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St. Paul's Bay (Malta), April 22nd, 2015. Stop the boats carrying refugees before they set sail. Bomb the boats so that they cannot leave the African coast and sail for the European Union. Prevent those fleeing war and persecution leaving their homelands. The proposals suggested by the highest political offices of the Italian state and - incredibly - accepted by the EU as possible solutions to the tragedies migrants are being subjected to, are authentic projects of genocide, brutal crimes against humanity. I'm proud to be on the other side of the fence, on the side of the victims and persecuted by those in power. If one day they hold Nuremberg trials against these crimes, I want to be on the witness stand.

In the picture, "The Nuremberg Trials", painting by Laura Knight

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Thanks to a lack of joined-up policy on refugees, the Mediterranean has become the world's most dangerous migrant destination.Author

  1. Sarah Wolff

    Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London


Migrants arriving in Salerno. EPA/Ciro Fusco

Europe is today the deadliest migration destination in the world and the Mediterranean is becoming an open-air cemetery. In spite of worldwide condemnations – from civil society to global institutions such as UNHCR – the EU’s approach has been hopeless. While deploring deaths at sea, it has been unable, over the past three years, to act as the responsible political authority it ought to be – preferring to leave Italy to tackle the problem alone.

The tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean is a severe blow for the European common migration and asylum policy. Thought of initially as an accompanying measure to the achievement of the EU single market by easing the freedom of movement of people internally, it has drifted towards a Fortress Europe for most outsiders.

In 2004, between 700 and 1,000 died each year as they tried to cross into Europe from Africa depending on whose numbers you consulted. This number almost tripled in 2011 and included migrants dying in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Malta, Italy, Spain, Algeria, Greece, but also people shot dead on the Moroccan-Spanish border in Ceuta and Melilla or drowned in the Evros river on the Greek-Turkish border.

Migrants have long tried to escape both poverty and violent conflict by crossing into Europe, but the consensus is that the building of a restrictive common EU migration policy – which allows fewer legal ways of coming to Europe – and more sophisticated surveillance to enforce this policy have contributed to this stark increase in the number of deaths.

So, one of the most popular migrant routes in 2004, the West African route – which involved taking sea passage from West African countries, mainly Senegal and Mauritania, into the Canary Islands – has become largely disused. Compared to the 31,600 illegal migrants detected by Frontex in 2008, only 275 migrants took this route in 2014.

Cooperation between Spain, Mauritania and Senegal involving more sophisticated surveillance – as well as repatriation agreements with West African countries which have returned thousands to their countries of origin – have prompted migrants to take different routes, mainly the central Mediterranean route that goes through Libya. The Gilbraltar strait is now well controlled by the Spanish Integrated System of External Vigilance which has forced migrants to divert via longer and more dangerous routes.

Since the fall of Gaddafi the absence of a stable government in Libya has caused a considerable disruption of border controls in and out of the country which has led human traffickers concentrate their efforts there. And it has also been reported that restrictive border controls in Israel and the Gulf – Saudi Arabia has built a 1,800km fence on its border with Yemen – has prompted many migrants, notably from East Africa, to head for Europe instead. After Syrians fleeing the civil war, Eritreans are the most common nationals found attempting the central Mediterranean route.

Mare Nostrum and Triton

Faced with the indecisiveness of its European partners over the migratory flows the Italian government unilaterally established its Mare Nostrum operation, which ran from October 2013 to October 2014 and patrolled 70,000km in the Sicily Straits at a cost of Euros 9m per month (US$9.6). This involved more than 900 Italian staff, 32 naval units and two submarines taking shifts amounting to more than 45,000 hours of active operations. The Italian navy reports that during the Mare Nostrum operation it engaged in 421 operations and saved 150.810 migrants, seizing 5 ships and bringing to justice 330 alleged smugglers.

But by the end of 2014 the burdens of running Mare Nostrum alone were becoming too much for Italy, which was keen to involve its European partners. The Triton programme, coordinated by the EU border agency Frontex and under the command of the Italian ministry of Interior, was duly established, on a much smaller scale than Mare Nostrum – Triton deploys two ocean patrol vessels, two coastal patrol vessels, two coastal patrol boats, two aircraft and a single helicopter.

It also has no mandate for rescue-at-sea operations since its job is to control EU’s external maritime and land borders. Before last week’s tragedy, 24,400 irregular migrants have been rescued since November 2014, mostly by Italy. Some 7,860 migrants were saved by assets co-financed by Frontex.

Italy has been left to bear the brunt of rescue missions. EPA/Marco Costantino

Click to enlarge

The horror at the rocketing numbers of deaths in the Mediterranean in recent weeks has at last prompted the EU to call for concerted action by its member states – and the ten-point action plan endorsed by European foreign and interior ministers on April 20 calls for an strengthening of Frontex Triton and Poseidon’s operations.

But the question of Frontex mandate on rescue at sea has not been addressed and nor has its inadequate budget, which is around Euro 2.9m monthly – just one-third of Mare Nostrum’s. Instead, increased cooperation between Europol, Eurojust, the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex and the deployment of immigration liaison officers to “gather intelligence on smugglers” are very vague action points which appear to merely repackage existing measures.

