A teenage refugee who arrived here speaking not a word of English has been named Young Woman of the Year.
Seada Fekadu’s honour is part of the annual Women On the Move awards. She was 16 when she fled Eritrea – part of an exodus of people unable to work and live freely in their own country and who are prepared to risk death and torture in order to reach safety and re-build their shattered lives.
She managed to get to Britain on the back of a truck from Calais, became involved with Young Roots, a Lottery-funded scheme that helps refugees, and soon started volunteering to help other unaccompanied asylum-seekers children.
I met her during the award celebration at the Royal Festival Hall in London and was impressed with her dignity and confidence. She’s a wonderful role model, but is typical of Eritrean and other refugees: given a chance, they can not only transform their own lives but also contribute to their new society.
Meanwhile, a European Union attempt to persuade Eritrea to address a key cause of the migration –the country’s Indefinite National Service – has failed, because national service is a way of keeping control on a potentially rebellious section of the population. The term National Service covers a multitude of sins, including testimony of rape and torture.
So desperate Eritreans continue to run the risk of falling into the hands of traffickers in Egypt’s Sinai region and of being tortured in an attempt to force their relatives abroad to pay ransom money for their release. Some are reportedly killed so their kidneys can be sold; others are thrown into jail in the countries on their flight route, particularly Egypt and Libya, held in camps in Israel, beheaded by ISIS or drowned crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats. Some estimates put the number languishing in refugee camps in Ethiopia at 100,000, with equally large numbers trapped in Sudan camps. Even young children are crossing to Ethiopia and Sudan. The fabric of Eritrean society is being destroyed.