Africa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa
Date: 25/04/2018
Author: Martin Plaut

Donald Yamamoto is the most senior African diplomat in the Trump administration.

His visit to Eritrea has ended (see below) but the State Department is making no comment on what was achieved until his trip to the Horn of Africa is over. This includes a visit to Djibouti and then Ethiopia on Thursday, 26th of April.

So what might have been on the table? Ethiopian sources speculate that his tour of the Horn might lead to a lifting of sanctions against Eritrea and support for peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The well-informed magazine, Jane’s, agrees.

They may be right. But it is important to remember the context.
Eritrea has – repeatedly – offered the US navy access to its ports. The American military have considered the option from time to time. [See below]

But Eritrea also has a history of harassing the United States diplomatic mission, by arresting and imprisoning dozens of Eritrean local staff. Ronald McMullen, who served as US ambassador to Eritrea from 2007-2010 revealed that “Forty eight of our Eritrean employees have been arrested from 2001 to 2010. Some have been arrested for many years; others were arrested for several weeks or months and kept in horrible conditions.” [See below]
So there could be gains for both sides. If President Isaias Afwerki is prepared to guarantee that the US can have normal diplomatic relations and its staff can work unhindered, then there might be movement on the rest of the agenda.

Certainly, progress on a resolution to the Eritrea – Ethiopia border dispute would be a huge gain for the people of both countries. Can Yamamoto make progress? He is a man of immense experience in Africa. Few are better placed, but the problems are extremely intractable.

Let’s see what happens.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Yamamoto Travel to East Africa
Source: Media Note: Office of the Spokesperson, US State Department
Washington, DC
April 21, 2018
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Ambassador Donald Y. Yamamoto will travel to Eritrea from April 22-24 for bilateral consultations with Eritrean government officials, to meet with the diplomatic community, and to visit the Embassy’s staff based in Asmara. He will then lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-Djibouti Binational Forum April 24-25 in Djibouti, our annual dialogue on matters of political, economic, assistance, and security cooperation. Ambassador Yamamoto will travel to Ethiopia on April 26 to meet with Ethiopian government officials to discuss shared interests and concerns.

Eritrea Pushes to Get U.S. Base
Source: Washington Post

By Judy SarasohnNovember 21, 2002

“Why Not Eritrea?” That’s what the government of Eritrea, a poor African country, wants to know and what it has its lobbyists asking in Washington.

The issue paper “Why Not Eritrea?” pushes the country’s plan for the United States to take advantage of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa as a military staging ground in the buildup toward a looming war with Iraq. After all, the surrounding nations are members of the Arab League and not what one would call very supportive of U.S. interests, the paper says. Even Djibouti, already host to about 3,200 U.S. troops who are being trained in desert warfare, has voiced reservations about U.S. intentions.

Eritrea notes that it is pro-American and half Christian, half Muslim.

U.S. officials are considering Eritrea’s offer, and Gen. Tommy Franks has visited the country.
But to help make sure its message gets heard — and accepted — Eritrea has hired Greenberg Traurig, the law firm that includes a lobbying team headed by Jack Abramoff, who has close ties to the new House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

According to Greenberg Traurig’s contract with Eritrea, included in the firm’s Foreign Agents Registration Act filing at the Justice Department, the country is paying Greenberg Traurig $50,000 a month for helping “in implementing its public policy goals in Washington.” That’s $600,000 for the yearlong engagement from April 15, 2002, to April 14, 2003.

By the way, the CIA World Factbook 2002 pegs Eritrea’s per-capita gross domestic product at about $740 for last year. Eritrea, which gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, went through a punishing war from 1998 to 2000 with its neighbor. Eighty thousand people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

“Their biggest issue is they want to reach out to America and have better relations,” says Padgett Wilson, director of governmental affairs at Greenberg Traurig.

Wilson notes that having a U.S. base in Eritrea would bring in much-needed capital and encourage U.S. companies to do business there, helping the country develop a middle class and “providing economic stability for U.S. companies.”

The lobbyist acknowledges some U.S. officials believe Eritrea hasn’t moved fast enough toward democracy. There was a widespread crackdown on government critics last year, with some dissidents held without charges and private newspapers shut.

“They have problems; they have a way to go,” Wilson says, but Eritrea is working on it, and a closer relationship with the United States would help.

“Based on the current sentiment of the Arab community and the geography of the region, it is increasingly clear that failure to form an alliance with Eritrea is unconscionable,” the issue paper states.

Taking Foreign Policy to Stonebridge

Joy E. Drucker has left the Council on Foreign Relations, where she was deputy director of the Washington office, for Stonebridge International, the international strategy company started by former Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger. In her new job as director of government and international affairs at Stonebridge, Drucker will be lobbying and handling foreign policy matters and communications on behalf of clients.