Needed: a joined-up policy

It is actually quite clear what the EU should be aiming for. First, a much larger rescue-at-sea operation should immediately be put in place. Since Italy halted Mare Nostrum, deaths at sea have increased rapidly. Its inadequate replacement, Triton, provides a convenient scapegoat for politicians who should never have mandated Frontex – the EU Border agency – for the task of rescue at sea in the first place. What is needed from the EU is to agree a collective system of rescue at sea – rather than relying on the efforts of individual EU member states.

Second, there must be safer, legal, avenues for asylum in Europe. Migrants are not just fleeing poverty, they are fleeing violence, danger and repression. At present most of them end up in Libya, which is in itself a very dangerous place; the hope of reaching safety in Europe prompts these refugees to risk highly perilous – and expensive – escape routes. Many are dying at sea.

This is not likely to go away anytime soon and building legal, virtual or real fences won’t help. For some of those migrants, Europe could offer humanitarian visas and others could take advantage of family reunion with relatives already in Europe. Employment programmes could identify jobs to fill key shortages in the European economy. Offering more and easier legal means would necessarily lead to a fall in irregular migration.

We also need to establish a joined-up policy involving not just destination countries, but places of origin and transit countries. For many years the EU has been relying on non-members to police its borders. This is a flawed approach – rather than simply offering financial compensation, the EU needs to revise its incentives and provide what these origin and transit countries want: visa facilitation and trade and access to the EU single market. It’s time to work out an effective cooperation, not merely trying to impose a top-down security agenda, which is doomed to fail. Also doomed to fail is the traditional approach which has relied on southern European states and their neighbours dealing with the surge of refugees.

Meanwhile, in Libya. EPA/STR

Click to enlarge

The Dublin convention, which was established in 1990 to regulate the assignment of asylum applications processing, is surely no longer viable. A system that reassigns applications of asylum-seekers to the country they first entered puts southern Europe under excessive strain – especially as countries such as Greece lacks the capacity to host and process applications while observing their human rights obligations. The 2015 Tarakhel vs. Switzerland is the latest of a series of cases which highlight the inefficiency of that system. It is high time to review the notion of “burden-sharing” within the EU.

Not needed: the Australian solution

Tony Abbott’s suggestion that Europe should follow Australia’s example and simply turn boats back, or ship all rescued refugees and migrants to off-shore processing centres is certainly not a serious proposal. By diverting migrants to Papua New Guinea islands of Manus and Naura, Australia has been found to violate its international law obligations. Meanwhile, to Australia’s shame, Amnesty International has documented numerous human rights abuses in these processing centres.

Australia’s refugee policy is not only inhumane, but apparently rather expensive: AU$342.2m ($256.5) was spent by Australian Customs and Border Protection Service for its Civil Maritime Surveillance and Response programme – which involves policing illegal maritime arrivals.

Following Australia’s example is unrealistic as it relies so heavily on siting its offshore facilities in its neighbouring countries. Given the long-standing reluctance of north African and Middle Eastern countries to play that role – and given their own limited capacities, this is never going to work. The migratory flows are much larger, for a start.

Adopting Australian’s offshore processing of boat people would not only contravene EU and international law but would also probably reveal that the EU is going adrift and that, next to a governance crisis, it is undergoing a deep moral and ethical crisis.


Eritrea: Africa's land of exodus

Wednesday, 22 April 2015 14:44 Written by

Eritrea is the world's most censored country according to a new list released by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Thousands of Eritreans flee to Europe to escape torture and arbitrary arrests.

Mohammed Idris speaks softly as he vividly recalls his journey a year ago. It took him from Eritrea to Europe. "In Libya, it was very hard. I even had to spend a month in prison," says the Eritrean. Then he ventured the crossing to Europe. "We boarded a boat and went across the Mediterranean to Italy."

Unlike many others, Mohammed Idris made it to Germany. Each year, thousands of Eritreans flee the Horn of Africa nation. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, over 300,000 Eritreans fled the nation of 6.5 million inhabitants last year.

It's not just the men, but also many women and their children who risk everything to take the perilous journey across the desert and into the Mediterranean. "The majority of them are very young," Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest who fled to Italy from Eritrea more than 20 years ago, told DW in an interview.

Eritrean Catholic priest Mussie Zerai founder of humanitarian organization Habeshia.

Eritrean born Catholic priest Mussie Zerai has dedicated his life to helping stranded refugees

Nowadays, he is involved in helping refugees who are in distress. "Last week, I received distress calls from the Mediterranean sea. I collected the information and passed it on to the Italian and Maltese coast guard and asked them to help these people."

Country without perspective

The human rights organization Amnesty International describes Eritrea as one of the most repressive regimes in the world. President Isaias Afewerki has been in power for 22 years. Afewerki is in effect the union head of state, head of government, commander in chief of the armed forces, parliament speaker and leader of the only authorized party, the PFDJ.

"Since 1993 when Eritrea gained independence, it has had only one president, only one party. And no opposition is allowed," says Clara Braungart, Eritrea researcher at Amnesty International.

African refugees protesting at a camp at Egypt's border with Israel.

Some of the Eritrean refugees end up in Israel after crossing Egypt

All forms of civil society are prohibited. Media is not independent as there is only one state-run TV and radio outlet. "Against this background, no freedom is possible," says Braungart.

Mekonnen Mesghena, an Eritrean and expert on migration at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, agrees. He says a climate of fear reigns and people lack any political or economic perspective. "Many people feel trapped in a permanent conflict situation."

