Bookmark and Share

Three Eritrean Catholic Church schools for Eritrean refugees in Eastern Sudan held double ceremonies on 16 March 2017 in Kassala marking end of academic year 2016-2017 and celebrating the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the schools. Also celebrated was the graduation of 12th graders from the school for the 17th time since the UNHCR-run high school was phased out in year 2000.

CatholicSchool 1

Held at the compound of the Catholic Church's elementary school inside Kassala, the colourful ceremony was attended by Church leaders of various Eritrean denominations; Ustaz Babikir Kelay, director of non-governmental schools in the Sudanese education ministry; head of Sudanese teachers' union, as well as invited representatives of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Indian communities.

CatholicSchool 2


Opened by welcoming remarks of head-teacher Weldehiwet Kelete in Arabic and Tigrigna, the ceremonies lasted for five hours of entertainment that consisted of educative dramas, satire, folkloric songs and poetry - all  presented in Eritrean languages - Arabic, Bilen, Tigre and Tigrigna. Amharic and English were also used in certain parts of the ceremony. Even Indian traditional folklore was put on the stage. The preparations reflected the life of Eritreans in exile and their determination to stick to their culture and identity.



CatholicSchool 3


Speakers included representatives of the teaching staff and students as well as Father Ghebrai and Ustaz Babikir Kelay. The student represetnative expressed profound gratitude to the initiators of the school and paid special tribute to the late Father Milano Haile and his brothers in the Cappuchin mission for their big efforts to keep the schools going. Father Ghebrai Bedemariam, the current director of the schools, was also thanked profusely for his continued follow up of the schools and his vital day-to-day support to refugee students.


CatholicSchool 4



In his speech, Father/Aba Ghebrai stated that the Catholic Church schools in Kassala taught in the past 40 years a grand total of 24,000 young children of denominations and regions of Eritrea. Of the total, 40% of the children who attended the schools were girls and 60% boys.

The Church's first elementary school in Kassala was opened in 1977 by the efforts of Cappuchin brothers, among them the late Father Marino, who welcomed any young refugee looking for education. The refugee students at the start were both from Eritrea and Ethiopia. For the first 20 years, the school was limited to elementary education. When the UNHCR-supported [and ELF-run] refugee high school in Kassala commenced to be phased out in 1997, the two schools worked together for three years till 2000. But as of that year, the Catholic Church took the full responsibility of continuing high school education for Eritreans in Kassala. That is why, he said, the school is graduating its 17th batch of 12th graders this year.

CatholicSchool 5The Sudanese official, Ustaz Babikir Kelay, appreciated the work of the mission school and pledged the support of the Sudan for this worthy education project.

CatholicSchool 6

The ceremonies closed after distributing prizes for outstanding performers among the students and certificates for teachers who served the school for up to 40 years since its founding.


‘One day, I hope, I will go’: How Trump’s ban hit an Eritrean refugee camp in Ethiopia

Natalia Paszkiewicz's picture

I saw the impact of Trump’s travel ban from an Eritrean refugee camp in Ethiopia where some people have been waiting for resettlement for years.

Migration policies may seem abstract, and when combined with representing migrants and refugees as merely numbers, they blur the human dimension of displacement.

 When I saw him a few weeks after Trump’s executive order on refugees was introduced, he looked as if he had been crying for days

One of Donald Trump’s first executive order as the 45th president of the United States of America issued on 27 January 2017 limits the annual number of refugees to be resettled in the United States to 50,000 a year, as opposed to Barack Obama’s pledge last September to increase the US’s annual resettlement targets to 110,000.

I worked in an Eritrean refugee camp in Ethiopia where I met people who were directly affected by this decision – people who have been waiting for resettlement for three years and who were due to leave for the US in February 2017.

In the last few days of January, they were told they would have to wait longer, as the programme got suspended for 120 days. And nobody really knows for how much longer.

Steady escape

In October 2016, a United Nations inquiry into human rights abuses in Eritrea reported that crimes against humanity have been committed in the country since 1991. The number of people fleeing Eritrea, which according to Amnesty International is of the most repressive, secretive and inaccessible countries in the world, has been steady, but with a recent sharp increase in child and youth refugees escaping into neighbouring Ethiopia.

On average, around 3,000 refugees cross from Eritrea to Ethiopia every month; in February 2017, according to the Adminstration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), 3,367 Eritreans arrived in Ethiopia. More than 1,000 people arrive each month in Hitsats, the newest camp established by the Ethiopian government nearly four years ago in the Tigray region bordering Eritrea.

The camp hosts approximately 11,000 refugees, and four in five of them are under the age of 35.

I worked in Hitsats for six months, and I witnessed the refugees’ trajectories of waiting for resettlement  (ie the selection and transfer of refugees from a state in which they have sought protection to a third state which has agreed to admit them) as refugees with permanent residence status. The countries that accept most refugees on resettlement programmes include the US, Canada and Australia.