US Ambassador: Eritrea Arrested 48 of Our Staff
Source: The World News

Between 2001 and 2010, Eritrea arrested 48 Eritrean employees of the US embassy in Eritrea, according to former US ambassador to Eritrea,Ronald McMullen.

In an interview with Global Journalist on August 6,  Ambassador McMullen, who appeared on the show with representatives of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ),  disclosed “Forty eight of our Eritrean employees have been arrested from 2001 to 2010. Some have been arrested for many years; others were arrested for several weeks or months and kept in horrible conditions.”

Mr. Ronald McMullen served as ambassador from 2007-2010.

The ambassador went on to shed light on why the United States and Eritrea no longer have relationship at the ambassador level:

“It is very tough,” he explained, “Everyday was a challenge and we looked for small victories and in keeping the embassy open, and maintaining a platform for American values talking about human rights and democratization, and trying to promote regional stability in a very volatile part of the world.”

The ambassador said that his office had to give a 10-day notice to Eritrean officials to get a permit to leave the capital city, Asmara, and that of his 65 requests, only 14 were approved.

While using glowing terms to describe Asmara and the people of Eritrea, Ambassador McMullen said that the country “is very, very, repressed and the government of President Isaias [Afwerki] is highly centralized and very authoritarian and attempts to control all aspects of life.”

In Eritrea, diplomats are also prevented from having access to the local population. Ambassador McMullen explained, “For example, at one point, we were having a public lecture series in an auditorium; the Ministry of Communication prohibited us from having one evening’s lecture, actually physically locked.. chained the gates shut on the auditorium.”

Asked by the host, what the lecture was about, Ambassador McMullen said  “it was about anthropology, and how Eritrea had been the bridge for early homo sapiens to go from Africa across the Red Sea…”

The government of Isaias Afwerki tried  “to get the names of all the 150 Eritreans who were attending this lecture. They roughed up one of my junior officers, an American foreign services officer. In the end, we moved this lecture into the patio of the embassy and continued. But the Ministry of Communications didn’t want 150 Eritreans to listen to this lecture.”

“… we had a lot of Eritreans who were willing to talk with us, ministers of the government came to my house for dinner; we had regular discussions with the president’s political and economic advisers. We had relatively good access, but bad relations. I mean they closed down the defense attaché’s office; the peace corps has been closed, USAid kicked out, they seized diplomatic pouches in contravention of the Vienna convention. So it is really a tough place to be an American diplomat.”

In June 26, 2001, Gedab News contacted the Public Relations Officer at the American Embassy in Asmara, Ms. Colette Christian, who dismissed the reports saying, “there has been no problem between USAid and the government since 1996.”

In 2001, the Eritrean Government detained two employees of the American embassy. Relations between the Eritrean government and the USA has been bumpy since the government of Isaias Afwerki arrested Mr Ali Alamin and Mr Kiflom Gebremichael. The two have not been officially charged with any crimes but they were rumored to have translated for the embassy the documents of Eritrean opposition groups.

In the same year, the government arrested Mr Fitwi Gezae, who was the webmaster of the US embassy in Eritrea and Mr Biniam Girmay, who was its Facility Management Assistant, were detained by Eritrean security officials.

Amassador McMullen is now a visiting professor at the University of Iowa.

Each year, the US Department of State provides country reports and while its annual reports on Eritrea have always been negative, the ambassador is the first official to disclose that as many as forty eight Eritrean employees of the US embassy have been arrested and the case of only two embassy employees, Ali Alamin and Kiflom Gebremichael, had always been presented as an obstacle to normalizing relationship between the two countries.


from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation

Published on 24 Apr 2018View Original

JERUSALEM, April 24 (Reuters) - The Israeli government said on Tuesday it had abandoned a plan to forcibly deport African migrants who entered the country illegally after failing to find a willing country to take in the migrants.

The government had been working for months on an arrangement to expel thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese men who crossed into Israel through Egypt's Sinai desert.

Read more on the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation:

For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit


Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Yamamoto Travel to East Africa

Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
April 21, 2018

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Ambassador Donald Y. Yamamoto will travel to Eritrea from April 22-24 for bilateral consultations with Eritrean government officials, to meet with the diplomatic community, and to visit the Embassy’s staff based in Asmara. He will then lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-Djibouti Binational Forum April 24-25 in Djibouti, our annual dialogue on matters of political, economic, assistance, and security cooperation. Ambassador Yamamoto will travel to Ethiopia on April 26 to meet with Ethiopian government officials to discuss shared interests and concerns.


Apr 17, 2018

Teklit Michael started running with Eritrea’s fastest athletes when he was just 14 years old. His plan: to compete in the 2012 London Olympics.

Michael burned through a pair of sneakers nearly every month, so he went to work at a government textile factory to foot the bill. One day after hours of labor, he went to collect his earnings. But he says his supervisor, a government employee, refused to pay him. When Michael pushed back, the man threatened him.

“He told me, 'You are a son of a bitch, and you are talking against the government,'” Michael recalls.

