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When Peace Is a Problem

%AM, %09 %972 %2018 %00:%Jun Written by
By Michela Wrong
Ms. Wrong has spent over two decades reporting on the African continent, visiting Ethiopia and Eritrea repeatedly.
June 8, 2018
Abiy Ahmed, the newly elected chairman of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front, in April.
Credit Mulugeta Ayene/Associated Press

If nature abhors a vacuum, politics abhors a military standoff, especially between two nations in one of the poorest, most volatile and most strategically sensitive regions of the world.
And so there was much excitement when the government of Ethiopia announced on Tuesday that it would fully accept the ruling of an international tribunal in the country’s boundary dispute with Eritrea — some 16 years after the judgment was issued.

In 2002, a special international commission delineated the border between the two countries, as they had agreed in the peace deal that ended their 1998-2000 war. Demarcation on the ground was expected to start swiftly, allowing cross-border trade and cooperation to resume. But none of this happened.

Ethiopia accepted the ruling in principle but called for further dialogue and, crucially, kept its troops in place, including in what had been declared Eritrean territory. A few years later, the boundary commission dissolved itself, and in 2008, the United Nations peace monitoring force meant to oversee actual demarcation pulled out, its services unwanted.

What once seemed unsustainable — an indefinite state of neither peace nor war — became the norm. Both countries hosted guerrilla groups committed to overthrowing the other one’s government. They cynically fought a proxy war in neighboring Somalia. There were repeated flare-ups at their border, triggering apocalyptic predictions that Ethiopia and Eritrea were going to fight again, and next time to the bitter end.

Legally, Ethiopia clearly was in breach, having committed in the 2000 peace deal, like Eritrea, to uphold whatever decision the boundary commission issued. The United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) and the United States had pledged to act as guarantors, and so were also in the wrong. Eritrea, for its part, had good reason as a fledgling country to crave international recognition for its borders.
But given the choice between a giant traditional ally led by an emollient prime minister and a tiny new-kid-on-the-block with a notoriously prickly president, the major Western powers opted to side with the bigger player — and all the more readily because it cast itself as an ally in the fight against Islamist terrorism.
So what prompted Ethiopia’s announcement this week? Age and sickness is one answer. Over the years, local analysts and former guerrilla fighters have told me that Ethiopia’s dispute with Eritrea was partly being kept alive by animosity between the two countries’ longtime leaders and their immediate entourages.

Years ago, Meles Zenawi and Isaias Afewerki, whose families both hail from the Tigray region that straddles the border, joined the forces of their rebel movements against Ethiopia’s Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. They managed to oust him in 1991, paving the way for Eritrea’s formal independence from Ethiopia in 1993 — and then Mr. Meles’s rise to prime minister of Ethiopia and Mr. Isaias’s to president of Eritrea.
But rivalry and resentment simmered below the surface. In 1998, a dispute over the nondescript border village of Badme escalated into a war that would kill more than 100,000 people. Many Horn of Africa watchers predicted that relations between the two countries would only normalize once the two leaders quit the scene.

Mr. Isaias, 72, is still at the helm, although only last month he was reported to have left Eritrea for emergency medical treatment in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Meles died in 2012. His immediate successor, Halemariam Desalegn, resigned in February, seemingly overwhelmed by the task of running his discontented nation of some 105 million people. Mr. Halemariam’s fresh replacement, Abiy Ahmed — a spruce 41-year-old with a background in military intelligence — is a man in a hurry.

And with good reason. Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, may be booming, but so is unrest among a young population that scoffs at official 8-to-10 percent annual growth rates, accuses Mr. Meles’s party — which long dominated the ruling coalition — of ethnic chauvinism and corruption, and chafes at government repression. Foreign exchange reserves are running low; the national debt is climbing. Ethiopia has lived through coups and popular revolutions before, and in recent years the Oromo, who make up the country’s biggest ethnic group but have long been marginalized, have been at the forefront of protests. Appointing Mr. Abiy, an Oromo, as prime minister was a smart survival move; the Ethiopian realized that real change was required.

So have its foreign allies.

