Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Eritrea asked to embrace peace prior to joining IGAD- KBC News


Written By:PPS,    Posted: Mon, Oct 29, 2012
Eritrea has sought Kenya's support in an effort to rejoin IGAD.
Kenya on Monday asked Eritrea to support regional peace initiatives before it rejoins Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
While receiving a special message from Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki that was delivered by the Eritrean Ambassador to Kenya Beyene Russom, President Mwai Kibaki said Kenya was willing to work with all pro-peace neighbouring states in the region.
Eritrea has sought Kenya's support in an effort to rejoin IGAD.
"In his response, President Kibaki welcomed Eritrea's decision to rejoin IGAD subject to the Government of Eritrea's support for regional peace initiatives," said a PPS statement to the newsroom.
During the meeting, Kibaki and Ambassador Russom discussed the issue of visas for Eritrean nationals visiting Kenya.
After the lapse of the agreement for the abolition of visas between the two states, Kenya reinstated a referral visa regime with respect to Eritrean nationals.
However, Kibaki assured the envoy that the issue of visas for Eritreans was being addressed by the relevant government agencies.
In the message, President Afewerki said his country viewed Kenya as bastion of peace in the region.
The Eritrean President, therefore, requested for Kenya's intervention to have Eritrea rejoin IGAD.
In his response, President Kibaki welcomed Eritrea's decision to rejoin IGAD subject to the Government of Eritrea's support for regional peace initiatives.
During the meeting, the President and the envoy also discussed the issue of visas for Eritrean nationals visiting Kenya.
After the lapse of the agreement for the abolition of visas between Kenya and the State of Eritrea, Kenya reinstated a referral visa regime with respect to Eritrean nationals.
In this regard, President Kibaki assured the envoy that the issue of visas for Eritreans was being addressed by the relevant Government agencies.
Present during the meeting were Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka, acting Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet Mr. Francis Kimemia, Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Mr. Thuita Mwangi and acting Internal Security Permanent Secretary Mr. Mutea Iringo among others.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ethiopia and Eritrea: An elusive peace on the cards? | Africa News blog

By Aaron Maasho
Ethiopia and Eritrea are still at each others’ throats. The two neighbours fought hammer and tongs in sun-baked trenches during a two-year war over a decade ago, before a peace deal ended their World War I-style conflict in 2000. Furious veRed Sea, UNrbal battles, however, have continued to this day.
Yet, amid the blistering rhetoric and scares over a return to war, analysts say the feuding rivals are reluctant to lock horns once again. Neighbouring South Sudan and some Ethiopian politicians are working on plans to bring both sides to the negotiating table.
Asmara has been named, shamed and then slapped with two sets of U.N. sanctions over charges that it was aiding and abetting al Qaeda-linked rebels in lawless Somalia in its proxy war with Ethiopia. However, a panel tasked with monitoring violations of an arms embargo on Somalia said it had no proof of Eritrean support to the Islamist militants in the last year.
Nevertheless, Eritrea’s foreign ministry wasted little time in pointing a finger of accusation at its perennial rival. “The events over the past year have clearly shown that it is in fact Ethiopia that is actively engaged in destabilising Eritrea in addition to its continued occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory in violation of the U.N. Charter,” the ministry said in a statement last month.
The Red Sea state was referring to Addis Ababa’s open declaration in 2011 in which its late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his country would no longer take a “passive stance” towards its rival following Eritrea’s alleged plot to bomb targets in the Ethiopian capital during an African Union gathering of heads of state.
Then foreign minister (and now premier) Hailemariam Desalegn followed up on the rhetoric soon afterwards by disclosing his government’s support to Eritrean rebels. Meles and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki were once comrades-in-arms, even rumoured to be distant relatives. Ethiopia’s late leader rubber-stamped a 1993 referendum that granted independence to the former province after their rebel groups jointly toppled Communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military junta two years earlier.
The love affair did not last long. The pair fell out spectacularly after Eritrea introduced its own currency in 1997 and Ethiopia responded by insisting on trading in dollars. Their economic spat aggravated already simmering border tensions, which culminated in Eritrea deploying its tanks months later and occupying hotly disputed territory that was under Addis Ababa’s administration.
Ethiopian troops breached Eritrea’s trenches nearly a year later and retook contested ground – namely the flashpoint town of Badme – before a peace deal was signed. What then followed is the sticking point that remains today. An independent boundary commission awarded Badme to Eritrea in 2002 but the ruling is yet to take effect. Ethiopia wants to negotiate its implementation and warns that delimitation of the border as per the finding would unreasonably split towns and other geographical locations into two.
Asmara on the other hand insists on an immediate hand-over. The bickering has evolved into a proxy war and diplomatic skulduggery as both sides attempt to bring about regime change in the other. But despite the harsh words, mediation efforts are in the pipeline. Deng Alor, neighbouring South Sudan’s Minister for Cabinet Affairs, told Reuters on Wednesday his newly-independent country is about to embark on rounds of shuttle diplomacy between the capitals of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both countries, he said, have given their blessing.
A handful of Ethiopian members of parliament are also devising a similar initiative, local sources say. Addis Ababa has never ruled out mediation. But even though Eritrea publicly dismisses any idea of a thaw in strained relations before the Badme spat is resolved, recent developments might change its mind, some believe.
Ethiopian analysts think Asmara now realises that its neighbour may easily adopt a more belligerent stance following the sudden death of Meles, who they say stood firm against a potential slide towards full-scale conflict. And of course not all Ethiopians express enthusiasm about an independent Eritrea, the creation of which left their country without access to the Red Sea.
Some diplomats say the chances of both sides making drastic concessions from their current positions remain slim. So will the mediation efforts finally yield a dea

