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.”

MORE SMUGGLERS

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.

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Source=http://observer.ug/news/headlines/57487-world-s-no-1-smuggler-holds-ugandan-passport.html

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)

Source=https://www.premiumtimesng.com/foreign/africa/264858-uganda-considering-israels-request-to-take-african-migrants-minister.html

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.

-(Reuters)

Source=http://www.africanews24-7.co.za/index.php/lead/israel-frees-detained-migrants-2/

 

by Martin Plaut

by Mirjam van Reisen and Gilad Liberman

The last 2 days have been extremely turbulent for Israel's policy towards its refugees. On Monday April 2, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu declared the halt of deportation to Rwanda. Netanyahu explicitly named the "third-country" for the first time, announcing a new agreement with the UNHCR to resettle half of Israel's refugees to western countries and absorb half. Within 24 hours, on Tuesday 3rd,  he “froze” the deal. The EU office in Israel tweeted: “Guess it's just one of those days. At 20:57 you congratulate #Israel & @refugees on their agreement, at 21:46 you like @IsraelMFA announcement on the deal, at 22:50 the PM suspends it and blames, among others, #EU (where #UNHCR hoped to resettle significant number of refugees).”

The Israeli Prime Minister made a vague declaration about George Soros being in charge of pressuring Rwanda not to accept forced deportees. He suggested new policies, from pressuring refugees to leave Israel through extreme taxation to reopening detention centers, this time under legislation not amenable by the courts through a section overcoming the basic laws, which serve as Israel's quasi-constitution.

The concerned population, Israel's refugees (referred to as "Infiltrators" by Netanyahu and the Israeli law), are mainly Eritreans. As such, the ill treatment by Israel is only the last in an everlasting chain of cruelties laid upon them. Most have escaped the forced  National Service, an indefinite slavery-like system ran by the Eritrean dictatorship, to refugee camps in neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan. The exit is extremely dangerous, with a shoot-to-kill policy operated on Eritrean borders by the military on its own citizens. Often, the escape from Eritrea itself is managed by Eritrean army officers who operate the smuggling networks, benefitting the regime.

The smuggling routes are dangerous,, with Eritrean smugglers colluding with kidnappers operating in full impunity. Many Eritrean refugees have been kidnapped on route and from from the refugee camps, and were trafficked to Sinai, suffering extreme torture for ransom. Once large payments by family members were received by the trafficking networks, were released towards the Israeli border. It is estimated than about 40,000 persons have passed in the torture houses in the Sinai, with an estimated 10,000 refugees murdered there. All of the Eritrean refugees in Israel have passed through the Sinai, while many have been victims of torture in the Sinai.

Since 2012, Israel has implemented a policy to detain and deport the refugees. In 2012, Israel has made it legal to detain newly arriving refugees for 3 years. Refugees were sent to a detention center, operated by the Israeli Prison Service, in a remote location in the Negev, an area which the refugees referred to as "Israeli Sinai", just a few kilometers from the border, a few kilometers from the torture houses in the Egyptian Sinai, where many were held. Israel allows and strongly pushes towards "voluntary" departure, even back to Eritrea, where the refugees have disappeared.

Israel completed a fence on its Southern Egyptian border. The Egyptian border force implemented a shoot-to-kill policy of refugees trying to escape to Israel. with the fence the border has become sealed for refugees. Israel does not allow persons arriving at its border to seek asylum. Thus, since 2012 less than 400 refugees have entered Israel, none since 2017. Israel has since began a detention-for-deportation policy of the refugee population residing within Israel. New legislation was adopted, allowing for indefinite detention in another detention centre in the same area, near the border. Additionally, Israel has pressured the detainees and those under threat of detention (virtually all refugees who are single men), to self-deport themselves to Rwanda or Uganda. Rwanda and Uganda have denied the deal. The deal with Rwanda and Uganda is a state- secret, and even the names of the countries are under confidentiality order by the prime minister. Any information Israel holds regarding the agreements and the fate of the deportees in Rwanda and Uganda are confidential, also to the court.

