Flawed Danish Migration Report shows need for realistic benchmarked approach on Eritrea

An unapologetic Dutch blogpost by the chair of the Dutch YPFDJ, Meseret Bahlbi, gives an indication of the urgent need for a sober and realistic benchmarking of a process of change in Eritrea, which is heralded in some quarters. The YPFDJ is the youth wing of Eritrea’s only allowed political party. It has an active membership that actively sends out the messages of the party. Unashamedly Bahlbi is expressing the position of Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Osman Saleh who called for an urgent review of European migration policies towards Eritreans. According to Minister Saleh these are “to say the least, based on incorrect information”. Bahlbi makes similar claims, suggesting further that his views are vindicated by a recent Danish report. Offering contradictory arguments, this report by the Danish Migration Service suggests returning Eritrean migrants home because of current changes in Eritrea.Human Rights Watch has criticised the report as deeply flawed. Meanwhile the Danish Migration Service has publicly expressed doubts on the content of its report.

Change in Eritrea would be a welcome step. Eritreans are trapped in their country that is much reminiscent of the situation in the GDR before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite an effective shoot-to-kill policy on the border, the number of refugees has been dramatically rising this year. In October it was estimated that 200 Eritreans were fleeing daily to Ethiopia. Many more refugees would have been crossing over the border with Sudan. From January to August 2014 alone, more than 28,000 Eritreans, including almost 3,000 unaccompanied children, came to Italy alone by sea. Despite danger to their lives, Eritrean youth have been voting with their feet. The UNHCR guidelines are clear that the majority of refugees are political refugees and ample evidence show that these flows result from the serious human rights violations in the country.

Meanwhile a range of measures has been announced in EU Member States to deal with the increasing numbers of Eritrean asylum-seekers and to try to curb the numbers. These include more stringent border controls, increasing fences around Europe, decreasing reception centres and additional nationality checks to slow down asylum procedures.

The idea of change in Eritrea would offer an instantaneous solution to the migration crisis. The idea for change has been welcomed by the Italian government. In July this year Italy’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lapo Pistelli, made an official visit to Asmara. The enthusiasm with which he greeted a “new beginning” was reflected in the official communiqué put out by the Italian government: “It’s time for a new start”. This was Deputy Minister Pistelli’s comment during his visit to Asmara: “I am here today to bear witness to our determination to revitalise our bilateral relations and try to foster Eritrea’s full reinstatement as a responsible actor and key member of the international community in the stabilisation of this region”.

The new High Representative of the EU is Mrs Mogherini. Recently EU Top officials met in Khartoum with representatives of the Eritrean government. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has confirmed that a team of British officials visited Eritrea on Monday and Tuesday this week. They were – in the words of a government spokesman - looking at drivers of migration to the European Union and the UK. This was, he explained, part of the Khartoum Process. This is looking at the underlying causes of migration with “source countries”. The spokesperson for the President of Eritrea has already tweeted that the British delegation was looking at the “multilayered facets of migration and trafficking”. Eritrean groups in Europe have expressed concern of a scenario in which the EU seeks collaboration with Eritrea, paving the way for asylum seekers being returned. In a detailed report, the groups have asked that the EUlistens to their agony.

The rapprochement sought by the Eritrean regime is reminiscent of an earlier attempt in 2009 by the then EU Commissioner, Louis Michel. He had been given assurances that journalist Dawit Isaac would be released. He traveled to Asmara, signed an aid programme with the Eritrean government, but Dawit Isaac remained in prison. The danger this time around is that the EU will offer Eritrea support and a cleaning up of its image, but that it will continue to receive Eritrean refugees, because these are desperate and will risk anything to reach a safe place.

Change in Eritrea is a wish shared by all, including the many asylum-seekers. However, a Benchmarked Assessment is needed to assess whether real change is taking place. The UN Commission of Inquiry, invited to Eritrea for the first time since years, could establish such clear benchmarks. A first benchmark should certainly be the release of the many political prisoners such as Dawit Isaac, who have been languishing for over 15 years in brutal conditions without trial at the hands of the Eritrean military dictatorship.

By Mirjam van Reisen.

Source: EEPA.