Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Many migrants to Europe come from Eritrea which is at peace but imploding - World Tribune | World Tribune

The aggressive opportunism of Eritrean President Isayas Afewerke is close to an implosion, but the prospect exists that the 69-year-old former revolutionary will lash out in a final attempt to reassert some regional relevance and to preserve his government.
Certainly, he has done nothing to build an economic base in his Red Sea littoral state.
Eritrean migrants arrive in southern Italy. / AFP / Getty

Eritrean migrants arrive in southern Italy. / AFP / Getty
The crisis for Isayas can be seen in the upsurge of Eritreans fleeing across North Africa and into Western Europe, adding to the swelling tide of illegal immigrants there. The situation is far worse than is seen in international media and intelligence reporting.
The outpouring of Eritreans comes at a time when Eritrea is ostensibly at peace, unlike Syria, where conflict has driven the population outflow.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in November 2014 that, during the first 10 months of that year, the number of Eritrean asylum-seekers in Europe from Eritrea had nearly tripled: to nearly 37,000. Some 22 percent of “boat people” arriving in Italy during that period were from Eritrea, the second largest number of asylum-seekers after Syrians. The numbers of Eritreans crossing into Ethiopia swelled to 5,000 in October 2014. More than 216,000 Eritreans were already in Ethiopia and Sudan. But 2015 saw these already serious figures skyrocket. Many, until late 2015, were also fleeing across the Red Sea to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Isayas’ primary bid for survival has been based on conflict with Ethiopia, to destroy the Government there in order to force a compromise which would restore trade from Ethiopia to the Red Sea via Eritrean ports. To achieve this objective, apart from the direct state-to-state conflict which Isayas instigated against Ethiopia in 1998, Eritrea backed numerous armed opposition groups inside Ethiopia.
One was the Tigré People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), which the Isayas Government created, funded, trained, armed, and supported for the past 12 years. On Sept. 11, 2015, however, the TPDM had tired of Isayas and the failure of his endeavors, and fled, en masse, into Sudan and thence into Ethiopia.
Eritrean Army units were rushed to the border area, across the border from the Sudanese town of Omhajer and close to the Ethiopian border, and engaged the battalion-sized TPDM force (est. at around 700 men).
The TPDM forces, led by Molla Asgedom, completely destroyed the Eritrean Army force near Omhajer and later at Seq al-Ketir, before heading to Hamdait (all in the Sudan). The TPDM force also suffered heavy casualties, but crossed into northern Ethiopia to be greeted by Ethiopian Government forces at Humera and Dima towns. However, some TPDM groups were still in Sudan, and in the hands of Sudanese security forces.
What is significant is that the TPDM was one of Isayas’ most trusted military units, and part of the key to his security. The Eritrean Army is overwhelmingly dependent on forced conscription, for indefinite periods, of unwilling Eritreans, one of the major causes of the outflow of Eritrean men as refugees. Significantly, Eritrean State media has mentioned nothing of the defection of the TPDM.
The ongoing collapse of Eritrea parallels the decline in support from some of its foreign sponsors, particularly Egypt and Libya, which were anxious — during earlier governments — to dominate the Red Sea and to ensure that Ethiopia, a former Red Sea power, was unable to dominate the mouth of the Red Sea.
Now, Libya is in disarray, and the Egyptian government of President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi is committed to a strong working relationship with Ethiopia on a range of issues, particularly the Nile water usage. Egyptian Coptic Pope Tawadros II agreed on Aug. 25 to mediate a “convergence” of views between Ethiopia and Egypt on Nile water use, particularly significant because Egypt is deploying its Christian leader to meet with the predominantly Christian Ethiopian Government.
Thus Eritrea has lost its sponsors, other than Qatar — which supports the Muslim Brotherhood and is therefore seeking ways to maneuver against Egypt — and possibly Iran and Turkey, which are seeking leverage in the Red Sea/Horn region. Iran and Turkey, however, are rivals for influence in the region.
President Isayas, in poor health in recent years, has, as part of his posture, hinted at a reunion or confederation with Ethiopia, of which Eritrea was historically a significant part.  Ethiopia could not consider this while Isayas remained at Eritrea’s helm

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ethiopian renegade general flees to Sudan: report - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan

 (KHARTOUM) – A well placed Sudanese source revealed today that a dissident Ethiopian general fled to Sudan on Friday evening along with his soldiers after clashes with the Eritrean army.
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Undated footage photo of Mola Asgedom (YouTube)
The source who spoke to the Turkey-based Anadolu news agency on condition of anonymity said that General Mola Asgedom who heads the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) that is based in Eritrea, arrived at the Sudanese town of Hamdait at the border triangle between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.
He explained that Asgedom escaped to Sudan after armed clashes broke out with the Eritrean army at the outskirts of the Eritrean city of Omhajer on Friday morning.
The source went on to say that Asgedom and 683 of his forces handed over their weapons to the Sudanese authorities.
He explained that Khartoum succeeded in preventing the escalation of clashes between Asgedom’s forces and the Eritrean army and evacuated the soldiers to Wad al-Hilu town in Kassala State while their leaders were transferred to unspecified areas inside Sudan.
He added that 7 of the Ethiopian opposition forces were killed during the pursuit by Eritrean troops to its western border with Ethiopia and Sudan.
Eyewitnesses in the border areas said they heard gunfire during the clashes, noting that the entrance of Ethiopian opposition forces to Hamdait created a state of confusion among the population.
A pro-Ethiopian opposition TV confirmed that Asgedom turned himself in to the Sudan, without giving details.
The Eritrea-based Ethiopian opposition coalition consider TPDM to be the military wing while the Ginbot 7 of Berhanu Nega lead the political forefront.
Ethiopia also backs Eritrean opposition groups in the context of proxy wars between the two longtime foes.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Britain refusing asylum to Eritreans on back of discredited report | UK news | The Guardian

The researchers behind a report on Eritrea which the Home Office cited heavily when claiming it was now safe to send Eritrean asylum seekers back to the east African country have publicly distanced themselves from the findings, claiming the report was unsubstantiated and distorted.
The Home Office updated its country advice on Eritrea in March, claiming that citizens who left the country without permission – many of them to escape itsinfamous indefinite military service – would not face persecution if they returned. The advice resulted in the number of Eritreans granted protection in the UK plummeting from a 73% approval rate in the first quarter of 2015 to 34% in the second quarter.
But the two researchers behind the report, Jens Weise Olesen and Jan Olsen, who conducted the fact-finding mission in Eritrea for the Danish Immigration Service (DIS), have revealed that they are appalled by the report written by their department off the back of their research and have since resigned from the DIS. 
“[The report] was so simplified that it hurt,” said Weise Olesen, who along with Olsen visited Eritrea in 2014.
In an interview with the Amnesty International Denmark members magazine, the pair, who worked for DIS for more than 20 years, claim their superiors limited their questioning in Eritrea and tried to conclude the mission before they had conducted the necessary interviews. When they returned to Denmark, Olsen and Weise Olesen say there was a “showdown” and they both eventually resigned from the immigration service. They claim they have been branded “whistle-blowers and disloyal employees”.
“It would have been really good to have more interviews, also from refugee camps outside Eritrea. We should also have met people who know about the country – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and in particular the UN special rapporteur, who we could have confronted with our new knowledge,” says Olsen.
The only named source in the DIS report, Professor Gaim Kibreab, director of refugee studies at London South Bank University, has also distanced himself from its findings.
“They distorted what I said, quoted me out of context,” he told the Guardian. “One example: they quoted me saying that I knew people who had returned back to Eritrea without problem. What I told them was I know of a few who returned who are connected to the government, who are naturalised and have English passports and Danish passports – they didn’t mention that I was talking about a few who were connected. They left out so many things. The way they did it, there was an unnamed anonymous source and then they brought in my name to support their views. It was very disingenuous,” he said.
In contrast to the report’s findings, Kibreab said: “Nothing has changed in Eritrea. The Home Office is rejecting most Eritrean asylum applications even though nothing has changed on the ground. The Home Office has disgraced itself doing that.”
On the issue of whether deserters and evaders of the military service in Eritrea can now return to the country without the risk of abuse, which is the crux of the report and led to a change in the asylum advice in both Denmark and the UK, Weise Olesen said in the interview: “It may well be that some could [return to Eritrea without harm]. But there is no one who can say exactly who is arrested and ends up in a black hole and who is let through. We could not.”




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Watch: Britain’s response to the refugee crisis in numbers