This has created a new, unique system of a state-sponsored trafficking route. After five years and around 4,500 deportees, a significant amount of testimonies have been gathered and published by the UNHCR, NGOs, media and activists to describe the general mechanics of this scheme. It is clear that the role of Rwanda and Uganda is to act as "disconnection units", disconnecting Israel from legal obligation to the deportees. In Rwanda, virtually all testimonials show that the deportees are having their money and documents taken by an official, at the airport. They are taken to a villa in Kigali, without passing through passport control at the airport. They are held in ‘the villa’ and they are not allowed to leave. From there they are coerced to pay for being smuggled to Uganda, and they usually leave Rwanda within a few days. In Uganda they are left illegally, without any documents or safety. Only nine refugees are known by UNHCR to currently be in Rwanda, left without papers and living on the street. According to Amnesty International, none of the refugees deported to Rwanda or Uganda were given asylum-papers. The organisation finds the deal illegal under international law.

Refugees who are deported from Israel directly to Uganda also have their documents taken from them, and they are pushed into the hands of smugglers. They are deterred from mentioning any connection to Israel when applying for asylum, if they manage to apply. They are barred from Uganda's limited resources for rural refugees, and live in fear of random kidnapping for ransom. Eritreans are specifically targeted, as it is  assumed that they have money from Israel. Eritrean refugees are also particularly vulnerable and more likely to pay ransoms, as they fear the dangerous consequences of refoulement to Eritrea.

The Eritrean refugees are pushed into a well consolidated trafficking route through South-Sudan, Sudan, Chad, the Sahara and Libya. Only if they arrive to Europe do they find safety. Today an estimated 4,500 Eritrean refugees have already been deported from Israel to Rwanda and Uganda. It is estimated that at least half of these have reached Europe, and many, at least dozens, have perished on the way, by murder in the Sahara, in the detention camps in Libya, and in the mediterranean. UNHCR interviewed 80 refugees who had arrived in Rome through this route.

And even this already grim situation has now become worse.  After the Israeli government was forced to reduce the detention time in Israel to one year, the government tried to move to a forced deportation policy of Eritrean refugees, again to Rwanda. While the court approved this, it conditioned the scheme to the Government of Rwanda agreeing to accept persons deported by force. This scheme directly enables the trafficking networks. It  is a state-sponsored human trafficking scheme which will bring thousands new victims of human trafficking to the Libya detention centres from where the Eritrean refugees only have one option, which is to try to cross the Mediterranean to reach safety in Europe.

Pressure against the policy has grown, within Israel and supported by the worldwide Jewish communities. The role of Rwanda has been exposed in several publications, revealing its part in the trafficking scheme so far. Under such pressure, Rwanda is now no longer cooperating to give Israel the necessary approval to accept the Eritrean refugees, as demanded by the court in Israel.

This situation has led to Netanyahu's initial approval of the resettlement/absorption plan backed by the UN, in which half of the refugees from Israel would be resettled to Western countries. The suspension of this plan is really bad news. It is bad news for Israel, as it will add to the tension and instability of an already embattled government. It is bad news for the Eritrean refugees,, in desperate need for some basic safety, and it will force desperate young men, left with no hope, to embark on the dangerous trafficking routes leading directly to Libyan detention centres. It is also bad news for Europe’s fight against human trafficking, as it will be at the receiving end of deeply traumatised refugees, who are victims of state-sponsored human trafficking schemes

Source: Haaretz

Netanyahu: Rwanda was pressured by New Israel Fund, some EU officials to refuse asylum seekers deported by Israel

Noa Landau

Apr 02, 2018 11:01 PM

Natanyahu 4

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference on March 2, 2018.Olivier Fitoussi

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday night he is suspending the implementation of a deal with the United Nations announced only hours earlier that would see Israel deport asylum seekers to Western countries rather than Africa – despite the fact that the deal has already been signed.