In 1998, a simmering border dispute broke out with neighboring adversary Ethiopia. Since then, the government justifies any repression with the argument of a "threat to national security," Mesghena says. Each spark of protest is punished with arbitrary detention and torture.

Torture as a tool for oppression

"We have received many reports of people being tortured. For example, they are tied up, hung by their feet or are exposed to excessive heat," says Clara Braungart of Amnesty International.

Issaias Afewerki, President of Eritrea.

President Issaias Afewerki has lead Eritrea with an iron fist since 1993

For these reasons, the people would not even dare to speak out against the government.

There is only sporadic opposition to Eritrea's government policies. In 2012, the entire Eritrean national football team asked for asylum in Uganda after taking part in a regional tournament. In 2013, dissident military officers occupied the Ministry of Information demanding political reforms. 187 of them were immediately arrested. Last year, four Roman Catholic bishops criticized the political situation in the country in an open letter.

Another reason why many young Eritreans flee the country is military conscription, says Braungart. All men and women from the age of 18 must serve in the armed service for 16 months.

Even students are asked to complete their final year in a military camp. "People often have to serve the military for many years with very little pay," Braungart says.

A pharmacist stands inside a chemist in Eritrea's capital Asmara.

Eritrea has a rich Italian colonial legacy such as this pharmacy in the capital Asmara

If they refuse, they face imprisonment and arbitrary military service could be extended indefinitely.

Human rights violations have also been condemned by the international community. In 2012, the United Nations named Sheila Keetharuth as Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea. Since then she has sought to travel to Eritrea with no success.


UNCHR says 350 Eritreans in boat

Wednesday, 22 April 2015 14:39 Written by

(ANSA) - Geneva, April 21 - Some 350 Eritreans were among the 850 people who perished in the migrant boat that sank off the coast of Libya on Saturday night, a United Nations spokesperson said on Tuesday.
    U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Adrian Edwards said, "according to survivors heard by UNHCR, the boat left Tripoli, Libya on Saturday with approximately 850 people and many children. Among the people on board, there were 350 Eritreans, and (others) from Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia".
    The European Union is in the process of deciding a course of action targeting human traffickers in the Mediterranean in the wake of migrant-boat disaster.
    On Monday, the European Commission presented a 10-point plan including destroying smugglers' boats on the Libyan coast.
    Italy unveiled a five-point plan on Tuesday which includes a similar approach to destroying smuggler boats and the possible use of drones. Proposals will be examined by a special EU summit Thursday.


700 Migrants Feared Dead in Mediterranean Shipwreck
700 Migrants Feared Dead in Mediterranean Shipwreck
Close to Power, Finnish Populists Tone Down Anti-Athens Policies
By Antonio Denti

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - As many as 700 migrants were feared dead on Sunday after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean, raising pressure on Europe to face down anti-immigrant bias and find money for support as turmoil in Libya and the Middle East worsens the crisis.

If the death toll is confirmed, it will bring to 1,500 the total number of people who died this year seeking to reach Europe - a swelling exodus that prompted Europe to downsize its seek and rescue border protection program in a bid to deter them. International aid groups strongly criticized the decision.

After news of Sunday's disaster several government leaders called for emergency talks and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said foreign ministers would discuss the immigration crisis at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. European Council President Donald Tusk said he was considering calling a special meeting of EU leaders, a summit that Renzi had called for earlier.

Meanwhile Italian and foreign ships and helicopters worked into the night to find possible survivors. So far 28 people have been rescued and 24 bodies recovered, Italian authorities said.

The 20 meter-long vessel sank 70 miles from the Libyan coast, south of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, as a large merchant ship approached it. A survivor told the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR that 700 people on board, hopeful the ship would save them, moved to one side, toppling the boat.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said details were still "nebulous" and that he couldn't estimate the total death count.

French President Francois Hollande said the EU had to do more, telling Canal+ television that rescue and disaster prevention efforts needed "more boats, more over flights and a much more intense battle against people trafficking."

"More EU countries must take responsibility for the refugee situation," said Sweden's Minister for Justice and migration Morgan Johansson. He called for an expansion of the EU's Triton border protection program, the scheme that recently replaced a broader search and rescue mission run by Italy.

The Italian "Mare Nostrum" was canceled last year because of the cost and because some politicians said it encouraged migrants to depart by raising their hopes of being rescued.

"It was an illusion to think that cutting off Mare Nostrum would prevent people from attempting this dangerous voyage," said the German government's representative for migration, refugees and integration, Aydan Ozoguz.

Yet Renzi warned that resolving the crisis was not only a matter of search and rescue at sea. He said a concerted international effort was needed to locate and stop people traffickers, many of whom have flourished during the chaos among warring clans in Libya.

"We mustn't leave the migrants at the mercy of criminals who traffic human beings," Renzi told the news conference. "We are asking not to be left alone."


Carlotta Sami, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said initial information about the capsized boat came from one of the survivors who spoke English.

This survivor "said that at least 700 people, if not more, were on board. The boat capsized because people moved to one side when another vessel that they hoped would rescue them approached," Sami said.

She later added that "several sources confirm the death of at least 700 people."

