Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Eritrea, Which Never Acknowledged Fall Of Gaddaffi, Celebrates It |

Eritrea, Which Never Acknowledged Fall Of Gaddaffi, Celebrates It

On February 18, the Libyan News Agency reported that the Libyan Embassy in Eritrea celebrated the “first anniversary of the glorious revolution of February 17 [2011]” that finally brought down the regime of Muammer Gaddafi by noting that it was attended by Eritrean ministers of defense, foreign affairs, mining,energy, tourism, social affairs, and different department directors.

What is ironic is that the Eritrean state media, which is the only media allowed to exist in Eritrea, has yet to report on the Libyan revolution or the violent death, on October 20, 2011, of Muammer Gaddafi, a close ally and mentor of Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki.

In the beginning of the Libyan revolution, the Eritrean government had warned teashops and other public places not to show news about “the Arab Springfearing Eritreans would be inspired to do the same.

In a speech he delivered, Mr. Hassen Al-Baroni, the charge d’affaires of the Libyan embassy, “prayed for mercy for the souls of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the Libyan people, and wished the wounded to heal and the missing to return to their families.”

Al-Baroni added that Libya is seeking to build a state based on the principle of “free economy and fair competition and the exploitation of natural resources that God bestowed on Libya, and put it to the service of the nation and the citizens and their development to the level of developed countries.”

When the Arab Spring took the world by surprise, Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki downplayed the grassroots nature of the revolution and blamed it on the CIA and other hegemonic powers who are vested in instigating “creative chaos.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Eritrean Human Trafficking is a part Growing Global Scourge |

Saif, a 12-year-old who has left school, works at a garage in Baghdad July 19, 2009. Saif earns about $20 a week and is a breadwinner of his family. Photo by Saad Shalash / Reuters

This story was produced by New America Media and The San Francisco Public Press.

On the 900-mile trek of mostly desert that stretches between Eritrea and Egypt, hunting for humans has become routine.

Eritrean refugees who have fled their homeland fall prey to Bedouin or Egyptian traffickers. The refugees are held for ransom. Those with relatives abroad who can pay for their release might survive. Those who do not are often killed. The United Nations confirms that some are harvested for their organs — their livers and kidneys sold on the black market — while others, the young and able, are sold off. One survivor told the U.N., “People catch us, sell us like goats.”

Slavery is alive and well in the 21st century. There are more people enslaved today than at any other time in history. The U.S. State Department says that estimates of those enslaved through human trafficking ranges from 4 million to 27 million.

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal business in the world, according to the State Department. It ranks only second to drug trafficking in profitability, bringing in an estimated $32 billion annually. The majority of those trafficked are young adults between ages 18 and 24 — but children also make up a large part of it. Almost all have experienced either sexual exploitation or violence, often both, during their time being enslaved.

But the statistics can be disputed. The United Nations notes that “the lack of accurate statistics is due only in part to the hidden nature of the crime, and that the lack of systematic reporting is the real problem.” In other words, the number of those trafficked worldwide might be far greater than what is estimated.

What we do know is that traffickers practice the trade with relative impunity. In 2006 there were 5,808 trafficking prosecutions and 3,160 convictions worldwide, which would mean that one person is convicted for every 800 people trafficked.

Though most of those trafficked are exploited for their labor and or are thrown into sexual servitude, the area that’s particularly grotesque is the organ trade. One human rights lawyer who did not want to give his name said cases involving the removal of human organs for transplantation are more miserable than those involving genocide.

“At one end someone is killed for their organs, which in some perhaps overly theoretical way is worse than murder,” he said. “In the latter, the victim’s death is at least a motive — the murderer seeks to kill a human being. In the former, the victim is merely a box containing an object, and the murder is merely the process of throwing out the box and wrapping.”

The international commodification of humans is becoming the new norm of our age. In Bangkok, Thailand, a “baby factory” was discovered last year in which more than a dozen Vietnamese women were impregnated (some were raped), and their babies were sold for adoption. Whether or not the babies — unregistered, non-existent in the eyes of the law — were truly adopted, raised to be slaves or farmed out for body parts is not known.