Against a backlash from politicians and others against the plan after it was unveiled at a news conference, Netanyahu took to Facebook late in the evening, writing: “In the interim, I am suspending implementation of the agreement, and after I meet with the representatives, I will submit the agreement for reexamination,” in a reference to representatives of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods.

Explaining that an initial plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda in Africa had fallen apart, he said he then sought to resolve the matter through an agreement with the UN refugee agency. He placed blame for Rwanda’s reconsideration of the agreement to accept asylum seekers from Israel on the New Israel Fund and European Union officials.

“Nevertheless I am attentive to you, and first and foremost to the residents of south Tel Aviv. Therefore I have decided to meet with representatives of the residents tomorrow [Tuesday] morning together with Interior Minster Arye Dery. In the interim, I am suspending implementation of the agreement, and after I meet with the representatives, I will submit the agreement for reexamination.”

The EU’s branch in Israel responded to the news, writing on Twitter: “Guess it’s just one of those days. At 20:57 you congratulate #Israel & @refugees on their agreement, at 21:46 you like @IsraelMFA announcement on the deal, at 22:50 the PM suspends it and blames, among others, #EU (where #UNHCR hoped to resettle significant number of refugees).”

EU in Israel

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu said that Canada, Germany and Italy are among the countries that will take in asylum seekers after Israel signed a deal with the UN refugee agency canceling its mass deportation plan.
Speaking at a news conference, Netanyahu said the plan to deport asylum seekers to “a third country” was scrapped when “it became clear that the third country did not meet the [required] conditions,” adding that this country “did not withstand the pressure.”

The German embassy in Israel told Haaretz hours later, however, that Germany had not received any requestfrom the UN refugee agency or from the Israeli government to absorb African asylum seekers deported by Israel. The Italian Foreign ministry, in a statement to the Italian newspaper La Republica, denied any agreement with Israel regarding asylum seekers as well.

After the deal was unveiled, Netanyahu received widespread criticism from within his party, Likud, and other lawmakers in the ruling coalition for failing to share developments regarding the agreement with them. The collapse of the original plan — to send the asylum seekers to Rwanda — was only discussed with a small group of government staffers and Interior Minister Arye Dery. Following the prime minister’s announcement of the signing of the deal, some lawmakers called for a renegotiation.

Maayan Lubell

       

·       

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Monday it has scrapped a plan to deport African migrants to Africa and reached an agreement with the U.N. refugee agency to send more than 16,000 to Western countries instead.

Natanyahu 3Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 2, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Canada, Italy and Germany as some of the nations that will take in the migrants - although not all appeared to have been informed of the plan yet.

Other migrants in Israel, many of whom are seeking asylum, will be allowed to remain in the country, which they entered illegally on foot through the border with Egypt, for at least the next five years.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement confirmed an agreement was signed with Israel, but did not name the countries that would accept the migrants.

A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry said he was unaware of any plans to resettle African migrants from Israel to Germany.

In Italy, a Foreign Ministry source said: “There is no agreement with Italy in the context of the bilateral agreement between Israel and the UNHCR.”

Canada has an arrangement with Israeli authorities to suspend the deportation of individuals who have private sponsorship applications with Canada until they are processed, said Hursh Jaswal, spokesman for the immigration minister.

There were 1,845 applications being processed at the end of last year, Jaswal said.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel has posed a moral dilemma for a state founded as a haven for Jews from persecution and a national home. The right-wing government has been under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants.

The planned mass deportation led to legal challenges in Israel, drew criticism from the United Nations and rights groups and triggered an emotional public debate among Israelis.

In February, Israeli authorities started handing out notices to 20,000 male African migrants giving them two months to leave for a third country in Africa or risk being put in jail indefinitely.