In recent years, Western diplomats have grown more and more worried that an increasingly isolated Eritrea, resentful at its treatment by the international community and routinely dubbed a “pariah state” for its domestic human rights record, might come to be seen as an attractive destination by jihadists spilling out of nearby Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

Any such infiltration would be particularly unwelcome given rising geostrategic interest in the Horn of Africa over the last decade and a half. The Red Sea has quietly become one of the world’s most important waterways, with foreign military assets and investment pouring into the region’s ports, railways, airports and roads. Djibouti, landlocked Ethiopia’s de facto outlet to the sea, now hosts troops from the United States and France, but also China, Germany and Japan. The United Arab Emirates’ military operates out of the ports of Assab in Eritrea and Berbera in Somaliland.

For such players, the stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia was becoming politically and financially untenable. It is probably no coincidence that Ethiopia’s shift about the boundary this week follows a visit to the region in late April by Donald Yamamoto, the United States’ acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
While cheering Mr. Abiy’s declaration about the border, diplomats are stunned by the rat-a-tat pace of his sudden departures from old practice. First came the release of the opposition leader Andargachew Tsige, a bête noire of the Ethiopian government, along with several hundred political prisoners. Then the state of emergency was lifted. After that it was announced that state-owned enterprises would be opened to private investment.
“This is breathtaking stuff,” said a diplomat who has spent years shuttling between the region’s capitals. “The pace of change is incredible, and the prime minister needs every bit of support from the international community if he is to push this through.”

And yet the much-awaited, much-desired normalization of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea could prove more destabilizing to the Horn of Africa in the long term than its cold war ever was.

For all of Mr. Isaias’s complaining about Ethiopia’s refusal to honor the boundary decision, that reluctance has served him well: It has allowed his control-freak regime to keep running Eritrea along the militaristic lines he and his movement established in the bush during the fight for independence. His government could invoke the threat of an imminent invasion to justify its refusal to implement the 1997 Constitution, allow opposition parties, stage multiparty elections or tolerate a free press.

Mr. Isaias’s insistence that all Eritreans’ first duty is to protect their country has kept much of the nation’s youth trapped in open-ended military service. The policy has crippled the economy, leaving Eritrean farms and businesses bereft of labor. It has also been massively unpopular, including within the military itself. In 2013, Mr. Isaias survived a coup attempt by junior army officers.

At the same time, indefinite forced conscription has allowed Mr. Isaias to pre-empt the kind of mass protests that roiled northern Africa during the Arab Spring. Eritreans who can’t stand living conditions in Eritrea flee rather than rebel. In one of the saddest exoduses in contemporary African history, tens of thousands of them have risked their lives heading for the Mediterranean Sea and then trying to cross it. Many have drowned; others have wound up rotting in Libyan prisons or being held hostage by human traffickers in the Sinai Peninsula.
If Ethiopia does withdraw its troops from the Eritrean territory it still occupies, a key excuse for Mr. Isaias’s iron rule will be removed.
His admirers hope that he would grab any historic opportunity for real peace with Ethiopia to display once again the visionary leadership that defined him as a freedom fighter and reset his management of the country.
His critics, who see him as incapable of shifting gears, believe the sustained bluff that was mass conscription may have just been called. If they are correct, Ethiopia’s recent peace overture could actually make the region more, not less, volatile.
Michela Wrong is the author of “Borderlines,” a novel about a border dispute in the Horn of Africa, and “I Didn’t Do It For You,” a history of Eritrea.

The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on six leaders of human trafficking networks operating in Libya – the first time traffickers have been put on an international sanctions list.

The blacklisted six are four Libyans, including the head of a regional coast guard unit, and two Eritrean nationals.

Smugglers have taken advantage of insecurity in Libya to move hundreds of thousands of migrants by sea to Europe.

Many migrants are trapped in detention centres and beaten by traffickers.

The sanctions – a global travel ban and an assets freeze – were the result of an internationally-backed Dutch proposal. The proposal was initially presented on 1 May but held up by Russia, which sought to examine the evidence against the six men.

The unprecedented sanctions follow widespread outrage at the end of 2017 after CNN aired footage showing the auctioning of migrant men as slaves in Libya.

The Dutch proposal came after Professor Mirjam van Reisen and Munyaradzi Mawere published the names of several human traffickers involved in criminal networking.

They concluded that: “Crimes against Humanity are ongoing in Eritrea. Human trafficking is organised from within Eritrea and the lines between human trafficking and smuggling are blurred. Refugees believe that traffickers from within Eritrea are connected to the broader network operating outside Eritrea, which involves perpetrators all along the routes. Many who flee stay within the region, but feel that they are in constant danger.”