What is certain is that Vietnam, like many other impoverished countries with a growing population of young people, has become a major supply country, where vulnerable young women and girls are in high demand on the international market. In certain bars in Ho Chi Minh City, rural girls are routinely trucked in to parade at auction blocks. The girls are often naked except for a tag with a number on it, and in the audience are foreigners — South Koreans, Taiwanese and mainland Chinese are the main consumers — who call them down for inspection. They leave together under the pretense of marriage after the paperwork is done, but many end up in brothels or sweatshops instead.

Diep Vuong, executive director of Pacific Links Foundation, an organization that works to combat human trafficking by providing education to the poor in Vietnam, is pessimistic. Overpopulated and dwindling in resources, Vietnam is full of young, uneducated people.

“The only resource we have left in abundance are the humans themselves,” she noted wryly. “We’re moving toward the Jonathan Swift version of reality.”

While children of the poor are not being eaten as Swift sarcastically suggested, they are being abducted and enslaved. They work in the fields as slave laborers as in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa plantation where half a million children work and provide 40 percent of the world’s chocolate — something most of them have never tasted. Or they are abducted at ages as young as 5 in Uganda and forced to become soldiers. Or they work in the carpet and brick factories of South Asia, many shackled and branded by their masters. Those too weak to work are killed off and thrown into rivers.

Closer to home, border drug cartels have incorporated the lucrative human trade into their business, and in some parts of Mexico they have the tacit support of the local authorities. Mass graves were discovered last year full of migrants’ corpses. Their crime: They weren’t worth much alive.

The forces of globalization have only intensified the trade in humans. After the Cold War ended, borders became more porous. New forms of information technology have helped integrate the world market. Increasing economic disparity and demand for cheap labor have spurred unprecedented mass human migration. The poor and desperate fall prey to the lure of a better life.

Nongovernmental organization workers who battle trafficking often describe victims as being “tricked.”

In March 2004, eBay shut down sales when it discovered that three young Vietnamese women were being auctioned off, with a starting bid of $5,400. Their photos were displayed. The “items” were from Vietnam and would be “shipped to Taiwan only.”

“I was browsing on the Internet and this guy kept trying to chat with me,” one Vietnamese teenager rescued from a brothel in Phnom Penh recounted. “There’s a coffee shop in Cambodia. He said I could make money over there.”

They crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia, and she soon became enslaved. She was saved in a police raid, just as the traffickers were planning to move her again. The madam “was waiting for more girls to show up to ship us to Malaysia,” she said. Her fake passport had already been made.

The trafficking network is sophisticated and well organized, and if the lure of money and a better life elsewhere becomes the entrapment of the poor and vulnerable, the abundance of cheap labor coupled with an atmosphere of impunity becomes the seduction for others to become traffickers.

“A slave purchased for $10,000 could end up making her owner $160,000 in profits before she dies or runs away,” Siddharth Kara noted in a talk on sex trafficking at the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies at Northwestern University. In fact, a child in Vietnam can be bought for as little as $400.

Slavery is not going away because the agony of human enslavement remains largely invisible in the public discourse. It is just as shocking that Eritrean refugees are hunted nightly by traffickers as it is that their story remains hidden in darkness.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Riksdag wants to halt Eritrean exile taxes - The Local

Riksdag wants to halt Eritrean exile taxes

Riksdag wants to halt Eritrean exile taxes

Published: 24 Feb 12 06:53 CET | Double click on a word to get a translation

The majority of the Riksdag is against Eritrea collecting taxes from citizens resident in Sweden and MPs from the commitee on justice say that if current Swedish law is not enough to stop it, rules need to be tightened.

“This is not acceptable,” said Johan Linander of the Centre party, vice chairman of the committee on justice (Justitieutskottet).

“But there is an investigation into some that have been identified as collectors and until we have a guilty or not guilty verdict we can’t say if current legislation is too loose.”

The committee voted on three motions on Thursday, proposing to ban the taxation from Eritrea.

“We are wiling to take measures if current legislation can’t put a stop to this," Linander told TT.

Currently all exiled Eritreans are expected to pay two percent of their annual income to the country.

In November several Eritreans living in Sweden filed a report with the police saying the practice amounts to tax collection using extortion and the International Public Prosecution Office (Internationella Åklagarkammaren) in Stockholm is currently looking to open a preliminary investigation.

