In more than 70 Italian coastguard-led operations, 28 bodies have reportedly been recovered and three babies have been born

A child is rescued from a vessel in the Mediterranean, north of Libya, on 3 October

A child is rescued from a vessel in the Mediterranean, north of Libya, by a member of the Proactiva Open Arms NGO on 3 October. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome
Wednesday 5 October 2016 11.40 BST
Last modified on Wednesday 5 October 2016 12.31 BST

More than 10,000 refugees bound for Italy have been rescued in the Mediterranean in the last 48 hours in a series of more than 70 operations led by the Italian coastguard and navy.
It was reported that 28 bodies had been recovered. Meanwhile, Italian officials said three babies had been born on a ship heading to Catania, Sicily, delivered with the assistance of doctors from the Order of Malta’s Italian Relief Corp. All three were in good health.

The most recent rescue mission, in which 4,655 migrants were brought to safety, took place in the Strait of Sicily, and comprised 33 separate operations involving 27 rubber boats, one barge and five small boats.

The operations were led by the coastguard, and officials said Frontex, the EU rescue mission, and an Irish navy ship were involved as well as the aid groups Moas, Life Boat, Proactiva Open Arms and Watch the Med.

Earlier this week 6,055 people were rescued over a 24-hour period as the coastguard, navy and humanitarian groups came to the aid of 32 rubber dinghies, five large wooden boats and two rafts that were spotted 30 miles (48km) north of Libya.

Italy’s neighbours to the north – Austria, France and Switzerland – have essentially closed off their borders to new migrants, creating political tensions and forcing Italy to process and possibly relocate asylum seekers on its own.

Previously, the vast majority of migrants landing in Italy chose not to stay in and traveled north, often with Germany as a final destination.



Several news sources affirmed that the Saudi Arabian-led Coalition planes have indiscriminately and deliberately hit Eritrean Afar civilian small fishers’ men's boats near the ports of Mokha near Bab al-Mandab strait off Yemen. The Fishing boat was carrying livestock and civilians. The civilian boat had left for Yemen from the Dankalia Region of Eritrea to import basic food commodities, household items, clothing and footwear to meet their basic needs. At least 5 civilians were indiscriminately killed and 10 other people injured, including women, children and elderly people.  This type of air attack against a civilian boat is a serious violation of international humanitarian law. RSADO has therefore found that the Arab Coalition Forces appear to have carried out indiscriminate air strikes with foreknowledge of their indiscriminate effect. 


RSADO unequivocally condemns in the strongest terms possible this indiscriminate air strike attack directed at the Eritrean Afar civilian population by the Arab Coalition Forces. RSADO expresses its sincere condolences and deepest sympathy to the victims and their families and to the Afar People in the Dankalia Region of Eritrea.  


We can confirm the Arab Coalitions Forces stationed in Dankalia that since November 2, 2015 thousands of Afar families have been made homeless, forcibly evicted from their traditional land and homes. Internally displaced, children and families are deliberately kept in destitute or unhealthy conditions by the regime. They were forced from their homes and off their grazing lands and fishing areas violently, without compensation and without Free, Prior and Informed consent (FPIC) in order to make Afar land available for the Saudi Arabia-led Alliance. On November 2, 2015 the State of Eritrea leased the Port of Assab to the UAE for 30 years and it has allowed the Saudi Arabia-led Gulf Alliance to use the Hanish islands to conduct military operations against Houthi rebels in Yemen.  

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Allies have established their military presence in Afar Land in Eritrea in return for monetary compensation and fuel supplies for the brutal Eritrean regime.  Forcibly removing the Indigenous Afar People in Eritrea from their traditional homes and territories is against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 2007 (UNDRIP), Islamic law and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. 

The Saudi Arabian-led Alliance Military Base in Dankalia (Afar Land) has already had a devastating impact on the indigenous Afar because their economic, social and cultural survival is deeply linked to their traditional lands, the fishing of the Red Sea Coastal, and commercial and business activities between Eritrea and Yemen. RSADO alleges the Eritrean regime is fully responsible for committing crimes and human rights violations against Afar people. The regime has deliberately leased Afar Land to the Saudi and UAE Coalition Forces in order to systematically remove the Afar from their traditional lands in the name of development. We may otherwise suppose that the Eritrean regime hopes that the solution to the 'Afar Problem' is to allow Saudi Arabia-led Coalition Forces and Houthi rebels- Salih Forces to collaterally eradicate the Afar people in the crossfire. Additionally, we think that equating or nullifying this incident with fighting international terrorism which were targeting the International Maritime Routes in the Bab-el-Mandeb route is adding insult to injury.


RSADO strongly calls on and urges the Saudi Arabian led Coalition to immediately withdraw from our traditional territory (Dankalia) to let the Afar people live in their land peacefully. Otherwise, an  internationalization of Bab-el-Mandeb route will set in when the Afar small boat owners will be forced to team with Houthis and their far away allies.


RSADO calls upon the international community, USA, EU, UK, Human Rights Organisations and the Russian Federations to urge and pressure Saudi–led Coalition Forces (Saudi Arabia and UAE) to abide and comply with the Law of War and International Humanitarian and Human Rights Laws and to immediately halt military operations targeting innocent Eritrean Afar Fishermen and civilians in Eritrean National waters and International waters near the Bab al-Mandab strait off Yemen.


Red Sea Afar Democratic Organisation (RSADO)

Centre Committee (CC)

Civil war has created ‘very severe needs’, the UN warns, while a blockade aimed at hurting Houthi rebels has made the situation worse

Yemen famine

Six-year-old Salem Abdullah Musabih is held by his mother in an intensive care unit in the Red Sea port of Hodaida. Photograph: Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters

Tuesday 4 October 2016 19.51 BST
Last modified on Wednesday 5 October 2016 02.01 BST 

Dozens of emaciated children are fighting for their lives in Yemen’s hospital wards, as fears grow that civil war and a sea blockade that has lasted for months are creating famine conditions in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country.

The UN’s humanitarian aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, described a visit to meet “very small children affected by malnutrition” in the Red Sea city of Hodeida. “It is of course absolutely devastating when you see such terrible malnutrition,” he said on Tuesday, warning of “very severe needs”.

More than half of Yemen’s 28 million people are already short of food, the UN has said, and children are particularly badly hit, with hundreds of thousands at risk of starvation.

There are 370,000 children enduring severe malnutrition that weakens their immune system, according to Unicef, and 1.5 million are going hungry. Food shortages are a long-term problem, but they have got worse in recent months. Half of children under five are stunted because of chronic malnutrition.

A sea blockade on rebel-held areas enforced by the Saudi-coalition supporting the president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, stops shipments reaching most ports.

Its effects can be seen in centres such as the Thawra hospital, where parents cram waiting rooms seeking help for hungry and dying children. In April, between 10 and 20 children were brought for treatment, but the centre is now struggling with 120 a month, Reuters reported.