The very long waiting game

Waiting is a fundamental aspect of every refugee’s life. Men and women, some with children, queue outside UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the camp, clinging to their ration cards and other paperwork while sheltering from the morning sun. The emotions swing from a sense of hope to resignation and despair.

Resettlement is a privilege rather than a right – It is available to less than 1 percent of the most vulnerable refugees worldwide

First, it’s waiting for an interview. Then it’s waiting for the interview’s result. The determination process involves many factors, including the resettlement country’s capacity as well as nationality preferences.

So far, there are no known resettlements in Hitsats because young, able-bodied men – the overwhelming demographics of the camp – do not generally fall within the priority category for resettlement of “Survivors of Violence and Torture” even though everyone that I spoke to was imprisoned in Eritrea.

Eritreans eat a meal they received at the Milan train station on 11 June 2015, among 100,000 asylum seekers who crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far that year (AFP)

Merely leaving Eritrea without the regime’s authorisation carries the punishment of a prison sentence of up to five years, so every unsuccessful attempt – and I met people who tried to escape the country three to five times – leads to detention in conditions that amount to degrading and inhuman treatment, such as underground cells and shipping containers in temperatures as high as 50 degree Celsius.

Resettlement lies within the core mandates of UNHCR, specifically, providing persons under its competence with international protection, humanitarian protection, as well as permanent (also called durable) solutions. However, resettlement is a privilege rather than a right: it is available to less than 1 percent of the most vulnerable refugees worldwide.

The boat that sank in the Mediterranean in mid-January had 70 refugees from Hitsats camp on board

This leaves millions of refugees at risk of remaining in a protracted situation of exile, without an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

In Ethiopia, there was a target of 5,965 refugees to be referred for resettlement in 2015. Of this targeted number of referrals, only 2,120 cases had been resettled by August 2015. In 2016, access to resettlement for refugees in Ethiopia was limited to a target of 6,465, which constituted the largest resettlement plan in Africa.

Those refugees who are lucky enough to be accepted for resettlement – in Ethiopia, this rate is as low as 0.09 percent of the overall registered refugee population – may wait even several years to leave a refugee camp as a result of the lengthy vetting process that involves the Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security screening together with other US intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies, including the National Counterterrorism Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as Interpol.

The conditions if you stay

Refugees who are not selected for resettlement face harsh conditions in the camp, such as endemic malaria, and very few livelihood and integration opportunities in Ethiopia. There are restrictions on those seeking to leave the camp, and limitations on their rights and freedoms, including lack of work permit.

Unable to envisage their future in Ethiopia, on average 1,000 Eritreans leave Hitsats every month – that is equal to the number of those who arrive

UNHCR acknowledges that extended residence in a refugee camp can have a serious negative impact on people who live there. Unable to envisage their future in Ethiopia, on average 1,000 Eritreans leave Hitsats every month – that is equal to the number of those who arrive. Those young men just cannot wait anymore. They are leaving Ethiopia irregularly, making dangerous journeys through Sudan and Libya, hoping to finally reach Europe by boat.

The boat that sank in the Mediterranean in mid-January had 70 refugees from Hitsats on board. There was mourning marked by deafening silence in the camp that is usually full of music as it hosts a remarkable number of talented young musicians.

Since the resettlement programme was established in 1980 by the UNHCR, more than three million refugees have been resettled in the US.

The executive order announced by Trump on 27 January 2017 suspended the programme for 120 days and cut the number of refugee admissions by about 37 percent compared to the post-1975 average number of annual refugees admitted – from 79,329 per year to just 50,000. This may mean that there will never be successful resettlements from Hitsats refugee camp to the US.

Stuck in the pipeline

Less than a month after assuming his role as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at the beginning of this year, Filippo Grandi visited Ethiopia. He spoke to refugees in Hitsats camp, warning them against risking their lives by embarking on dangerous journeys to Europe: “We will do our best to create opportunities here and to improve resettlement placements and other legal ways of migration so that refugees will not expose themselves to danger.”

On 30 January, Grandi wrote that he was “deeply worried by the uncertainty facing thousands of refugees around the world who are in the process of being resettled to the United States”. Given that the US provides about 40 percent of the refugee agency’s funding, the commissioner had to tread carefully.

I spoke to one of the young refugees in Hitsats who was meant to leave for the US in February after years of being stuck in the resettlement pipeline. Over the period of six months when I saw him regularly, he seemed to gradually deteriorate. When I saw him a few weeks after Trump’s executive order on refugees was introduced, he looked as if he had been crying for days. I asked if he had any news regarding his departure. He replied, “One day, I hope, I will go.”

The new redrafted executive order was issued by Trump in March 2017, clarifying that the ban “shall not apply to refugees who, before the effective date of this order, have been formally scheduled for transit by the Department of State”. I hope that my friend from Hitsats will now be able to leave.

– Dr Natalia Paszkiewicz is an anthropologist with a particular interest in migration and refugee studies. She has been working with refugees for over ten years in the UK, Malta, Ethiopia and Djibouti. 