Teklit Michael, who came to Israel from Eritrea a decade ago, said he was delighted by the new deal.

“I saw in the past few years a lot of people lose their hopes because of that deportation to an unsafe place,” said Michael, 29.

MONEY AND AN AIR TICKET

The Israeli government has offered migrants, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea, $3,500 and a plane ticket to what it says is a safe destination. At immigration hearings, migrants were told they could choose to go to Rwanda or Uganda.

But rights groups advocating on their behalf say that many fled abuse and war and that their expulsion, even to a different country in Africa, would endanger them further.

The groups had challenged the deportation plan in Israel’s High Court, which on March 15 issued a temporary order that froze its implementation.

Netanyahu said the UNHCR had agreed to organize and fund the new plan that would take five years to implement.

The UNHCR said it would “facilitate the departure to third countries to be determined of some 16,000 Eritreans and Sudanese under various programs, including sponsorship, resettlement, family reunion and labor migration schemes, while others will be receiving a suitable legal status in Israel.”

“The joint commitment is that ‘You take out 16,250 and we will leave 16,250 as temporary residents’. That enables the departure of a very large number of people, 6,000 in the first 18 months,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in Jerusalem.

The U.N.’s refugee agency had urged Israel to reconsider its original plan, saying migrants who have relocated to sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years were unsafe and ended up on the perilous migrant trail to Europe, some suffering abuse, torture and even dying on the way.

“This agreement will ensure that protection is provided to those who need it,” said Volker Türk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, who signed the agreement on behalf of the UNHCR.

The largest community of African migrants, about 15,000, lives in south Tel Aviv, in a poor neighborhood where shops are dotted with signs in Tigrinya and other African languages and abandoned warehouses have been converted into churches for the largely Christian Eritreans.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the Israeli far-right party Jewish Home - a key member of Netanyahu’s coalition government - said on Twitter that the agreement would encourage more people to enter the country illegally, and he called on Netanyahu to overturn it.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Philip Pullella in Rome; Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Leah Schnurr in Ottawa; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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Source=https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-migrants/israel-suspends-new-relocation-deal-for-african-migrants-idUSKCN1H90WQ

" Awaken the Giant Within"

   Anthony Robbins

The word ” dialogue” derives from the Latin term ” dialogos” which means ” the flow of meaning.” The practice of dialogue enables the true meaning or deeper significance of something to flow and come into being. Through dialogue our natural intelligence is able to reveal itsllf. Our humanity is afforded the possibility of recognizing itself. Dialogue offers different interests an opportunity to interact in a non-adversarial way when opposing issues are at stake.

Dialogue is different from debate in that it encourages diversity of thinking and opinions rather than suppressing these notions. It facilitates the progressive emergence of a mutual understanding of the problems and the search for consensus. In the practice of dialogue, there is an agreement that one person’s concepts or beliefs should not take precedence over those of others, and that the common agreement should not be sought at the cost of individual integrity.

An underlying premise when dialogue is used as a problem saving tool is that any part of a nation, organization, system or group- if it has access to real information about the whole of which it is a part, and has a chance to listen itself-will start to think creatively and to organize itself towards the evolutionary step.

This process is not about pronouncing judgements; rather it is about listening for a deeper awareness and understanding of what is actually taking place. When this can happen, movement towards resolution has a real opportunity to take place

Dialogue is the main instrument for bringing stakeholders together to discuss the opportunities and constraints for democratic change and design strategies to address the issues in a way that ensures the best possible common agreement.

Through dialogue competing interests can be interacted in a friendly atmosphere. The process of dialogue is not about to pronounce judgements but rather listening for a deeper understanding and awareness of the issues at stake, thus increasing opportunities for resolving differences in mutually accepted way.

In case of, ” Eritreans for democratic change” those who are engaged in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy, the impact of the political dialogue did not generate a momentum and reinforced the democrtic transition but disabled them to resolve their differences in a mutually accepted way.