A woman waits to weigh her son in an intensive care unit in Sana’a.A woman waits to weigh her son in an intensive care unit in Sana’a. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

The crisis may get worse after Hadi ordered changes at the central bank. Aimed at squeezing the funds of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the move could leave ordinary Yemenis short of cash and make food shortages worse by depriving traders of the financial cover the bank has offered.

Ibrahim Mahmoud, of Yemen’s Social Development Fund, told Reuters only an improvement in the country’s financial system and an emergency aid effort could prevent the spread of hunger.

“If there is no direct and immediate intervention on behalf of the international community and state organisations, we could be threatened by famine and a humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

Oxfam’s humanitarian policy adviser, Richard Stanforth, said: “Everything is stacked against the people on the brink of starvation in Yemen. The politicisation of the central bank and attempts by the parties in the conflict to use it as a tool to hurt one another ... threaten to push the poorest over the edge.”

Hadi moved the central bank headquarters from Sana’a, the capital currently controlled by Houthi rebels, to the southern port of Aden which his government holds. He also appointed a new governor, who said the bank had no money.

“It risks leaving the salaries of more than a million Yemenis unpaid. There may be a long-term effect on the Houthis, but the immediate effect will be on normal people trying to put food on the table,” the Yemeni economic analyst Amal Nasser said.

The sea blockade and daily airstrikes, which have hit civilian targets including hospitals, are part of a campaign to push rebels out of the capital.

There have been widespread calls for an independent inquiry into the conflict, including from senior British MPs. More than a third of Saudi-led bombing raids are thought to have hit civilian sites, and human rights groups say violations are also being perpetrated by Houthi rebels.


This article will deal with learning in partnesrhip building inside the Eritrean opposition diaspora either they are political or civil society organizations. The main point of this article is if we have learned over the past 15 years in building partnership and co-operation in our struggle to bring changes in our individual and organizational making.

What is learning? Learning is when we understand and interpret the reality that surrounds us, internally and externally and try to change it.

The focus of this artilce is on the individuals and organizations who were involved in building partinership during the past 15 years. ( 1999-2016) How the structure, process and cultures of the building partnership was in the opposition camp do they succeeded or failed in creating sustainable partnership/co-operation? What were the factors that made learning difficult in the opposition forces?

This articel will try to discuss on this two above mentioned questions.

1. The Opposition has structural obstacles to learning

Looking at the political and civic organizations structure on can identify that all of them are organized on the lines of various identities. ( religious, ethnic, cultural, clan and geographical) Building partnership( EDA, ENCDC.......... ) among these various identities was difficult, it is not because of the diverse identities but failed in building a structure accommodating these identities and the interests and rights of the stakeholders in the partnership.

Partnership was not appreciated by the leadership of the various political and civic organizations. All were involved blaming each other for the failed outcomes and this has resulted in a very serious learning block. To overcome this weakness that hamper learning the Eritrean Opposition need soul searching and work for common purpose that guarrantees future peaceful co-existance to all citizens without discrimination in Eritrea.

2. Partnership work process and culture

The Eritrean experience of partnership building that started in 1999 by political oppositions in diaspora was extermely narrow only confined by its leadership but it gradually developed to include all political organizations and civil society movements later from 2008 to broaden its potential partnership and expand its network.

In the past 15 years, the attempts to build alliances , coalitions and partnership were failed because of narrow-minded political and civic elites. Partnership building is not a one time work activity but is a process with a comprehensive work programmes designed appropriately that satisfy people's needs and wishes. Partnership building needs commitment and implementation of the accords adopted by consensus. What makes a partnership successfull is when the partners participate in programme activities and contribute to positive outcome.

In any organization, learning takes place through work experience and discussions with colleagues. Observing the Eritrean diaspora opposition at local, regional and global level, there is no culture of working together. In the past 15 years we have developed a culture of animosity and intolerance and has been strong enough to exclude and supress each other. It is this culture of work that hampered the common efforts to build a strong partnership.

3.  What were the factors that made learning difficult in the opposition forces?

The Eritrean diaspora opposition whether they are political or civic movements have difficulties in learning to be good learners. Learning is not only individual but organizations must also learn. Any organization that does not learn cannot change themselves and their surrondings. Building partnership, alliances and coalitions in the Eritrean Opposition Diaspora were characterized by unclear or conflicting objectives that has created difficulties for the grassroots of the partner organizations to co-ordinate and harmonize their efforts and activities towards the common goals. The main factors behind this sad situation of the diaspora opposition is the political cynicism- the attitude of mistrust of each other lack of faith and hope on each other, relationship based on personal cults- clans, internal organisational weakness and lack of knowledge and skills to learn to understand and change your surroundings for the benefit of the public not for the individual interests.

What should be the exit strategy from this sad situation of the struggle from dictatorship to democracy?  To remedy these defects all the oppositions forces must search new approaches targeting the salvation of the Eritrean people from the ugly policies of the totalitarian system of governance in Eritrea and lay foundations for building a democratic society in the long run.


1. EGDI, Learning in Development Co-operation

September 28, 2016 4:40 PM

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been missing for 15 years. He was taken away from his home in Asmara, Eritrea, Sept. 21, 2001, and hasn't been seen since.

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been missing for 15 years. He was taken away from his home in Asmara, Eritrea, Sept. 21, 2001, and hasn't been seen since.

Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye has been missing for 15 years. Human Rights Watch would like to see that he is not forgotten.

As part of its Free Them campaign to highlight political prisoners around the globe, the rights group is focusing attention on Seyoum, the former head of Eritrean state television, who was taken from his Asmara home by government agents on September 21, 2001, and has not been seen or heard from since.


Seyoum was part of a group of Eritrean journalists rounded up in a crackdown on independent media. Using the hashtag #FreeThem, Human Rights Watch is encouraging people to share Seyoum's story, hold events and tweet to world leaders asking for his release.

Seyoum's advocates believe he is still alive, based on a comment that Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh made to Radio France Internationale in June.

"The political prisoners are all alive and in good hands," he said.

"Good hands" might be an inaccurate term. A former prison guard who escaped Eritrea in 2010 said Seyoum's hands were bound 24 hours a day. The guard also said that the journalist was being held at the maximum security prison north of Asmara.

The Eritrean government has never commented on Seyoum's arrest or disclosed his location or condition. His family and friends have not had access to him since he was taken away.

Niece seeks uncle's release

Seyoum's 19-year-old niece Vanessa Berhehas been campaigningfor her uncle's release for years. She started a website,, to raise awareness of his plight.

She led a silent protest September 23 in London in which people wore black bandanas over their mouths and marched silently to the Eritrean embassy. Berhe said she hopes the attention will pressure Eritrean leaders to at least offer a trial for the jailed journalists and political dissidents.