Swiss Secretariat for Migration and EU Diplomats Pressure Eritrea to Return Asylum Seekers

Chief Swiss Official on a Delicate Eritrea Mission

Software Translation from German  | March 29, 2017

The Deputy of the State Secretariat for Migration and Diplomats from EU countries is putting pressure on Eritrea for the return of asylum seekers. So far only a few have voluntarily returned home.

At the beginning of the year, ranghohe diplomats from Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Sweden traveled to Asmara for talks with the Eritrean government. The four states, which are among the most important target countries of Eritrean refugees, hope that they will achieve more together. Last week, a joint delegation was again held at the Horn of Africa. They met Presidential Advisor Yemane Gebreab and Foreign Minister Osman Saleh. For Switzerland, the head of the Department of Sub-Saharan Africa of the Foreign Department and Vincenzo Mascioli, Vice Director of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), took part; This is confirmed by a speaker on request.

Simonetta Sommaruga (SP), the former personal assistant to the Minister of Justice, has been in charge since the beginning of the year of international cooperation, which is responsible for the return of rejected asylum seekers. The Federal Administrative Court recently supported the federal government in a basic decision, which in 2016 intensified the practice for Eritrea. This did little, however, since recirculations are only possible voluntarily. According to the SEM, eleven Eritreans returned to their homeland last year. By way of comparison: in 2015 alone, asylum applied for 10’000 people in Switzerland.

First positive signals, deep expectations

The migration was one of the four topics of the talks that Mascioli and the delegation in Asmara led with government representatives. The issue of the return was also addressed, says SEM spokesman Lukas Rieder. Eritrea does not allow any refugees to be forced to return from any European state. Norway tried unsuccessfully to negotiate an agreement. This is not an issue at the moment. But there are at least small positive signals. The parties agreed that the discussions on migration and human rights should be deepened. In some cases, the Eritrean authorities have answered identity requests to rejected asylum seekers, as the SEM confirms. Identification is often difficult as refugees from countries such as Sudan indicate a false origin,

According to Urs von Arb, the predecessor of SEM’s vice-director, Mascioli, in 2015, after an Eritrean mission, he concluded that the country is not North Korea. Civilian politicians have long demanded that Berne negotiate with Asmara about a return agreement, while leftists are skeptical. Whether or not there is movement depends mainly on the Eritrean regime. Observers warn against high expectations. The influence of Western states is limited, even with an expansion of development aid. China, for example, has granted the isolated country interest-free loans.

As a result, asylum seekers from Eritreans fell slightly earlier this year compared to 2016. These are still the largest refugee group in Switzerland. The most important causes of massive migration are the lack of prospects and the national service. The delegation of the four like-minded states also asked Asmara to explain its operation.


News 15 hours ago Martinplaut Blog 74

Source: The Guardian


As members of the Eritrean community, we were deeply moved by the appeal for assistance in the Horn of Africa, launched by British aid organisations (Charities redouble efforts to avert east Africa famine, 15 March). But we cannot understand why Eritrea is not included in the appeal. Unicef has confirmed what we know from our friends and families inside the country.

In a report in January, the agency said that the El Niño drought has hit half of all Eritrea’s regions. Acute malnutrition is widespread. As Unicef put it: “Malnutrition rates already exceeded emergency levels, with 22,700 children under five projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2017 … Half of all children in Eritrea are stunted, and as a result, these children are even more vulnerable to malnutrition and disease outbreaks.”

This situation – confirmed by information smuggled out of Eritrea – has been denied by President Isaias Afwerki, who said in January last year that “the country will not face any crisis in spite of reduced agricultural output”. It would be unforgivable if the international community turned its back on the Eritrean people. While working in the country might be difficult, this should not be allowed to stand in the way of delivering aid to those who are in such dire need.

Selam Kidane Director, Release Eritrea UK, Noel Joseph Executive director, Eritreans for Human and Democratic Rights UK, Redi Aybu EHDR UK


The international community has finally woken up to the critical situation across the Horn of Africa. Conflict and drought have left millions at risk of famine. In the UK, an appeal has been launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) for assistance for 16m people from Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. To underline the gravity of the situation, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson visited Somalia on March 15 to observe conditions on the ground.

This is not just a British response. Turkey – with important links to Somalia – pledged to provide assistance for the region earlier in March. Germany also promised to help those in most need.

But in the rush to provide help to those facing starvation one community has been ignored: Eritreans.

There is no doubt about the scale of the need. A recent report from the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, detailed the critical situation facing Eritrea’s women and children due to drought in recent years. It said:

Malnutrition rates already exceeded emergency levels, with 22,700 children under five projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2017. National data also indicates half of Eritrean children are stunted.

Aid blocked

It’s not that aid agencies are reluctant to led a hand – but Eritrea rejects their support. As one humanitarian monitoring system – the Assessment Capacities Project – explained:

The Eritrean government severely restricts the access of humanitarian actors inside the country. Very little is known about humanitarian needs: UNICEF estimates that the total affected population is 1.5m.