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cabbagetown murder: Stabbing victim was a married mother of 4 from Eritrea - thestar.com


Published on Wednesday October 24, 2012
per, Jayme Poisson and Niamh Scallan
Staff Reporters 
Nighisti Semret arrived in Canada two years ago, an Eritrean refugee determined to raise enough money to eventually reunite with her four children still in Africa.
On the overnight shift at the downtown Delta Chelsea hotel, she worked tirelessly cleaning floors and kitchens, and eventually asking and being tapped for a supervisor position. Semret was private, but feisty and ambitious. And always the first to get to work and the last to leave, shaken colleagues said Wednesday.
“She was like a lot of our workers, she came to start a life,” said Frida De Paz, who worked with Semret at Andorra Building Maintenance, the company that contracts out to the hotel.
After staying past her 6:30 a.m. shift Tuesday to clean up the storeroom, then leaving after one worker encouraged her to go home and rest, Semret, 55, headed north up Yonge St. in the rain to her nearby Cabbagetown rooming house. She was just 100 metres shy of home when she was stabbed to death in an alleyway — a popular neighbourhood shortcut near Ontario and Winchester Sts.
Disturbing security camera footage released by police Tuesday shows Semret passing through the laneway holding an umbrella, trailed by a man with his right hand tucked into a dark coat, clutching what police believe to be the kitchen knife that killed her.
Witnesses, alerted by Semret’s screams at about 7 a.m. Tuesday, rushed to her aid and saw her attacker stab her no less than 10 times. One eventually intervened, using an umbrella to knock the knife out of the man’s hand, causing him to flee.
Det. Sgt. Gary Giroux said Wednesday the fatal blows had been delivered by then. Semret was the 43rd homicide victim of 2012 in Toronto.
Semret, who went by the nickname Nicki, lived alone at the socially-assisted women’s home, in a cramped room big enough to fit a few belongings. She shared a kitchen and bathroom with another tenant.
While she kept to herself, she would occasionally joke with the other women and fill the kitchen with fragrant smells from traditional African dishes.
“Nicki would give you the shirt off her back if she could,” said longtime tenant Joan Bell, 59. “She didn’t deserve this.”
Friend Saba Belay, 35, said Wednesday that Semret, a proud woman, often avoided inviting visitors to her rooming house. She didn’t have an easy life, said Belay. Her parents died when she was young. While it’s unclear why she fled Eritrea, the small country in the horn of Africa is ruled by one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
While members of Toronto’s close-knit Eritrean community said Semret was not well-known because she hadn’t been in Canada long, a local Eritrean church offered to pay for her funeral with funds from the community.
“It’s really sad, especially an innocent woman who was just working so hard to bring her family here,” said Berhane Kidane, a youth mentor at St. Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox Church. On Wednesday night he was making posters to put up in local restaurants, urging people who knew Semret to offer information.
A former co-worker at Andorra said he believed Semret had lived in Uganda for several years before coming to Canada, and local Eritreans said Wednesday they thought at least one teenage child remained in the country and were working to contact family. Belay, however, said that Semret, who didn’t talk much about her husband, didn’t know where her kids were.
Police made the rare move Wednesday morning of identifying Semret, after fruitless attempts to find her next of kin, despite having contacted her employer and immigration officials.
Giroux said police believe Semret’s killer “lives, frequents and is known to the Cabbagetown and Regent Park area.” He said the same person may have panhandled or snatched purses in the area because it is unlikely the suspect would escalate to stabbing without prior incidents.
“Someone in that particular area knows who this person is,” said Giroux, who added that police are talking to local homeless shelters like Seaton House.
Giroux said it was possible the attack was random and there wasn’t any evidence to suggest the suspect and victim knew each other.
The suspect is described as a white male, between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-2, 150 to 200 pounds with a medium build.
He was wearing a dark, long coat with buttons and a white scarf or garment around his neck, along with a dark hat, pants and shoes.
Officers at 51 Division set up a community vehicle near the scene of the crime, where anyone with information could speak with investigators. And police beefed up their presence in the area while the suspect remained at-large.
“Everybody feels very disconcerted,” said Sonja Scharf, 51, who has lived in Cabbagetown for a decade and walks her dog through the alleyway where Semret was killed everyday. “I’m trying to stay out in the open.”
Wednesday night, a group of Eritrean women, who didn’t know Semret personally, gathered at the site of the stabbing, weeping as they prayed for her.
Above the vigil, written in chalk on the brick wall, a message read: “Justice for who are victims of violence.”
With a file from Alex Consiglio
ALSO ON THE STAR:

South Sudan proposes peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea




By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters)
 – Newly independent South Sudan plans to help resolve the long-running border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a senior official said on Wednesday.
South Sudan’s minister for cabinet affairs, Deng Alor, said Addis Ababa and Asmara had given the green light for mediation talks on the border, which could start as early as November.
“We have close ties with both countries so we are planning to mediate and solve the problems that they have between them,” Deng Alor, South Sudan’s minister for cabinet affairs, told Reuters.
Ethiopian and Eritrean officials were not available to comment. Ethiopia has said its conflict with Asmara over the demarcation of their shared border following a 1998-2000 war would be solved only through a negotiated settlement.
South Sudan is still embroiled in its own frontier argument with its northern neighbour, Sudan. The two countries broke apart last year under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.
Alor said South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and other senior officials were set to name a delegation “very soon” that would travel to both capitals.
“We will embark on rounds of shuttle diplomacy between the two countries. We are hoping to start in November,” Alor said.
A Hague-based boundary commission awarded the flashpoint frontier village of Badme to Eritrea in 2002. But Ethiopia has yet to conform with the ruling, insisting on further negotiations on its implementation.
Asmara wants Ethiopia to pull its troops out before normalising relations.
The two countries nearly returned to war in March when Addis Ababa launched cross-border attacks in Eritrea on what it said were rebel targets.
Both countries routinely accuse each other of backing dissidents to destabilise and topple the other’s government. Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi died in August.

South Sudan plans mediation between Ethiopia and Eritrea



By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Newly independent South Sudan plans to help resolve the long-running border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a senior official said on Wednesday.

South Sudan’s minister for cabinet affairs, Deng Alor, said Addis Ababa and Asmara had given the green light for mediation talks on the border, which could start as early as November.

“We have close ties with both countries so we are planning to mediate and solve the problems that they have between them,” Deng Alor, South Sudan’s minister for cabinet affairs, told Reuters.

Ethiopian and Eritrean officials were not available to comment. Ethiopia has said its conflict with Asmara over the demarcation of their shared border following a 1998-2000 war would be solved only through a negotiated settlement.

South Sudan is still embroiled in its own frontier argument with its northern neighbour, Sudan. The two countries broke apart last year under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war.

Alor said South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and other senior officials were set to name a delegation “very soon” that would travel to both capitals.

“We will embark on rounds of shuttle diplomacy between the two countries. We are hoping to start in November,” Alor said.

A Hague-based boundary commission awarded the flashpoint frontier village of Badme to Eritrea in 2002. But Ethiopia has yet to conform with the ruling, insisting on further negotiations on its implementation.

Asmara wants Ethiopia to pull its troops out before normalising relations.

The two countries nearly returned to war in March when Addis Ababa launched cross-border attacks in Eritrea on what it said were rebel targets.