Olsen and Weise Olesen told Amnesty International that their superiors put pressure on them to deliver a specific result, saying their head of department, Jakob Dam Glynstrup, openly speculated to them several times on what kind of asylum result the government was hoping for.
“Jakob said that the last thing the government wanted in a future election campaign was a growing number of people seeking asylum and for refugees to become an [election] issue,” the men said in a written statement to the Danish ombudsman, which is investigating the issue.
“I saw it as pressure to deliver a particular outcome,” Olsen said. “It was a dream scenario for bosses to present brand new information on the situation in Eritrea.”
In an email to Amnesty International, DIS denied the allegations: “Jakob Dam Glynstrup totally rejects the two claims. The Immigration Office rejects categorically all the other claims and insists that this is a staff matter.”
The Home Office said its guidance on Eritrea “is based on a careful and objective assessment of the situation in Eritrea using evidence taken from a range of sources including media outlets; local, national and international organisations, including human rights organisations; and information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”
However, in the Home Office guidance, the DIS report was cited 39 times, making it the most referenced source in the report by a significant margin. The next most-cited source was a proclamation by the Eritrean government outlining the national service programme, with 16 mentions. By contrast, Human Rights Watch publications were referenced seven times and Amnesty International publications were referenced five times. 
A Home Office spokesperson also claimed that the country advice on Eritrea is being updated to take into account the United Nations’ report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea which was published in June.
Dr Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, condemned the Home Office for including the Danish report as a source in its country guidance. “For it to be discredited by some of the researchers shows even more powerfully how the information cannot be relied on for making life and death decisions. If any part of that evidence is shown to be in doubt, it should be removed from the guidance immediately.”
“What we’d like to see is for the government to immediately change its guidelines, then review the cases of Eritreans who were refused under that guidance,” she said.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dodging Bullets, the Risky Trek from Ethiopia to Europe | Khmer Times | News Portal Cambodia |

Dodging Bullets, the Risky Trek from Ethiopia to Europe | Khmer Times | News Portal Cambodia |: "
Dodging Bullets, the Risky Trek from Ethiopia to Europe
AFP/Karim Lebhour Tuesday, 08 September 2015 318 views

ENDABAGUNA, Ethiopia (AFP) – Every day they come, hundreds of refugees sneaking across the river, risking being shot on sight as they flee their homeland of Eritrea for arch-rival Ethiopia.

Eritrea is no war zone, yet the people of this Horn of Africa nation make up the third-largest number of migrants risking the dangerous journey to Europe, after Syrians and Afghans, running the gauntlet of ruthless people smugglers and treacherous waters.

But for the refugees who arrive exhausted after fleeing the hardline rule in the hermetic Red Sea state, this is only the first step in a long, tough and extremely dangerous journey in search of basic freedoms and a better life.

On average, around 100 people cross each day, but numbers have risen dramatically in the past year, said Sahle Teklemariam, who coordinates the Ethiopian government’s refugee agency ARRA work here, in the far northeastern Shire region.

“This year we have seen a sharp increase, with up to 200 to 300 people a day,” Sahle said. “And the numbers are increasing, even though it is rainy season. People are running from every corner.”

The UN accuses the government in Asmara of being responsible for systematic and widespread human rights abuses on an almost unprecedented scale, including the mass, open-ended conscription of its people.

A June UN report described how the paranoid government targets opponents, routinely arresting at whim, detaining, torturing or killing.

In 2014, the UN refugee agency UNHCR registered more than 33,000 new Eritrean refugees arriving in Ethiopia. The numbers continue to grow.

No Peace Here

Inside the center, some 400 Eritreans, mostly young men stranded at the border, wait to be directed to one of four Eritrean camps run jointly by ARRA and UNHCR.

The Ethiopian authorities give those three meals a day and a basic allowance. 

Tesfu, aged 20, took a week to escape, travelling under cover of darkness to reach Ethiopia -- a country Eritrea remains on an effective war-footing with, following a brutal 1998-2000 border war.

With little if any hope to getting a visa in Ethiopia for onward travel to another nation, the young farmer plans to travel on his own northwards – perhaps to Germany, to join a cousin he believes is there but from whom he has no news, or otherwise to meet another family member in Israel.

“It didn’t rain this year, so I couldn’t farm the land,” Tesfu said. “But even with good rains, I wouldn’t have stayed in Eritrea. There’s no peace there, you have no peace of mind.”

Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 after a brutal 30-year independence struggle, remains in a tense standoff with Addis Ababa. Troops still eyeball each other along the frontier.

But with Ethiopian soldiers defying an international ruling to leave Eritrean land, Asmara has defended its controversial policy of decades-long national service from which about 5,000 people flee each month, saying it has “no other choice” due to threats.

Asmara has also previously blamed the refugee crisis on a CIA conspiracy and human rights activists.

Dying at Sea

Safe now in Ethiopia, Tesfu appears to know little of the challenges ahead. For now, he is focused on reaching neighboring Sudan.

“I know that people die at sea, but I’m ready to take my chances,” Tesfu added.

Around him, new arrivals seem as poorly prepared, driven by the hope of joining a distant relative in the diaspora, inspired by word-of-mouth stories of those who survived and reached another, better country to live in.

“In Eritrea, we have no other freedom than to live like slaves,” said Solomon, who said he fled after serving 18 years of military conscription. “Everybody must be a soldier or a student. Nothing else.”

Military service begins in a desert army camp for the final year of school, for both men and women. 

Not all continue to serve as soldiers, but it is the government that decides their future and assigns jobs. The salary they receive is minimal, too little to support their families, according to those who flee.

