Turkey will have to better prevent migrants from reaching Greece, and Greece will have to become more efficient at processing asylum applications. So far, efforts to regulate the flow of migrants have been disappointing. On March 17, German media reported that German officials working on the recently approved NATO patrolling operation in the Aegean Sea are frustrated by its limited effect; human trafficking organizations are still managing to avoid controls and reach the Greek islands.

As the war in Syria continues, asylum seekers will probably continue to try to make it to Europe, even if their path is more difficult than before. Migrants from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries may even try to enter the European Union through more complicated routes, passing through Albania, Bulgaria or even the Caucasus. In addition, as the weather improves in spring and summer, migrants will resume taking the central Mediterranean route that connects North Africa with southern Italy. This will bring a growing number of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe in the coming months. The resulting renewed migratory pressure will test the stability of the EU-Turkey agreement and challenge the fragile consensus among EU members. 

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"The EU and Turkey Reach a Tenuous Immigration Agreement is republished with permission of Stratfor."
Argument

The Horn of Africa region is central to the world’s maritime trade. It’s also beginning to fall apart.

Africa’s $700 Billion Problem Waiting to Happen

Back in 2002, Meles Zenawi, then prime minister of Ethiopia, drafted a foreign policy and national security white paper for his country. Before finalizing it, he confided to me a “nightmare scenario” — not included in the published version — that could upend the balance of power in the Horn of Africa region.

The scenario went like this: Sudan is partitioned into a volatile south and an embittered north. The south becomes a sinkhole of instability, while the north is drawn into the Arab orbit. Meanwhile, Egypt awakens from its decades-long torpor on African issues and resumes its historical stance of attempting to undermine Ethiopia, with which it has a long-standing dispute over control of the Nile River. It does so by trying to bring Eritrea and Somalia into its sphere of influence, thereby isolating the government in Addis Ababa from its direct neighbors. Finally, Saudi Arabia begins directing its vast financial resources to support Ethiopia’s rivals and sponsor Wahhabi groups that challenge the traditionally dominant Sufis in the region, generating conflict and breeding militancy within the Muslim communities.

Fourteen years later, reality has exceeded Zenawi’s nightmare scenario; not only has every one of his fears come to pass, but Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi King Salman bin Saud are working hand-in-glove on regional security issues — notably in Yemen and Libya — which has raised the stakes of the long-running Egypt-Ethiopia rivalry. If the worsening tensions in the Horn of Africa erupt into military conflict, as seems increasingly possible, it wouldn’t just be a disaster for the region — it could also be a catastrophe for the global economy. Almost all of the maritime trade between Europe and Asia, about $700 billion each year, passes through the Bab al-Mandab, the narrow straits on the southern entrance to the Red Sea, en route to the Suez Canal. An endless procession of cargo ships and oil tankers passes within sight — and artillery range — of both the Yemeni and African shores of the straits.

A crisis in the Horn of Africa has been a long time in the making. The regional rivalries of today date back to 1869, when the Suez Canal was opened to shipping, instantly making the Red Sea one of the British Empire’s most important strategic arteries, since almost all of its trade with India passed that way. Then as now, the security of Egypt depended on control of the Nile headwaters, 80 percent of which originate in Ethiopia. Fearful that Ethiopia would dam the river and stop the flow, Egypt and its colonial masters attempted to keep Ethiopia weak and encircled. They did this in part by divvying up rights to the Nile’s waters without consulting Addis Ababa. For example, the British-drafted Nile Waters Agreements, signed in 1929 and 1959, excluded Ethiopia from any share of the waters. As a result, Egypt and Ethiopia became regional rivals, intensely suspicious of each other.

The Nile remains a high-profile source of tension between the two countries to this day; Sisi’s state visit last year to Ethiopia failed to achieve much, in large part because of Egypt’s unease over a huge Ethiopian hydroelectric project on the Blue Nile. But another important source of friction between the two countries has centered for some time on two of Ethiopia’s volatile neighbors — Eritrea and Somalia — which Cairo has long viewed as useful partners to secure its interests along the Red Sea littoral. Ethiopia has shown it will resist what it views as Egyptian encroachment near its borders. From 2001 to 2004, for instance, Ethiopia and Egypt backed rival factions in Somalia, which prolonged that country’s destructive civil war.