Renzi said Italian and foreign navy and coast guard vessels, patrol boats and merchant ships, as well as helicopters, were involved in the search-and-rescue operation, which was being coordinated by the Italian coast guard in Rome.

Maltese Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela said the survivors and the corpses were on an Italian naval vessel coming to Malta, from where the survivors would continue on to Italy.

Pope Francis, who has spoken out repeatedly on the migrant crisis, repeated his call for quick and decisive action from the international community.

"They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war. They were looking for a better life, they were looking for happiness," he told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday noon address.

Aid groups have called for the opening of a "humanitarian corridor" to ensure the safety of the migrants but in Italy there were also calls to stop the boats from leaving and even to destroy them.

The leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, called for an immediate naval blockade of the coast of Libya while Daniela Santanche, a prominent member of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party said Italy's navy must "sink all the boats."

Libya's lawless state, following the toppling of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, has left criminal gangs of migrant smugglers free to send a stream of boats carrying desperate migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

Around 20,000 migrants have reached the Italian coast this year, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates. That is fewer than in the first four months of last year, but the number of deaths has risen almost nine-fold.

Last week, around 400 migrants were reported to have died attempting to reach Italy from Libya when their boat capsized.

"A tragedy is unfolding in the Mediterranean, and if the EU and the world continue to close their eyes, it will be judged in the harshest terms as it was judged in the past when it closed its eyes to genocides when the comfortable did nothing," Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

(Additional reporting by Philip Pullella, Paolo Biondi and Gavin Jones in Rome, Robin Emmott in Brussels, Chris Scicluna in Malta, Noah Barkin in Berlin, Laurence Frost in Paris,; writing by James Mackenzie and Gavin Jones; editing by Alessandra Galloni and Sophie Walker)




Europe can’t afford to sit back and do nothing when thousands of migrants are dying every week in search of a new life in Italy and Greece

Immigration, leader

A fishing boat carrying 300 illegal migrants in the Mediterranean. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

A vast human tragedy is unfolding along the shores of the Mediterranean, its horrors largely ignored by Britain’s inward-looking, election-fixated politicians and an insouciant, slow-to-react European Union. Dozens of orphaned and malnourished children daily cry out for help; injured victims are thrown to sharks or forced overboard by religious fanatics; and hundreds die needlessly in this ruthless, expanding traffic in human suffering.

These grisly events are not occurring on the tourist beaches of Spain’s Costa del Sol, the French Riviera or the sheltered resorts of southern Turkey so beloved of well-to-do European holidaymakers. If they were, there would be more of a fuss. This tragedy has its origins, instead, in impoverished Chad, Darfur and Sierra Leone, in Eritrea and Somalia, in Syria and other war-ravaged countries of the Arab spring. And it reaches its usually unseen, often fatal denouement in the waters off northern Libya, as a growing number of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants desperately bids to reach Italy and Greece by sea.

The numbers involved are hard to gauge accurately. But it is clear the exodus, principally from Libya, is accelerating rapidly. Italian ships picked up about 11,000 migrants in the past week alone. Around 950 have drowned or been murdered so far this year, including about 450 in two shipwrecks last week. Although the overall total reaching Europe safely is similar, so far, to the same period last year, according to the International Organisation for Migration, the death toll is 10 times higher. As we report today, many are children who have been abandoned or sent on ahead by their parents in the hope of a better life.

Explanations for this developing tragedy are numerous. Libya, a failed state in all but name, is now embroiled in a multi-factional civil war. In the absence of effective governance, Islamist militias, including jihadis from Isis, hold increasing sway.

In these conditions, people-trafficking and smuggling gangs operate with impunity and readily resort to violence. Only last week the Italian navy was forced to storm a trawler that had been seized by armed men off Libya. The Vatican, meanwhile, condemned the alleged murder of 12 Christian migrants by 15 Muslims who were sharing their boat.


Migrants and refugees, the majority young men, are coming to Libya, the closest point to the Italian coast, and other staging points, from all over the Middle East and north and west Africa, driven by a range of factors. These include all-out war, Islamist insurgencies and climate change-related drought and famine. Rapid population growth, exacerbating a chronic lack of jobs and economic opportunity, is another powerful spur. The result has been called the biggest human upheaval since the Second World War. Mostly, these legions of the displaced are heading for Europe.

So what is Europe doing about it? The answer, so far, is dismayingly little. Instead of rallying around Italy’s admirable Mare Nostrum search and rescue programme, which plucked 100,000 people from the sea in 2014, the EU replaced it with a more limited border security operation run by its Frontex agency. So far this year, Frontex, by comparison, has rescued only 5,000 people. Monthly funding for its Triton programme is less than a third of the Mare Nostrum budget.

As the crisis deepens, Brussels’s dithering grows lethal. The European commission is due to publish a policy document next month, entitled Agenda on Migration. As its name and timing suggest, they are not in a hurry. Member states will consider a more collectivised approach to asylum and legal migration and the contentious idea of migrant processing centres in north Africa. Given the political sensitivity of the immigration issue in EU countries, and the eurozone pleas of poverty, the prospect of quick, effective action is remote.

Both Italy and Greece appealed urgently for increased financial help and practical assistance last week, as did Save the Children and Human Rights Watch. Jan Egeland, a former UN emergency relief co-ordinator, warned that the Mediterranean has become the world’s most dangerous border between countries not at war. He lambasted European governments for their inaction.