Only a handful of UN organisations, and a few non-governmental organisations, are allowed to operate in the country. Even they find their hands tied behind their backs.

President Isaias Afwerki, one of Africa’s most ruthless dictators, has refused to recognise the plight of his people. This crisis has been building for years, yet in January 2016, when the first indications of the scale of the drought was becoming clear, the official media carried this message:

In view of the harvest shortfall that has affected the whole Horn of Africa region, President Isaias stated that the country will not face any crisis in spite of reduced agricultural output, the information ministry said, after he was interviewed by state-run media.

The president’s denial of the critical situation that was developing was extremely unfortunate. It has made aid agencies’ cooperation with the Eritrean government complex, and it is difficult for them to provide aid to the Eritrean people.

A photo of a young girl smuggled out of Eritrea by the network Freedom Friday. Freedom Friday.

But this should not deter the international aid community. Information has been smuggled out of the worst-affected areas by Eritreans working with the victims of the drought. They are forbidden from taking their mobile phones or cameras into the feeding centres but some have managed to do so, sending them abroad illicitly at risk to themselves and their families. The photographs, taken in recent months, show children wasted from malnutrition and outbreaks of cholera.

How to get Eritreans help

What is required now is a two-pronged approach. First, assistance channelled through those UN agencies – UNICEF, the UN refugee agency and the World Health Organisation – that are currently operating on the ground.

Second, diplomatic pressure on the Eritrean government to allow the aid to get through. The European Union has already pledged €200m for the country’s long-term development – although this approach been criticised for its focus on stopping Eritrean refugees arriving in Europe. However, the channels that have been established should be used to persuade a reluctant regime to accept the hand of friendship in a time of need.

There is a good precedent for this. During the last great famine to hit the region in 1984-85, the Eritrean liberation movement – then fighting for independence from Ethiopia, and now governing Eritrea – accepted the assistance offered to it by charities and international donors. In 1984, $400,000 worth of food and other essentials was provided to the rebels. If the Eritreans could accept aid in the past then why not accept it now?


A boy looks over from a clifftop in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia
James Jeffrey/IRIN
James Jeffrey

Freelance journalist based in Addis Ababa and regular contributor to IRIN

Under the early morning sun in the most northern region of Ethiopia a motley group of Eritrean men, women and children arrive dusty and tired at the end of a journey – and at the start of another. 

After crossing the border under cover of darkness (leaving Eritrea without authorisation is a crime punishable by up to five years in jail), they are found by Ethiopian soldiers and taken to Adinbried – a compound of modest buildings at one of the 12 so-called “entry points” dotted along this barren 910-kilometre border. This is where their long asylum process will begin.

“It took us four days travelling from Asmara,” a 31-year-old man tells IRIN of his trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80 kilometres north of the border. “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.”

With him are another three men, three women, six girls and four small boys. The smuggler who guided them charged $2,500 each.

“He was good,” the man says. “He showed us the safe paths, and helped carry the children on his shoulders. He didn’t ask for more money like some do.”

He says they carried very little because of the distance and because they didn’t want to betray their intentions to Eritrean soldiers.

Asylum pipeline

From the 12 entry points, Eritreans are taken to a screening centre for registration in the town of Endabaguna, 60 kilometres west of the popular tourist destination of Aksum. Then, they are assigned to one of four refugee camps in the Tigray region, bordering Eritrea.

In February 2017, 3,367 Eritreans arrived in Ethiopia, according to Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs.

There are around 165,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia, according to the UN refugee agency. Thousands more Eritreans live in the country outside the asylum system.

“Sometimes we get more than 120 people a day,” says Luel Abera, the reception coordinator at Adinbried. “The stories I hear are very sad: pregnant women delivering on the way, people shot at or wounded, hungry and hurt children.”

Luel fought with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front when it was a rebel group (it is now the largest party in Ethiopia’s ruling coalition), which, alongside the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, toppled Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorship in 1991. In May of that year, the EPLF marched into Asmara, reinstating Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia.

“The Eritrean people are good,” Luel says. “They fought for independence for 30 years. But from day one, [Eritrean President] Isaias [Afwerki] has ruled the country without caring about his people’s interests.”

Push factors

Among those dropped off at Adinbried when IRIN visits are three Eritrean soldiers – or deserters. Escaping poorly paid and protracted national service is one of the most common reasons cited by Eritrean migrants for fleeing their country.

“Living conditions in Eritrea are more dangerous than crossing the border,” says one of them, a 39-year-old who served 20 years in the military.

He explains that the three of them were farmers from the same village who, when drafted into national service, were posted to different locations along the Ethiopian border.

They decided to cross as it was getting harder to leave their duty stations for the month they needed to be on their farms for harvest time, and because the government recently introduced a new tax on each head of livestock.

The three soldiers weren’t allowed mobile phones, so, in planning their escape, they communicated by word of mouth and through letters using colleagues they trusted. Each left a wife and child behind.