These fractures in the Horn of Africa have been deepened by Saudi Arabia’s reassessment of its security strategy. Worried that the United States was withdrawing from its role as security guarantor for the wider region, it resolved to build up its armed forces and project its power into strategic hinterlands and sea lanes to the north and south. In practice, that has meant winning over less powerful countries along the African coast of the Red Sea — Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia — a region that Ethiopia has sought to place within its sphere of influence.

The Saudi presence along the African Red Sea coast has grown more sharply pronounced since its March 2015 military intervention in Yemen, which drew in Egypt as part of a coalition of Sunni Arab states battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The coalition obtained combat units from Sudan and Eritrea, and scrambled to secure the entire African shore of the Red Sea. Then in January of this year — under pressure from Saudi Arabia — Djibouti, Somalia, and Sudan all cut diplomatic ties with Iran. By far the most significant of these was Sudan, which has had long-standing political and military ties with Tehran. For years, Iranian warships called at Port Sudan, and Iranian clandestine supplies to the Palestinian militant group Hamas passed freely along Sudan’s Red Sea coast (occasionally intercepted by Israeli jet fighters). Now Sudan is part of the Saudi-led coalition pummeling the Iran-backed Houthis.

But the most important geopolitical outcome of the Saudi-led Yemen intervention has been the rehabilitation of Eritrea, which capitalized on the war to escape severe political and economic isolation. After it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea fought wars with each of its three land neighbors — Djibouti, Sudan, and Ethiopia. It also fought a brief war with Yemen over the disputed Hanish Islands in the Red Sea in 1995, after which it declined to reestablish diplomatic relations with Sana’a and instead backed the Houthi rebels against the government.

After the Ethio-Eritrean border war of 1998-2000, Eritrea became a garrison state — with an army of 320,000, it has one the highest soldier-to-population ratios in the world — and Ethiopia led an international campaign to isolate it at the African Union, United Nations, and other international bodies. This was made easier by Eritrea’s increasingly rogue behavior, including backing al-Shabab militants in Somalia. The imposition of U.N. sanctions in 2009 brought the country to the brink of financial collapse.

But the war in Yemen gave Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki a get-out-of-jail-free card. He switched sides in the Yemen conflict and allied himself with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners. As a result, the Eritrean president is now publicly praised by the Yemeni government and welcomed in Arab capitals. His government is also reaping handsome if secret financial rewards in exchange for its diplomatic about-face.

But the fact that Eritrea has decisively escaped Ethiopia’s trap does not mean it has suddenly become a more viable dictatorship. On the contrary, the renewed geostrategic interest in the country and its 750-mile Red Sea coast make the question of who succeeds Afewerki, who has been in power for a quarter century, all the more contentious — especially since Ethiopia has long sought to hand pick a replacement for the Eritrean president. Already, Ethiopia mounts regular small military sorties on the countries’ common border to let Eritrea know who is the regional powerbroker. It would not take much for these tensions to explode into open war.

Saudi Arabia’s revamped security strategy has also meant a sudden influx of Arab funds into Somalia. The Saudis promised $50 million to Mogadishu in exchange for closing the Iranian embassy, for example, while other Arab countries and Turkey have spent lavishly to court the allegiance of Somali politicians. This is partly intra-Sunni competition — Turkish- and Qatar-backed candidates pitted against those funded by the Wahhabi alliance — but it also reflects Somalia’s increasing geopolitical importance. In the country’s national elections scheduled for September, Arab- and Wahhabi-affiliated candidates for parliament could very well sweep the board.

All of this has made Ethiopia very nervous — as it should. The tremors of the region’s shifting tectonic plates may not directly cause a major crisis. The more probable outcome is deeper divisions between Egypt and Ethiopia, which could cause a proliferation or deepening of proxy disputes elsewhere in the region, such as the two countries’ competing efforts to shape the future leadership of Eritrea and Somalia.

Still, it’s impossible to rule out the possibility of a dramatic security crisis stemming from the shifting regional balance of power. It could come in the form of renewed fighting over Eritrea’s still-disputed land borders, or spinoffs from the war in Yemen, such as the eruption of maritime terrorism. That would lead to a dramatic escalation of the militarization of the region. It would also threaten to entirely close the region’s sea lanes — the ones that are so central to global commerce.