According to Van Reisen and Mawere, the human trafficking network leading to Tripoli and the Central Mediterranean route began in 2009, when many Eritreans were abducted and held in captivity in Sinai. There they were tortured and had ransoms extorted from them by calls to relatives and friends over mobile phone.

Some have been persecuted, such as the Eritrean trafficker Medhanie Yehdego Mered, known among refugees as ‘The General’. But in a tragic mistake the wrong person was taken to court.

The real Medhanie was recently confirmed to be operating with a Ugandan passport from Kampala (news reported by The Guardian and in a Swedish documentary).

Another Eritrean trafficker said to have a central role is Angosom Teame Akolom, also known as Angosom Wajehey or Angosom Kidane.

Angosom is alleged to be a key player in human trafficking from Eritrea, including to Egypt and Sinai. He is reported to have been previously a member or the head of the Eritrean Intelligence Agency in Asmara.

Mirjam van Reisen and one of the researchers, Meron Estefanos, concluded that the trafficking networks operated with knowledge of the Eritrean regime.

In this publication, Van Reisen and Estefanos stated that: “Linked across the region between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Libya, the Eritrean refugees are traded as priced commodities: the most conservative estimate of the total value of the human trafficking in trade in Eritreans is over 1 billion USD.”

The researchers also conclude that the financial gains are controlled through an international web of informal financial agents operating in Asmara, Khartoum, Israel, and Libya.

An Eritrean who made the journey told the researchers:

“In Khartoum, I went to an Eritrean called Zeki. I paid 1,600 USD from Khartoum to Libya. I went to Asmara Market in Khartoum. I paid to an Eritrean man, Welid, USD 2,200 USD for the crossing on the boat. They split it, they pay the Sudan people and Libya people and they keep the rest.” (Interview by Van Reisen). 

Van Reisen and Estefanos spoke to an Eritrean, named as Abderaza or Abdurazak, who has been in charge of developing the route from Eritrea to Libya since 2005 or 2006:

“The alleged head of the human trafficking organisation in Libya (..) is now a wealthy man. (..). According to various sources this Eritrean started his involvement in smuggling and human trafficking in Libya in 2005. He has residences in Libya and Dubai. Other Eritreans, working for him (..) were involved in the day-to-day organisation and collection of the payments.”

The trafficker was also identified in a report by the Horn of Africa’s regional organisation, IGAD.

The Eritrean ‘top traffickers’ work with Libyans to arrange transport and accommodation. The book identifies the role of the Eritrean embassy in Libya:

“A refugee mentioned that he saw that a representative of the Eritrean Embassy in Tripoli assisted specific refugees who had been captured by the Libyan authorities while moving across Libya to Europe (..)”.

A similar allegation was made in the IGAD report, which stated:

“Nevertheless, one NGO official based in the region for a significant amount of time alleges that some remaining diplomatic personnel profit from the irregular migration routes, by charging ‘fees’ to negotiate the release of people from detention centres. Two eyewitnesses appeared to corroborate these allegations when they reported that they have seen high-profile smugglers at the Eritrean embassy in Tripoli. “ (cited in Van Reisen and Mawere, p. 176)

Van Reisen and Estefanos conclude that: “Linked across the region between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Libya, the Eritrean refugees are traded as priced commodities: the most conservative estimate of the total value of the human trafficking in trade in Eritreans is over 1 billion USD.”

Eritrean refugees are trafficked by a Human Trafficking network led by these Eritrean traffickers.

This sad reality is now confirmed by the resolution adopted by the UN Security Council, which blacklists two Eritrean traffickers and 4 Libyans.

The Netherlands, currently chairing the UN Security Council, has used its role to  expose the illicit Eritrean involvement abroad. Earlier the Netherlands expelled the chargé d’affaires.

The UN Security Council sanctions are the next step in tackling the exterritorial criminal engagement of the Eritrean regime.

This is an attempt to end the impunity of Eritrean traffickers: to bring them to account for torture and killing of their fellow citizens in the Horn and beyond.

Riots erupt among the Eritrean community in south Tel Aviv over the support of Eritrea's brutal regime, with supporters of the Eritrean dictator attacking their countrymen, who in turn called for them to be deported.
Amir Alon, Itay Blumenthal|Published:  06.07.18 , 11:48

After four days of violent protests in south Tel Aviv, which left several people injured and arrested, hundreds of Eritreans gathered Wednesday in the Levinsky Park, to demonstrate against Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki but also call for an end to violence in the Eritrean community in Israel.