“The wives didn’t want us to go and were too scared to come,” the 39-year-old says. “But they’re not angry with us. Whether we are in national service or Ethiopia, they still can’t see us.”

It’s just over 24 hours since they crossed the border and both groups have moved to the screening centre in Endabaguna. The place is jammed with migrants – mostly teenagers and young adults.

“Most say they faced military conscription, religious persecution, arbitrary detention, torture. Land division by the government is a new complaint,” says centre coordinator Teshome Kasa, adding that 1,008 new asylum seekers have arrived in the last seven days alone.

Luel Abera, reception coordinator at the Adinbried entry point, keeping track of the number of Eritrean arrivals.
James Jeffrey/IRIN
Luel Abera keeps track of new arrivals


From the reception centre at Endabaguna, it is on to the camps.

Discover More

Women’s empowerment meets male resistance, sexual exploitation in Nigeria camps

Opened in 2004, Shimelba was the first Ethiopian camp for Eritrean refugees. Residents are allowed to construct their own dwellings here and now it looks like a small town. It is home to more than 6,000 people, mostly from the Kunama ethnic group, one of nine in Eritrea and historically the most marginalised.

Asked whether she would like to be resettled outside Ethiopia, Nagazeuelle, a Kunama who has been here for 17 years, tells IRIN: “I have no interest in going to other countries… My interest is in my country [Eritrea].

“I need my country,” she repeats. “We had rich and fertile land, but the government took it. We weren’t an educated people, so they picked on us. I am an example of the first refugees from Eritrea, but now people from all nine ethnic groups are coming.”

Haile, a Tigrayan Eritrean in his fifties who has been a refugee for five years, tells IRIN his father and brother died in prison in Eritrea.

“The world has forgotten us, apart from the US, Canada and Ethiopia,” he says. “The United Nations is too tolerant of Isaias. What is happening is beyond [words]. It is a deep crisis. So why is the international community silent?”

About 50 kilometres south of Shimelba lies Hitsats, the newest and largest of the four camps. It has 11,000 refugees and four in five of them are under the age of 35.

Outside camp coordinator Haftam Telemickael’s office, a group of Eritreans is meeting a staff member to renew ration cards. Each month, every Hitsats resident is entitled to 10kg of wheat, 1kg of palm oil, 1kg of protein powder, a quarter kilogramme of salt and sugar each, one piece of soap, and 60 Ethiopian birr ($2.75) spending money.

“At least here they get permission to move freely and visit family in places like Addis Ababa,” says Tesfaye, a refugee who also works as a camp social worker. “In Eritrea there are six zones and you can’t move to another zone without permission. Even in Asmara you have to get permission to move to different parts of the city.”

Sudan is the other main overland option for Eritrean asylum seekers. But around and even inside the refugee camps there, Eritreans are particularly vulnerable targets for gangs who kidnap migrants for ransom, often torturing them during phone calls to relatives to persuade them to send money.

“In Sudan, there are more problems. We can sleep peacefully here,” says 32-year-old Ariam, who came to Hitsats four years ago with her two children after spending four years in a Sudanese camp.

Ariam owned a small hotel in Asmara but couldn’t sell it before she left as that would have aroused government suspicion. She lost about 80,000 nakfa ($5,000) on it. Now she survives on rations and by making and selling flatbread injera, generating about 3,000 Ethiopian birr ($136) a month.  

An Eritrean migrant newly arrived in Ethiopia shows the little money he has left
James Jeffrey/IRIN
Paying smugglers to escape Eritrea leaves many migrants with little money left over

The common thread to everyone’s story here is the hardship they experienced in Eritrea, a country under semi-autocratic rule that is all but cut off to journalists.

“It was difficult to live in Eritrea because of my small salary,” says 23-year-old Samrawit after entering Ariam’s home for coffee. “My husband is in prison because he tried to cross the border. I want to go to another country. I don’t dislike it here, but from Ethiopia it’s difficult to communicate with my family. From other countries it would be easier.”

Worst of neighbours

Relations between Addis Ababa and Asmara soured not long after Eritrea regained independence and in 1998 degenerated into a two-year border war that cost thousands of lives. The neighbours remain bitter enemies to this day and their shared border is highly militarised.

One of the entry points is in the town of Badme, the war’s flashpoint, in a region still occupied by Ethiopia in defiance of an international adjudication attributing it to Eritrea.

“I crossed after hearing they were about to round people up for the military,” says 20-year-old Gebre. “I wasn’t going to go through that –you’re hungry, there’s no salary, you’re not doing anything to help your country; you’re just serving officials.”

With Gebre are another 14 young men ranging in age from 16 to 20 who also crossed to avoid military service, but there are plenty of young mothers too.

“Life was getting worse,” says 34-year-old Samrawit. “I had no work to earn money to feed my children.” Only her two youngest children are with her. “I would like to make sure coming here is worth it before the elder two come,” she explains.