Unfortunately, the international community is sorely unprepared for such an outcome. A well-established, multi-country naval coalition patrols the sea lanes off Somalia’s coast to combat piracy, but no international political mechanism currently exists to diffuse a regional crisis. In the relevant bureaucracies that might be called upon in an emergency — from the United Nations to the U.S. State Department — Africa and the Middle East are handled by separate divisions that tend not to coordinate. The EU’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Alex Rondos, has taken the lead in developing an integrated strategy for both shores of the Red Sea, but the EU’s foreign policy instruments are ill-suited to hard security challenges such as this that span two continents.

For its part, the African Union has developed a sophisticated set of conflict management practices for its region. It has taken a hard line against coups and pioneered the principle of non-indifference in the internal affairs of member states — foreshadowing the doctrine of “responsibility to protect.” Its summits serve as gatherings where peer pressure is used for the informal management of conflicts, with more success than is usually recognized. The Gulf Cooperation Council, the regional alliance of Gulf monarchies that would inevitably be involved in a major regional dispute of this kind, should learn from these African best practices. That would require a dramatic change in the mind-set of Arab royal families, which assume that their relationship with Africans is one of patron and client. Too often, the Africans reinforce that mind-set by acting as supplicants. For example, when the African Union sent a delegation to the Gulf countries in November, the agenda wasn’t strategic dialogue or partnership — it was fundraising.

But to prevent Zenawi’s “nightmare scenario” from coming to fruition, the Africans and the Arabs need to recognize the Red Sea as a shared strategic space that demands their coordination. A sensible place to start would be by convening a Red Sea forum composed of the GCC and the AU — plus other interested parties such as the United Nations, European Union, and Asian trading partners — to open lines of communication, discuss strategic objectives for peace and security and agree on mechanisms for minimizing risk. The fast-emerging Red Sea security challenge is well suited to that most prosaic of diplomatic initiatives — a talking shop.

The problem is, all these actors tend to start talking only after a crisis has already exploded. Here’s a timely warning.

Image credit: SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Source=http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/17/africas-700-billion-problem-waiting-to-happen-ethiopia-horn-of-africa/

March 17, 2016

UN arms embargo on Eritrea
The Security Council Sanctions Committee approves updated version of Eritrea arms embargo restrictions, including exemptions to those restrictions.

By Security Council,

On 14 March 2016, the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea adopted its second implementation assistance notice entitled “Summary of arms embargo restrictions in place for Somalia and Eritrea, including exemptions”.

The implementation assistance notice is available on the Committee’s website in all six official languages of the United Nations at www.un.org/sc/suborg/en/sanctions/751.

The Committee adopted the arms embargo implementation assistance notice to assist Member States and other relevant actors to take the necessary steps to ensure the full and effective implementation and enforcement of the arms embargoes in place for Somalia and Eritrea.

The implementation assistance notice provides an overview of the scope of the arms embargoes and exemption procedures. It also provides guidance to Member States and other actors on how to engage with the Committee on notifications and exemption requests.

In order to assist Member States, international, regional and sub-regional organizations, other public and private entities, and natural persons to take the necessary steps to ensure full and effective implementation and as well as enforcement of, the arms embargo, the Committee established pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea (“the Committee”) offers the following summary of the arms embargoes restrictions in place for Eritrea, including exemptions to such restrictions.

The Arms Embargo on Eritrea

31. The arms embargo on Eritrea was imposed by paragraphs 5 and 6 of resolution 1907 (2009). It requires all Member States to take all necessary measures to prevent the sale or supply to Eritrea by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types whether or not originating in their territories (paragraph 5, resolution 1907 (2009)). Member States also have obligations to seize and dispose of such items to prevent their sale, supply, transfer or export to or from Eritrea (paragraph 8, resolution 1907 (2009)).

32. Eritrea is prohibited from permitting materiel or assistance subject to the embargo from being supplied, sold, or transferred (directly or indirectly from its territory), or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft (paragraph 6, resolution 1907 (2009)).

33. The embargo also prohibits direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of such materiel or assistance to individuals or entities designated by the Committee, including investment, brokering or other financial services related to military activities, or the manufacture, maintenance or use of weapons and military equipment by such individuals or entities. The list of individuals and entities designated by the Committee is found at the Committee’s website.

34. The materiel and types of assistance subject to the embargo comprises arms and related materials of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment (and spare parts); technical assistance; training, financial and other assistance related to military activities or to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of these items (paragraph 5, resolution 1907).