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Some even called for those Eritrean asylum seekers who support Afwerki to be deported. Towards the end of the event, some Afwerki supporters arrived at the scene equipped with rocks and sticks and began rioting, which resulted in a brawl. The police securing the event did not intervene.
  (Photo: Amit Huber)

(Photo: Amit Huber)

The protests are a result of clashes which broke out Saturday, when thousands of Eritreans living in Israel gathered under heavy police presence near the Kanot Junction to celebrate the Eritrean Independence Day. This has angered those in the Eritrean community who oppose the oppressive regime in their country.
Every single day ever since has been marked by protests involving hundreds of Eritreans in south Tel Aviv, pelting each other with rocks, smashing windows of cars and nearby stores, and even using cold weapons.
This isn’t the first year clashes of this kind have broken out, yet this year has been marked by the increase in violence.
Violence at the protest   (Video: Amir Alon)

The demonstration on Wednesday was led by a group containing dozens of women holding signs that read “Stop the Violence,” “Stop Dictatorship” and “Our Lives is Israel,” among other slogans.
The women condemned the riots. “We don’t want the blood of our brothers to be spilled here. We want peace rather than chaos,” one woman said. 
She went on to further condemn the Afwerki supporters. “They disturb us. We came to Israel to live rather than just work. We left our home because of the dictatorship, which made our country a dangerous place to live in. We came to seek asylum.”
“We have friends who call themselves refugees, but they are actually work migrants who pay two percent of their monthly salary to the Eritrean government in taxes,” raged Etkili Abraham Michael, an asylum seeker who opposes his country’s regime.
“They terrorize Neve Sha'anan. Some of our friends have been assaulted, stabbed and are now in hospitals. Over the last few day, we’ve been scared to go to work ... we just stay home,” he lamented.
  (Photo: Amit Alon)
(Photo: Amit Alon)
 Etkili claims that around 3,000-4,000 supporters of the regime are the ones who initiated the violence. “We ask the Israeli government to deport them back to Eritrea. If they celebrate the Eritrean Independence Day–they might as well just go there ... the chaos in Eritrea is more than enough for us, we don’t need it here in Israel as well.”
“After they assaulted me, I can’t stay silent. Rocks are being thrown at us, and we’re defending ourselves. We didn’t start this mess,” he insisted, referring to those protesters who oppose the regime.
Snait Zerbrock, another asylum seeker, added, “We’re all Eritreans and I can’t go against my brothers, but if they’re rooting for the dictator, that’s an issue. We didn’t come here to beg for food but to save our lives. I cannot go back to my country, but if they don’t have a problem with it, they’re free to go back.”
Sheffi Paz, one of the leaders of the fight against Eritreans being granted asylum, also came to the demonstration on Wednesday. “We’re dealing here with an Intifada of the asylum seekers," she asserted.
“We can’t differentiate between those who support the regime and those who oppose it. We’ve been talking about this problem for a while since it didn’t start this week but has been happening for a long time.”
Paz claims the situation has worsened over the recent days. “There’s a surge of violence day after day. Dozens of people with rocks in their hands that you’re constantly worried might strike you ... these people have brought their diseases with them, while old local women are dying of fear and can’t leave their homes.”

In the meantime, over 20 Eritrean citizens, accused of being involved in the riots in south Tel Aviv, have been arrested by the police. They will be transferred to the Saharonim facility once the police proceedings are finished.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy has begun sketching out a plan for prosperity in the Horn.
“All that we have achieved from the situation of the last 20 years is tension,” Abiy said.
Meanwhile, no response yet from Eritrea

Source: Reuters

Ethiopia’s prime minister said on Wednesday that ending war and expanding economic ties with neighboring Eritrea is critical for stability and development in the impoverished Horn of Africa region.

Abiy Ahmed’s remarks followed the announcement on Tuesday by his ruling coalition that Ethiopia would fully implement a peace deal signed in 2000 and meant to end a two-year war that devolved into a stalemate resulting in huge military build up by both countries.

The pledge would entail ceding a disputed town to Eritrea. There was no sign on Wednesday that Ethiopia had begun withdrawing its troops from the town of Badme.

It is one of many policy shifts announced since the 41-year-old took office in early April, moves that could reshape Ethiopia’s relations with its neighbours and have equally dramatic impacts inside the country of 100 million people.