Meeting Barack Obama in Washington, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, said the Mediterranean was a sea, not a cemetery. Obama promised to help, but his focus is on fighting Isis terrorism and stabilising Libya. From an American point of view, this seems understandable. This crisis on its doorstep is primarily a challenge for relatively wealthy Europe and its professed human rights values. If the EU cannot act collectively to counter such a threat to its shared security, borders and interests, then what, truly, is the EU for? But it seems few in Europe are listening. Europe’s politicians and the EU’s insulated, insular functionaries are shamed by their silence.

Before British Eurosceptics, Ukip included, use this failure to further write off the EU, they should reflect on Britain’s own inexcusably irresponsible response to the emergency. The government refused last autumn to support Mare Nostrum or Frontex’s replacement operation. Its argument, that search and rescue programmes only encouraged increased migration, has been totally discredited by this spring’s surge. Yet far from acknowledging their mistake, the Conservatives persist in ignoring what is happening beyond Dover. They will not or cannot see the bigger picture.

Their election manifesto makes no mention of the migration crisis in the Middle East and Africa or the link to non-EU immigration into Britain. Does home secretary Theresa May really believe the young men jumping lorries at Calais have materialised from nowhere, like shadow figures emerging from a hidden underworld? Does Nigel Farage really think Britain is alone in facing these difficulties, and that it alone can resolve them? And what does Ed Miliband, whose immigration policy focus has also been disappointingly domestic, propose to do about the wider issues? It is time such matters were included in the wider election debate.

The challenge is enormous. The fundamental causes of this crisis will take years to address. An urgent first step is to reinstitute EU-underwritten search and rescue operations. At the same time, as the UN has urged, a top priority must be to create safe, legal options so that would-be migrants do not need to turn to people smugglers or put their lives at risk at sea. More should be done, too, to broker peace in Libya. Britain and other EU governments have a joint responsibility, to victims and voters, to act swiftly to halt the mayhem in the Mediterranean.

© UNHCR/F.Malavolta
A UNHCR staff member watches as people rescued from the Mediterranean disembark from an Italian Coastguard vessel at Palermo, Sicily, this morning.

GENEVA, April 14 (UNHCR)The UN refugee agency on Tuesday renewed its call for stepped up rescue operations in the Mediterranean after the Italian Coastguard saved some 8,500 migrants and refugees trying to cross the high seas by irregular routes to Europe from North Africa.

Those rescued since last Friday included an estimated 3,000 people in four boats and 16 dinghies rescued on Monday. At the same time, at least nine people are known to have drowned. These figures are provisional and could rise, as not all the boats have disembarked yet and some are still on their way towards various ports in southern Italy.

The coastguard often requests merchant ships to take part in search-and-rescue operations if all other vessels are being used. On Monday, seven ships travelling towards Libya were asked to help boats in distress and to take those rescued to Sicily. UNHCR has also called for a compensation scheme to alleviate the costs of rescue operations for commercial vessels.

Among those arriving at Palermo early Tuesday was 30-year-old Gebre from Eritrea, who said his boat left Tripoli three days earlier carrying about 400 people. "It was dark and so crowded I could not even move," he said. "After the first night of travel, the boat started taking on water; I have never been so scared. I felt helpless and terrified. Luckily, the Italian Coastguard came shortly after and rescued us all."

Aali, a 21-year-old Libyan from Sirte, said he fled after his brother was killed and his food shop torched by militants. The war changed everything," he said, adding: "Was there really an alternative to this dangerous sea journey?"

UNHCR praised the commitment shown by the Italian authorities in rescuing people in need on the high seas, before renewing an appeal for stepped up rescue efforts and the urgent establishment of a robust European search-and-rescue operation.

This year's toll of dead and missing in the Mediterranean Sea is now well over 500, a number which is 30 times higher than the same period of 2014. These figures show that not enough resources are being used to address the population flows and that, without proper search, rescue and monitoring operations at sea, many more people will die trying to reach safety in Europe.

UNHCR is also calling for legal, safe alternatives for those fleeing conflict and persecution, so that they are not forced to attempt the crossing to Europe by sea.

In the Gulf of Yemen, meanwhile, refugees continue to arrive in Djibouti and Somalia from Yemen, with a total of 1,260 people arriving by boat to both countries over the past two weeks.

All those arriving in Djibouti were Yemeni nationals, aside from three Syrians. The latest new arrivals have fled the intense violence in Aden, whereas earlier waves came mostly from Bab el-Mandeb.

In Djibouti, refugees are registered and receive medical checks and vaccinations before being transferred to a new camp under construction at Markazi, which has 70 tents in place so far.

A total of 915 people, including 156 Yemenis, have arrived across the Gulf of Aden, in Somaliland and Puntland. Recent arrivals to Bossaso port in Puntland have departed from Al Mukalla port in Yemen, and included women and children who arrived extremely thirsty and asking for water.

One woman was heavily pregnant and taken to the Bossaso health centre to deliver her baby. Recent arrivals to Berbera port in Somaliland left Mukha port in Yemen, with other ports closed. The refugees said they paid US$50 per person and that many more people were waiting to depart.