"The main purpose was to stand in solidarity and in that action also to stand in protest. So our act of solidarity was also an act of protest," she told VOA. "What we're calling for and what we've been calling for since day one is to give these people a fair trial. I mean we think they should be released, but if there is any doubt of their innocence, give them due justice and a trial." 

Seyoum, 66, was a famed war photographer during Eritrea's 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.

Between 1998 and 2000, during Eritrea's war with Ethiopia, Seyoum was critical of the government's secrecy and increasing restrictions on free speech and democracy. He apparently made enemies.

The state-run television continues to use his photographs during their broadcasts.

"If they use his materials on television fairly regularly, or frequently anyway, why don't they release him?" asks Andrew Stroehlein, European media director for Human Rights Watch.

Family still hopeful

Seyoum Tsehaye, 66, was a war photographer during Eritrea's 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.

Seyoum Tsehaye, 66, was a war photographer during Eritrea's 30-year struggle for independence. He later held various positions including head of the state-run television station Eri-TV.

Berhe said her family hasn't given up hope of seeing him again and believes the campaign will draw the attention of more people.

"He believed in the power of the word, the power of the people and the power of democracy, and I want to show him that what he believed in was strong enough to get him released," she said.

Seyoum's wife and two daughters now live in France. The older daughter, Abie, was two years old when the government arrested her father, and his wife was seven months’ pregnant with their youngest daughter, Beilula.

"The youngest one doesn't have any memories because she never met him. It's very tough for her," Berhe said. "The fact that she doesn't even have any memories and no connection with him whatsoever and that it is impossible to get it because he is imprisoned is something that she's been carrying with her for a very long time."


Human Rights Watch said it plans to continue the Free Them campaign, addressing a different case each week. Unfortunately, Stroehlein said, there is no danger that the rights group will run out of cases.

"We can literally do one political prisoner every hour, and we still wouldn't scratch the surface of a number of people that we're talking about around the world," Stroehlein said. "We're looking at a lot of regimes that are actually getting worse and worse, that are jailing civil society and activists, opposition figures more and more.”

"There's a huge number and so you know it's not fair to take one person over the others,” he added, “but if one person is a symbol for the others, it might be able to put a face on this kind of persecution."


Thousands of people flee the country illegally every month to skip military service, but getting out is too expensive for most

Passangers wait for a bus in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.
People wait for a bus in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. Life is hard for those who cannot afford a border crossing. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Outside a cafe on the crossroads of a busy intersection in Asmara, three 25-year-olds sip macchiatos and catch up on the latest gossip in the bright morning sunshine. The conversation soon turns to people who have “skipped”, a term for those who have fledEritreato escape the indefinite national service programme.

Birhane, 25, who works as a mechanic in a government-owned garage, said: “Between us, we probably know about 300 people who have skipped in the last few years. They are leaving because we have to do what the government tells us to do.”

In 1991, when Birhane, Henok and Adonay were born, Eritrea had just gained independence fromEthiopiaafter 30 years of war. In the early years, many people were optimistic about their future and their leaders.

Today, theatmosphere in Asmarais markedly different. Isaias Afewerki, the former leader of the liberation struggle, is still in power 25 years later, and a resumption of hostilities with Ethiopia at the turn of the millennium inflicted huge human and economic damage on the country, exacerbating its slide into a military state.

In the capital, although bicycles and charming old European cars dot the roads and the ambitious Italian colonial-era architecture is well preserved, more than a dozen people said they were desperately gathering cash to pay forsigre dob(border crossing).

Gaim Kibreab, a professor of refugee studies at London South Bank University, says Eritrea is the world’s “fastest emptying nation”. About 400,000 people are estimated to have left the country in the past decade,from a population of just 5.1 million.

The UN and human rights activists estimate that as many as 5,000 Eritreansflee illegally every month, but the Eritrean government claims that the real number is closer to 1,000, because Ethiopians often pretend to be Eritrean when seeking asylum abroad.

Those left behind in Asmara say everyone is well aware of what is happening. “I know of thousands of people who have left,” said Demsas, 49, as he strolled down one of the main streets. “We can feel it.”

The government acknowledges that people areleaving in droves, but says it is part of an international conspiracy to weaken Eritrea. “The policy of the United States for the past 10 years has been to encourage the migration of Eritreans, especially Eritrean youth and especially Eritrean educated youth,” said Yemane Gebreab, the director of political affairs for the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and a close advisor to Afwerki.

“If they can encourage migration and especially desertion from the Eritrean army, which has been a main objective of this policy, then they will have achieved their aim of weakening Eritrea,” he said.

Last year, the government put a limit on the amount of money that people could withdraw from their bank accounts.
Last year, the government put a limit on the amount of money that people could withdraw from their bank accounts. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

For law-abiding Eritreans, it is hard to avoid the national service programme. Hundreds of soldiers are known to storm neighbourhoods in Asmara every few months. Known as agiffa(raid), troops block off traffic and set up a cordon before going house to house in search of people who have not enlisted.

Young Eritreanssay they feel trappedby these policies. If they are caught deserting, the government hands down brutal punishments. But if they stay, they are resigned to a life earning a monthly wage of 500 nakfa (£25). “All of us are still in national service. We don’t get enough [money] to live on,” Henok said.

The government has recently changed some elements of national service, a sign that the regime may be aware of the damage its policies are causing. Those drafted in 2001 or earlier are being allowed to leave active service, but they are still required to work for the government. The maximum salary offered after demobilisation is 4,000 nakfa, equivalent to $165 on the black market, according to Hagos Ghebrehiwet, the PFDJ director of economic affairs.

Last year, the government put a limit on the amount of money that people could withdraw from their bank accounts, saying it wanted to encourage citizens to use cheques and mobile money facilities. Hagos said: “Cash is the basis for illegal activities, like human trafficking.”

We would all leave tomorrow if we had the money


However, very few businesses accept cheques or credit cards, and since the introduction of the rule, the black market dollarexchange rate has halved, leading to speculation that the policy is a covert way to limit the number of people fleeing.

“With this new currency, people don’t have access to their money,” Demsas said. According to human rights activist Meron Estefanos, wealthy Eritreans can pay high-ranking government officials between $5,000 and $6,000 to be smuggled out of the country and driven to Khartoum inSudan. The fee for a similar journey across the border with Ethiopia is $2,000 to $3,000, she said.

For most Eritreans, who do not have rich friends or relatives overseas, the journey to Europe is extremely expensive. Natnael Haile, who lives in Sweden, says he was drafted into the army aged 13. After spending seven years repairing army cars on a desolate military base, he crept out of his dormitory in 2008. Haile paid smugglers $400 to take him to Sudan, where he was kidnapped and sold to nomads in the Sinai desert.

Haile ended up paying a total of $7,100 to get on a boat heading for the Italian island of Lampedusa. But the account of his harrowing journey does not deter Adonay and his friends in Asmara. “We would all leave tomorrow if we had the money,” they say.