Both countries routinely accuse each other of backing dissidents to destabilise and topple the other’s government. Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi died in August.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Eritrean asylum seeker details recent hunger strike, fear of indefinite incarceration | +972 Magazine


Some 500 asylum seekers held in a prison in the desert recently refused food in protest of a new law that enables Israel to keep them in detention indefinitely.
By Sharon Livne
The Saharonim detention center, where asylum seekers are imprisoned upon entering Israel (photo: Laissez Passer)
“Don’t tell anyone my name, I’m afraid of what they’ll do to me here if they know I talked.” So began a nighttime telephone call with C., age 23, who has been incarcerated for 11 months  in the Saharonim prison in the Negev. According to C., the Eritrean detainees in Saharonim began a hunger strike in protest of their imprisonment for a minimum of three years, in accordance with the new Prevention of Infiltration Law. Around one thousand men, women and children held in sections 8, 4 and 3 refused food for a week, ending the strike on Monday. Several hunger strikers felt unwell and were in need of medical attention.
Hesitantly, he tells me his story: he fled Eritrea from compulsory conscription that he wouldn’t tell me more about, but told me that after he escaped, the authorities imprisoned his mother. She remains jailed.  The authorities are demanding a very high sum (equivalent to $4,000) in exchanged for her release.
C., who refused to identify himself for fear  he would be punished by the prison management, told me in English that it was 64 women from the women’s section, where they are held with their children, who instigated the hunger strike. He told me that on Monday, the women were taken from Saharonim to an “unknown prison.” C. was also called for a conversation with the guards on Monday, when they made it clear that if he continued with the hunger strike, he too would be taken to another prison, “far away.” When C. tells me this, his voice is filled with horror. For most Eritreans, to be taken to “another” prison signifies torture and even death. In Eritrea, people frequently disappear into prison basements to an unknown fate. The prison guards perhaps don’t bother to explain to C. and his friends where the women and children have been transferred to, and so they are already imagining the worst possible scenarios.
“They gave them injections,” he tells me, referring to the prisoners who felt unwell and were evacuated; “I don’t know what’s in them.” The fear is palpable in his voice. “Don’t worry, it’s probably an infusion to rehydrate them,” I say. “I’m sure they won’t harm them, and they’ll be alright.” “They don’t care about us.” he tells me. “They told them ‘Inshallah, you’ll die’ when they took them.” He is perhaps misinterpreting things, because of his background and because he’s foreign, I think, but one can’t mistake the deep despair, the degradation, and the very real fear that he feels for his own safety.
C. tells me that in Saharonim, there are a thousand Eritreans, alongside Sudanese and Ethiopians who are held in separate sections. There are sections for men and youths, and sections for women and children. In section 8, one of the larger ones, around 500 Eritrean men and youths are held. The hunger strike, which began in the women’s section, is a result of the growing despair felt by those who have already been detained for many months, and to whom it was recently explained that their detention will continue for at least three years. “The judge told us that there’s a new law, and that we’ll be in prison for three and a half years.” We can’t be in prison. We fled here because we thought it would be better. We’d prefer it if they returned us to Eritrea and we’ll be imprisoned there. It might be an underground facility, and much worse, but there at least it’s our country, and maybe we just have to undergo it. We just can’t be here three and a half years in prison,” he said.
At the end of the conversation, he surprises me, and asks in Hebrew, “Do you speak Hebrew?” and he’s excited when I answer him in Hebrew, enjoying his opportunity to practice. He tells me he has a Hebrew-English dictionary and he is studying Hebrew in jail, on his own.
An Israel Prison Service spokeswoman said in response: “In the past week, some of the detainees in the Saharonim facility took measures to protest against their custody – this protest was expressed by a small number of meals being returned, but not a hunger strike. Only 500 took part in total, and none were in need of medical attention. Since Sunday, and following a conversation with the prison command, all of them began eating regularly again. Returning a meal is considered a disciplinary offense, and therefore we employ the use of warnings or transfers to another prison. That said, the women who were transferred were moved to a new and improved section in Saharonim, and therefore there was no punishment, but rather an improvement in conditions.
“The Israel Prison Service is responsible for facilitating meetings with attorneys, as demonstrated by the stream of attorneys and representatives of the various organizations active in the detention facilities. Any information regarding the actual detention orders and rights of appeal against them is the responsibility of the body that issues the order, and the various procedures on infiltrators.”
The Ministry of the Interior, the responsible body, has declared that everything that happens in prison is the responsibility of the Israeli Prisons Service.
Elizabeth Tsurkov, an activist with the Hotline for Migrant Workers said, “Extended imprisonment of asylum seekers without trial is unprecedented in the Western world and clearly contravenes Israel’s international obligations. I can see why the refugees decided to go on hunger strike when they understood that, though they are innocent of any crime, they will be imprisoned for at least three years. Asylum seekers, families, children and victims of torture do not belong in detention camps in the middle of the desert. Instead of locking up innocent people without a trial, Israel should review the requests for asylum from those who reach the border, and grant them their rights in accordance with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Israel has signed and ratified.”
Sharon Livne is a journalist and editor at Megafon, an Israeli independent publication. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Megafon, and was translated by Caroline Beck.

