I am a British citizen of Eritrean origin, the country that is the largest producer of refugees in Africa. Widespread public support for the “Welcome Refugees” campaign has given me hope that people care and are willing to give protection to those in need of it. The campaign has focused first and foremost on Syria, because of the utter destructiveness of its internationalised civil war, but campaigners have also expressed their welcome to Eritreans and other Africans.
Because there is no war in Eritrea people are confused as to why Eritrea is the largest producer of refugees in Africa. According to the UN refugee agency, 5,000 mostly young people leave the country every month. There are more than 100,000 languishing in refugees camps in Ethiopia of whom more than 2000 are unaccompanied children, and more than 150,000 are in camps in the Sudan. Most of the African refugees are in Africa and not in ‘fortress Europe.’
In Eritrea all the editors of private newspapers were put in prison in 2001 which brought to an end freedom of expression and association; political parties are not allowed. There is no rule of law as people are arrested and never brought to court, they are simply banished and no relative or friends could visit them. These are among the things that have branded Eritrea as Africa’s North Korea.
The report of the ‘United Nations inquiry commission on Eritrea’ confirmed what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been saying already in exposing the gross abuse of human rights in Eritrea and blamed the Eritrean government for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations. The indefinite national service known as slave labour is the worst. The Eritrean youth are emerging into adulthood riding the wave of despair. Every circumstance conspires to make them lose their hold. As youths all the familiar goals in life are snatched away from them. In the streets they have to have pass papers. They could be stopped or rounded up by the security forces at any time and if they fail to produce the paper or they forget them at home they are arrested, beaten and imprisoned.
On the other hand the response of the “Refugees Welcome” movements in the UK – which includes individuals supplying refugees in Calais with warm clothes and other basic necessities - is heartening because supporters are not motivated simply by charity but are calling for fraternity, harmony and brotherhood under the slogan “People to People Solidarity.” They are deeply concerned about humanity.
The British people have proved once more their tradition of offering protection to those fleeing persecution and for fairness and justice. For their part, the refugees and immigrants have not let the British down. They play a positive role in boosting the economy of Britain.
On International Migrants Day we want to say thank you to the British people and all those who supported us.
By Petros Tesfagherghis
Eritrean Refugee Support Association in UK (ERSA-UK)