A version of this article first appearedin The Africa Report


The annual meeting of the SI Presidium in conjunction with the high-level segment of the United Nations General Assembly took place on 21 September in New York, the eighth such occasion since 2008. The agenda of the meeting focused on the role of the social democratic movement in promoting collective action to confront prevailing challenges to security, democracy and sustainability in different parts of the world and the outcome of the UNGA high-level debate on the crisis of refugees and migrants.

The major focus of exchanges was the recently concluded UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants, with Presidium members united in their recognition of the urgency of coordinated action in response to the global refugee crisis. Contributions underlined the need for a more equitable sharing of the responsibility for hosting and supporting refugees around the world. At present, the greatest burden of the refugee crisis is being felt by developing countries, which are host to the vast majority of international refugees. For this reason the acceleration of progress towards a global agreement on safe, orderly and regular migration was considered essential.

A number of participants stressed that the international community, and in particular the most developed economies, have a collective responsibility and a duty to the refugees of the world, whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the lack of concrete advances in this regard. At the same time, there remains a vital need for concerted action to address the root causes of the global refugee crisis. In this regard, participants underlined the importance of the work of the SI towards conflict resolution and tackling climate change, which are major drivers of global population movements.

Addressing the first agenda item and the contribution that could be made by the social democratic movement in face of the current global challenges, participants called for a combined strategy for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. There was a shared conviction that for the challenges of peace, sustainable development and democracy to be met, social democracy would be required, with the SI an indispensable forum for cooperation in pursuit of common goals and objectives. One year on from the SDG summit, a number of interventions highlighted the continued importance of the Global Goals in the realisation of a greener and more peaceful world with opportunities for all, and the vital importance of ensuring the equal participation of women and men in building a sustainable future for all.

Underdevelopment remains a significant factor to migration, and the contributions of President Alpha Condé of Guinea and President Hage Geingob of Namibia identified the continued need for development assistance in their countries and a more equitable sharing of resources on a global scale. They and others considered that socialists and social democrats were uniquely placed to address the gaps between rich and poor, and redress the problems of poverty and economic injustice.

In accordance with the mandate given by the last SI Council in Geneva in July 2016, the Presidium had the responsibility of agreeing a venue for the forthcoming XXV SI Congress. The Secretary General reported that in discussions he had held with the leadership of the SI member party in Colombia, they had expressed the willingness of their party to host the Congress. This would be in line with the established practice within the SI of rotating the regional location of its Council and Congress meetings in order to reflect the global scope of the organisation. He outlined the significance of bringing together the global social democratic family in Colombia, at a historic moment for the country, as a result of the agreement reached between the government and the FARC guerrillas to bring to an end over 50 years of armed conflict. The presence of the SI in Colombia would be a concrete expression of the support of the movement for the courageous decision to bring peace to the country and a continued commitment to the post-conflict process of disarmament and reconciliation.

The proposal to hold the Congress in the city of Cartagena de Indias was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Presidium, with the meeting to be scheduled for the first months of 2017 following consultation with the hosts. The symbolism of the Congress venue and its timing will be reflected by the inclusion of peace as one of the main themes of the Congress, with reference to the successful peace process in Colombia and the need for advances towards peace in other conflicts around the world. The Congress will also focus, as another main theme, on the issue of inequality in the world economy, whose current impact has been a subject of recent work by the SI. Policy proposals on this theme will be presented to the Congress in a report from the SI Commission on Inequality, which is working on concrete initiatives for the reduction of inequality within and between nations.

The Presidium was updated on the response of the FSLN to the concerns transmitted by the SI to the party in regard to the dismissal by the National Electoral Commission of sixteen opposition parliamentarians and twelve alternates in Nicaragua. The Presidium noted that this matter would be further examined and addressed by the relevant statutory organs of the SI.

The current situation in Guatemala was raised, highlighting that a recent decree issued by President Morales restricted fundamental freedoms and rights.

Members of the SI Presidium were joined by President Alpha Condé (Guinea) and President Hage Geingob (Namibia), and SI Honorary President Tarja Halonen, former president of Finland. Also present was António Guterres, former SI president and ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The meeting was chaired by SI President George Papandreou alongside Secretary General Luis Ayala, with the participation of SI vice-presidents Sükhbaataryn Batbold (Mongolia), Victor Benoit (Haiti), Ousmane Tanor Dieng (Senegal), Elio Di Rupo (Belgium), Alfred Gusenbauer (Austria), Eero Heinäluoma (Finland), Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana (Namibia), Bernal Jimenez (Costa Rica), Chantal Kambiwa (Cameroon), Marian Lupu (Moldova), Rafael Michelini (Uruguay), Mario Nalpatian (Armenia) Umut Oran (Turkey), Julião Mateus Paulo (Angola), Sandra Torres (Guatemala) and Ouaffa Hajji (ex-officio vice-president, SIW). Representatives of the governments of Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic and Montenegro were also present.

On the trail of African migrant smugglers

Wednesday, 28 September 2016 10:33 Written by



Der Spiegel's English-language website hasa detailed investigative report7on the lucrative migrant-smuggling business in Africa. The report uncovers key smuggling routes from East Africa to Germany, and describes the brutal, inhuman conditions that migrants endure on their journey abroad. Here's an excerpt:

There are many migrant smugglers who brag openly about their excellent relations with the Libyan police and claim that they can even get anyone out of prison simply by buying off law enforcement officers. When asked about such claims, Hussam says that the phenomenon doubtlessly exists in Libya, but not within his unit.

"Ermias is an Ethiopian with Eritrean citizenship and dresses inconspicuously in jeans and a T-shirt," says Yonas, a former intermediary for Ghermay who stands almost two meters (6' 7") tall. Ever since Tarik al-Sika arrested him at his workplace -- in the cafeteria of the Eritrean Embassy in Tripoli -- several months ago, Yonas, whose name was changed for this story, has been cooperating with Libyan special forces. On the day of our visit, he was presented as an important witness. Yonas says that he used to earn 50 dinars, around 30 euros ($33), for every Eritrean refugee he referred to Ghermay -- and that some of them were aboard the vessel that sank off the coast of Lampedusa. On the night of the accident, Yonas says, "Ermias slid a passenger list under the door of the Eritrean Embassy so that their families could be informed" -- a cold-blooded move that Ghermay is proud of, according to the logs of intercepted phone calls. The relatives of the victims, most of whom came from Eritrea, were thus promptly "informed," he gloated. It's the kind of gesture that is good for business.

"Immediately afterwards, I called him and set up a meeting in the cafeteria. I wanted to get him to pay compensation to the families," Yonas says. "He actually turned up, but in the end, he only returned the price for the voyage. Nobody got any more than that."

The refugees have only themselves to blame for their deaths, Ghermay said in a telephone call to a migrant smuggler from Sudan, adding that they didn't follow his instructions and carelessly caused the boat to capsize. He insisted that he had a clear conscience. "If I followed the rules and they died anyway, then it's fate," Ghermay said.