Critics of the regime in Eritrea have voiced the opinion that stopping the tax may be a way to put pressure on Eritrea to release the Swedish-Eritrean journalistDawit Isaak, jailed for unknown crimes without a trial for the last ten years.

The taxes have been described in a UN report as the largest source of income for the dictatorship.

According to Eritrea, the tax is completely voluntary.

TT/The Local/rm (

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eritrea criticises ‘foreign meddling’ in Somali affairs - World |


Asmara has been accused of supporting al-Shabaab which is fighting to oust Somalia’s transitional government.

Monitor Correspondent

Eritrea has proposed a “Somali people-owned” dialogue and criticised foreign meddling ahead of a major conference today that will focus on better coordinating the international response to the country that has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

The Eritrean ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement said that unless the peace talks set for London were all-inclusive it would not be easy to achieve enduring peace for the Horn of Africa nation.

Asmara said since “some powers” had “deliberately” kept it out of the conference, its position needed to be known.

Eritrea has been accused of supporting the militant al-Shabaab group that has been fighting to oust Somalia’s transitional government, in part informing UN sanctions slapped on the isolated Red Sea nation.

The statement did not provide details of how the proposed peace plan would be achieved but also strongly denounced on-going military interventions by Somalia’s neighbours including Kenya and Ethiopia.

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““The experience of the past two decades has repeatedly and amply demonstrated that only Somalis can find enduring solution for themselves and their country. Clearly what is required is a Somali-owned and Somali-driven political process.”

The US, Turkey, UAE, Sweden, the AU and the EU are expected to attend the conference hosted by British prime minister David Cameron and which will seek ways of stabilising the war-wracked country.

A diplomatic source confirmed that the heads of state of Somalia, the semi-autonomous Somaliland, Kenya, Nigeria, Qatar, Sweden and Uganda would also be attending.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon are also expected.

“External actors, even those most friendly and sympathetic to Somalia, need to resist the urge to act on behalf of the Somali people as such an approach has been repeatedly proven to be counter-productive,” Eritrean foreign ministry said.

The statement also called for a replacement of the transitional government with a “people’s choice” and said that the issue of Somaliland’s sovereignty should also be discussed.

Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but is not recognised by the international community. Asmara said it believed a unified Somalia is a viable solution to stabilise the region, and said that a “credible political settlement” would also help solve the piracy and terrorism problems in the region.

Eritrea, seen as restrictive by western governments, has been lobbying against the UN sanctions. A delegation led by Foreign Affairs minister Osman Saleh was three weeks ago in London but is said to have had limited success with UK officials saying their concerns over deteriorating human rights conditions in the country needed to be addressed first.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Retiree works to help Eritrean refugees - Wire - Lifestyle -

- The Philadelphia Inquirer
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- Wallingford, Pa.'s lush hills are a world apart from the arid Horn of Africa. But a trim stone Tudor in the Philadelphia suburb is a humming hub of help for refugees from one of the world's most repressive regimes.

Since the birth of Eritrea as a nation in 1993, more than 200,000 of its people have fled the dictatorship of President Isaias Afewerki. Under his government, Human Rights Watch monitors say, "arbitrary arrests, torture, and forced labor are rampant."

Something had to be done to make this stop, John Stauffer resolved.

So, in 2010, he cofounded the America Team for Displaced Eritreans, an all-volunteer effort that he runs from a spare bedroom in his 75-year-old Wallingford home.

With a board of eight Eritrean immigrants and two Americans, and $35,000 in private donations annually, the group has provided cash assistance, clothing, household goods, and advocacy for hundreds of Eritreans in America. Since 1994, an estimated 12,575 Eriteans have moved to the United States, with from 50 to 60 currently in the Philadelphia area.

The group's network of supporters in seven mostly East Coast states supplies translators and expert testimony in asylum cases. Its website,, is a news clearinghouse.

Slightly larger than Pennsylvania, the country of nearly 6 million people is bordered by Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and the Red Sea. But Eritrea was a province of Ethiopia 46 years ago when Stauffer, freshly graduated from Juniata College, served there with the Peace Corps. He fell in love with the place.