The Two Exemptions to the Arms Embargo on Eritrea

35. Supply of protective clothing : The temporary export to Eritrea of protective clothing, including flak jackets and military helmets, by United Nations personnel, representatives of the media and humanitarian and development workers and associated personnel (for their personal use only) is permitted (paragraph 13 of resolution 2111 (2013)).

36. Supplies of non-lethal military equipment intended solely for humanitarian or protective use : Supplies of non-lethal military equipment intended solely for humanitarian or protective use can be brought into Eritrea if the Committee has approved the supply in advance through a ‘request for Committee’s approval’ procedure (paragraph 12 of resolution 2111 (2013)).

37. ‘Requests for Committee’s approval’ must be submitted to the Committee in writing by the Member State or the international regional or sub-regional organisation or agency supplying the equipment. Details of how to make such a request are set out on the Committee’s website and in paragraphs 10 (b) and 10 (c) of the Committee Guidelines. Private entities may need to seek the assistance of a Member state or an international organization in order to ensure that the appropriate ‘request for Committee’s approval’ is made. If no member of the Committee objects to the proposed transfer within a five working day ‘no objection’ time period the transfer may go ahead.

Source=http://www.bellaafrica.net/eastern-africa/eritrea/unsc-approves-arms-embargo-implementation-assistance-notice-and-exemptions-on-eritrea/

 

 

The UN Human Right Council Special rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea will present her latest report this week.

In June, the report from the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea stated that the situation was so grave in the country that they believed crimes against humanity were being committed. No good news is expected this week.

All good forces are needed to help ease the situation for the Eritrean people. Therefore, it is a great disappointment for us to see the attitude from the European Union in connection with its latest aid-programme.

Core values

Human Rights are said to be core values of the EU, but their reply to our questions was most disheartening.

Before Christmas, EU decided to give Eritrea $228 million (200m Euros) in development aid. The amount was considerably more than the earlier programme of $133 million (120 million Euros). And it was done at a time when the consequences of the human rights situation in Eritrea was clearly visible in Europe.

During 2015, refugees from Eritrea were one of the bigger groups reaching Europe.

Mass exodus

The mass exodus of Eritreans was due to the deplorable situation in the country, where the regime holds thousands of political prisoners. Another strong driving force is the unlimited mandatory national service.

Nominally, the service is 18 months. In reality, it lasts for years, even decades, on less than subsistence pay. There are innumerable reports of physical and sexual abuse during the service. The evidence has been shown both by the special United Nations Commission of Inquiry for Eritrea, Amnesty International and others.

At a time when the influx of refugees has caused great political strain in the EU, one would have thought that human rights in Eritrea would be central in discussing more aid to that very country.

Special conditions

It is natural to expect that special conditions for human rights are included in the agreement.

Reporters without Borders wrote to inquire from the European Commission.

The Directorate General of the International Cooperation and Development replied: “The Cotonou Partnership Agreement, which Eritrea is a signatory to, remains the framework agreement for our cooperation and political dialogue [- -]. A political dialogue as stipulated in art.8 of the Cotonou agreement takes place on a regular basis between the EU and Eritrea.”

That was stating the obvious. The Cotonou Agreement is the framework for EU aid. Of course its guidelines should be followed. The reply implied that no special heed was taken and that the discussions with Eritrea followed standard procedure.

Deserve more

The people of Eritrea definitely deserve more than standard procedure.

Furthermore, we note with sadness that the EU failed to protect the freedom of expression in those discussions.

Eritrea is ranked below even North Korea with regard to freedom of expression by both Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

That should be of direct concern to the EU as one of its own citizens risks dying in the hands of the Eritrean regime: Swedish-Eritrean journalist and playwright, Mr Dawit Isaak. He is the only EU-citizen and journalist who has been adopted as a prisoner of conscience by the Amnesty International.

Many journalists

Sadly, he is but one of many journalists detained since the Eritrean regime closed all independent media in 2001. Some of his imprisoned colleagues have died already. The journalists are held without sentence or charge. They are isolated.

Mr Isaak has not seen his wife or children since 2001. Nor is he allowed to see a lawyer or an EU diplomat. The EU should stand up for him, if not for all the political prisoners.