Whether the new measures, including liberalization of the state-controlled economy, end up addressing critical challenges from high youth unemployment to rising government debt remain to be seen. But they are shaking the country up.

“All that we have achieved from the situation of the last 20 years is tension,” Abiy said.

“Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea benefit from a stalemate. We need to expend all our efforts toward peace and reconciliation and extricate ourselves from petty conflicts and divisions and focus on eliminating poverty.”

Ethiopia’s move is a “drastic departure” from its longstanding – and failed – policy, said Ahmed Soliman, Ethiopia analyst at Chatham House, a London-based thinktank.

“To see some movement is extremely positive. This is the most important latent conflict within the Horn and its resolution is important for peace and security in the region.”


Eritrea used to be a part of Ethiopia and waged a 30-year struggle for independence. The war on their shared border between 1998 and 2000 killed tens of thousands of people, caused significant displacement and the splintering of families.

Eritrea’s government has not responded publicly to Addis Ababa’s offer of an olive branch late on Tuesday. The two nations cut ties during the war.

Asmara’s Information Minister told Reuters on Tuesday evening he had not seen the Ethiopian government’s statement so could not immediately comment. He did not respond to phone calls on Wednesday.

Eritrea has long said it wants Ethiopia to pull its troops out from the disputed territory before normalizing ties, citing a decision by a boundary commission at The Hague which awarded the village of Badme to Eritrea in 2002.

Asmara has long felt betrayed by world powers, who they say failed to force Ethiopia to abide by the commission ruling.

Ethiopia says the row over border demarcation can only be resolved through a negotiated settlement.

On Tuesday, an Ethiopian foreign ministry official told Reuters that there were “at least 61 attempts” to mediate between the two nations, but that Asmara had rejected all requests.

Russia, the European Union, and Qatar were among those that proposed to mediate in the last two decades, he said.

Abiy said Ethiopia needed to resolve what he seemed to view as a costly and pointless dispute.

“Putting an end to this situation and finding peace is necessary beyond anything else not just for Ethiopia but for the wider Horn of Africa,” he said in a speech in Addis Ababa.

“Every Ethiopian should realize that it is expected of us to be a responsible government that ensures stability in our region, one that takes the initiative to connect the brotherly peoples of both countries and expands trains, buses and economic ties between Asmara and Addis Ababa.”

Diplomats say punitive measures taken against Eritrea may prevent an immediate conclusion to the dispute.

The U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea in 2009 on charges that Asmara provided political, financial and logistical support to militant groups in Somalia. Eritrea has long dismissed the claims, saying they are concocted by Addis Ababa in a bid to isolate the country and divert attention from Ethiopia’s reluctance to hand over the disputed areas.

“The Eritrean government has always proclaimed its innocence and will demand that the sanctions are promptly lifted. This could be a sticking point for now,” said a Western diplomat in Ethiopia.

(Additional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Toby Chopra)


Algiers Peace Agreement, 2000

First Phase DigitalIt came like a bolt from the blue, but perhaps we should have been ready for it.

On  Tuesday Ethiopia’s governing party – the EPRDF – accepted the peace deal that ended its border war with Eritrea.

Ethiopia will “fully accept and implement” the agreement with Eritrea that was signed in 2000, its ruling coalition announced.

The signs that this was coming had been there since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s inauguration address in April.

Prime Minister Abiy said: “With the government of Eritrea, we want from the bottom of our hearts that the disagreement that has reigned for years to comes to an end. We would also discharge our responsibility. While expressing our readiness resolve our differences through dialogue, I take this opportunity to call on the Eritrean government to take a similar stand not only for the sake of our common interest but also for the common blood relations between the peoples of the two countries.”

Then, in May, Prime Minister Abiy went to the northern region of Tigray, which has been most effected by the closure of the Ethiopia-Eritrean border. The Prime Minister had this to say to his audience.

“When asked about the Ethio-Eritrea issue, he said, he understands Tigrai is the most affected region and he will do everything in his power to bring peace to the region. He said while in Saudi Arabia he has asked the crown prince to help to bring peace between the two countries. PM Abiy told the participants, after he promised the crown prince that Ethiopia will abide by the Algiers Agreement if the regime in Asmara can sit down to talk on other issues, the crown prince tried to call Isaias Afeworki. The call was not returned but he is hopeful with Saudi and US help the issue will be resolved soon.”