According to Freedom House, a watchdog agency that evaluates the state of democracy worldwide, Eritrea is not considered a "free" country. The dictatorship there is considered among the most repressive governments in the world. Military conscription can stretch indefinitely, and rights groups say the country ranks at the bottom when it comes to press freedom — below North Korea. Michael says punishment for criticizing the government is often prison.

He eventually decided to quit that job.

One day after practice, Michael's running coach pulled him aside as if he was foreshadowing, and told him, “You’re born to run. So don’t stop running."

Looking back at that moment, Michael says he thinks his coach knew he might get arrested. “He knew there was something wrong in the country,” Michael says. “He knew that something going to happen.”

A few months later, the police arrived and handcuffed Michael, accusing him of questioning the government. They put him in a dirty, crowded prison cell, which Michael says he was routinely dragged out of and beaten.

But even in his cell, Michael continued to train. He says the other prisoners made room for him while he did jumping jacks and jogged in place.

“They gave me space, one to two meters to jog — up and down, up and down,” he says. 

After nearly a year of detention without an official charge, Michael decided to escape. He and another prisoner jumped a fence at night and sprinted into the darkness. When they reached the Sudanese border three days later, Eritrean soldiers tried to arrest them.

So they ran. Michael says the soldiers shot at them. Bullets hit the ground and dust flew up around his ankles. Michael remembers thinking “not my legs, not my legs. Please don’t shoot my legs,” he says. “I was always praying when people are shooting [at] me, 'Please don’t hit my legs.'”

Fleeing Eritrea

He ran fast, all day, covering about 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). At some point, he and his friend from prison were separated.

When Michael finally made it to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, he walked to a massive open-air stadium. It was empty. Michael was hungry and wearing plastic sandals on his feet, but he stepped onto the track — and he ran. He imagined the stadium packed with people, cheering him on.

“It reminds you that you are special person, you are human being. You are not just a person searching to live — or searching to survive,” Michael says.

For the first time since he was dumped in prison, Michael says he felt human again. But he quickly went back to survival mode because he heard that the Sudanese government was arresting and deporting thousands of Eritreans.

Michael earned some money working odd jobs, mostly on farms. He scraped up enough to pay smugglers to get him to Egypt and across the Sinai desert. There, he pulled himself over the border fence into Israel’s Negev desert. 

A new life in Israel 

He eventually made his way to Tel Aviv. At first, Michael was homeless. He got a job sweeping floors in a 10-story parking garage and during his breaks, he would run the stairs. He ran whenever and wherever he could.

One day, Michael was spotted by a coach from the Israeli national team. The coach told Michael he had the potential to run professionally and invited him to train with the team. He brought Michael new shoes and jerseys.

“What can I say? It was my dream, to compete,” Michael says. “It’s not about the prize, it’s not about the medal.”

Michael's Olympic dreams were back on track. But there was one more problem standing in his way: he didn’t have papers or a passport. 

“To be in that level [of competition] you have to have at least travel documents. I have none of them,” he says. “I am a stateless person. I am out of the system.”

He didn’t have much hope of that changing. Of the nearly 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants who have arrived in Israel since 2009, just 11 have received asylum.

Michael says his coach had one final idea, and it was a long shot. His coach told him that if he converted to Judaism, he might have a chance at citizenship. (Reporter's note: When I asked a spokesperson from the Israeli Federation of Athletics about this plan, he told me he had never heard of anything like that happening.)

Michael went to church, where he sat down to think about the suggestion. By the time he stood up, he says he knew it wasn’t an option for him. He was Eritrean and an Orthodox Christian. He says that converting felt as if it would be a betrayal of his identity.

Putting away his running shoes, and picking up a new purpose

He made another decision at that point too. He gave up his dream of Olympic competition.

“I say to myself, 'There is no more running,'” he says.

Michael, 29, now works as an advocate at the Eritrean Community Center in south Tel Aviv. In the past few years, he has spoken out against Israeli policies targeting asylum-seekers from African countries.

“When I stopped training one thing came to my mind: I have to shift my thinking. Not just to cry, but to do more meaningful things,” he says.

The Israeli government announced plans in January to deport about 20,000 African migrants over the next two years. On April 2, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a deal with the United Nations Refugee Agency to resettle about 16,000 African migrants to the West and give a similar number temporary status to remain in Israel. When he heard the news, Michael says he felt more optimistic than he had in years.

But the next day, Netanyahu cancelled the deal, amid criticism from harder-line members of his governing coalition.

Michael now says he doesn't trust any government anymore. Every government, he says, has betrayed him.


press release

Co-Chairman Hultgren and members of the Commission, thank you for the invitation to testify today.

Thousands of Eritreans, many of them young, flee Eritrea every month. This means Eritrea is losing a significant percentage of its population - by far the largest of any country not wracked by active conflict. UNHCR reported that at the end of 2016 there were 459,000 Eritreans who had claimed asylum worldwide in African states, in the Middle East, in Europe and here in the United States. Eritrea does not release population statistics, but estimations put that at more than 10% of Eritrea's current population.

