One of current season's most important Eritrean events took place in Brussels on 19 October 2017 at which prominent experts were at hand to analyze different aspects of the never improving Eritrean situation and its ongoing refugee crisis. The topmost message at the conference was that, cosmetics and distortions aside, "nothing has changed in Eritrea in years." This was intoned by the UN Human Rights Rapporteur for Eritrea, Ms Sheila Keetharuth, who described the state of lawlessness and the "sea of darkness in Eritrea by the simple phrase: "detention until death" is the fate of every prisoner in the country today.
The conference, co-organized hosted at the EU Representation of the German State of Hessen, did not only highlight the worsening political, economic and human rights situation in Eritrea, but also dealt with the urgency of providing protection for Eritrean refugees in Europe and taking care to improve their wasted lives. Others involved in organizing the event were Eritrean Law Society; the External European Policy Advisors (EEPA); the Pro-Asyl; the Eritrean Movement for Democratic Change (EMDHR); War Resisters International, and Connection e.V.
In addition to listening to first-hand witnesses of the situation, the conference was addressed by heavy-weight European Parliamentarians the like of Ana Gomes of Portugal and Marie-Christine Vergiat of France, as well as Eritrea experts including university Profesors Gaim Kibreab, Mirjam van Reisen, and researcher-journalist Martin Plaut and others. Also attending were Eritrean civil society movements in different parts of Europe. The Eritrean People's Democratic Party (EPDP) was there represented by its head for foreign relations, Mr. Woldeyesus Ammar.
Following remarks by the conference organizers and the host, Ms. Sheila Keetharuth presented a moving keynote address which traced the trajectory so far covered since her involvement in the matter in 2012, and the heaver challenged awaiting all those sincerely concerned to end the unbearable situation in Eritrea. She stressed that the UN Commission of Inquiry's conclusion on the need for accountability for multiple crimes committed against humanity in Eritrea still awaits action and that Eritrean activists must play central role in the effort. She also advised some mistaken "observers" to know that "building schools is not education and that opening clinics alone is not public health". Ms. Keetharuth said she will resign mandate at the end of her 5th year in the job next year and hoped that human rights organizations and activists will convince the UN Human Rights Council on the huge need of keeping the Eritrean regime under scrutiny by extending the mandate of a Human Rights Rapporteur for Eritrea.
The day-long conference had three panel session on related topics. Panel One dealt with the challenges of Eritrean asylum seekers in the European Union. Started with first-hand witness Philmon, a survivor of the Sinai ordeal after losing fingers on both hands, the next panelist was Dr. Gaim Kibreab, a UK university professor, who said displacement is worsened by the breakdown of old survival strategies in the society. Dr. Daniel Mekonnen, of the Eritrean Law Society, who gave details on the asylum regime (laws) in Europe stated that no good news will come out of Eritrea until structural change is worked out. Dr. Sara Ogbai of UK spoke experiences with unaccompanied children, the language barrier and depressing culture shock they have to undergo. Ms. Papadopoulous explained the situation of Eritrean refugees in Europe. According to her report, 8,924 Eritrean refugees were relocated from Italy to different European countries since 2015. The panelists in general exposed the existing weakness in addressing the problems of Eritrean refugees in Europe.
Panel Two speakers talked about the horror stories related to the conscription and forced labour practiced by the Eritrean authorities. Witness Temerza talked about the harrowing experiences she faced starting at the age of 16 at home in Keren until she crossed dangers of the desert and the sea to reach Europe where everything was not rosy. Author-activist Dawit Mesfin stressed the total neglect of the Eritrean regime since independence of the mothers in Italy and other places who sacrificed so much for the 30-year struggle. Ms Selam Kidane spoke on the impact of forced militarization and forced labour, and Amnesty International's Alex Jackson stressed on the urgent need of unity amongst Eritrean pro-democracy and human rights activists to put an end to the appalling situation in Eritrea.
The final session with Panel Three had Hayat as first-hand witness telling her dangerous journey from Barentu via Shegerab to exile through all the dangerous routes till she reached Belgium. Dr. Adane Ghebremeskel of EMDHR from southern Africa talked on the unhappy state of Eritrean refugees in five African countries where refugee rights are almost non-existent. Professor Mirjam van Reisen, the EEPA director, reminded the audience of the sad Sinai days and regretted that Europe is not doing the right thing in support of refugees who are in need of protection from human traffickers in Africa. Father Mussie Zerai expressed the concern that Europeans are not yet ready to cater equal human rights to non-Europeans. Horn of Africa expert Plaut worried about the wrong actions of the European Union to assist undeserving dictators and warlords in Africa with the aim of prevention refugees from entering Europe. In particular, he condemned the support given to criminal militia leaders in Libya and to the regime in the Sudan which is using the funds to employ in borders its infamous Janjawid militias to stop refugees from crossing borders.
Ms Helen Kidan of EMDHR and Mr. Rudi Friedrich of Connection e.V. made a quick summation of the discussions in the panels before reverting to the Deputy Director of the Representation of the State of Hessen to EU, Mr. Claus-Peter Appel, for his closing remarks.