Now the EPRDF has formally called on their Eritrean neighbours to respond to their peace offer.

“The Eritrean government should take the same stand without any prerequisite and accept our call to bring back the long-lost peace of the two brother nations as it was before,” the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) wrote on Facebook.

Eritreans glued to their televisions and radios

Ethiopia’s promise to accept in full the Algiers peace agreement and the Boundary Commission’s ruling on where the border should be has electrified Eritreans. “They are glued to their televisions and radios,” an Eritrean friend told me.

The underground resistance movement Abri Harnet (Freedom Friday) has welcomed the Ethiopian statement.

Speaking from Asmara a member of Team Arbi Harnet said “this gives us a golden opportunity to mark the forthcoming June 20-Martyr’s Day, in a meaningful way restoring the dignity of our people.

We call for an end to the indefinite national service and the release of all political prisoners, we call for a positive response from Eritrea and thank EPRDF and Dr. Abiy Ahmed for taking the lead in ending this dark history of our sisterly countries.”

Echoing the call from activists inside Eritrea, Team Arbi Harnet in the diaspora say they will be carrying out a series of initiatives calling for

“1. An end to the indefinite national service and
2. The release of all political prisoners by June 20, 2018, the day Eritreans across the world mark Martyr’s Day to pay tribute to the thousands of freedom fighters who gave up their lives to liberate Eritrea. We ask upon all Eritreans to pressure the regime with the above to calls.”

The Eritrean government’s response

So far the Eritrean government has offered no official response to the Ethiopian announcement.

There is no statement on the Eritrean Ministry of Information website.

The Minister of Information, Yemane Gebreab’s latest tweet is a book review.


This is hardly surprising. The Ethiopian government’s move is a major development: one that has been anticipated, and hoped for, for years.

In reality it is no more than was required by its signature of the Algiers Peace Agreement in 2000 that ended the border war.

Both governments then made this promise:

The parties agree that the delimitation and demarcation determinations of the Commission shall be final and binding. Each party shall respect the border so determined, as well as territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party.
This should have been the end of the matter, but Ethiopia called for further talks before implementation: a position the Eritrean government refused to accept.
Now this obstacle appears to have been removed.
But this move has been long delayed and Asmara is probably right to wait until it is formally informed by the Ethiopian government and sees the small print.
If the Ethiopian offer is genuine, and has no strings attached, then the United Nations is required to intervene.
The Algiers agreement said this:
Recognizing that the results of the delimitation and demarcation process are not yet known, the parties request the United Nations to facilitate resolution of problems which may arise due to the transfer of territorial control, including the consequences for individuals residing in previously disputed territory.
The UN should seize this opportunity by sending a high level delegation to both Addis Ababa and Asmara to immediately iron out any difficulties; to “facilitate” the resolution of any problems that may arise, as required by the Algiers agreement.
Only one response would be a catastrophic mistake: for Eritrea to do nothing.
President Isaias has allowed previous diplomatic opportunities to slip between his fingers. This must not happen again.
Caution is one thing. Prevarication is quite another.

Around 200 Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis tried to escape from one of 20 detention centres in the town of Bani Walid, approximately 180 km (110 miles) southeast of the capital Tripoli. Traffickers, who run the centres, killed those trying to flee.

UNHCR 1 June 2018

Human traffickers in Libya reportedly killed more than a dozen people and wounded many others after a group of some 200 Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis, being held captive, attempted to escape. The incident happened on Wednesday, 23 May in Bani Walid, approximately 180 kilometres southeast of the capital Tripoli.

According to the survivors, people were shot while trying to escape and during attempts to recapture them. The survivors spoke of torture abuse and exploitation at the hands of traffickers – some being held in captivity for up to three years.

The local Libyan authorities have transferred 140 people who managed to escape from the traffickers to an official detention centre in Gaser Ben Gashir, 28 kilometres south of Tripoli.

In Gaser Ben Gashir, UNHCR has been distributing relief items, providing psychosocial support and undertaking protection screening to identify and register those in need of international protection. Following this, UNHCR has identified a large number of unaccompanied children among the group. We are currently identifying the most vulnerable cases in order to find appropriate solutions for them. UNHCR believes that many refugees and migrants may still be hiding or in captivity in or near Bani Walid.