In this article, I will try to assess the Eritrean opposition and their practising of dialogue based on the below mentioned search questions.

  1. Did the repeated dialogues between Eritreans for democratic change increase the opprtunities for resolving their differences in mutually accepted way?
  2. How is the process of dialogue in the Eritrean forces for democratic change?
  3. What were the impacts of these dialogues?
  4. What are the values of dialogue?
  5. What are the requirements of dialogue to be effective?
  1. 1.Did the repeated dialogues between Eritreans for democratic change increase the opportunities for resolving their differences in mutually accepted way?

If we see the Eritrean politics from the early time of political awareness since nationhood and later during the federation period have repeatedly performed dialogues but their dialogues were full of mistrust, intrigues and gossips due to this Eritrean political elites lost the opportunities for resolving their differences in a mutually accepted way and Eritrean people lost their self-determination and later occupied by the Ethiopian Emperor.

During the armed struggle the trend of mistrust, intrigues and gossips continued and conflicts were resolved by violence and internecine wars. The post liberation period has continued by the same trend with the motto the winner takes all. The Eritrean conflict is not negative itself but it is the method of conflict management, where stakeholders attempt to resolve their disputes by unconstitutional or violent means. We all advocate for democratic system in Eritrea. Democracy is the system of all opportunities. Do we in the opposition camp learned and used these opportunities to resolve conflicts. If democracy is about managing conflict peacefully, do we practise democratic methods in resolving disputes? Looking at the Eritrean political and civic organizations experience from the building of coalitions and partnership we have seen many national dialogues performed but all were on paper but not in practice.

The Eritrean opposition must first engage in a national and international dialogue to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts.

Dialogue as ”prevention mechanism” Bringing all stakeholders together for structured, critical and constructive discussion at the level of nation – Eritrea by practicing this method we can avoid confrontation and conflict. We need to break the vicious circle and build bridges of negotiations.

Dialogue as mechanism of managing conflicts: The Eritrean opposition failed to build a democratic institutions and procedures to manage their internal conflicts peacefully. We lack democratic institutions that can provide us with skills and knowledge for political consultation and joint action that can peacefully manage potential conflicts.

Dialogue as resolution mechanism: The Eritrean opposition political dialogue has never defused potential crises but deteriorated them ( see all the past dialogues) We need a political dialogue that defuses potential crises by proposing appropriate peaceful solutions. The opposition must establish institutions that provide frameworks sustaining peaceful settlements of conflicts and preventing recurrence of conflict.

  1. 2.How is/ was the process of dialogue in the Eritrean forces for democratic change?

The Eritrean opposition political organizations national dialogues were not performed in a friendly atmosphere but in adversarial and mistrustful pronouncing judgments instead of listening for a deeper understanding and wareness of the national issues at the stake. They start with emotional and spontant feelings without well studied framework and guidelines.

The process of national dialogue must be based on partnership without dictation and imposition. Looking at the Eritrean opposition forces dialogue has not followed a genuine partnership and development with mutual respect, common objectives and responsibilities.

Let us take the Eritrean Political Organizations dialogue under the title, ” Unity to save our people” their framework started based on the assessment of the previous strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It was this assessment that guided them to build a coalition of all political organizations in the opposition camp. The joint assessment put the common values and objectives first to build coalition of political organizations and later prepare the all inclusive convention of unity and democracy like that of South Africa- CODESA/ Convention democracy for South Africa and later COSATU/ Convention South African Trade Unions. In South African case, these two conventions were mile Stones in the transition from Apartheid to democracy. The ANC and other political organizations united at this convention and the trade unions followed the same method and come together towards democratic transition.

The Eritrean Political organizations dialogue under the name , ” consultation forum” failed in its application because since democracy is dynamic they would have first achieved build the coalitions of political organizations and later build a broad national coalitions including the civil society and trade unions. Civil societies or trade unions should first have their convention and later these two meet and agree on joint actions now at this time of struggle against the dictatorship and lay down the foundations of future democratic Eritrea.