UNHCR and its partners are making contingency plans to receive up to 30,000 refugees in Djibouti and 100,000 in Somalia over the next six months

Inside Yemen, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate as conflict spreads. Eighteen out of 22 governorates are now affected by conflict. "Many of the 250,000 mainly Somali refugees in Yemen are also affected by the conflict and we continue to see an increase in people moving from urban areas around Aden to the Kharaz refugee camp, hosting 18,000 people," a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile boats also continue to arrive on the Yemen coast. Last Sunday, 251 people (mainly Ethiopians, but also Somalis) arrived at Mayfa'a. UNHCR partners and staff are registering new arrivals.





Appeal to all Eritreans caring and jealous of their families to donate generously to save the Eritrean refugees in Yemen. We in the Eritrean National Constants Front, in cooperation with the Committee of Eritreans Refugees in Yemen, appeal to every Eritrean caring and jealous of his family to contribute in order to rescue the lives of Eritrean refugees in Yemen who are facing harsh conditions because of the war ignited there, where they lost everything in their refugees' camps and fled after the bombing of Sanaa for their security and safety.

However, the United Nations Office did not provide them with the necessary protection which compelled them to look for renting shelter in Sanaa or lodging with relatives. Their number according to preliminary estimates is about 1,000 refugees, who currently, these poor Eritrean refugees and war victims, run out of all the food and money they had and are unable to get any kind of assistance from the United Nations, which evacuated all its employees from Yemen because of the war resulting in the loss of lost any financial resource to enable them pay for their houses' rent or buy food for their children, especially milk, sugar and flour.

We kindly demand and call upon all Eritreans abroad to urgently donate to their fellow Eritrean refugees in Yemen who became war victims and became entrenched between war oak and hunger hammer, and became homelessness according the Eritrean Refugees' Commission ..

As we all know, the Afwerki regime abandoned its legal and national responsibility to protect its citizens… so, do want to do the same thing and forsake them (the Eritrean refugees in Yemen) too?

Since the possibility of introducing food or medicine to Yemen is not possible, please donate in cash because it can get those nutrients from the black market, despite their very high prices. This action is urgently needed to improve the situation there.

Dear Eritrean compatriot, please donate even one dollar or one Euro… this can save one Eritrean child and mother who are facing real death threats from all sides. We also appeal to all human rights organizations abroad to be active through contacts with concerned international organizations to raise the grave situation of Eritrean refugees' in Yemen.

Eritrean refugees Committee in Yemen account is the( Yemen International Bank account 0002-505936 )

To communicate with the ManagementCommittee of Eritreans Refugees in Yemen to write this e-mail

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April 13, 2015

Besikdira and its children, በስግዲረዲንርቍርዲ is the latest Blin literary work, in the fiction genre, mainly based on historical, real events in Eritrea since 1960s. The book consists of 21 chapters opening up with a Preface and Acknowledgement. In this review, I find only point out the main story lines. The narrative is centred around, but not limited to, the massacre in the village of Besikdira, 15km east of Keren town. After burning seven villages the previous days, the uninvited Ethiopian army visited Besikdira in November 30, 1970 only to destroy it. The officer (ሻምበል) Teshome, and his Amharic-speaking troops, also including Eritrean-born Kumandos, posed two immediate questions to the people in Tigrigna (only 5 adults could speak it) as the people did not understand Amharic: (1) if the village is free from bandits (ሽፍታ, shifta)[i], in his own words bedbugs and fleas), and (2) if they were either Muslims or Christians. Mr Mender Beimnet, the village chief, and Mr Tesfu Almedom responded that they did not know of any bandits and that the people belonged to both Christianity and Islam. Upon learning that the people did not want to get separated along religious lines, the troops forced the inhabitants into the village Mosque and shot them down indiscriminately, killing 118[ii] civilians 11 of whom were pregnant mothers, 20 were children, and the rest were youngsters and adults[iii]. The author narrates in his fictional work about the details in the killing. The next day, December 1, 1970 was the turn of Ona village, only 4-5 Kms north east of Keren, when the military forces headed by Colonel Welana massacred almost 800 civilians indiscriminately, and without any notice. There was no question that the people supported the liberation movement since 1962.

   The story starts off with the general political instability since the 1960s when the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) confronted Ethiopia’s domination after the latter had annexed Eritrea as its 14th Province, revoking the UN arranged Federation (1952-1961). As the ELF was active in the Western lowlands, Ethiopian atrocities increased heavily and the apex of that came in the fall of 1970 when the ELF ambushed and killed General Teshome Ergetu, head of the Second Military Division in October 1970. He was heading toward his new headquarters in Keren town to crash the ELF and the people, to ‘dry the sea in order to catch up the fish’, i.e., to target the civilians in order to weaken and consequently destroy the ELF. Those massacres are put in this context, and one man’s life was to be compensated for by around 1000 within less than 24 hours in Besikdira and Ona. Interestingly enough, the author accounts for how the atrocities became catalyst and intensified struggle for independence.

     In his fictional description, the author exemplifies the events in a life of a nuclear- and extended family members, the inhabitants of Besikdira, its environs, the Sekwina district, the Senhit Province, events all over Eritrea, the fate of youngsters in their yearning for freedom, justice and equality, and finally, the inflicting cruelty of Ethiopian soldiers. The centre stage actor becomes the family of Fickak and his wife Afiet, their only son Terexbe[iv] who got married to the beautiful Melika and begot two sons, Aybu and Abbe. Unfortunately, on the bloody Monday massacre at Besikdira where the people were forced into a small mosque only to be shot down, ((እልላ, ኣጣቅዕዳ, p. 57-60) the young wife of Terexbe, and the mother of the two, Malika, fell dead alongside the other 117 victims in the mosque. Survivors discovered that it was her bold that they were covered by, and that her younger son suckled her dry breasts for milk.