We asked the European Commission if his case was mentioned in the discussions about the multimillion aid to Eritrea. Their reply: “Not specifically but the EU regularly discusses human rights concerns with Eritrea—“

A bit further down in the text, Commission spokesperson points to a statement given more than a year before the development aid decision; “On Dawit Isaak, note that the EU issued a statement on his case and that of the other political prisoners on 18 September 2014 http://eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140918_02_en.pdf).”

Most unflattering

Referring to a statement given a year before does not imply making any great efforts. There is a point - most unflattering for the EU - to be made here. Mr Isaak is African-European. We believe that his case would have been treated with much more dedication if he were a white, well-known journalist writing for a major European newspaper.

Eritrea has refused to cooperate with, and denied entry to the UN Special Rapporteur and Commission of Inquiry. Instead, Eritrea was engaged in undermining the work of the Special Rapporteur and the Commission.

Under such circumstances, it appears as if the EU was rewarding the Eritrean government’s actions. The EU seems content with issuing regular, similar statements, paying little attention to whether Asmara was making efforts to heed these statements and calls for respect of human rights.

The regime

As the years pass, Mr Isaak’s family keeps waiting for him in Gothenburg, Sweden. His three children have been forced to grow up without their father.

There should be no time to lose for the EU. To hand out 200 million Euro to the regime responsible for this without even mentioning his name is outrageous, not to say heartless.

And it is even worse as he is not alone.

Mussie Hadgu is an Eritrean journalist in exile and Björn Tunbäck is a member of Reporters without Borders/Sweden

Source=http://www.africareview.com/Opinion/EU-aid-to-repressive-Eritrea-indefensible/-/979188/3116218/-/ck9mj6z/-/index.html

Unaccompanied children are fleeing Eritrea to avoid conscription, putting them at risk of abduction and abuse as they seek shelter in places including Europe, a United Nations rights envoy said.

There’s been a “steady influx of Eritrean unaccompanied and separated children” into Egypt and neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan since 2008, Sheila B. Keetharuth, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, said Monday in Geneva. She said rights violations were the main reason young people flee, with unaccompanied children citing a fear of forcible conscription into the army.

“In leaving Eritrea, the unaccompanied children are subjected to an array of protection risks” that include “trafficking, abduction for ransom, sexual violence, torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment,” Keetharuth said, according to an online transcript. Eritrea’s representative, Tesfamicael Gerahtu, described the report as “baseless” and a bid at “seeking regime change.”


Eritreans constituted the largest group of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy last year, making up 3,092 of a total of 12,360, according to Keetharuth. The World Bank estimates Eritrea’s population at 6.33 million.

Government Service

The Horn of Africa nation, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, has a system obligating adults to perform 18 months of government service. Amnesty International says this period is extended indefinitely for a “significant proportion” of people, fueling a wave of migration.

Eritreans are the fourth-biggest group risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, after Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, according to the UN. Eritrea’s government says national service is necessary to defend itself from Ethiopia, which it fought in 1998-2000. It’s described those fleeing overseas as economic migrants, not refugees.

The European Union last week passed a resolution that included a call for Eritrea to reform and shorten the service period. Keetharuth said she hadn’t received “any conclusive sign” that it had been reduced “following initial indications that this could be the case.”

Source=http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-15/children-flee-eritrean-conscription-threat-un-rights-envoy-says

On Saturday March 12, 2016, the Bay Area Eritreans for Democratic Change hosted International Women’s Day and Togorba Day combo celebration. Although mother nature was not cooperative, many citizens managed to attended the celebration. A testament that echoes the commitment of the members.

The board Chairman opened the celebration with a welcome message followed by Freweini Gerghis,member of the board, with contribution of Eritrean women for independence message and an emotional poem. Habtna Asgedet Mehreteab eloquently presented global women’s struggle against double oppression and specifically Eritrean women’s contribution to independence. She detailed the treatment of Eritrean women under PFDJ rule and the crimes they encounter by human traffickers to reach freedom.

On his part Haw Tekie Woldemariam briefly presented the history of Togorba and what it stands for. He underscored that Togorba was the beginning of Eritrean independence waged by the Eritrean people. Everything that followed was built on Togorba’s spirit, complete Eritrean independence and liberty.

DJ Solomon rocked the house with selective songs of tigrina and tigre that made attendees to dance until end of night. The board did a very good job in planning the celebration.