The application or implementation should have been by stages. Putting the common values as guidelines and practicing the principles of partnership both at the grass level. The constituents of the political organizations should have known the process of coalition building. The Eritrean political organizations leaders if they have agreed in the common values the application of the agreed framework is not difficult it can be solved by deepening the consultation/dialogue. I hope the consultation forum continue both at national and international level.

  1. What were the impacts of these dialogues/ consultation forum?

The Eritrean struggle from dictatorship to democracy and those who are engaged either political or civil society organizations have been performing seminars, conferences and consultations at intervals since 2008. If we evaluate these efforts one can ascertain that never helped u sto reach an agreement on the implementation of the forged consensus. For example, the Awasa congress and its leadership national council for democratic change forged a consensus on common values and documents but failed to implement the common values.

The consultation forum of political organizations also gridlocked in the implementation of the forged agreements.( Building coalitions and convening of national congress) who will take the responsibility. Eritrean national dialogues failed to identify priority areas and focus on the priorities instead of bickering for power.

The impact of national dialogues and consultations have not helped us develop a new political culture but hold us in our previous Vicious circle.

It couldn’t help us to gain popular support and legitimacy.

  1. What are the values of dialogue?

Political dialogue is the process of consultation and participation and is one of the tools of democracy. Dialogue is useful method for managing, preventing and resolving conflicts. Dialogue is a soft power mechanism that helps us solve our conflicts peacefully. Dialogue enhances trust building and reconciliation.

The Eritrean political organizations agreed in principle to renew their partnership for future in order to topple the dictatorship in Eritrea but not succeeded to build a strengthened coalition through deeper political dialogue.

Political dialogue should not take the form of dictation but be based on dialogue contract. Dialogue continues until it reaches the objectives of the people. How much are the Eritrean political opposition organizations aware of the values of dialogue is the issue to be discussed and analysed.

  1. What are the requirements of dialogue to be effective?

For a dialogue to be effective requires genuine interest of all political organizations involved in the dialogue. All the parties involved must adhere to the guiding principles. The dialogue must be transparent from the very beginning and no part of the opposition be excluded. In a genuine dialogue is required a firm commitment among the stakeholders that disputes and conflicts should be resolved peacefully and not by violent means. The Eritrea culture of resolving conflicts has been violent since the Eritrean nationhood from 1942 -2014.

A genuine dialogue disseminated to its wider constituents. The recent Eritrean Political organizations consultation forum has never been disseminated to its constituents but later known that it has come to deadlock. A genuine dialogue must have belief and never-ending commitment and open to media so that it can get witness that who is responsible for the success or failure of the dialogue.

Assessing the Eritrean practising of national dialogues show that all the dialogues taken during the past political and armed struggle were not based on national principles and beliefs. The post-independence Eritrea by the EPLF/PFDJ is historically and naturally against all democratic tools. Their books are of negligence, violence and arrogance.

The main challenge in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy is uprooting the culture of negligence and arrogance of the Eritrean elites of all kinds. Let us destroy the blocks, break down the walls of hate and build up the bridges of trust and beliefs.

  

Meron Estefanos 25 Mar 2018 00:00

The Eritrean government has no intention to change the unlimited national service that pushes the youth out of the country. (Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)

The Eritrean government has no intention to change the unlimited national service that pushes the youth out of the country. (Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)

Thousands of African refugees and migrants are trapped in Libya, where they are exposed to enslavement, torture and rape. A vast network of militias, armed groups and smugglers inhumanely brutalise these refugees held captive, demanding ransom for their release. This Old-World experience might be new for the international community, but it is sadly normal for the Eritrean people, who have become accustomed such horrors. With the abuse against Eritrean refugees persisting on for almost 10 years, in Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Israel, and now Libya, Eritreans have become desensitised; the slavery in Libya is “the new normal”.