The man from Sudan agreed: "There is no appeal against God's judgment."

Image: The remains of a refugee boat seen on the beach in Zuwara, Libya in August of 2016. ViaDer Spiegel.




APPG on Diaspora, Development and Migration (DDM), APPG on Refugees and the Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN)

Chair: Baroness Young of Hornsey Speakers: Dr Kibreab Gaim, Dr Lul Seyoum, Dr Jonathan Campbell, Michela Wrong and Dr Heaven Crawley

Monday, 12 September 2016 16.00-17.30, Committee Room 16 House of Commons

This panel discussion was organised to look at the uneven response to refugees arriving in Europe with a particular focus on those originating from Eritrea. 

This event was chaired by Baroness Young of Hornsey, co-chair of APPG DDM, who expressed her gratitude to the APPG on Refugees and the collaboration with the Migrants’ Rights Network to organise the event. Baroness Young highlighted the importance of gaining a sense of forward movement within this very complex, difficult and highly politicised subject.  She hoped that the event would be positive, in the sense that solutions and recommendations might develop from the discussion. Baroness Young explained that part of the reason for establishing the APPG DDM is to try and reframe the way we think about these issues. She expressed the way refugees are represented in the media and other spaces is problematic. This event would aim to explore why there is such an 'uneven' response to refugees arriving in Europe, with particular focus on those originating from Eritrea, and to also raise awareness about how diaspora communities can contribute to solutions.

Dr Kibreab Gaim - Research Professor at London South Bank University

Dr Gaim focussed on assessing why post-independence Eritrea is one of the major refugee producing countries in the world. He also set out to address how those who fled Eritrea had been received by the European Union, and why the concerning policy in the UK had suddenly changed.  

Dr Gaim explained that the major driver of forced migration from Eritrea is the indefinite National Service. The National Service, when first introduced, required all Eritrean citizens between the ages of 18 - 40 to serve for 18 months as a strategy to strengthen their country, which was initially popular among Eritreans. However, the service soon became open-ended and now lies at the heart of the cause of forced migration. Dr Gaim emphasised that once an individual joins, they are not allowed to leave and are not paid properly- thereby becoming a slave of the state. 

Currently in Eritrea, the State controls economic activity, there are no opposition parties and no opposition politics is tolerated. People who flee are considered traitors. Immigration is only possible once an exit visa has been obtained from the government which is very difficult to obtain and often denied.

The indefinite National Service has been equated with forced labour, and the UN equates forced labour to a modern form of slavery, which Dr Gaim emphasised as a motive for Eritreans who are fleeing. Dr Gaim also stated that up to 90% of Eritrean refugees are aged between18-24; further demonstrating the ational service as a driving force of migration. 

Dr Gaim went on to talk about the sudden change of UK policy, particularly after March 2015. He elaborated that the change in UK policy suggests that the situation in Eritrea had improved, implying violations of human rights might have ceased, when in fact there was no change in Eritrea - "the dismal state prevails". Dr Gaim stated that the changes in the UK's policy are a result of 'fact-finding' missions in Eritrea. He explained that in 2014, Danish authorities sent three civil servants on a 'fact-finding' mission to Eritrea as a response to a sudden, dramatic increase in the number of Eritreans arriving in Denmark. During Denmark's election year the leading party panicked as the right wing began to gain support in response to rising levels of migrants arriving. Dr Gaim suggests, the 'fact-finders' were actually going to Eritrea to find anything they could to support high-level rejection of asylum, this was later met with a lot of criticism which led to the Danish Government dropping the enquiry and discrediting the report. 

Surprisingly however, the UK government then adopted all of the recommendations of the Danish Immigration Service, basing its updated policy on their recycled ideas. Dr Gaim remarked that the UK government could have used reliable information from sources such as the UN Commission but instead chose to base their new policy exclusively on the Danish report. The UK currently has a new policy that is not substantially different from the one they had before.

In summary, Dr Gaim's presentation emphasised the indefinite National Service in Eritrea as the main force of migration. He stressed that the UK's 2014 policy was based on the discredited work of a Danish 'fact-finding' mission in Eritrea, which had aimed to find evidence that would justify denying Eritreans asylum in Europe.

Dr Lul Seyoum - spokesperson, influencer, fighter for women's rights and founder and director of International Centre of Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers ICERAS 

Dr Seyoum began her presentation with a reflective moment to remember all those who have perished on their way to safety. She explained that in that short pause, 10 people across the world had fled their countries; one person flees their country every three seconds. She then went on to tell the story of the Lampedusa Ship Wreck of 2013, where over 350 people died, including 270 Eritreans. Dr Seyoum elaborated on how the uneven response to refugees is due to the crisis often being identified with numbers, with the lives lost becoming mere statistics. To counteract this, she told the personal story of Helen, a mother of 3 children who perished at sea while travelling to Sweden to find freedom, security and a better future. 

Dr Seyoum went on to explain the work of ICERAS, the International Centre of Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers. She stressed that it is important to understand that not all refugees come to the UK; in the West the largest number go to Germany and then the USA, with 86% of refugees migrating to developing countries. 

Dr Seyoum finished by emphasising the need for a broader and brighter picture. We must remember that many children perished before and after the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, a child whose body was photographed being carried from the sea by his distressed father - images which captured public sympathies and increased public empathy towards Syrian refugees. 60 million displaced people worldwide should prompt us to ask ourselves what our role is. If we are to avoid such loses then there should be full engagement from all of us. She ended her presentation with a quote by Martin Luther King: "Our lives begin to end when we are silent about things that matter".  

Dr Jonathan Campbell - Researcher at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Dr Campbell's research has recently focused on the British Asylum System although today he aimed to provide a very clear trajectory of Home Office Policy, beginning from 2013. Dr Campbell explained that the Home Office's concern with Eritrea dates back to 2013, at the time when large numbers of 'migrants' were crossing the Mediterranean, many trying to move North into central Europe, to Calais and then the UK. Around this time was also the emergence of the British Government's Policy, nicknamed by the UK's European colleagues as an "à la carte" approach, in which the UK would pick and chose which groups of migrants or policies to support and which to neglect. This led to a situation whereby the UK in effect withdrew from dealing with the migrant crisis in Europe. Dr Jonathon stated that this withdrawal of the UK then contributed to the broader 'crisis' in Europe. 

A significant number of Syrian refugees are largely recognised by the UNHCR as refugees due to the Middle Eastern conflict, ultimately because most countries in Europe were engaged with that conflict in some way. As the 'migrant crisis' developed, it became clearer however that among the Syrians were a large number of Eritrean nationals, all of whom had been able to secure some sort of status or protection. This situation then raised concern across Europe - starting in Denmark, progressing to Norway and then the UK. 