I am writing this piece to expose something that continually perturbs my conscience; I have to speak it out now because no one knows when one passes away. I also earnestly call on those brothers and sisters who were with me in the incident to speak out. It is imperative that we find in our own separate ways how and to whom these crimes should be told. It is also timely to loudly speak and tell about it to our own people.

 

There is no need of talking here about my identity except informing that I was born in the 1960s and joined the the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) in the 1980s; presently, I live in the western world. Those of us who know many of the brutally inhumane and untold crimes committed and still being committed against our people by the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) are not few in number. Many of us also know some of the crimes PFDJ committed against non-Eritreans. The one I am narrating here below is one of those crimes.

 

It is to be remembered that in the 1990s, relations between the Sudan and Eritrea were bad. In 1996, before we attacked the Sudan, the leadership deployed us [Army Corps No. 271] in region of Nakfaand Karora passing this order: "the Sudan is a threat to our security by sheltering terrorism and Jihad; be at full alert; we will attack them". Our [commanders}, who previously said that Egypt, Ethiopia and Uganda were supportive of the action later on changed the message and said: "Those countries have changed their viewpoints, but we will continue what we have planned".

 

On this basis, a two-front heavy attack was opened on 27/03/1997 by our Army Corps 271 led by Abdu Remech and his deputy Wedi Keshi. One flank of the attack covered the area from the Sudanese Karora up to Merafit; and the other flank attacked Sudanese army positions from Denbobet up to Jelhandi in the Red Sea; the Sudanese army encampments at Karora, Habokhayt, Ayterbay, Adaret, Agit-Keseret, Agit-Merafit and up to Jelhandi were cleared. Only to justify that the attack was made by the Sudanese opposition fronts and not by the Eritrean army, there were insignificant number of fighters from the armed wings of John Gerang, Sadiq al Mahdi and of Dr. Abdul Aziz (Halfawi). Their presence was nominal.

 

After 4 days and in some places 5 days, all the Sudanese army positions were put under Eritrean army control. We stayed in all of them till June 1998 except that the Eritrean unit that was in Merafit retreated to Agig after only three days.

 

[But after 14 months] in June 1998, we retreated [back to Eritrea] when the Sudanese army attacked us in huge numbers. The small units of Sudanese opposition fighters also retreated with us. After our retreat, we occasionally fired heavy shells to the Sudanese army in addition to a few attacks by the air force.

 

When we opened the initial attack [on 27 March 1997], we were ordered not only to capture camps but also to kill soldiers [massively]. Two weeks after the start of the attack, our brigade leader Wedi Tekeste called a meeting and told us: "beside the Sudanese soldiers killed in the battles, we had taken 1,273 prisoners. However, we asked the Sudanese opposition organization, especially that of John Gerang, to take care of them, but they refused saying they had no capacity to do so. Therefore, we were afraid of outside knowledge and world condemnation [of our attack on the Sudan] and therefore we had no choice but to shoot all the prisoners". At this point, some members of our brigade started to protest against such action but they were intimidated and silenced. The Sudanese opposition fighters also did not show any reaction about the killing [of 1,273 Sudanese prisoners].

 

Other than this, it is known that [the Eritrean Army] Corps No. 381 had also launched an attack in the Kassala region during that time. However, they did not remain long in the positions they attacked. I am also not fully aware of what mistakes were committed in that zone. Those of you who were in the Kassala region attacks may tell what happened. But what was heard was that leaders of the Eritrean Army Corps 381 killed the Sudanese army officers captured in the battles by burning them inside a cottage using benzene. The other information I was made aware by knowledgeable persons was that 105 Tigre speaking Ben-Amer soldiers of the Sudanese army who fled from the Sudanese army refusing to fight against their brethren in the Eritrean army, were executed and collectively damped in two huge burial vaults. This crime aimed to hide the Eritrean army's action in the Sudan. Then, when will [the eye witnesses] tell the tales of innocent victims killed in front of their eyes? Why are we keeping silent instead of exposing the crimes we witnessed? I want to say the time has come for all of us to speak out and reveal all what we know so that a new dawn of justice can replace the ugly secrets of the past.