She travelled with 22-year-old mother-of-two Yordanos, having met her at the Eritrean town of Barentua, about 50 kilometres north of the border – their rendezvous point with their smuggler. He took them by car to the Mereb River, where they crossed into Ethiopia.

Neither knows how much the smuggler was paid, payment having been organised by their husbands who now live in Switzerland and Holland.

An army truck pulls up while the women and young men are waiting at the Badme entry point. It hasn’t come to take them to the screening centre, rather to deposit another eight refugees picked up at the border.

“Our soldiers don’t get any sleep they are so busy at night collecting refugees,” says an Ethiopian major.

(TOP PHOTO: The rugged landscape of northern Ethiopia's Tigray region, which lies on the Eritrean border. James Jeffrey/IRIN)



Africa, Eritrea, European Union, Horn of Africa

Source: The ConversationMarch 14, 2017 10.58am GMT
An Eritrean is searched at Rosenheim in Germany in 2015. Andreas Gebert/EPA
Regardless of international concerns, Eritrea continues to pursue a policy of indefinite military conscription that compels the young and the old to serve their country while paying them a pittance. Eritreans are continuing to leave in large numbers to find work to support their families and to find a greater degree of freedom than is possible at home.

In October 2016, a UN inquiry into human rights abuses in Eritrea reported that crimes against humanity have been committed in the country since 1991. Sheila Keetharuth, presenting the findings of the inquiry, appealed for UN member states to “grant Eritreans access to their territory and asylum procedures” and to “refrain from any forced repatriation to Eritrea or to third party countries where they may still be at risk or unwelcomed”.

The EU acknowledges that the reliance of the Eritrean regime, run by President Isaias Afwerki, on indefinite military conscription and authoritarian policies has led tens of thousands of Eritreans to flee. Yet, it is still working with Eritrea to find ways to stop Eritreans from entering Europe. In 2016, Eritreans were the seventh largest group of asylum seekers entering Europe.

Co-operation with Aferwerki’s regime

The failure of the EU to agree a common policy approach to the migrant crisis has been coupled with efforts to work with refugee-producing countries to stop the flow of new migrants entering Europe. In July 2014, the Italian deputy foreign minister went to Eritrea to negotiate on behalf of the EU. These talks were rapidly followed by visits to the capital Asmara in late 2014 by Danish, Norwegian and British officials whose principle concern was to stop Eritreans from leaving their country and to return Eritreans who had applied for asylum in Europe.

Officials in Asmara welcomed these European initiatives by promising to end indefinite military conscription and to pay conscripts a living wage. In return, Eritrea was given an EU grant of €200m in January 2015. However, it soon became apparent that Eritrea had no intention of introducing the promised reforms.

Nevertheless, European officials continue to rely on the assurances provided by senior Eritrean politicians that if its nationals were returned to Eritrea they would not be subject to human rights abuses and would not be conscripted into the military. On this basis, in 2014 the Danes, followed quickly in early 2015 by the British, revised their asylum policies and abruptly refused all Eritrean asylum applications.

A remarkable fight back occurred in the UK against this policy. This culminated in October 2016 when an immigration tribunal overturned Home Office policy, which forced the government back to its 2014 position granting status to most Eritrean asylum applicants. Few Eritreans had actually been deported back to Eritrea during the period of the change in policy, but many were living in destitution awaiting a decision on whether they would be deported. Other countries, such as Switzerland, have also begun changing their policies towards protecting Eritrean refugees.

Waiting for the bus in Asmara. Andrea Moroni/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

EU efforts to stop journeys beginning

The EU has funded in recent years with African partners, including Eritrea, have also sought to address the migration issue. Up for grabs are funds from a €2.5 billion EU Emergency Trust Fund to address the root causes of irregular migration in Africa, intended to promote economic development, migration management, stability and governance.

In the meantime, irregular migration to Europe continues apace, fed in no small measure by the repressive policies pursued by Eritrea, Sudan and Libya and by a failure of other “partners” such as Nigeria to reduce conflict and promote more inclusive development. While the EU thinks the partnership deals are having some “success”, it measures that “success” in terms of border management. However, without substantial improvements in regional economic development coupled with conflict resolution these “successess” will prove to be ephemeral.

Dismal track record

All this raises the question of whether the EU is simply throwing money at the problem in an attempt to make it go away. Given Eritrea’s track record on human rights and political reform it is doubtful whether this approach will achieve its objectives. Assisting repressive African states to erect efficient border controls that would prevent genuine refugees from fleeing clearly violates the basic tenets of European law. EU member states are also bound by the 1951 Refugee Convention to offer protection to genuine refugees.

UK migration policy is also confused. Despite setbacks in the courts, the Home Office continues to refuse asylum to genuine applicants and return some so-called “failed” asylum applicants to possible harm in Afghanistan and elsewhere. A policy of granting humanitarian visas which offer temporary protection to people fleeing violence and persecution is a positive first step, but the UK must pursue other measures to bring an end to violence and human rights abuses before sending people back to their country of origin.