Refugees in military uniforms in Endabaguna indicate the numerous desertions.

“They told us the military service would be one year and a half, but we know from experience of others that once you’re in, you just can’t leave,” said Daniel, aged 21, still dressed in his military uniform, including Eritrea’s famous army footwear: plastic sandals.

He took advantage of being posted near to the border zone to escape with three comrades, and was welcomed “warmly” by the Ethiopian army, he said.

Having made it safely across the border however, the next step remains unclear. Daniel dreams of getting to the US, though seems unsure of the exact route and how he plans to cross the ocean.

“It is true, I don’t know where America is,” Daniel said. “But my brother is in Sudan. He will help me get there.”"



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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Eritrea: Why they leave | The Jakarta Post

Eritrea: Why they leave | The Jakarta Post: "Eritreans have endured President Isaias Afwerki's iron-fisted dictatorship for 22-years. Conscripts are forced into decades-long military service, then exploited as slave labor for the state.

So desperate are ordinary young people to leave they crawl under razor wire, tiptoe across minefields and sneak past armed border guards in their bid for freedom.

In the past, entire Eritrean football teams have absconded while playing in tournaments abroad and fighter jet pilots have escaped in their aircraft.

- Rights abuses -

Eritrea regularly features at the bottom of world lists for political and media freedoms, freedom of expression and human rights.

Political opponents are routinely arrested, tortured, locked-up without trial or simply disappear. The government routinely spies on citizens.

In 2014, independent watchdog organisation Freedom House gave the country a rating of 94 for press freedom -- with 100 being the worst.

This year's Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index placed the country plum last, behind North Korea.

A June report by the United Nations human rights office -- dismissed by the Eritrean government -- spoke of systematic and widespread "gross human rights violations," including mass incarceration of political opponents, extrajudicial killings and torture.

- Repressive politics -

Isaias, 69, took power in 1993, two years after winning a three-decade long independence war with Ethiopia. He founded and still heads the country's only political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

A former US ambassador described Isaias as an "unhinged dictator" who is "cruel and defiant".

There is no political opposition, no elections and no independent media. Even religious freedom is curtailed.

This year's annual report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that "systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations continue in Eritrea".

A new, multiparty constitution was ratified in 1997 but never implemented.

- Poor economy -

Even before the imposition of UN sanctions in 2009, the economy was in the doldrums and Eritrea remains one of the world's poorest countries. The economy -- like everything else -- is tightly state-controlled.

Isaias rejects foreign aid while the mining sector accounts for scant foreign investment.

- Troubled region -

Eritrea's troubles are not restricted to its own borders. Bad blood remains with Ethiopia, going back to a renewed border war in 1998, while 2008 saw skirmishes with Djibouti.

Isaias is widely accused of sponsoring regional rebels including Al-Qaeda affiliate the Shebab, which operates in Somalia and Kenya. Asmara has always denied those claims. (++++)"



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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Eritrea warns of Ethiopia war 'sabre-rattling' - Yahoo News

Ethiopian soldiers take part to the official state funeral of Ethiopia's late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi under a giant poster of late strongman in Addis Ababa on September 2, 2012
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Ethiopian soldiers take part to the official state funeral of Ethiopia's late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi under a giant poster of late strongman in Addis Ababa on September 2, 2012 (AFP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)
Nairobi (AFP) - Eritrea has accused arch-rival Ethiopia of "sabre-rattling" and of threatening to invade, with the neighbours still in a tense standoff following a 1998-2000 border war.
Asmara's Ministry of Information said in a statement that war-like rhetoric from Ethiopia's main party in the ruling coalition -- the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) -- had increased.
Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 after a brutal 30-year independence struggle, remains on an effective war-footing with Addis Ababa after a return to war in 1998.
"The TPLF's sabre-rattling has been a common staple throughout winter. And this has been ratcheted up in the past few weeks," said the information ministry statement, released Monday.
"The TPLF regime is resorting to tactics of covert intimidation to dissuade various circles from associating with Eritrea. It has gone beyond these hints to openly assert that, 'it has secured a green-light from the United States to unleash war against Eritrea.'"
There was no immediate reaction from Ethiopia, but Addis Ababa has previously dismissed such statements as propaganda.
Eritrea is struggling to stem a flood of refugees from its borders to Europe, an exodus attributed to gross human rights violations in the hermit state.
Eritreans make up the third largest number of refugees trying to reach Europe, after Syrians and Afghans.
Asmara however says its controversial policy of decades-long national service -- a key reason some 5,000 people flee each month -- is due to threats from Ethiopia.
But Asmara said its progress had sparked "frustration bordering on insanity in the camp of the TPLF and its key sponsors."

Fekadu Chere talks about his experience in Eritrea With Ginbot 7 & Abegnoch