Based on Human Rights Watch research, Eritreans' most predominant impetus for flight is to escape what is known as "national service." By a proclamation issued in 1995, all Eritreans are subject to 18 months of national service, including six months of military training. Eritrean law requires Eritreans leaving the country to hold an exit permit which the authorities only issue selectively, severely punishing those caught trying to leave without one, including with jail time.

To be clear, limited terms of national conscription do not, in themselves, constitute human rights violations. But it is not limited in Eritrea. The Eritrean government disregards the proclamation's time limits. Many conscripts are forced to serve indefinitely. Human Rights Watch has interviewed hundreds of Eritreans who were forced to serve a decade or more before they decided to flee -- in one recent case, a man had been in forced national service for over 17 years.

While some fortunate conscripts are assigned to civil service jobs or as teachers, many are placed in military units assigned to work on "development" projects in agriculture and infrastructure. None have a choice about their assignments, the locations or length of their service.

In the past few years, more and more unaccompanied children have fled Eritrea. When interviewed in Europe, they've explained they feared being forced into possibly indefinite military service. Many children told us they had observed what had happened to their fathers, older siblings, or other close relatives who had been conscripted and didn't want to suffer the same fate.

It's not just the length of time that causes so many conscripts to flee. What happens to them during their years of service is also devastating.

Pay during national service is below subsistence, although the Eritrean government has recently announced increases for some conscripts. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry in 2015 correctly called Eritrea's national service a form of "enslavement." During service, commanders subject conscripts to physical abuse, including torture.


April 18, 2018, Written by Observer Media Ltd

Medhaine Yahdego Mered

Eritrean national Medhaine Yahdego Mered, labelled the world’s most wanted man for his notorious human trafficking racket, was travelling on a Ugandan passport.

A highly-placed source said Mered’s passport carried the name Habte Amanuel purporting to be a Ugandan.

The source said Mered has been operating between Khartoum and Juba in Sudan and South Sudan, respectively, funnelling refugees to Kampala for a price – a criminal exercise he has carried on for the last two years.

Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said yesterday that they “would have to first verify information” that the smuggler was travelling on a Ugandan passport.

His revelation will cast a further shadow over Uganda’s Immigration Department where former director, Godfrey Sasaga and commissioner, Anthony Namara, were sacked last month on the orders of President Museveni.

The sacking came amid reports that immigration officials have long been selling Ugandan passports to international criminals, including Nigerian and other West African drug peddlers.

Onyango said he has spoken to Interpol’s Ugandan office to see if they have received notice for the arrest of Mered who is reported to be living somewhere in Kampala. By press time, the Interpol office had not given a response.

Other sources told The Observer that: “In Sudan, he was not hiding from anyone. Some Eritreans would come to him and he would smuggle them to Uganda,” said another source, who leaves with some people who are here because of Mered.

He operated under the nickname “General” in a venture where he’s managed to amass huge sums of dollars – facilitating his luxurious life in Kampala and using the same money to avoid arrest.

Last week, Swedish television SVT and the Guardian UK newspaper revealed that 35-year-old Mered, wanted for smuggling thousands of Africans through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, is living the high life in Uganda. 

In a case of mistaken identity, European and Italian prosecutors arrested a refugee in 2013 from Khartoum claiming they had arrested Mered. According to the Guardian, Medhanie Tesfamariam Behre was extradited and prosecuted by mistake with prosecutors insisting he was Mered, the smuggler.

DNA tests on this refugee’s mother have come out negative while the smuggler’s wife who lives in Sweden has spoken that the person they are holding is not her husband.

The hunt for Mered and his affiliates began after the shipwreck of October 3, 2013, off the island of Lampedusa, where 368 mostly Somali and Eritrean migrants died.

The Observer has been told that most Eritreans would cross from Eritrea to Khartoum, where at a fee, Mered would smuggle them to Uganda. From here, a witness said, the refugees would be told never to tell anyone that they were smuggled in by Mered. He would tell them that they would be deported if they reported him.

According to the Guardian, the smuggler was a regular patron at Hotel Diplomate, Molober, a bar located off Muyenga road in Kabalagala, a popular hangout with Eritreans, and Sami’s bar in the same area.

Another witness told the Guardian that some people just don’t know who to report to and fear for their own lives.

“Even if we tell [Uganda] police, they will not arrest him,” a witness said. “He is rich and can pay anyone to get his freedom.”

One witness said Mered moves with four or three Ugandan guards. “They are Ugandans and not from a registered security company. He keeps changing guards.”


The revelation has blown the lid off a human smugglers network in Uganda. Informed sources say that there are more traffickers and smugglers in Kampala because it is safe to work from.

“They find it a safe haven,” said a source, who worked on a case of Eritreans deported from Israel with no clear documents to stay in Uganda in 2015.