In Sudan, we get kidnapped and sold; in Egypt we get auctioned and sold; in Libya we are sold over and over again; Israel pays Rwanda $5 000 for our resettlements; and worst of all, our president demands $50 000 from Israel for our deportation and torture. This is what it means to be an Eritrean refugee in 2018! It is an enigma that I fail to resolve.

Narrating the tragic, first-hand accounts of Eritrean refugees held in the hands of smugglers and armed militias can provide a clear picture as to why these refugees are willing to take such risks. As an activist and journalist, I have been reporting on the plight of Eritrean refugees around the world. While it was encouraging and vindicating to witness the international community’s outrage against slavery in Libya, still, every month, more than two thousand young people join the hundreds of thousands in refugee camps in Sudan and Ethiopia. Despite a population of only five million, Eritrea is one of the largest refugee-producing countries in the world.

 

Of all the atrocities taking place in Eritrea, be it against dissident politicians, independent media professionals, religious leaders and community elders, it is the plight of the youth that is the most harrowing. Eritrean youth are wrought with most horrifying and tragic obstacles on their way to Europe. A young Eritrean who gives up hope and leaves his native country, choosing the prospect of a dignified death abroad over an undignified life in Eritrea, is either tortured, raped or dies a slow agonising death. By fleeing the indefinite military conscription and human right abuses in their own country, they are exposed to a vicious cycle of tragedy.

In my years of activism, I have heard stories that shocked my conscience and made me question humanity. But there are few stories that remain glued to me always, that I am unable to erase from my memory. Here are three of them.

The biggest one is a story that shocked the world in 2013. On 03 October, a tragedy struck in the Mediterranean Sea, very near the idyllic Italian cost of Lampedusa. A refugee-carrying boat capsized, and more than 350 Eritrean men, women and children vanished within sight of safety.

Yohanna, a 22-year-old was among those who lost her life. Had she survived the tragic death in Mediterranean, she would have given birth to a child and enjoyed being a parent together with her fiancé in Italy. But as fate would have it, her child was born as she was sinking to her death. Both were found amidst the wreckage, with the umbilical cord still connecting them in death as they were in life.

The lives of Helen and her four children were also claimed by the tragedy of that day. She was on her way to join her mother in Europe and give her children a better future. Those who survived the tragedy remember how she had gathered all of her children near her, trying to hold them in embrace to save them. She screamed in agony as one after another slipped out of her arms to their deaths. She wailed in anguish, she cried her regret, and finally, she, too, was swept away, or maybe she decided there was nothing worth holding on for.

I am also left thinking of this horrifying story of torture and rape at the hands of the human traffickers in the Sinai Desert. Mulugeta, a former Eritrean freedom fighter, decided to abscond the country with his two teenage daughters, hoping for a better future and education for his girls in Europe. Within days, they reached a Sudanese camp. Hours after their arrival, soldiers came into the camp, and traffickers followed. Mulugeta was beaten, his legs were sliced and cut and he, along with his two daughters and a group of other refugees were taken to Sinai by force. For 15 days, they crossed the desert, with little food and water. When they arrived at a new camp, Mulugeta was forced to the ground, his face in the dirt while iron chains were roughly locked around his ankles and wrists. He was beaten over and over again. He witnessed the man next to him die from malnourishment and the beatings.

 

Mulugeta was helpless to intervene as his daughters were stripped, sexually violated and beaten. The traffickers used stones, chains, or tree branches to beat victims on their legs, back and even head, he explained. The pain was excruciating, but after a while, he admitted, he didn’t even feel it as his body became numb and it all became a blur. The traffickers demanded $40 000 for each of them. Mulugeta’s community in Eritrea raised the funds and gave them to his wife to transfer to the traffickers. He was released after three months with four others, was forced to abandon his daughters and arrived in Tel Aviv in November, where they were left out on the street.