Dr Campbell went on to explain the process of the Danish 'fact-finding' mission, as Dr Gaim had outlined earlier in the discussion. He pointed out how in Eritrea there was no high-level political violence visible - as was the case with Syria. In 2014, the Danish government sent researchers to Eritrea to discover what was driving the migration. As Dr Gaim had outlined previously, Dr Campbell stressed that the research of these missions was not academic in any way. The researchers had consulted with officials which is problematic as they themselves are complicit in the human rights violations which Eritreans are fleeing.

Dr Campbell explained that once the reports were published, the purpose of these missions became very clear; to prevent Eritreans from entering Europe. The missions would usually take the form of very short visits, mainly only to the capital of Eritrea, Asmara, and would usually only involve speaking to government officials. The investigators do not move around the country and crucially have no access to sites such as detention centres and prisons. These factors combined mean that the principal source of information for the tours is the information provided by high level Eritrean officials. So, with the exception of the latest policy (which is still largely dependent on this kind of research), all the 'fact-finding' missions are dependent on anonymous Eritrean officials, and thus cannot be verified. Nonetheless, the Danish, Norwegian and UK reports are all based on such anonymised reports, and all conclude that it is safe (for Eritreans) to go home. Dr Campbell argues that the Home Office officials are seemingly seeking to do anything to prevent refugees from entering Europe.

Following on from the conclusion that it is safe for Eritreans to return home, the UK government argues that all Eritreans need to do is 'regularise' the situation with the Eritrean Government. The Home Office states that individuals returning to Eritrea simply have to pay a 2% income tax on their income earned overseas, and sign a 'letter of apology' at an Eritrean embassy. Dr Campbell outlined that the individuals returning to Eritrea even have to pay the 2% tax on any benefits or asylum seekers allowance and show all receipts at an embassy (i.e. even if the individual did not earn wages). The UK Home Office argue that if Eritreans 'regularise' themselves with officials in Asmara, no reprisals will be taken against them. The Eritrean government maintains that it is improving the National Service by increasing the pay and reducing the contracted duration of service. 

The UK Home Office say that the Eritrean Government is not acting in a way that contradicts the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in terms of how nationals are treated upon their return to the country. However, Dr Campbell argues that after three years of these promises, there is no evidence of this. A large problem is there is no independent monitor of human rights in Eritrea, meaning that there is no independent organisation to provide information on what is actually happening, no independent access to the detention centres or prisons, and there have certainly been no changes in Eritrean policy.  

He explains that over the last 2 years, the UK Home Office has in effect sought to create its own objective evidence and has published in excess of 600 pages of evidence in the policy since early 2014. 

Dr Campbell concluded by emphasising that things are not alright. The Home Office is deliberately creating an illusion, in an attempt to create objective evidence for immigration officials to use as a basis for rejecting asylum. The situation in Eritrea has been made very clear; we are refusing to allow people their freedom of movement across the planet. Eritreans are thus being rejected refugee status and often being forced to live destitute in the streets. 

Michela Wrong - Journalist and Author who has spent almost two decades reporting on Africa

Michela began by paying respect to the work that has been done by all the other speakers to help refugees across the world. She went on to say that her line of work and expertise can offer something different to the discourse. Michela finds that we talk a lot about the refugee crisis, often in a way that the public are so concerned with the crisis and what's happening with the individuals, that we strip the account of a political, geo-strategic and historical context - and this is what she can bring. 

Michela explained that the Eritrean government is not as popular as it once was - when she first visited Eritrea in the 1990s - but that it certainly enjoys some popularity, and every government needs a narrative with which it presents its case, to its public and to the West. Many people remark on the hostility of the Eritrean government towards the West, without considering that there might be a reason for that, which is what she wanted to remind

us of. She added that if we don't attempt to see things from that other perspective then we are likely to find a puzzling hole at the heart of the situation.

Michela shared her understanding that Eritrean refugees are young and often fleeing military service, but that nobody has explored how the government actually justifies enforcing the military service. Her work in Eritrea began in 1996, when the government that had been in power for three years and had huge support from the population after winning independence. Contrasting that to today, the country has an enormous, totally 'disproportionate' army with open-ended military service - and there is some historical reason for that.

She went on to talk about the 1998-2000 'new war' that broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea over a border dispute, highlighting that up until then the two countries and their rebel movements got on quite well. Going back to war with one another was a huge shock to the communities, and over 100,000 people died (on both sides). Following that, an international agreement allocated some parts of the disputed territory to Ethiopia, and other parts to Eritrea. This was incredibly important - politically and emotionally. 

Ethiopia has never since moved its troops out of the area, which Michela suggested may be because they would have found that move too humiliating. Essentially there has now been a 16 year stand-off between the countries, involving many tense moments - the worst of which was in June 2016 when several hundred people on both sides were killed. Michela feels that the Eritrean population are extremely worried about the situation and the prospect of having another major war. 

The Eritrean government argues that they are being occupied by Ethiopia and so in order to keep Ethiopia from increasing their hold on Eritrean territory, anyone who can take up arms must come to the defence of the nation. Michela suggested that the Eritrean government would argue that elements of society such as democracy, human rights and the free press are luxuries that cannot be afforded. She elaborated that within this narrative of the Eritrean government's perspective, the West is generally viewed as being hostile and uncomprehending, as well as being in the wrong as it has done nothing to put pressure on Ethiopia to observe the international border ruling. 

So, the question then becomes whether or not this reasoning is enough to justify the onerous, endless military service. Michela highlighted that analysts argue that this is not a way to win a war; if Eritrea are invaded by Ethiopia- their large, demoralised, young and unhappy army, would not be very effective at defending their country.  Smaller, well-paid, voluntary armies are much more effective at winning wars.

Michela finished by introducing the idea that every government in Africa - Eritrea included - is fearful of the Arab Spring, and perhaps part of the reason for the regime in Asmara is crowd control. By enforcing a patriarchal duty in the population and require them to defend their country, they are prevented from becoming a threat to the regime.

Dr Heaven Crawley - Professor of International Migration at Coventry University 

Dr Crawley began by stating that she hoped to shed light on the politics of the narrative in relation to the current 'crisis', because the crisis as experienced here in the UK is very different to the narrative experienced elsewhere. She focused on the way that certain assumptions underpin policy.

Dr Crawley argued that all across Europe throughout the 'migrant crisis', assumptions haven't shifted over time - they have just become more entrenched. The sort of assumptions that were underpinning policy at the beginning of the 1990s still exist. One assumption about the dynamics of migration is to do with the linearity of movement - the idea that people just move from A to B, for example from Asmara to London. 

There is a fundamental disconnect, which is not new, between how European policy makers (including in the UK) understand and conceptualise forced migration, and how they then understand the process by which people come to be in this situation. 