There is a house in the posh Kololo area of Kampala, where the smuggled refugees are kept for two days before being let loose on the streets.

Some of those kept at the Kololo house have been deported from Israel to Rwanda from where they are again smuggled back into Uganda, we have been told.

The source said one smuggler in 2015 brought Eritrean refugees and abandoned them in Kampala after taking $10,000 from them.

According to our source, the trafficker was then arrested, briefly detained in Kabalagala, and released after he promised to refund money. He only paid back $600 and was freed, the source said.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


April 13, 2018

April 13, 2018

Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni

Uganda is considering a request from Israel to take in 500 migrants from Eritrea and Sudan, a minister said on Friday, the first time the East African nation has acknowledged it is in talks over such a deal.

Musa Ecweru, Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, said in a statement: “the State of Israel working with other refugees’ managing organisations has requested Uganda to allow about 500 Eritreans and Sudanese to relocate to Uganda.

“The government and ministry are positively considering the request,” he said.

About 4,000 migrants have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda since 2013 under a voluntary program but Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under pressure from his right-wing voter base to expel thousands more.
In January, Israel started handing out notices to male migrants from Eritrea and Sudan giving them three months
to take the voluntary deal with a plane ticket and 3,500 dollars or risk being thrown in jail.

The government said from April it would start forced deportations but rights groups challenged the move and
Israel’s Supreme Court has issued a temporary injunction to give more time for the petitioners to argue
against the plan.

Government representatives told the court on Monday that an envoy was in an African country finalising a deportation deal after an arrangement with Rwanda to take migrants expelled under the new measures fell through.

Until Friday’s statement, Ugandan officials had denied to Reuters that their government was in talks with Israel to resettle migrants.

Mr Ecweru said “all refugees world over” should be “voluntarily repatriated with strict observance and adherence to international law”, but did not give further details on the possible deal.(Reuters/NAN)


In documents submitted to court, state says special envoy has reported back that deal is possible, though more time needed to hammer out details.

Source: Times of Israel

African migrants gather during a protest outside the Knesset in the Rose Garden in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

African migrants gather during a protest outside the Knesset in the Rose Garden in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

The Israeli government on Thursday said there was a “high probability” an unnamed country, widely reported to be Uganda, would absorb African migrants deported from Israel.

In a document submitted to the High Court of Justice, the state requested permission to extend the detention of 212 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in a holding facility in southern Israel until a final deportation deal was reached.

After dispatching a special envoy on Wednesday for negotiations with the unnamed country, the state argued the talks were encouraging, but said more time was needed to clinch a final agreement.

The attorney general has been updated on the “high probability” of an imminent deal, it said.

However, the Ugandan president’s office told the Israeli Haaretz daily later Thursday that it knew of no deal and was not prepared to accept any asylum seekers being deported from Israel against their will.

The state’s assessment was laid out in a response to a High Court petition filed on behalf of a slew of human rights organizations that argued that the continued imprisonment of the asylum seekers was illegal.

On Wednesday, 58 African asylum seekers were freed from the Saharonim Prison after a controversial plan to deport them to Rwanda fell apart.

The state informed the court on Wednesday it will free the remaining Saharonim detainees if the agreement with the “second country” similarly collapses. That deal was also believed to be imperiled as Uganda said Tuesday it will not accept asylum seekers from the Jewish state.

Following a stream of rumors, the East African country’s Foreign Affairs Minister Henry Okello Oryem on Tuesday denied the existence of an agreement with Israel on the issue.

“We will insist that the airlines return them (the asylum seekers) to the country where they came from,” he said in a statement. “We do not have a contract, any understanding, formal or informal, with Israel for them to dump their refugees here.”

Eitay Mack, the attorney who filed the High Court petition on behalf of the rights groups, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that he expected the deal with Uganda to break down, similar to the previous one with Rwanda, leaving the government with no choice but to release the remaining asylum seekers at Saharonim.

Last-ditch effort to salvage Uganda ‘deal’

Nevertheless, Israel is still trying to save the agreement. In a Wednesday response to the High Court petition, it stated that a special envoy was dispatched to the unnamed “third-party country” that had agreed to accept African asylum seekers from Israel. The unnamed country was Uganda, according to Hebrew media reports.

The state said the special envoy would confirm whether the country is suitable for deportations “in light of the allegations” made against it, apparently referring to human rights violations or dangers posed to migrants who are deported there.

On Thursday, it said the conditions of the country were “suitable” for expulsion.

Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.

The state response followed a dramatic about-face late Monday evening in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was canceling a new agreement with the UN’s refugee agency that would have seen thousands of African migrants resettled in Western nations and thousands more given temporary status in Israel. The prime minister froze the deal mere hours after announcing the plan.

The agreement was designed to end the possibility of forced deportations of thousands of migrants from Israel to Rwanda. Under the agreement, a minimum of 16,250 migrants would have instead been resettled in Western nations.

