Human Trafficking and the Human Rights Agenda Against Eritrea


On March 1, 2013, Joel Millman of the Wall Street Journal published a piece entitled “Ruthless Kidnapping Rings Reach From Desert Sands to U.S. Cities.” The article chronicles the touching personal accounts of Eritrean refugees being kidnapped and taken for ransom in Egypt’s Sinai desert. As disheartening as this piece may be to even the most apathetic observers, Eritreans are growing increasingly aware of the fact that similar articles highlighting the trafficking of Eritreans are becoming a regular occurrence. Although human trafficking, smuggling, and migration have been longstanding problems that have plagued the so-called developing world, it seems somewhat curious that Eritrea is suddenly getting the brunt of the international attention. Why now? Although increased international attention may be positive in that it sheds needed light on the plight of the affected migrants, the reality is that pieces like this are often politically motivated, lacking context, skewing the facts on the ground, and serving as part of larger campaign to vilify and isolate Eritrea.

Before we delve into this whole human trafficking ordeal, we must note that Eritrea was the target of UN sanctions in 2009. Since then, the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) has been regularly reporting on Eritrea’s role in Somalia to the Security Council. The group has made many ridiculous claims ranging from Eritrea’s alleged support of al-Shabab in Somalia to a failed bombing attempt on an African Union summit in Ethiopia. Both accusations were later shown to be false [1, 2]. As the last SEMG report reveals, linking Eritrea to terrorism is a futile task. [3] The expectations of the nation seem like a moving target and now the new focus of the international media and the SEMG is on Eritrea’s “use of revenues from the taxation of Eritrean citizens in the diaspora, from human trafficking of refugees through Sudan and Egypt, and from gold mining.” [4] The emerging concerns regarding a sovereign state’s use of its revenues from any legitimate source–be it from a diaspora tax or gold mining or whatever–is a mystery unworthy of pursuit. The human trafficking issue, however, is a serious allegation that may be used in conjunction with broader human rights allegations to build a case for the expansion of UN sanctions on Eritrea. Thus, the issue requires further inspection.

In a speech regarding human trafficking delivered at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 25 of last year, President Obama made the following remarks:

I recently renewed sanctions on some of the worst abusers, including North Korea and Eritrea.  We’re partnering with groups that help women and children escape from the grip of their abusers.  We’re helping other countries step up their own efforts.  And we’re seeing results.  More nations have passed and more are enforcing modern anti-trafficking laws. [5]

What kind of “partnering” is he talking about, exactly? It’s not within the US’s authority or obligations to help people escape from a nation. To do so would be human smuggling. President Obama is essentially admitting to taking part in smuggling people out of Eritrea and North Korea. The US can only support those who take refuge in the US following immigration from another nation. The president’s comments came as surprise to many Eritreans.

About one month later, Eritrea’s presidential advisor, Yemane Gebreab, explained that “Eritrea is a victim of human trafficking” and that “for a number of years now, some people have felt that one way that they could weaken Eritrea would be by encouraging Eritrean youths to leave the country in larger numbers.” [6] Are his claims valid? Is there a systematic effort to drive youth out of Eritrea?

Linking Eritrea to Human Trafficking

Let us rewind to May 5, 2009. In a wikileaked diplomatic cable entitled “Promoting Educational Opportunity for Anti-Regime Eritrean Youth,” the then US Ambassador to Eritrea, Ronald K. McMullen explained that “Post plans to restart visa services (completely suspended in 2007) for student visa applicants; we intend to give opportunities to study in the United States to those who oppose the regime.” [7] He then goes on:

Post intends to begin adjudicating student visa applications, regardless of whether the regime is willing to issue the applicant an Eritrean passport and exit visa. If an applicant is otherwise found eligible for a student visa, Post will issue it in a Form DS-232…With an Eritrean passport and an F1 visa in a Form DS-232, the lucky young person is off to America. For those visa recipients who manage to leave the country and receive UNHCR refugee status, a UN-authorized travel document might allow the young person to travel to America with his or her F1 in the DS-232.

…Due to the Isaias regime´s ongoing restrictions on Embassy Asmara, Post does not contemplate a resumption of full visa services in the near future. However, giving young Eritreans hope, the chance for an education, and the skills with which to rebuild their impoverished country in the post-Isaias period is one of the strongest signals we can send to the Eritrean people that the United States has not abandoned them. Were we to begin processing student visa applications and require a regime-issued passport, we would be seen as strengthening the dictatorship´s hand. Thus, the limited category-specific exemption outlined above is key.