Four fishermen kidnapped by Eritrean pirates | Yemen Times

SANA’A, Oct.17 — The Ministry of Defense website announced Tuesday that a Yemeni boat #9245 was captured by Eritrean pirates. There were four Yemeni fishermen aboard.

It is unclear exactly when the boat was seized, but the website indicated it occurred within the past few days.

The statement said a Red Seacoast guard received notification of a missing boat owned by a resident in Taiz governorate.

The statement also said the boat was overtaken in international waters, and the boat is currently located off of Eritrea, near Hejar. 

Coast Guard Manager Shoja’a Mahdi said boat captures have been increasing since 2006.

“Every day we register notifications of kidnapped boats, especially from the Red Sea area,” he said.

Mahdi said the coast guard informed the Ministry of Fisheries that fishermen should pay attention while fishing, especially along Red Sea coasts.

Mahdi said that there are about 6000 boats confiscated in the Eritrean coasts, but there is no specific number of the kidnapped fishermen.

Independent news website Al-Masder published that Wadee’a Atta, head of Sanad Organization for Justice and Development, said there about 220 kidnapped Yemeni fishermen in Eritrea, close to Fatema Island.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eritrea Calls for Lifting of Sanctions

Yemane Gebreab, political advisor to Eritrea President Isaias Afewerki
TEXT SIZE 
Peter Clottey
A political advisor to Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki says most permanent members of the U.N. Security Council want to lift sanctions against his country.

“It’s only fair that these sanctions be lifted because the rationale for them, which were not correct to begin with, has now been found to be totally untenable,” said Yemane Gebreab, who also is head of political affairs office at the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

“It’s not only Eritrea that is seeking it but also many members of the Security Council also favor it. But we will see what will happen as the United States remains adamant in maintaining sanctions against Eritrea.”

Gebreab cited China, Russia and South Africa, as well as other Security Council members that he said have expressed their support for the sanctions to be lifted.

“It’s not only those countries; the majority of the members of the Security Council also believe that the time has come to lift these sanctions,” he said.

The Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 over concerns the government in Asmara had provided funds and weapons to the militant Somali Islamist group, al Shabab. Eritrea denied the allegations.

But in a later report released later, U.N. experts said Eritrea had begun reducing its support for the Somali militant group, which the U.S. State Department considers a terrorist organization.

Gebreab also spoke about alleged links between Eritrea and human trafficking, an issue U.S. President Barack Obama brought up in a speech last month.

“I recently renewed sanctions on some of the worst abusers, including North Korea and Eritrea,” Mr. Obama told the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in September. “We’re partnering with groups that help women and children escape from the grip of their abusers.  We’re helping other countries step up their own efforts.  And we’re seeing results.  More nations have passed and more are enforcing modern anti-trafficking laws.”

But Gebreab denied any connect ion between Eritrea’s and human trafficking.

“In fact, Eritrea is a victim of human trafficking,” Gebreab said. “For a number of years now, some people have felt that one way that they could weaken Eritrea would be by encouraging Eritrean youths to leave the country in larger numbers.”
Clottey interview with Yemane Gebreab, presidential adviser

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Eritrea and its refugee crisis - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