The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office is in the middle of a major review of its policy on Eritrea, but it is not informed by a considered analysis of Eritrean domestic politics or its destabilising activities in the Horn of Africa. With its asylum and foreign policy in something of a shambles, the British government lacks a coherent approach to the Horn of Africa or towards forced migration in Africa – and as a result it is dependent on EU migration policy initiatives to reduce migration. But as the British government leaves the EU, its influence in Africa and on migration will wane and it will be increasingly dependent on EU policies to improve border management in Africa and migration into the UK.


Government watchdog says £10m has been allocated to Libya without studying the human rights implications

People in a detention center in Tripoli.

People in a detention center in Tripoli. Photograph: Ismail Zitouny/Reuters


British-funded refugee camps in Libya are implementing the indiscriminate and indefinite detention of asylum seekers in the conflict-riven country, the UK government’s official aid watchdog has warned.

In a report published on Friday, the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact expresses concern that UK aid to Libya risks causing unintended harm to migrants and could prevent them from reaching a place of safety. It also criticises ministers for apparently decided on the funding plan without studying the human rights implications in a country struggling to contain its long-running civil war.

“In Libya, where the operating environment severely constrains choices, the UK has identified some programming options with the potential to improve some of the conditions for migrants in detention,” it finds. “However, we are concerned about the risk that UK aid is contributing to a system that prevents refugees from reaching a place of safe asylum.”

The UK is spending roughly £10m this year in Libya to stem the flow of migrants from north Africa to Europe, including cash for the Libyan coastguard and to improve the appalling conditions in the camps where many people are now ending up.

“While reducing the number of deaths at sea is vital, we are concerned that the programme delivers migrants back to a system that leads to indiscriminate and indefinite detention and denies refugees their right to asylum,” the report says.

The aid watchdog, set up and funded by the government to report on the efficiency of Britain’s aid budget, also expressed concern that responsible government departments were not able to provide evidence that any prior human rights risk assessments had been made.

“We have not seen evidence that the responsible departments and implementing partners have analysed the economic and political conditions surrounding Libya’s system of detention centres in sufficient detail,” it says. “This is important because there are credible reports that some Libyan state and local officials are involved in people smuggling and trafficking, and in extortion of migrants in detention.”

It concludes there is a risk that providing financial or material support – even neutral humanitarian support – to detention centres breaches the “do no harm” principle in aid, and so puts asylum seekers at risk.

The report discloses that government officials acknowledge the legitimacy of these concerns in private but believe there is no alternative given government policy and the deep security crisis in Libya. The country’s civil war has escalated in recent days as rival sides battle for control of its hugely lucrative oil terminals.

The watchdog also criticises the UK’s overall programme to stem the flow of refugees from Africa, saying it is in its infancy and that UK officials have yet to develop a strategy let alone practical plans on the ground. Apart from one £125m programme in Ethiopia which specifically targets those most at risk of leaving for Europe, it warns, the migration programme is “some distance from having any impact”.

At EU-level, politicians increasingly speak of a new Marshall Plan for Africa, but the British plan is still at the design stage, the report says.

A £1bn Conflict, Stability and Security Fund under the control of the national security council has set aside £28m to stem migration flows in Africa.

The watchdog says officials are under pressure to produce results, but no consensus yet exists on the prime drivers of the migration flow, let alone how to reduce the tens of thousands leaving for Europe.


Government watchdog says £10m has been allocated to Libya without studying the human rights implications

People in a detention center in Tripoli.
People in a detention center in Tripoli. Photograph: Ismail Zitouny/Reuters

Italy's overcrowded migrant centres leave children vulnerable: Council of Europe
A man and young girl in a centre for refugees. Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
Italy needs to improve conditions in its migrant centres to avoid health problems, corruption, and an increase in illegal immigration, the Council of Europe has warned.

The report, which was published on Wednesday, singled out child migrants as particularly vulnerable.

Ambassador Tomáš Boček, the Council's Special Representative on migration and refugees, compiled the report after an October visit to some of the Italian regions which have shouldered the burden of the influx of migrants: Como, Sicily, and Rome.

Italy saw a record high of over 180,000 arrivals last year, including 25,000 unaccompanied children. Since the start of 2017 a further 15,000 people have arrived.

Many of the children who arrive in Italy alone are slipping through the gaps, the report warned, due to an inadequate guardianship system, poor conditions in migrant centres, and procedural delays.

The 'hotspots' which are intended to be the first port of call for newly-arrived migrants were criticized as "unfit to provide children's needs".

Despite the fact that the maximum period of time spent in these hotspots is supposed to be 72 hours, Boček said he had met youngsters in Lampedusa who had been housed there "in limbo" for over two months.

These delays led to overcrowded accommodation and poor sanitary conditions.

"In Lampedusa I also saw blocked toilets, with water leaking into the neighbouring bedroom which accommodated young girls, and the female showers were in a poor condition," the Special Representative recalled.

READ ALSO: Italy's migrant centres in crisis amid money worries

Other problems raised were that children regularly received "biscuits and cigarettes" in lieu of their €2.50 pocket money, and missed out on education while staying at the hotspots.