In return, Israel would have granted temporary residency to an equal number of migrants.

The presence of the primarily Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in Israel has become a key political issue.

Israel’s earlier deportation policy to the African countries, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the United Nations as chaotic, poorly executed and unsafe.

The Supreme Court froze the deportations in mid-March in response to a petition.

The government plan to deport the migrants to Uganda would still likely face a High Court of Justice challenge and might need to be re-legislated in a new Knesset law.


by Martin Plaut

By Petros Tesfagiorgis

Jubilation on Eritrean liberation day May 1991

 In 1991 EPLF entered Asmara victorious - jubilation on the streets

The absence of peace is ruining the life of the people of Eritreans.  The people express their longings for peace at funerals during New Year celebrations and at religious events. The people of Eritrea are crying out for peace.  But their voice has remained unheard.  The people inside Eritrea cannot organise a campaign for peace, other than express their wishes and pray. There is no freedom of expression, let alone the right to demonstrate for peace. But the Diaspora can do it. If they do, it will give energy to their activities for unity and justice. So far most of the activities are reactive and short term. Peace movements are proactive with a proper action plan.   For the religious leaders it will be a spiritual journey.

To initiate a peace dialogue with the people of Ethiopia is a priority because no-peace, no war has   served the Eritrean regime as an escape goat to hold the Eritrean youth hostage under the programme of indefinite national service/forced labour, which gave rise to the influx of huge number of refugees to exile, as well as other forms of human rights violations. Today Eritrean refugees are part of “Europe’s Refugee Crises”. Because of this, Western countries has a stake in peace in the Horn.

Peace with the people of Ethiopia is not as difficult as people may think.  There is deep rooted historical and cultural link between our peoples.  Co-operation in the fight against the Military Junta that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie in February 1974 built strong bonds of solidarity and trust. In the middle of the 1998-2000 war concerned Eritreans have formed an organisation called “Citizens for Peace in Eritrea” of which I was a founding member. Unity among Eritreans and peace with the people of Ethiopia. When it organised the first peace conference in Keren and Asmara – the support it got from the people was amazing.  That experience has convinced me that peace movement will work.  (I will write about CPE separately).

In late 60ththe Haile Sellasie 1 University students were extremely concerned of the poverty and lack of development that prevailed in Ethiopia. Progressive Ethiopian University students were inspired by the teachings of Marx and Lenin and started to see the socialist ideology as a way out of poverty and oppression.  Slowly the socialist leaning, progressive university students got the upper hand in the students union and began exposing the feudal regime for mismanaging the people and the economy in their newspapers and in debates.  They also organised demonstrations – condemning the Imperial government for ignoring the 1972 famine in Ethiopia and the unfair land holding system which deprived the Oromo population   of their ancestral lands. The rallying cry was “Land to the tiller.”   Land was at the centre of the uprising of the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia: about 45% of the population.  It was the 1972 famine and the unfair land holding system that led the downfall of Emperor Haile Sellasie.

The Ethiopian University students were the most radical students in Africa.  They managed to influence the high school students – and created a revolutionary climate in Addis Ababa and in the provinces.

The reaction of Eritrean Students:  The Eritrean progressive students came to realize that if the oppressive feudal system was replaced by a socialist Government the problem in Eritrea could be solved peacefully based on the right of people to self-determination.  At that time an armed struggle was raging in the lowland of Eritrea that stated in 1961 by Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). This was labelled as the mother of the Eritrean Revolution.

The Eritrean university students saw a light at the end of the tunnel and became very active in the Ethiopian students’ movement. Thus the Addis Ababa University has become the melting pot of revolutionaries. It brought together students from different nationalities to get to know each other.

The Eritrean students were encouraged to involve more when, for the first time, the question of the right to self-determination of the oppressed nationals was raised by an outspoken activist, Walelegn Mekonen (1).  After that the question of Eritrea was being discussed openly, but informally between Eritreans and Ethiopians and this worried the Imperial Government.

Many Eritreans   had played a pivotal role in the student movement, including Temesgen Haile and Petros Yohanees Adgoi both editors of the radical University City Wide Union newspaper.  Yohannes Sebhatu was one of those who became Marxist Gurus who supported   the out spoken   Berhane Meskel Redda– the pioneer leader of the left in the university.  There were others from different   nationalities such as Gebru Mersha and Gebru Gebrewold.

Accordingly, the EPLF changed its political narrative to one that declared that the EPLF was fighting against the repressive regime in Ethiopia, and not the people of Ethiopia, who were oppressed themselves. When it became clear that the Ethiopian army had hijacked the revolution, the revolutionaries saw no alternative except to resort to armed struggle. It is at this decisive moment, when events in the Horn were at cross-roads, that The Ethiopians People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP)   and the Tigray People’s Revolutionary Front (TPLF) were formed. There was urban confrontations, during which thousands of university and high school revolutions lost their lives, as the Military unleashed the red terror campaign.  It was a massacred, among them was Haile Fida, the leader of MESON party.