Thirty years of constant war and a hostile government has prompted many Eritreans to flee the country [AFP]
This article is the thirteenth in a series by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani high commissioner to the UK, exploring how a litany of volatile centre/periphery conflicts with deep historical roots were interpreted after 9/11 in the new global paradigm of anti-terrorism - with profound and often violent consequences. Incorporating in-depth case studies from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Ambassador Ahmed will ultimately argue that the inability for Muslim and non-Muslim states alike to either incorporate minority groups into a liberal and tolerant society or resolve the "centre vs periphery" conflict is emblematic of a systemic failure of the modern state - a breakdown which, more often than not, leads to widespread violence and destruction. The violence generated from these conflicts will become the focus, in the remainder of the 21st century, of all those dealing with issues of national integration, law and order, human rights and justice.
Under the baking sun of Sinai early last month, a group of Eritrean refugees with little food or water had been stranded at the border between Egypt and Israel for over a week, attempting to cross the border. They huddled together beneath the feeble shade of a sheet of plastic that they held aloft.
While Israel barred entry for all but three in this group, an action which provoked an outcry from the human rights community, the more fundamental question lies with the underlying cause for their exodus.
Eritrea, divided between Christian Tigrinyans in the central highlands and a number of Muslim tribes in the lowlands on the periphery, is consistently regarded as one of the most repressive states in the world. Under President Isaias Afewerki, a Tigrinyan who has been in power since Eritrean independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s, the country has become a highly militarised, one party state with severe restrictions over the press, speech, and even movement, particularly in the wake of the bloody border war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000.
Political opposition and journalists are frequently jailed for voicing dissent, with four journalists recently dying in prison after years of incarceration. The practice of religion is severely restricted for both Muslims and Christians. Since 2002, indefinite military conscription or national service has become mandatory for both men and women between the ages of 18 and 50. Deserters or those suspected of opposition to the government are imprisoned under harsh conditions and subject to torture and forced labour. Those who successfully escape leave their family behind to face punishment in their stead.
Legal advisor comments on
Israel's deportation of African migrants
Eastern Sudan around Kassala, lying near Eritrea's western border, has been the destination for the majority of Eritrean refugees since the 1960s, especially the Muslim Beni Amer tribe of the western lowlands who share kinship links across the border and have formed a large segment of the refugee population. 70,000 Eritrean refugees remain in Sudan with more arriving each month. In recent decades many have found their way into Egypt where they attempt to reach either Israel or Europe, with many either falling victim to human trafficking among the Sinai Bedouin or finding themselves struggling to survive in an unwelcoming host country.
To more fully understand the impulse of the Eritrean government towards militarism and the cause for Eritreans' flight abroad, we must look to its history as a region involved in a thirty year war for independence, one of the longest conflicts on the African continent.
Struggling for autonomy
The region of present-day Eritrea, lying at the mouth of the Red Sea, has been a strategic piece of coastline for millennia, having been variously ruled by the historical Aksum Empire, the Ottomans, and local sultanates. Its modern borders with a diverse ethnic population were not established until Italian colonisation in the late 19th century through a treaty with the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II. Italy called Eritrea, Colonia Primogenita, or "first colony", and sought to create a more industrialised colony as a base of operations for further colonial expansion in the Horn of Africa, particularly Italy's brutal occupation of Ethiopia in the 1930s which resulted in the deaths of 760,000 people.
Eritrea, emerging from British occupation of the Italian colony after World War II, became an autonomous unit in a federation with Ethiopia in 1952 as a result of a UN resolution. Many Muslim leaders opposed this federation with a Christian-dominated country and unsuccessfully advocated for independence.
The Ethiopian government under Emperor Haile Selassie began to undermine Eritrean autonomy in 1956 by temporarily suspending its elected assembly. Eritrean political parties were proscribed with many leaders jailed or forced into exile. Amharic, the language of the Ethiopian centre, was established as the sole official language. On November 14, 1962, the federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea was officially dissolved with Eritrea becoming Ethiopia's 14th province.
Violence between Eritrea and the Ethiopian centre was, however, first sparked prior to this, in 1961, by Hamid Idris Awate, a tribal leader from the Beni Amir tribe, when he clashed with Ethiopian police as they began rounding up potential troublemakers. Hamid Idris had been a notorious raider since a blood feud was sparked over a cattle theft involving a rival tribe in 1942. In these acts of resistance, Hamid Idris garnered the support, largely due to tribal connections, of the Eritrean Independence Movement (ELM) in Cairo, consisting of Muslim leaders in exile, although Hamid Idris would die the following year.
The organisation which formed from Hamid Idris' initial resistance was called the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). The Beni Amir dominated its ranks relying on the ELM for financial and arms support and tribal links for growing its ranks. The Beni Amir and its supporters resisted participation from other ethnic and religious groups such as the Christian Tigrinyans in the highlands.
 African migrants 'tortured in Sinai'
The ELF's numbers grew as Ethiopian reprisals increasingly took the form of civilian persecution and attacks. In the early 1970s, the Ethiopian air force began systematically bombing villages in western Eritrea, and moving the army into ELF areas, burning villages and executing or detaining anyone suspected of collaborating with the rebel group. During the 1970s, as many as one million Eritreans were displaced, roughly one-third of the entire population. Many began to flee into eastern Sudan.
A life of war
Communism took hold in Ethiopia when military officers under Mengistu Haile Mariam supplanted Haile Selassie in 1974 and established the government of the Derg, meaning "committee". Mengistu decided on a policy of total military defeat for Eritrea and continued the attacks against the civilian population. In 1975, the Ethiopian military began a new campaign, razing and burning villages thought to be giving aid or shelter to the guerilla forces, bombing villages, and destroying food crops and livestock. The 1975 massacre at Umm Hajer in western Eritrea, in which the entire village was destroyed, drove nearly 40,000 refugees into Sudan in one week.
The Ethiopian military campaigns not only affected the Muslim population but also the Christian Tigrinyan population who had increasingly been seeking to join the resistance movement. In 1970, the predominantly Christian Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) was formed under the leadership of Isaias Afewerki as a breakaway organisation from the ELF after conflicts with the ELF's Muslim leadership. In 1972, a civil war which lasted two years broke out between the EPLF and the ELF simultaneous to fighting against the Ethiopian military. The EPLF slowly came to dominate the war.
In 1980, the EPLF launched another attack on the ELF and drove its ranks into eastern Sudan in 1981, where many of the Beni Amer and other refugees remain today. The EPLF now assumed hegemony over the Eritrean fight for independence. It was finally able to achieve de facto independence in 1991 and de jure independence in 1993 through mobilising practically the entire adult population of Eritrea for its fighting force. The EPLF re-named itself the People's Front for Democracy and Justice and formed the new Eritrean government, with Afewerki as its head of state. After 30 years of armed struggle, 65,000 Eritrean fighters and 40,000 civilians had been killed.
The transition from a guerilla movement to a functioning modern democracy would eventually be stalled by leaders more familiar with the field of battle than the halls of government, with the refugee crisis continuing to linger after independence.
For Eritrea, a country that has known so few years of peace over the past fifty years, dialogue with its neighbours and development for its people, rather than further confrontation and military build-up, is needed more than ever. President Afewerki should work to grant his people the promises of freedom in a modern democracy that they struggled so hard and so long to achieve. By addressing the plight of his people at home, Afewerki will not only help to solve the refugee crisis but make his country stronger and more legitimate both in the eyes of the international community and in the eyes of Eritreans.
Professor Akbar Ahmed is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC and the former Pakistani High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.  
Harrison Akins is the Ibn Khaldun Chair Research Fellow at American University's School of International Service and is assisting Professor Ahmed on Ahmed's forthcoming study, "The Thistle and the Drone: How America's War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam", to be published by Brookings Press in January 2013.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Eritreans have little in the way of expectations

