The riots among exiled Eritreans are an expression of deep divisions within the diaspora. The authorities have so far failed to address the problem.

2023-09-14 20:19:52 Written by  Martin Plaut Published in English Articles Read 421 times

Martin Plaut

Sep 6

Source: Neue Zurcher Zeitung

By: Simon Hehli 04.09.2023

They are disturbing images that resemble each other - whether in July in Giessen, Germany, or recently in Tel Aviv, in the Norwegian city of Bergen and in Opfikon: hostile groups of Eritrean refugees beat each other or police officers until blood flows.

For right-wing populists, this is a symbol of the West's failed migration policy. Thus, Roger Köppel says in a variation of Peter Scholl-Latour's bon mot: "Whoever brings half of Eritrea to himself becomes Eritrea himself." For the head of "Weltwoche", this is proof that the image of the "supposedly peaceful" Eritreans is false.

It is true that many of the refugees from the north-east African country are poorly integrated and live on social welfare. But a little differentiation does no harm. The riots are not simply an expression of an archaic joy in scuffles; rather, they have a highly political background. The Eritrean diaspora in Switzerland and elsewhere is deeply divided. On the one side are the supporters of the long-term head of state Isayas Afewerki. They or their parents mostly came to Europe in the 1970s or 1980s, fleeing the brutal secessionist war against Ethiopia. Afewerki, who won this battle and led Eritrea to independence, is a freedom hero for them.

The fact that the country under Afewerki long ago degenerated into a dictatorship in which citizens are conscripted into years of "national service" and opposition figures are arrested and tortured does not concern this group. It is quite different from those compatriots who are on the other side: Since the turn of the millennium, they have fled the repression and lack of prospects in Eritrea.

Foreign currency thanks to blackmail

But the regime does not leave them alone. The dictator sets his agents on the emigrants. They collect a foreign tax of two percent of their income - also with the threat that otherwise something will happen to their relatives back home. These are important sources of foreign currency for Afewerki. There are even informers among the interpreters who translate for Eritreans in the asylum procedure. They intimidate the asylum seekers and manipulate their statements. The federal authorities have been aware of this deplorable state of affairs for years, but so far they have done little about it.

If Afewerki supporters now organise alleged "cultural festivals" at which representatives of the unscrupulous regime perform and collect donations, this is a provocation for the dissidents. Of course, this does not justify violence - those who seek refuge in Switzerland have to abide by the law. But it does explain the anger that is repeatedly unleashed here and in other host countries. And this anger does not diminish in view of the fact that some states show no desire to put a stop to the machinations of the Eritrean government.


Last modified on Thursday, 14 September 2023 22:22