 

The crime I mentioned in relation to Army Corps 271 is one of the agonizing crimes against humanity committed by PFDJ. It has given me so many sleepless years. When I heard that the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea will give its final report about its findings on crimes committed against humanity, I decided to speak out and release it even to the general public. I know that those who were with me and know what I know are pained by the act as much as I am. It is thus time for me and my compatriots who witnessed these acts to come forward and show readiness to be first-hand witnesses. It is also hoped and recommended that the UN Commission of Inquiryinvestigates acts at the level of Wedi Tekeste [head of Army Corps 271] and upwards in the hierarchy [of PFDJ].

 

[Sincerely]

Your Eritrean brother, who hopes to see criminals facing justice in a better Eritrea

Award for Seada Fekadu comes as number of Eritreans granted protection in the UK plummets

Seada Fekadu 

Seada Fekadu’s world was turned upside down when her father was arrested for his work with the opposition in Eritrea. Photograph: Riffy Ahmed

A young Eritrean woman who fled to the UK after her father was arrested for his political activities in her home country will receive an award for helping and inspiring other migrants and refugees.

Her award comes as the number of Eritreans granted protection in the UK has plummeted after a change in Home Office advice on asylum requests from the repressive east African country.

At 16, Seada Fekadu’s world was turned upside down when her father was arrested for his work with the opposition in Eritrea. Fearing for her safety, an aunt paid for Fekadu to escape the capital, Asmara. Fekadu took a boat to neighbouring Djibouti, caught a plane to Paris and made her way to Calais, where she and others were smuggled in a lorry to London’s Waterloo.

“In Calais, they put you in a truck, you don’t have a choice. ‘You have to take this one,’ the agent said. I didn’t know where I was going. The truck dropped us near a police station, they found us a translator and after two hours, social services came,” she said.

In a sense she was one of the lucky ones. Fekadu arrived in Britain before the current migration crisis currently engulfing Europe. Getting to the UK in the back of the truck was relatively easy in 2011. Since then, Fekadu has built a new life. She is studying for her BTec – physics is her favourite subject – and has offers from four universities to study biomedical science.

“I want to become a doctor to help people, it’s about saving lives. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I’ve been a child,” she said.

She has also been volunteering with Young Roots, a charity that helps young refugees. A social worker put Fekadu in touch with Young Roots soon after she arrived and she is now returning the favour by helping recent young arrivals referred to the charity.

“Young Roots helped me gain confidence. Now it’s my turn to help others,” she said. “I’ve been in their situation so I can understand them and I’m happy to help. They are young, I am young, we are like friends.”

Fekadu, now a trustee at the charity, takes youngsters to museums, to play football, to swim and for trips outside London. In recognition of her work, Fekadu will receive an award recognising women with a migrant or refugee background who provide inspiring leadership.

“So much of our time is taken up with communicating negative stories, we wanted to show the hopeful and positive work being done,” said Laura Padoan from the UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees, a joint organiser of the Women on the Move awards with the Forum, a migrant group. The event is on Friday at the Royal Festival Hall.

“She certainly stood out for her maturity and resilience despite what she went through. It’s really remarkable,” said Padoan, one of the judges.

The timing of Fedaku’s flight from Eritrea was fortunate. The Home Office last March advised that people from the country were no longer at risk of persecution if they returned home. The updated advice said citizens who left without permission – many of them to escape its indefinite military service – would not face persecution if they returned.

Yet the researchers behind the report, which the Home Office cited heavily, publicly distanced themselves from the findings, claiming the report was unsubstantiated and distorted. In June, the UN issued a damning report which concluded that the Eritrean government’s systematic use of extrajudicial killing, torture, rape, indefinite national service and forced labour may amount to crimes against humanity.

The UNHCR estimates that 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month and Eritreans account for the largest group of people applying for asylum in the UK, with 3,729 applications in 2015, a 48% increase over 2014. Eritrea also had the highest number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children last year at 694.

As a result of the Home Office advice, the proportion of initial decisions allowing Eritreans to stay plummeted to 48% in 2015 from 87% in the previous year. Meanwhile, the number of appeals from Eritreans soared from 172 in 2014 to 1,718 in 2015. Eighty percent of those Eritrean appeals determined in 2015 were allowed (which means refugee status for five years), an increase from 44% in the previous year.

Asked whether she misses Eritrea, Fedaku says: “Sometimes I miss my friends, but I don’t have much time to think about home, I have to study and the friends around me are like family, like home.”

Source=http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/07/eritrean-woman-who-fled-to-uk-wins-award-for-helping-other-refugees