The EPRP and the TPLF got their first training in Sahel with the EPLF. TPLF grew into formidable force and had a successful militarily cooperation with EPLF. Unfortunately the EPRP did not. The EPLF alliance was not only with TPLF, but with other liberation forces as well. There were times when the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and EPLF fighters carried out military operation together. The most successful   lighting attack by combined EPLF and OLF forces against the Ethiopian army took place in mid-1980 in the South of Ethiopia.  It struck fear into the Military Junta. At that time the EPLF army travelled all the way through the Sudan, to join the OLF in the South.

Finally it was the military coordination of EPLF and TPLF that defeated the repressive Ethiopian regime in 1991, despite the Junta’s sophisticated military equipment, such as Stalin Organ, Migs and gunship helicopters supplied by the Soviet Union. 7 Soviet advisers were captured during the famous battle of Afabet in 1987. Afabet was the strongest military garrison in the lowland area.

When in 1991 the Ethiopian army finally surrendered to EPLF in Asmara – the jubilant residents went out to the streets dancing. It was time to celebrate and be joyful.

For the people of Eritrea the end of the 30 years was the mother of all wars.  The people thought there would be no more wars. It was time to rehabilitate the society and the economy; time to live in peace with Ethiopia. Soon enough the two Governments agreed to allow the free movement of people and goods between them, and the use of both Eritrean ports, Massawa and Assab by Ethiopia.

Both governments revived IGAD and planned to connect all the neighbouring countries by road and cable etc. Hitherto   dormant IGAD was re-activated   an Eritrean Dr Tekeste Gebrai was appointed as its Secretary. He has a story to tell of projects to integrate the countries of the Horn and nearby countries which was frustrated because of the war.

All this won the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea the respect of many countries and especially American President, Clinton – who expressed the dawn of   new era in Africa. He declared   President Isaias, Afewerki, PM Meles Zenawi, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela as ‘Africa’s renaissance leaders.’  Hilary Clinton visited Eritrea, and she was given a traditional white dress during her invitation by the Eritrean National union of women.

In one of her meetings in the United States Hilary Clinton spoke highly of Eritrea’s organised civil societies, which rendered services to their communities voluntarily, with diligence and total commitment. The EPLF mass associations were the Ambassadors of the struggle, soliciting political, diplomatic and humanitarian support in the countries they lived. Unfortunately the EPLF dismantled the well organised mass association at the eve of independence. Today there is no room for independent civil societies in Eritrea.  The National Union of Eritrean workers, the youth and the trade unions and the YPFDJ in the Diaspora are mere tools of disinformation. They just do what they are asked to do.  They never raise the gross human rights violations in Eritrea with the regime they support.

After independence Eritrean professionals and business people flooded back to Eritrea to participate in the economic and social rehabilitations of the country. After the war all these people returned to where they came from not only because of the war, but because the private sector, the engine of economic growth was not allowed to flourish in Eritrea. Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world.

The EPLF/PFDJ has won the war but lost the peace: PFDJ has maintained the culture of war. Isaias thrives by wars.     

In essence, the senseless Ethio-Eritrean war that started in August 1998 damaged the solidarity and trust between the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia, a relationship cemented in sweat and blood. It is simply a tragedy.  I and my friends felt helpless and powerless to do anything about it. This was true for the rest of the Eritrean people. But at least we started an organisation called Citizens for Peace in Eritrea (CPE). I was refused   demobilization and was assigned to work for the Commercial Bank of Eritrea so I had spare time for CPE.  It gave me some consolation during those dark days. It is not only the wars that affected the people but the silent war, war in the form of gross human rights violations against the people, the absence of the rule of law and the abolition of freedom of expression that is destroying the fabric of the Eritrean society.  Thus our dream of building prosperous Eritrea at peace with itself and its neighbours especially Ethiopia was shattered. The senseless and avoidable war was brought about by quarrels between the two hitherto friendly governments. They could have   solved any quarrel on the negotiation table. Indeed, this is what happened finally, in Algeria.  At the Algiers negotiations the person who advocated ceasefire   with passion and diligence was the martyred foreign minister, Haile Woldetnsaie (Durue) together with his counterpart, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfun. The best way to remember the death of Haile Durue is to campaign for peace which was close to his heart. (6)

Today   the Eritrean and Ethiopian people can re-claim their lost relationship and campaign for peace but it is a very challenging initiative. I end my article congratulating Dr Abdi Ahmed for his success in getting elected as the Ethiopian Prime minster. I hail his conciliatory and full of wisdom talk in his inauguration and his peace gesture towards Eritrea.