   On the one hand, Paulos beautifully crafts the Blin language to narrate how the family not only suffered physically the painful events of the period such as imprisonment (when Terexbe was imprisoned, (ንሽዋ p. 32-37), continued house-burning (48-49), sexual harassment and abuse but also in terms of psychological inhumation. He also describes in detail some more events, such as forced displacement (ገዓዳ, p. 49) etc., On the other hand, Paulos depicts how the Fickak family enjoyed the good sides of life, often highlighting underlying cultural values and societal norms, entertaining daily communal routines such as coffee break, child rearing and development, engagement, initiation rite, Blin-style brethren hood, story-telling (dannarjigna, p. 12-13), neighbourly life (gor-dannar, 14-17), wedding festivities (ferwenter, p. 24-28), youth love, socialization and friendship (wrznet, p. 12-15), pastoral life, initiation rite ceremonies (Hiche, shngalle, kxan, p. 18-23), wealth-sharing, development, dreaming for peace, avoiding hatred or disagreement, war and conflict.

   The family exemplified the fate of Eritreans at that time. Terexbe was imprisoned (p. 32) because a certain informant (ሺኩት) spied to the Amhara[v] that Terexbe was a member of the village lajnet, with the responsibility for collecting the monthly dollar per family, qesem, which every Eritrean adult had to contribute for the liberation movement, i.e., ELF. Malika was shot dead in the Mosque, and Terexbe’s parents were also dead because they could not bear the pain. Eventually, once on age, the two brothers joined ELF and the EPLF, respectively, in order to revenge their mother’s loss in the Mosque, leaving Terexbe alone in the house (pp 77-80).

   The reader also finds a lot of Blin liberation songs, praising the independence and rebuking the enemy, such as –“Na Shugutl: Shebab Axnima genjew DeAritl”, literally, aren’t the youth reside in Deari in such a tender age” (p. 34). +A recurring worry of the author, however, lies in the never-ending disagreement between the two ‘siblings’, ELF and EPLF, that “resulted in unnecessary loss of Eritrean lives and consequently, prolonged the independence day to 1991” (interspersed in the overall text). Paulos also notes the series of Ethiopian war crimes and major massacres and since 1961 in Eritrea, narrating the events not only as they occurred but also rhetorically in their connection to the dreams of people to live together in good or bad times, peacefully.

   Finally, in 1980, the ELF and EPLF clashed in Halhal, the worst event which occurred to many Eritrean families who sided with the wrong side (p. 99-100), and Aybu shot down his own brother Abbe ‘simply assuming that he was the foe. Aybu was not alone in that incident as many other Eritreans also shared that fate’, narrates the author. The story culminates in an eventual meeting of the EPLF fighter Aybu and his father Terexbe after the latter wanted to meet his son, Abbe. Unfortunately, Aybu was forced to reveal the truth, and finally exclaimed, “Daddy, I will tell you a taboo, (ኤበ, ዲደትድውየከ ግን), I killed my own brother even I if rejoiced at first when I thought I won over the enemy in that civil war” (p. 99). “That is the fruit of disagreement among brothers and sisters”, laments the author (p. 99-100). Disappointed, sad and frustrated, Terexbe returns home and continued living alone. Terexbe had only one hope, supporting the even much more independence movement for which he was imprisoned and waiting for the return of his only remaining family member alive, Aybu – “as did many Eritrean parents”, notes Paulos.

   The concluding chapter (p. 102) is in fact a methodological note on the writing process. The author advises potential authors to follow standard referring system, interview the living witnesses of events in Eritrea, and coming up with a quality research work: “My advice to potential authors is that we have to write different kinds of literature because there lies our cultural capital. We praise those who have already written something, and at the same time we criticize those who did not write anything (yet). Future generations need to benefit from our literature as their heritage. Thus, I encourage you all to write about something” … so that one can improve the style and content in the literature, to sustain existing knowledge and create new knowledge – for the sake of future generations” (p. 102).

   This unique work in narrative genre is a welcome contribution to the literature in Blin with its rich documentation of knowledge of values, norms and daily lives, with substantial contents as well as presentation.በስግዲረዲንርቍርዲ[vi], ‘Besikdira and its Children’ fills a badly needed gap about historical events delving into Eritrean/Blin mentality in coping with problems and bad situation. I only commend Paulos work as one the boldest contribution so far on the emerging Blin (and other Eritrean) literature with its deep narration of events that will live for many generations to come.

   As a reader, I enjoyed reading በስግዲረዲንርቍርዲand I hope that this work will only be the beginning. ኣጃሀብሪዅይዳን. Well-done a young author!

   I recommend this book to anybody who is interested to know more closely the situation in Eritrea during (and shortly after) the war for independence from a local point of view. Those who want to develop literacy work in the Blin language are also recommended to read this book as well as those who want to write and learn in Blin script.

A father of two, Paulos Tesfaldet lives in Oslo, Norway.