Steve Duin, The Oregonian Expectations? The Africans have little in the way of expectations. They left those behind when they fled Eritrea, Congo or the Sudan, and the emotional baggage never caught up to them in the refugee camps of Ethiopia or Rwanda.

They waited in those camps for years. “There was a lot of suicide because things are so hard,” says Birhane Hailu, 33. “You can’t work. No jobs. No school.” And when the spark from a cigarette or a lightning strike sends fire raging through the shacks? “No water.”

When they are finally pulled from the wasteland by the International Rescue Committee, when they are ticketed for resettlement in America, you can understand the dizzying temptation to dream big.

“Most of us think we’re going to see a miracle,” Thierry Gasasu admits. “Paradise.

“And then we get to Boise.”

And Boardman.

The Wilson Road apartments.

And those 12-hour shifts — six days running — Publish Postat Threemile Canyon Farms.

Given their memories and humility, it never occurs to these African refugees to complain.

But, hey, they’re far better people than I am.

African refugees toiling at Boardman dairy

On the wall of the cramped bedroom that Hailu shares with Tesfom Wolday, eight miles from the dairy and 8,000 miles from Eritrea, a small scroll frames these words from Psalm 119:

“The word of the Lord is more precious to me than thousands in gold and silver.”

A good thing, that. Because the word of the Lord has a far better chance of sustaining them than the workload and take-home pay at the Threemile Canyon dairy.