And some centres failed to properly separate accommodation for adults and children, and men and women, potentially putting children at risk, the report noted.

Migrants standing outside a reception centre. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

When children arrive in Italy without a parent or carer, the local mayor is generally appointed their guardian, but in areas which have seen high numbers of arrivals, this leaves mayors or their staff members responsible for over 1,000 children and therefore unable to provide proper care.

What's more, delays in appointing guardians, sometimes stretching over several months, created what Boček termed a "vacuum" in their care, potentially leaving them vulnerable to falling into the hands of smugglers.

The report urged Italy to implement "updated, universal standards" and regular monitoring for its migrant centres, both to ensure improvements in conditions and to minimize the risk of corruption at management level.

READ ALSO: Three migrant centre workers arrested for 9 million fraud

It also called on Italy to speed up the process of asylum decisions, relocation, and deportations - something Interior Minister Marco Minniti recently vowed to do.');">

Die einfache Lösung, digitale Daten zentral zu speichern.

Sichern Sie Ihre Videos und Fotos an einem zentralen Ort, auf den Sie von überall aus zugreifen können.

Proposé par Western Digital

Delays and weaknesses in these procedures not only put the centres under undue pressure, but may encourage further illegal migration, Boček warned.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni appeared to respond indirectly to the report, saying in the Italian Senate that EU resources were critical in helping Italy deal with the migrant crisis.

"Not even Merlin the wizard could solve the problems of immigration," the premier said. "But it is possible to replace illegal and deadly migrant routes with more acceptable flows and channels.

He called on EU member states to do their part in resolving the crisis, saying: "I hope that Brussels will take steps to help the work in Italy."


Migrant crisis: Hundreds rescued from boat off Crete

Thursday, 09 March 2017 12:20 Written by

About 340 migrants have been rescued and nine bodies have been pulled from the sea after a boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, Greek officials say.

Others are thought to be missing from the boat which was found in international waters, 75 nautical miles (140km) south of Greece's Crete island.

Ships, helicopters and planes are engaged in the rescue operation.

In a separate incident, "more than 100 bodies" were recovered off the coast of Libya, the AP news agency said.

Officials have said they believe the vessel that capsized off the coast of Crete "left from Africa" though it is still not clear from where.

The local head of the International Organisation for Migration Daniel Esdras told the BBC that it was a 25-metre (82ft) boat that can typically carry at least 700 people.

Clipper Hebe ship with name visibleImage copyright Solvanger Image caption A Norwegian vessel, the Clipper Hebe has taken more than 200 of the recued migrants onboard

"With the number you can never be sure because most of the times the minors are not even counted when the captain is counting the passengers. So, God knows how many people are really on the ship. We believe around 700," he said.

More than 200 of the survivors were rescued by a Norwegian tanker ship. The Clipper Hebe has a crew of 21, and is now on its way to Italy. The CEO of the company that owns the ship, Edvin Andreason, told the BBC the Italian coastguard had not yet instructed the captain where to take the migrants.

A British container vessel, Julie C, later became involved in the rescue. It is carrying 17 rescued migrants who will later be transferred to an Egyptian patrol vessel.

Military hospitals in the north and west of Egypt have been put on standby for the migrants' arrival.

Meanwhile, the number of dead from the boat that sank off Libya's coastline has reached 107, Libyan Red Crescent spokesman Mohammed al-Mosrati said, quoted by AP.

They included 40 women and five children and are thought to have died in the past 48 hours, Mr al-Mosrati said.

They were washed up on a beach near the city of Zuwara, from which many unseaworthy boats are believed to have set out for Italy packed with migrants.

New route?

The UN said this week that more than 2,500 people had died in 2016 trying to make the journey towards Western Europe.

A recent improvement in weather conditions has led to an upsurge in the numbers of boats crossing the Mediterranean.

Migrant arrivals to Greece


arrivals by sea in 2016, up to 1 June

  • 376 died on Turkey-Greece route

  • 52,871 persons of concern in Greece

  • 856,723 arrivals in 2015

Getty Images

This marks the second time this week that migrants have had to be rescued in waters off the Greek coast. Up until now few migrants have landed on Crete, which lies north of Libya and Egypt.

Friday's incident is likely to deepen concerns about a new smuggling route, one that could bring more tragedies at sea, following the closure of the Balkan route from Greece to Turkey in March.

Until the border closure, hundreds of thousands of migrants - many of them refugees from the Syrian civil war - streamed north through Greece, heading for Germany via the Balkans.

But border controls have since been tightened, leaving many asylum seekers stranded in Greece.

The EU has also struck a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of people risking their lives on flimsy boats crossing to Greece's Aegean islands.

In the past week the focus has switched to the central Mediterranean, because of a surge in the numbers of migrants making the long, perilous voyage from Libya to Lampedusa and Sicily. Italy and its EU partners are struggling to shut down the route.

Migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, by month