For any contacts about the book, mail Paulos at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


[i] When the Ethiopians referred to the liberation fronts as shifta (ሽፍታ) as bandits, Eritreans in general (excluding the shikut, jasus, and some of the wedo-geba) reacted that ‘they did know anything about shifta”, implicitly protesting that the ELF and later on the EPLF were not bandits but liberation fighters. Yn shifta aerini, runs in Blin.

[ii] There were more than 50 survivors, including this reviewer’s close relatives, who still narrate the sad events vividly. The victims, however were not only from Besikdira village but also from adjacent villages who were forced to settle in Besikdira in May 1970, including Sanqa, Hangol, Feledarb and Fissoruxw, victims from the latter two were passersby. The author mentions other displaced villages in the former Senhit District (p. 48-56).

[iii]There are a couple of historical work on Ethiopian War Crimes (massacres) in Eritrea, including (1) Abba Teweldebrhan Geberemedhin and Abba Zerayakob Okbamikael, Capuchin friars (2001): መሪርግፍዒኣብበስክዲራንከባቢኣን (A Painful Massacre at Besikdira and its Environs), ትምጻእመንግስትከ (Adveniat Regnum TUUM), 44th Year, Nrs 73/74, 2000-2001, page 1-14; (2) Amina Habte (2001), Ethiopian war Crimes in Eritrea: A Case Study of the Massacres of Besik-dira and Ona in 1970. BA thesis, Asmara University; Kiflemariam Hamde (2004) “The Impact of war and climatic changes on the environment in Eritrea: The Case in Senhit Villages” (; (3) Downey, Marty & Hugh (1996), On Heart’s Edge. Arvada, CO: Mikeren Publications, and (4) (Habtu (Fr. Athanasius) Ghebre-Ab (2013), “The Massacre at Wekidiba: The Tragic Story of a Village in Eritrea”, RSP, and (5) “List of massacres committed during the Eritrean War of Independence”, in Wikipedia.

[iv] In Besikdira and Its Children,በስግዲረዲንርቍርዲ, the main actor Terexbe sharply contrasts with Salih “Gadi” Johar’s actor, Ghebrebbi in his 2010 book, Of Kings and Bandits. However, if one looks closely both fiction works, they complement each other, in many, many respects, in spite of the common geographical location and the suffering incurred to them by the Ethiopian army (and their collaborators), illustrating social life in the then Senhit area, rich in diversity of values, norms and languages. Issues of religion come close in both readings, Gebrebbi being from a Muslim family, while Terexbe is from a Christian family. These are shown in the rites of passage, child development, training, and other issues. It seems to me that the authors communicated with each ‘in spirit’, without clashing, and thus made their point jointly that people can live together peacefully only if they accept and respect each other’s difference, the same way as the Besikdira residents refusing to get separated in terms their religion (to heaven or hell we got together’, expressed the late Mr. Meibetot Berih, a survivor in an oral communication with the reviewer, Besikdira, January 9th, 2007.

[v] Amharu or Amhara in the text is used synonymously with Ethiopians and Ethiopia, connoting the Ethiopian Military Army.

[vi] The reviewed work is in fact preceded by a dozen literary works in Blin, for example, the recent books by Medhanie Habtezghi (2008), Lexen (lekhen) axra-mewedi, “The Ring which became a sore”, and (2010) Enkie, (እንከ) translated into Tigrigna as lekas. I hope to review these works also so that readers who do not understand Blin may be able to get more information on such literary work. For further works in Blin and on Blin, visit the Blin Language Forum,



Eritrean refugees in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)
Eritrean refugees in Tel Aviv (photo credit: Nicky Kelvin/Flash90)

Israel and Rwanda are discussing a deal in which the East African nation would take in illegal migrants from the Jewish state in exchange for favorable contracts.

Under the proposed agreement, which has come under scrutiny by human rights organizations, Israel would send hundreds of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, many of them asylum-seekers, to Rwanda in return for favorable deals that include millions of dollars in grants, The East African reported Friday.

The information is based on statements made by Rwandan President Paul Kagame during a press conference in Kigali on Thursday, the paper reported. In addition to Rwanda, Israel is rumored to have reached a similar arrangement with Uganda, though neither Kampala nor Jerusalem confirmed this.

Asked by a reporter about the contacts, Kagame said he was not aware of the specifics but confirmed the talks were ongoing.

“On Rwanda and Israel, yes, I know there has been this discussion,” he said, “and it has been a debate in Israel about these Africans who have migrated to Israel as they do to other European countries. Some of them are either there illegally or with different status.”

Israel’s Interior Ministry confirmed this week in a statement that it will “expel immigrants from the detention centers” and encourage migrants “to leave Israel in a safe and respectable way” for specific African countries that would grant them legal immigration rights.

Approximately 50,000 Africans who entered Israel through Egypt live in Israel, which is bound by international treaties to let them stay while they have United Nations refugee status. However, they can be relocated to a third country willing to accept them. Israel’s deal with Rwanda and possibly with Uganda as well have been criticized by refugee rights groups, which have expressed concern over the human rights records of Rwanda and Uganda and questioned whether the refugees’ status would be honored once they arrive in Africa.

Many asylum-seekers are held in southern Israel’s Holot detention facility. In recent years, a new barrier along the Egypt-Israel border has stopped additional newcomers from arriving.

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