Speaking for Ourselves

Petros Tesfagherghis: Where do the immigrants and Refugee stuck in Calais France go?

Petros Tesfagherghis: Where do the immigrants and Refugee stuck in Calais France go?

Petros Tesfagherghis

 Migrant Voice - Petros Tesfagherghis: Where do the immigrants and Refugee stuck in Calais France go?

We are also Human beings. Calais, France has again been the centre of media attention over the last weeks. There is much discussion of the situation in the media, but I feel - as a British-Eritrean - that I want people to understand better the root causes that are creating this situation, using Eritrea as an example. On Friday September 5th 2014 the daily London paper the Metro wrote, “Ferry companies have demanded security in Calais be improved after hundreds of migrants tried to storm ships bound for Britain. The group, thought to be mostly young Eritrean men, repeatedly tried to board the ferry until staffs raised the ramp and rushed in.” On September 9, 2014, the Metro continued its coverage of the situation and described it thus: “Conflicts and crises in Libya, Eritrea, Sudan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia have led to surging numbers of migrants from North Africa.  Nearly 2,000 people have died trying to make the journey.” Among them are the 259 Eritreans, including women and children drowned off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy on October 3, 2013, the incident which revealed the extent of the horrors the refugees face trying to reach a place of freedom. Their agony and desperation is reflected in one of the placards they carry during their demonstration in Calais against what they say is police brutality. It says 'we are human beings'. Their plight raises fundamental issues of humanity and compassion.  In Calais some local people and other activists have demonstrated in their favour.  At the same time there were right wing groups who attacked them leading the French Police to intervene.  These refugees are members of  human family and the international  community has a duty to protect them. Fortress Europe As part of wider European Union policies to set up stronger borders at the edges of Europe, the United Kingdom and France plan to build high fences so the migrants would not have any chance to board ships to take them to Britain.  What is amazing is that there is no debate so far as how to settle the 1200 plus refugees and migrants already stranded in Calais, France. Where do they want them to go? Some Europeans perceive the refugees as being attracted by life in the West and see this as justification to ignore their plight and hardship and an excuse for feeling indifferent.  The Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, has said it unequivocally.  She blamed the British for providing too many incentives that attract migrants to go to the United Kingdom.  In my view, it is quite rational to choose the United Kingdom over Italy, for example, where after authorities serve them with a document to stay, they are shoved onto the street only to be rough sleepers.  Who in his right mind would want to be a refugee in Italy?   No accommodation or any help is given to start life in Italy.  The same in France.  It is because of this reality and not any ideas of an “Eldorado” in the UK - as the Mayor of Calais wants the world to believe - that migrants are forced to go to the United Kingdom. We should be proud that UK is a country that abides by the Geneva Convention of 1951 and helps the refugees to build their life by providing them the basic support so they can rebuild their lives and also contribute to the economic growth of the country. Migrants have never been a burden to the host countries.   The world is interdependent. It has been highlighted in many instances that migrants have been the key to Britain’s social and economic prosperity. Underlying causes The irony is that while Europe speaks of the number of refugees entering Europe, they don’t hesitate to encourage their private companies to do business with repressive regimes in Africa who are the underlining causes of refugees.  The developed countries are gaining more lucrative profits from the third world than they give back in terms of aid and giving sanctuary to refugees. One example of this is how the British Government has encouraged mining companies to invest in Eritrea. Today a mining company named London Africa Ltd has been granted a license for mining that covers an area of 1,555 Km2. They have joined others like Sunridge Gold Corporation and Bisha Mining Shared Co (BMSC). This is a form of Gold rush “El Dorado”, not the asylum seekers and migrants trickling into to European countries. Some are protesting against this situation. Canadian Eritreans have been addressing the controversial issue of Canadian mining Companies making a lucrative profit while the people of Eritrea live in poverty, subjected to extreme repression of indefinite conscription and other forms of human rights violations.  Another excellent example of protest against the situation is the article written by Elsa Chyrum, Director of the organisation ‘Human Rights Concern’, explaining the injustices the mining companies are committing in Eritrea. The title is Eritrea: The use of Forced Labour at the Colluli Potash Project in Eritrea. I am afraid Eritrea is going down the path of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the most mineral rich country in Africa, with one of the poorest populations. While the Diamonds are plundered by foreign companies and the proceeds shared between these companies and the government authorities, the people are living in permanent poverty.  The film “Blood diamond” with Leonardo DiCaprio reflects such African tragedies.  When will economic and social justice prevail in Africa? Human rights abuses in Eritrea The group known as G-15 - government officials who advocated for democratic change in Eritrea - have been incarcerated since September 18, 2001. To date they have not been formally charged and no family members have been allowed to see them. That day was a dark day for Eritrea and Eritreans in the Diaspora commemorate it in the, UK, the USA and other places, the groups' photos widely displayed.  After their incarceration a wide witch hunt took place against any person whom the government suspect of being against repression. To add to the list of repressions in Eritrea, the Government started rounding up Pentecostal believers and put them to prison, unleashing religious persecution on a large scale. However, the most devastating move by the Government is still the one way ticket to serve in the military. It is supposed to be 18 months but turns to be indefinite. The indefinite conscription has denied the youth the ability to exploit their potential, to go to higher studies, to work, to make a family of their own and pursue a happy life.  And this has given rise to huge number of Eritrean youth in exile. It is a frightening brain drain of the most productive members of the Eritrean society.  There are 4000 defectors from the military a month, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) The indefinite service is seen as a slave labour by the Anti Slavery Society. In these ways the Government of Eritrea has ushered in the dark days which bring the destruction of the fabric of Eritrean society. There is a huge diaspora.  Today there are more than 10,000 prisoners of conscience in Eritrea.  More than 150,000 people in refugee camps in the Sudan, about 90,000 in Ethiopia, there are more than 32,000 in Israel where the Israeli Government has denied them refugee status. Eritrea is only one of the countries the migrants currently in Calais originate from. But the situation is equally life-threatening in many other countries. I want to remind the public that these individuals are members of the human family and must be given some kind of protection. We must consider our obligation to our brothers and sisters.   By Petros Tesfagiorgis, Eritrean Refugees Support Association in the UK   Related stories about this topic: Migrants' Journey's through Calais: http://migrantvoice.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=498:from-europe-to-the-uk-migrants-in-calais&catid=46:migration-matters

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