This latest deadly incident demonstrates, once again, the huge challenge of providing protection to refugees in Libya, where many people fleeing war and persecution fall prey to criminal networks who exploit and abuse them or later often perish at sea while searching for safety in Europe.

UNHCR advocates for legal pathways for refugees to travel safely. We continue to call on resettlement countries and the international community to step forward, open more resettlement places and identify ways to protect vulnerable refugees in Libya, and beyond, who need international protection.


by Martin Plaut

‘Trust and the Triggers of Trauma. Exploring experiences of the trust between Eritrean unaccompanied minors and their caregivers in The Netherlands’

New report 1There is nothing natural or automatic about trust. Trust grows and develops in every individual and is shaped by the environment in which a person interacts with other people’ (Eisenhower &Blacher, 2006)

Recently, Tilburg University and EEPA published their latest report for the Dutch unaccompanied refugee minor organization Nidos Foundation investigating the situation of unaccompanied Eritrean minors in The Netherlands.

The research focuses on the high incidence of Post-Traumatic Stress in relation to the lack of trust between unaccompanied minors from Eritrea and their caregivers.

The purpose of this report has been to present findings and conclusions as well as to give a set of practical recommendations.

As the report reads, lack of trust results from ongoing and untreated Post-Traumatic Stress, through the negative feelings that systematically bias the information processing.

Healing trauma and building of trust between refugees and caregivers is critical to protect the Unaccompanied Minors of Eritrea in The Netherlands.

The report looks at to what extent the lack of trust is recognised as a critical issue between the minors and care-givers and what can be done to relief such issues of trust.

The following overall question guides this research: What are the experiences that undermine trust-building between Unaccompanied Minors of Eritrea and their caregivers in The Netherlands and how do they strategize to overcome such obstacles?

Recommendations that are suggested by the authors to help the efforts of building trust between Eritrean minors and their caregivers include exploring options to change the perception of the way the Dutch asylum system works, such as the requirements for documentation, addressing feelings of misunderstanding, providing adequate information on the background of the Eritrean minors for caregivers, addressing trauma with appropriate tools, and reducing triggers of trauma.

As a conclusion, the report analyzes that trust has cultural and social dimensions and experiences shape notions of trust and what is considered as trustworthy.

Post-Traumatic Stress impacts on the experience of trust in that depressed feelings negatively shade information and therefore enhances feelings of distrust.

The deeply traumatizing experiences of the Eritrean unaccompanied minors put trust on trial.

Zehaie 24.05.2018 2


On 24 May 2018, the Eritrean-Swedish Solidarity Association (Eritrean in Our Hearts) colourfully celebrated the 27th anniversary of Eritrean Independence Day and the second anniversary of the association's founding congress. Association President Tomas Magnusson warmly welcomed Swedish and Eritrean participants at the anniversary and wished good days ahead for Eritrea and its people.


Mr. Magnusson then invited Association Board member Zehaie Keleta to the podium to speak about Eritrea since its independence. At the occasion, the Hon. Shadiye Haidari, Swedish Parliament member from the Swedish Social Democratic Party, and her spouse presented the Eritrean speaker with a bouquet of red roses to congratulate all Eritreans on this historic day. Also presenting white roses to Mr. Zehaie Keleta was a representative the women's wing of the Swedish Peace Society.


In his speech, Mr. Zehaie Keleta mentioned some of extraordinary sacrifices of the Eritrean people in their prolonged 30-year struggle and the tragic experiences of this heroic people in the past 27 years under the dictatorial regime.

Zehaie 24.05.2018 1

The keynote speaker narrated in great detail the human rights abuses in the country which is keeping thousands in its 364 prisons, including 29 journalists, 11 members of parliament and most senior government officials. He also explained the horrible experiences in the Sinai and Sahara deserts by young Eritreans fleeing from the limitless violations of political and human rights by the criminal regime in Eritrea.

Swedish MP Shadiye Haidari acknowledged her full awareness about the 2% tax and related extortions of Eritrean regime agents in Sweden and said their viewpoints on the matter have been passed to the Swedish Foreign Minister.

Following a reception accompanied by the anniversary cake plus Eritrean himbasha and kicha, the Eritrean-Swedish Association held its regular congress and at the end elected a seven-person committee to lead the solidarity groups for 2018-2019.



by Martin Plaut

Bosses of the trafficking operation that smuggles refugees through Libya have now been officially named by the United Nations. They are on a planned sanctions list, which was proposed by the Dutch government.