Dr Crawley suggested that even though we have this knowledge and understanding about what's going on in these areas (such as Eritrea and Syria), there remains an underpinning scepticism about why people have truly left their countries. Dr Crawley argued that underpinning every conversation about forced migration is the assumption that

people are moving by choice. Even in conversations about Syria, which have in some ways received a preferential treatment in the media, and despite knowing what we know about what has happened in Homs, there remains the assumption that the refugees could have done something else - they did not have to make this journey.

Dr Crawley then spoke about her research, which involved interviewing 500 people who had landed in Greece or Italy over the course of five months. They had aimed to gain more of an understanding of the back-story of the crisis, and a perspective that is not so centred on the Mediterranean. Dr Crawley emphasised that the Western and UK media covering the crisis is often fixated with the border into Europe, and so loses the historical and global context of the situation.

During the interviews the researchers spoke to 30 Eritreans and it was indeed very clear that the primary driver for migration is the forced indefinite military service, with two thirds of interviewees speaking specifically of this. Another key factor is that it is not at all easy to leave Eritrea as an exit visa must be obtained to do so and it is very difficult to be granted one. As a result of this, smugglers are used to get people out of Eritrea. An assumption is often that smugglers are only used to get people in to countries, but in Dr Crawley's research it became clear that most people had been involved with smugglers in order to get out of countries (as is the case for Eritrea and Syria). It was also evident that the majority of refugees had experienced violence and witnessed death during their departure and journey. Dr Crawley found that people's journeys commonly take years as people get held up in places like Sudan and Libya. Usually in this scenario people try to make a life for themselves but often don't succeed. People need livelihoods, and when they can't find that (such as in Libya), they think that Europe might offer them something different.

This led on to Dr Crawley explaining that the idea of 'the pull of Europe' is undermined by all of her research. There is an assumption for example that if a country starts granting asylum to lots of Eritreans, then that will cause many more Eritreans to come. She argued that actually people don't necessarily find out that information. In her research, the most important factor influencing where people migrate to is family. If displaced people have family members or friends who can support and help them to re-establish their lives, then that makes the difference. This is why when refugees are occasionally offered relocation places such as Poland they often say no - as they do not have any family or friends there to help them rebuild their lives.

Final Remarks

 Dr Gaim: Ethiopia has defied the will of the international community; the EEBC (Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission) ruling was supposed to be final and was supported by the EU, UN and US government. The question that Eritreans need to ask is whether or not keeping them in arms is likely to improve the defence capability of the country or not. The Eritrean government is eroding the defence and security of the country

 We should campaign against the occupation of Eritrea, and remind ourselves that the international community is not a charitable community, it is a self interest community

 Dr Campbell: no Eritrean has ever gained asylum in Israel, Israel would view them as 'traitors'. Israel is currently using the UK Home Office policy to refuse Eritreans, we must recognise the impact of regional and global politics

 Dr Crawley: we must challenge the assumptions that underpin policy and reflect on the dichotomy that exists between 'refugee' and 'economic migrant' status   Need to recognise the complexity of the problem, we like to contain the problem as far away from us but this is not going away

 Dr Seyoum: it is time to view refugees as people who are our tomorrow - they will make a positive difference to our ageing populations in

Mon Sep 26, 2016 11:02am GMT

Nevsun, which had revenues of $357 million in 2015, denies the allegations and touts its mine as a model of responsible development. In its own legal filings, it says the Eritrean military never provided labor to the mine. Even if it did, the company argues, Nevsun was not directly responsible for employing the workers.

The Canadian company owns 60 percent of the Bisha Mining Share Company (BMSC), which owns and operates the mine, and the Eritrean state owns the remaining 40 percent. BMSC in turn hired Segen, an Eritrean government firm, to do construction work at the mine.

Bemnet says he worked for Segen, not Nevsun. But his lawyers say Nevsun should be held responsible for what happened at the mine, alleging Nevsun had authority over Segen and did not take reasonable steps to prevent mistreatment of workers.

Todd Romaine, Nevsun's vice president of corporate social responsibility, denied the allegations and said in a written statement that the company "will vigorously defend itself in court." He said BMSC is "an employer of choice" in Eritrea and provides "well-paying, intrinsically rewarding jobs for local people ... The company has made a significant financial contribution to the country in terms of taxation, royalties, local employment (and) supply chain."

Romaine said Nevsun has a screening process to ensure that no conscripts work at the mine. "Nevsun is a force for good in Eritrea," he said.

Nevsun also says that if its prohibition against the use of conscripts was ever breached, state-controlled Segen was to blame. It says that it had been obliged by the Eritrean government to use Segen to build the mine, and that Nevsun had no control over Segen. Reuters tried to contact Segen via telephone and email, but received no comment.

Alem Kibreab, director-general of Eritrea's Department of Mines, said no conscripts worked at Bisha, and that some migrants made up stories of mistreatment in the hope of gaining permission to stay in Europe.

In affidavits filed with the Canadian court, several workers from the mine have backed up Nevsun. Kahsay Gebremichael, a foreman with Segen, said that he had worked at Bisha for seven years, by choice. "I was not forced to work at the Bisha Mine by anyone. I can quit my job if I want to," he said in an affidavit filed in November 2015.

Bemnet and the other former workers involved in the lawsuit were living in Ethiopia, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland when they swore affidavits in 2014 and 2015. Reuters was unable to contact them and their lawyers declined to make them available for interviews, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.

But Reuters has reviewed the former workers' detailed allegations and, while their case is not new, this article draws on court records that have not been previously reported, including Bemnet's affidavit. It also draws on accounts of two former foreign workers who helped build the mine: One said employees of Segen endured tough conditions in 2009 and 2010, working without adequate food, water or shelter.

The Eritrean government dismisses criticism of its national service program as politically motivated and biased. Government officials deny that national service involves forced labor and say a program to improve pay began in mid-2015. They insist conscription remains vital for the security of the nation, which only secured independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after decades of conflict.


Bemnet spent his first weeks of military training at a camp called Wia, near the Red Sea, where he slept on the ground in the open, according to his affidavit. Next he was moved to a desolate stretch of coastline, where he worked seven days a week, completing more training, gathering large stones and building houses. He was still there in September 2006, when, halfway around the world, then Nevsun Chief Executive John Clarke pitched Eritrea to mining investors at one of the industry's top conferences, the Denver Gold Forum.

Canada is home to hundreds of small mining companies, many exploring for gold both in Canada and around the world. Staffed by a few executives and a small board of directors, these companies buy mineral claims and raise a few million dollars at a time to pay for exploratory drilling. One strategy is to focus on countries where poor infrastructure, skill shortages or political unrest have made mining difficult, leaving rich deposits untouched.

Clarke's presentation focused on Gash Barka, a region in western Eritrea where gold was mined during the colonial era. No one had built or operated a mine in the country for decades because of the risk of conflict and fears the government might expropriate assets. So Clarke promoted the project, which he called Bisha, by emphasising Eritrea's good roads and well-educated people.

"Given that it is a poor country, they're just using their resources extremely well, including their youngsters, who do a couple years national service after university, everybody contributing to nation building," he said, in a presentation that until recently was available online.