In 1968, he returned to the United States to work at Rohm & Haas, marketing chemicals used to manufacture paint. He retired in 2006 and incorporated the nonprofit America Team four years later.

On a typical day, Stauffer, 68, posts news about Eritrea and works the phones, sharing information with aid groups and government agencies. He recently highlighted the 2012 Reporters Without Borders index ranking Eritrea dead last among 179 countries in press freedom. In December, he posted news about economic sanctions the United Nations imposed on Eritrea for allegedly arming Somalian warlords.

Among Stauffer's ongoing concerns is fallout from the Arab Spring - specifically, the plight of Eritreans fleeing to Israel via the Sinai, where Bedouin bandits have held them up.

Israel's Interior Ministry reports that 20,000 Africans, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese, enter Israel annually seeking jobs and safety. Israel says it does not deport them because the human rights records of Eritrea and Sudan are so abominable.

In concert with the Hebrew aid group HIAS and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia, Stauffer tracks the movement of Eritreans held hostage in the desert.

"When Eritreans are going through difficult times, in Libya, Egypt, or anywhere, (Stauffer) is always the first to come out and say, 'Please, please try to help,'" said Eskinder Negash, who was born in Ethiopia to Eritrean parents and whom President Obama appointed director of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement in 2009.

Stauffer re-immersed himself in the struggles of the small African nation in 2003, when he helped bring to America an Eritrean he knew from his Peace Corps days teaching English, science, and art to Eritrean teens. Prompted to reconnect with the man after hearing about him from an immigrant friend they had in common, Stauffer reached out by e-mail and telephone.

He arranged for the man to get a visa to the United States, and personally paid for his plane ticket. He supported his successful application for asylum. Today, the man, his wife, and two daughters live in Florida. He is business manager for the America Team.

Among Stauffer's supporters are fellow members of Wallingford Presbyterian Church.

"In a world of need," former pastor Suzan Hawkinson once wrote, his team "is a remarkably effective conduit of assistance and hope."

The Eritrean community in Southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey is very small, said Juliane Ramic of the Nationalities Service Center, the Philadelphia agency that has resettled most of the refugees who live in the region. Of 1,980 who arrived in the United States last year, 55 entered in Pennsylvania and eight in New Jersey.

Eritrea has a "diaspora tax," under which Eritreans living abroad pay 2 percent of their income to its government. Those in the United States often speak of being followed or visited by people they suspect are Afewerki agents, Ramic said. "They don't know who to trust."

Stauffer said he recently "exchanged e-mails on (intimidation) with the State Department."

Eritrea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the accusations against its government "malicious distortions" and "outright lies."

Interviewed Friday, Dawit Haile, a spokesman for the Eritrean Embassy in Washington, cited numerous satellite dishes and Internet cafes in his country as proof that free expression is valued. The United States and United Nations demonize Eritrea with "propaganda," he said.

Brushing aside such arguments, Stauffer provides technical assistance and training for Nationalities Service Center staff, to aid its communication with Eritrean clients. He inscribed staffers' names on ID badges using the Ge'ez alphabet used in Eritrea.

English is difficult to master for speakers of Tigrinya, Eritrea's main language. So Stauffer's team created a pamphlet-size Tigrinya-English picture dictionary that shows how to write and pronounce common actions like walking and running, as well as body parts and foods.

It includes words useful for immigrants: Next to a picture of a robed man in a courtroom is judge.

The United Nations awarded Eritrea, a former Italian colony, to Ethiopia in 1952 in a post-World War II realignment of Africa. A decade later, Ethiopia annexed Eritrea, triggering a 30-year war for independence that ended after rebels defeated government forces and Eritrea became a nation.

Along with civil strife, Eritrea is plagued by frequent droughts and locust swarms.

National service - including military duty with no time limit - also drives young people to leave, adding to the refugee crisis. More than 42 percent of the population is younger than 14.

U.N. monitors have found evidence that high-level Eritrean officials facilitate escapes for cash, charging about $3,000 per person to leave a country where the average annual income is $710.

In a cable published two years ago by WikiLeaks, the U.S. ambassador to Eritrea described Afewerki, a former hero of the country's independence, as "cruel ... defiant" and "unhinged."