Still, thousands of Eritreans perish at the hands of human traffickers in Libya or crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This situation is exacerbated by Europe’s attempt to contain African refugees in Africa and its push policy of external border protection and deportation. The failure to come up with policies to address the refugee issue is another problem. Providing development funds for countries like Eritrea in the hope of reducing the refugee crisis hasn’t worked. The Eritrean government has no intention to change the unlimited national service that pushes the youth out of the country. Until Europe and the international community proactively responds, it is not only Eritreans who will suffer from human trafficking but also other Africans, who are fleeing their countries in search of freedom and better life in Europe.

The question remains, what are Eritreans doing to change their plight to get rid of the root cause?

The dream of a prosperous Eritrea that respect the rights and dignity of its people still resonates with the youth. The resilience of this dream is instilled within them and they won’t give up fighting for it. They organise themselves and fight back. First, they fight their own bewilderment and then the system that has caused it. They organise solidarity marches and protests. They are the ones who marched in support of the finding of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea. They organise rescue missions and lobbying missions and try to organise mass phone contacts with their counterparts in Eritrea to keep the dream alive. They have made hundreds of thousands of calls as part of the Freedom Friday Movement. One-to-one calls and automated mass calls are made in an effort to engage Eritreans inside the country and encouraging them to show their resistance by taking actions that build their solidarity and confidence.

This relationship among the locals and across activists in the diaspora has encouraged a small but sturdy team to form inside the country. Their enthusiasm and boldness inspires everyone, including observers in the international community. They smuggled video clips, posted protest posters, launched and distributed an underground new paper. Recently, team Arbi Harnet were among those who shared several video clips and photos about the unprecedented 31 October 2017, protest staged by students Diae Al Islamai on Asmara.

This was a vindication and affirmation of what I said in 2013 at the Oslo Freedom Forum and I will reiterate it at next week’s Oslo Freedom Forum in Johannesburg on 26 March. “It is extremely early days and these are tiny baby steps, but the momentum of resistance doesn’t follow the normal stages of development, the Arab Spring has demonstrated that. I am fully confident that with time Eritreans, too, will rise and challenge the most brutal dictatorship in Africa.

As President Obama rightly articulated, “the refugee crisis is a test of our common humanity. We must recognise that refugees are a symptom of larger failures – be it war, ethnic tensions, or persecution.” Democracies do not produce refugees. If we need a permanent solution to the refugee crises, we need to address the root cause: democratisation and the violation of human rights in Africa. This is a global crisis, which needs global solution. Let the European countries and other international organisations use their leverage to push for change in Africa. Let the African people stand up against their own dictatorial regimes. It is through our combined effort that change can be real in Africa. Thus, on the occasion of World Refugee Day on June 20, let us all renew our commitments to fight for democracy and human rights all over the world. It only then that of tragedy of the refugee will come to an end! 

Meron Estefanos is an Eritrean journalist and human rights activist, who will be speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Johannesburg on March 26. 
Meron Estefanos

Meron Estefanos

Meron Estefanos is an Eritrean journalist and human rights activist. She is a contributor to the leading Eritrean diaspora news site Asmarino, and a presenter for Radio Erena (Tigrinya for “Our Eritrea”). She is also the co-founder of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees, an advocacy organisation for the rights of Eritrean refugees, victims of trafficking, and victims of torture. Estefanos identifies families around the world who have been blackmailed into paying ransoms for their kidnapped family members, and she was a key witness in the first blackmail trial in Europe. Estefanos has been threatened and harassed for her work, especially her coverage of the case of Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist imprisoned without charge for more than 10 years in Eritrea. Despite the backlash, she continues to campaign for democracy in her country, which has suffered under the dictatorship of Isaias Afwerki since 1993. Estefanos has co-authored two books, "Human Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees between Life and Death," and "Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond.” Read more from Meron Estefanos