Wolday and Hailu are two of the stalwarts among the 30-some refugees who work at the dairy and bunk at the Maple Crest Apartments in Boardman. As Wolday prepared dinner in early October — beef, onions and peppers on Injera bread — Hailu framed the daily routine:

“We only have time,” he said, “to go to work and sleep.”

An Ethiopian video is playing on the TV in the living room. At least two dozen flies float through the small kitchen or cling to the ceiling tiles. The four refugees who share the apartment will be in bed by 9 p.m. and up again at 4 a.m., girding for another 12-hour run with the cows.

“I’m lucky, you know,” Hailu says. “I count my blessings. There are many people we left over there.”

More than 10.5 million refugees worldwide, according to the International Rescue Committee, which has resettlement operations in Seattle, Boise and 20 other American cities.

In 2011, the IRC found new homes for 224 transplants in Boise. Many of the household heads took jobs as dishwashers, barbers, janitors and motel housekeepers.

The strongest and the most desperate volunteered for Boardman and the dairy.

“It is physically demanding and long hours,” said Julianne Donnelly Tzul, the executive director of the IRC’s Boise office. “The amount of interest people have in going to Boardman fluctuates directly with how well (job placement is) going in Boise.”

Threemile Canyon Farms is owned by the R.D. Offutt Company, based in Fargo, N.D. Parked on 93,000 acres in the Columbia River basin, the farm produces 200,000 tons of potatoes annually. Its dairy operation features 16,000 milking cows, or one-seventh of the cows in Oregon.

Threemile Canyon would not allow The Oregonian on the property; three phone calls to the farm management, Marty Myers and Greg Harris, were not returned. When Walt Guterbock, the farm’s livestock manager, spoke to the Los Angeles Times in 2010, however, he put the dairy work in perspective.

“Almost no native-born Americans .¤.¤. apply for these jobs,” Guterbock said. “It’s a tough, dirty, demanding job.”

Hailu and Wolday move through pens containing up to 900 cows, separating out the animals that are too sick to produce good milk.

And Hailu and Wolday have it relatively easy, compared, at least to Thierry Gasasu, an Eritrean who has been milking the suckers for the last eight months.

Or Katanga Janvier, who works “maternity.” In each 12-hour shift, he gets two breaks, totaling 50 minutes. The other 670 minutes, he’s in pregnant cows up to his elbows, delivering calves.

He’s paid $10 an hour, Janvier says, and not a dime of overtime, even though he’s on the clock an average of 63 hours each week.

Sixty-three. Six days (of 12-hour shifts) on, two days off.

“I make $1,600 a month,” says Janvier, who fled Congo’s civil war in 2003. He sends $500 each month to support his mother and younger brother in Boise, then shells out $150 for rent and $430 for the payment on his 2006 Monte Carlo.

That leaves him with $520 each month — or $17 a day — on which to eat, pay bills (gas, insurance) and dream.

“My dream? To be a truck driver,” Janvier says. “To drive different places. California!”

  * * 

All expectation aside, these Africans understand the generosity that has brought them this far.

The United States takes in more than 50 percent of the international refugees who are resettled each year in new countries.

The city of Boise, Donnelly Tzul says, provides passionate support for the refugee community, with local government, non-profits and area churches and synagogues all stepping up.

And give Threemile Canyon Farms — which prefers to hire African refugees owing to its increased nervousness about undocumented workers — its due.

Under its current contract with the United Farm Workers, the farm provides dairy workers with benefits that are hard to come by in Boise.

What’s more, once Hailu, Gasasu, Janvier and friends realize they will never save enough — to escape the dairy, at least — working a piddling 40 hours a week, Threemile Canyon generously allows them to work 63.

Without overtime, of course. By federal law, agriculture workers are exempt from overtime pay provisions.

Everyone agrees that’s necessary for the poor, beleaguered, 93,000-acre family farms to survive.

“It’s not ideal,” Donnelly Tzul concedes. “This is an area where there are a lot of tough choices, and choices difficult to live through.

“But our clients are smart advocates for themselves. They’re also thinking human beings who can decide when they’ve had enough, and decide to leave.”

True. But they are also humble, generous strangers in a strange corner of Morrow County, at least five hours from the nearest family member and nine time zones from their familiar.

When asked how he and his buddies meet women, Hailu said they don’t: “In my language, I know the rules. What to say. We don’t know the rules over here. And I don’t want to make trouble.”

So it is, on the first Tuesday in October, that they make beef, onions and peppers on Injera bread instead. They are tired and lonely and years from their dreams, and they want to remember just how good life can taste.