To be continued in part 2.  The challenges of peace campaign  

1.      Walelegn Berhanu: together with 6 other revolutionaries was shot dead by   the security forces disguised as passengers, on board the Ethiopian airiness in 1974. They were bound to go to Sahel for military training. They chose to leave Ethiopia by highjack the Airlines in order to get worldwide sensational publicity.  With them there was 3 Eritrean, An EPLF fighter, Amanuel Yohannes the brother of Zemheret Yohannes – PFDJ. Amanuel came all the way from Sahel with a message to offer help to the Ethiopian revolutionaries. The other is a radical revolutionary Eritrean Woman- Martha Mebrahtu-nicknamed “Angela Davis” – American Civil Rights activist of the 60th. Involved in the Black Panther movement.

2.      Berhane Meskel Redawas the leader not only of EPRP but also its armed wing the EPRA. He and other members got their training with EPLF. Unfortunately he was captured by the Military Junta interrogated, brutally tortured and then killed.

3.      Temesgen Haile:Was arrested by the junta end of 1974 and was tortured to death. After graduation during the Junta period he was working for the ministry of mines as a surveyor. He used to travel to Eritrea and distribute the Eritrean paper “Tihisha” in Asmara to members of EPLF cells. I was in Asmara that time and I used to get some from him for distribution.

4.      Yohannes Sebhatujoined the EPLF and together with other mostly ex-university students, also Mussie Tesfamikael, started a movement to democratize the front. They were nicknamed “MenKa” [the bat]. They were all arrested and killed in cold blood.

5.      Petros Yohannes left to USA for further studies and was the main author of the book titled “In defence of the Eritrean revolution” in reaction to the Ethiopian Student Union in North America (ESUNA).He travelled all the way from USA and joined the EPLF in 1976 but reported  dead of an accident when travelling from the then liberated Town of Keren to Sahel the base area of EPLF.

Haile Woldesselsie (Durue)was the minister of Foreign Affairs who negotiated seize fire. After his arrest 0n 18/09/2001 together with members of the G-15 and the editors of private papers, Anthony Lake –wrote a letter published on “Boston Globe” USA dated 28-10-2002.  Titled “Eritrea’s Shameful deeds. I quote “I knew Haile when he represented Eritrea in the negotiation to end the recent war with Ethiopia Working with officials from Algeria and Italy, on behalf of the Organisation of African Unity and the European Union, respectively, I represented the United States in negotiating the peace agreements (signed in late 2000) that put a stop to the horrendous bloodshed.”    “During more than two years I negotiated with him, Woldensaie was a tough, skilled representative of his country. My American colleagues and I gave him the nickname of “Haile Bulldog.” He, more than another Eritrean negotiator, understood the art of tough, serious bargaining.”  Anthony Lake unequivocally condemned the arrest and deemed ludicrous to the false allegations.



SAHARONIM DETENTION CENTRE, Israel – Israel on Wednesday released from detention a small group of African migrants who had been awaiting deportation after the collapse of an international deal to send them to Rwanda.

Some 200 additional migrants are still being held at the Saharonim detention center in southern Israel awaiting possible deportation to Uganda but their fate depends on whether an Israeli envoy who visited the East African state on Wednesday had managed to secure a deal for them to be taken in.

If the event agreement is not reached, they too will be freed, probably on Thursday. The long-term fate of the freed migrants was unclear but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was seeking a new relocation deal, although he gave no details.

Netanyahu said on Tuesday he was cancelling an agreement with the U.N. refugee agency to relocate thousands of African migrants, bowing to right-wing at home pressure to scrap the deal.

Netanyahu’s critics seized on his backtracking on the arrangement – under which thousands of other migrants would have won the right to remain in Israel – as a sign of political weakness.

For the estimated 37,000 migrants in Israel, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan, the whirlwind of announcements over the past three days about their future has swept their status even deeper into limbo.

On Monday, Netanyahu announced the arrangement with the UNHCR that would have relocated about 16,250 migrants to Western countries.

But the fact that thousands more would be allowed to stay raised an outcry from right-wing politicians and on social media from Netanyahu’s nationalist voter base, which wants the migrants expelled. He then announced he was putting the agreement’s implementation on hold and by Tuesday, he killed it.

The 58 migrants set free from Saharonim in the south of the country boarded buses to Tel Aviv. They were freed because the state could not give assurances to the Supreme Court that it had found a safe haven for them abroad.

“I have been detained for six months and at lunchtime today the police came and told me I was being released, I don’t know where I’ll go yet,” Musia Bara from Eritrea told Israel’s Channel 1.

Several hundred migrants held a demonstration in central Jerusalem later on Wednesday demanding to be allowed to stay and for the forced deportations to be stopped.

Eritrean Muluebrhan Ghebrihiwet, 27, one of the demonstrators who has been in Israel for almost seven years and who was released from detention last month, said Israel’s government was playing mind games with the migrants.

“We are grateful to the Israeli public for their support but the government has waged a psychological war against us and they have done so because of politics but we are refugees, human beings and we demand that they stop,” he said.