Clarke, who is no longer with Nevsun, did not respond to requests for comment.

National service in Eritrea, which still fears attack from its far larger neighbor Ethiopia, has no set length, according to the government. The country has been ruled by former Marxist guerrilla leader Isaias Afwerki since independence. In 1998, in the midst of a border war with Ethiopia, Isaias declared a state of emergency and extended national service.

Eritrea's Information Minister, Yemane Ghebremeskel, told Reuters that the length of national service had originally been 18 months, but that it had been "prolonged" because of border tensions with Ethiopia. He did not specify how long national service now lasts.

A U.N. commission charged with investigating human rights abuses in Eritrea said in a June 2015 report that all sectors of the Eritrean economy rely on conscripts. Most citizens are conscripted before they finish high school, and undergo limited military training before being assigned to jobs. Some are sent to work in construction or farming, or as civil servants or engineers. In a statement, Eritrea said the allegations of human rights abuses are "totally unfounded and devoid of all merit."


By September 2008, the Bisha mine had its permits and work was underway at the site. As mining companies often do, Nevsun hired an engineering, procurement and construction management firm to run construction, selecting a South African company called Senet. One of Senet's employees was Mike Goosen, a civil construction supervisor who arrived in 2009.

Day to day, Goosen and other Senet staff supervised Segen, the Eritrean government-owned contractor brought in to do construction work. While Senet declined to comment on its work at Bisha, citing the ongoing legal action, Goosen told Reuters he became friendly with some Segen workers, though they lived some distance from the main camp. He visited their camp and was alarmed by the conditions he found. None of the buildings had proper windows or doors. Workers slept on the floor, with no mosquito nets. "We had a lot of them going down with malaria," he told Reuters.

The workers were "continuously hungry," he said, and subsisted on lentil soup and bread. Drinking water was left in the hot sun all day. Goosen said he asked cooks at the main camp to set aside leftover food for Segen workers but Segen managers told him to stop.

In affidavits filed to support the lawsuit against Nevsun, former Eritrean workers described rations of lentil soup and bread. "We were always tired and hungry, and fell ill very often," reads the affidavit of Mihretab Yemane Tekle, who said he worked at the Bisha mine from February to October 2010, and now has refugee status in Ethiopia. "Many conscripts caught malaria at Bisha."

In an affidavit filed in June 2014, Segen manager Abadi Gebremeskel Alemayo described the death of a worker named Berhane, who he said was a conscript.

"One day, he was building partitions in the residences for the foreign workers, and he just collapsed," he said. "In his report, the doctor said it was heat stroke. I buried him myself - I took his body to his village and buried it."

Abadi, a safety officer at Bisha, said in his affidavit that he knew some of the workers were conscripts because he attended a Segen meeting in mid-2009 at which the use of conscripts was discussed. Reuters was unable to contact Abadi for comment.


Segen workers were on site in significant numbers during the mine's initial construction from 2008 to 2011. In February 2009, for example, more than half the workers on site were from Segen, according to a Senet progress report filed with the Canadian court.

In a 2013 press release, Nevsun said it first heard allegations that conscripts were working at Bisha in early 2009. In response, Nevsun instructed Senet to change Segen's contracts to explicitly prohibit the use of national service members. Nevsun also told Senet to start screening workers to ensure there were no conscripts at the mine. Court filings from Senet say screening began in May 2009; the system involved workers providing certificates to show they had finished national service.

It is unclear how effective the screening was, said a foreign worker who was on site at the time and spoke on condition of anonymity. Segen would put off filing paperwork, telling Senet that its workers were no one else's business. When papers did arrive, they were photocopies of Eritrean documents that no one outside Segen understood because they were written in the local language of Tigrinya, the foreign worker said.

In an affidavit for the court case, Senet project director Pieter Theron described the screening process, and said that as far as he knew, the Eritrean military was not involved in building Bisha. Theron declined requests for comment. In his affidavit, he said allegations about harsh working conditions were not consistent with his observations: "It is simply not the case that individuals worked in dangerous conditions and were often injured or ill."

Bemnet arrived at Bisha with the rest of his military unit in February 2010, according to his affidavit. He was told to take off his military uniform, and given grey coveralls to wear, with "Segen" across the back. An officer laid out some rules for his time at Bisha. He was not to tell anyone that he was a national service member. If asked about his pay he should say he was being paid $21 to $22 per day. He would actually be paid 450 nakfa per month, about $1 a day, according to the legal claim.

Bemnet and other conscripts were sometimes allowed to spend time in a nearby town. One Sunday in July 2010, he stayed late in town, eating and drinking with a friend, according to his affidavit. In the early hours, a group of military men came to retrieve him. Bemnet said they accused him of trying to desert and leave Eritrea. He was tied up with his friend, he said, with only short breaks for five days, and then sent to prison.

Bemnet said he was not sent back to Bisha after his release in November 2010, but remained in national service. In 2011, stationed near the Ethiopian border, he saw a chance to escape and swam across a river with two other men. From Ethiopia, Bemnet traveled to Sudan, Libya and across the Mediterranean to Italy. Like thousands of other Eritreans, he applied for asylum in Germany.

Many Eritreans aiming for Europe cross the Sahara into Libya, risking death by dehydration, starvation and violence in the desert. In Libya, some are kidnapped by Islamic State, and executed or enslaved before they can attempt to cross the Mediterranean. The United Nations refugee agency reported that 11,564 Eritreans made it to Italy in the first seven months of 2016. That was more than from any country other than Nigeria.


In 2013, Human Rights Watch published a report about the alleged use of conscripts at Bisha. Anticipating the report, Nevsun sent out a press release that expressed "regret if certain employees of Segen were conscripts ... in the early part of the Bisha mine's construction phase." It hired Lloyd Lipsett, a Canadian human rights lawyer, to assess the mine.

Lipsett's reports have focused on the period since he was hired. In a 2015 report he said he had found nothing to corroborate allegations against the company, but that it was difficult to draw conclusions about anything before 2013.

In an interview, Lipsett said there were limits to what he could do and how reliable witnesses were. "It's hard in a country like Eritrea where there is, I think, a plausible and potential risk that people may feel intimidated or be threatened with reprisal," he said. "I think you just have to work at it, and see what the weight of the evidence points to ... If someone is directly lying, I can't say that I will always catch that."

In February, Nevsun invited Reuters to visit the mine and interview managers and government officials on site and in Eritrea's capital, Asmara. During that tour, Romaine, the company's vice president for corporate social responsibility, said: "We take all allegations very seriously, but to date, based on all our extensive investigations, we have not found any corroborating evidence to support the allegations being made."

(Martell reported from Toronto, Blair from Asmara; Additional reporting by Jim Morris and Nicole Mordant in Vancouver, and Selam Gebrekidan in New York; Editing By Richard Woods and Simon Robinson)