Among the six on the proposed blacklist are:

  • Ermias Ghermay of Eritrea, described as a leader of a network responsible for "trafficking and smuggling tens of thousands of migrants" from the Horn of Africa to the coast of Libya and onwards to Europe and the United States, according to the sanctions request obtained by AFP. [See below]
  • Fitiwi Abdelrazak of Eritrea
  • Libyan militia leader Ahmad Oumar al-Dabbashi
  • Libyan Musab Abu-Qarin, described as a "central actor" in migrant smuggling in the coastal area of Sabratha
  • Libyan Mohammed Kachlaf, head of the Shuhada al Nasr brigade in Zawiya, western Libya
  • Abd al Rahman al-Milad, who heads the Libyan coast guard in Zawiya.

Their operations were previously flagged up by Mirjam van Reisen and Munyaradzi Mawere in their pathbreaking book'Human Trafficking and Trauma in the Digital Era: the Ongoing Tragedy of the Trade in Refugees from Eritrea" (2017)

This book identified key Eritrean nationals at the top of the human trafficking networks through the Central Mediterranean Route.

The book explains the connection of trafficking networks with the Eritrean military in the country's dictatorship. It highlights the role of General Manjus who was in charge of border control and has been identified many times as the facilitator of the smuggling routes used to flee Eritrea. These facilitators are profiting of smuggling of people while maintaining a shoot-to-kill policy at the border.

Two of the traffickers described by the UN Security Council were identified as organisers of the trafficking route through Sudan and Libya. The book emphasises the need to combat trafficking from the top down by tackling the organisations behind it and ending the impunity of the most senior officials and operators.

UN weighs first-ever sanctions on Libya migrant smugglers


A group of migrants wait to be transferred from the Spanish war ship Santa Maria to a ship run by a non-governmental organization.


The sanctions blacklist was presented on May 1 and Russia put a hold on the request a week later

The UN Security Council is considering imposing the first-ever sanctions on migrant smugglers in Libya, targeting six leaders of trafficking rings, but Russia has requested more information, documents obtained by AFPon Monday showed.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told a council meeting on Libya that "there is strong regional support for these designations and the evidence showing the involvement of the six people is clear."

"Failing to move forward would be a travesty," she added.

Presented by the Netherlands, the proposed sanctions blacklist includes two Eritrean nationals described as top operators in transnational smuggling networks and four Libyans including a the head of a regional coast guard unit.

The six individuals would face a global travel ban and assets freeze if the council agrees to blacklist them. France, Germany, Britain and the United States support the Dutch sanctions request.

Russia however told the council's sanctions committee that "we need more information to better understand the value of the said proposal, how efficient it might be if approved", according to a letter obtained by AFP.

Russia called for a committee meeting to examine the evidence on the involvement of the six individuals and noted that the criminal networks "stretch to many European countries and the United States."

The sanctions blacklist was presented on May 1 and Russia put a hold on the request a week later.

- Smuggling of tens of thousands of migrants -

Libya has long been a transit hub for migrants, but smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business in the years that followed the 2011 ouster of Moamer Kadhafi.

The fate of migrants has come under UN scrutiny since film footage emerged last year of Africans auctioned off as slaves in Libya, drawing outrage from African governments.

Among the six on the proposed blacklist is Ermias Ghermay of Eritrea, described as a leader of a network responsible for "trafficking and smuggling tens of thousands of migrants" from the Horn of Africa to the coast of Libya and onwards to Europe and the United States, according to the sanctions request obtained by AFP.

The other five are Fitiwi Abdelrazak of Eritrea, Libyan militia leader Ahmad Oumar al-Dabbashi, Libyan Musab Abu-Qarin, described as a "central actor" in migrant smuggling in the coastal area of Sabratha, Libyan Mohammed Kachlaf, head of the Shuhada al Nasr brigade in Zawiya, western Libya and finally, Abd al Rahman al-Milad, who heads the Libyan coast guard in Zawiya.

Al-Milad was cited for running an operation in which he and other coast guard members would open fire on migrant boats, causing them to sink and would then pick up refugees at sea who were sent to detention centers and beaten, the documents said.

Ghermay and Abelrazak were cited for organizing countless perilous journeys across the Mediterranean that ended in shipwrecks and for running private detention camps in Libya.

During the council meeting, Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov did not specifically mention the sanctions request but said the migrant problem should be not be tackled with "half-measures."