The cable’s title alone, reveals the ambassador’s intentions. And if one wonders why brain drain is an issue in the developing world, perhaps this cable may provide some insight. What young person, anywhere in the world, wouldn’t want a chance to come to the US? Though the more important question is, why now? Why restart issuing visas in 2009 after a two year suspension? Perhaps the answers will become clear shortly. McMullen, who clearly seeks to weaken the Eritrean “regime” (as in “government we don’t like”), also makes curious mention of preparing for a “post-Isaias period,” which becomes more interesting when one considers that his doctoral thesis at the University of Iowa was on the “Economic Consequences of African Coups D’etat.” [8] He also served as the Charge’ d’Affaires in the Fiji Islands during the 2000 coup d’etat. In another leaked cable he predicted the Eritrean government is ‘‘one bullet away from implosion’’ and posed that “any sudden change in government is likely to be initiated from within the military.” [9] McMullen is no longer the ambassador but in light of the recently fabricated “coup” rumor that the international mainstream media has been recklessly trumpeting,  [10] perhaps the US sent McMullen to make use of his expertise. As Rafael Correa once jokingly stated, “the only country that can be sure never to have a coup d’état is the United States because it hasn’t got a U.S. Embassy.”

While on the one hand secretly promoting Eritrean youth migration, the US administration was simultaneously taking actions against Eritrea for not doing enough to stop it. One month after McMullen’s cable announcing the secret restart of F1 visa processing, in violation of the basic tenets of consular relations, the US Administration suddenly classified Eritrea as a “Tier 3” nation in the US State Department’s June 2009 “Trafficking in Persons Report.” [11] Keep in mind that Eritrea didn’t even make the list in 2008 and, unlike other nations that started off with Tier 1 and 2 warnings, Eritrea jumped straight to Tier 3. The entire reasoning behind doing this is that it allows trafficking nations to meet the “minimum standards” by the following year. [12] As a result of this unprecedented move, President Obama added Eritrea and 5 other African countries to a blacklist that would subject them “to the trafficking sanctions, which can include a ban on non-humanitarian and trade-related aid and U.S. opposition to loans and credits from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.” [13]

What did the report say about Eritrea, exactly? In essence it stated that Eritrea was a “source country” for human trafficking and that it didn’t do enough to prevent the practice. That could apply to almost every nation on the planet. Notably, the report focused more on “large numbers of migrant workers” and made almost passing mention of the Eritrean government being “complicit in conscripting children into military service.” In spite of no significant policy changes to the Eritrean national service program, subsequent reports, which are released annually, focused less on the “migrant workers” and increasingly more on the “conscripts,” “adolescent children” being sent to Sawa, and “child laborers.” More on this later.

Following the TIP report, US ambassador McMullen’s writes in an August 26, 2009 leaked diplomatic cable about a young unnamed Eritrean “who is preparing to flee the country” and supposedly confesses the intricate details of his escape plan. [14] McMullen writes that he will “use one of the Eritrean National Security Officers (ENSO), who he claimed to be the ringleaders in smuggling of Eritreans to the Sudan border” and “he stated the cost at 80,000 nakfa.” This is the first time we see official US documentation of claims that Eritrean government officials are directly involved in the smuggling of citizens outside the country. This is despite the fact that about a year earlier the Chargé d’Affaires, Matthew D. Smith, confessed in another leaked diplomatic cable entitled “How To Escape From Eritrea” that “the GSE [Government of the State of Eritrea] is very keen to break these human smuggling rings and dispatches agents to pose as potential customers. Other agents pose as facilitators, making all of the supposed smuggling arrangements prior to having the unsuspecting person arrested.” [15]

In spite of the Eritrean government’s efforts to combat smuggling, the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) produced a report in 2011 that expanded on McMullen’s claims. The report states:

421. The well-documented exodus of young Eritreans to escape poverty or obligatory “national service” represents yet another opportunity for corruption and illicit revenue. People smuggling is so pervasive that it could not be possible without the complicity of Government and party officials, especially military officers working in the western border zone, which is headed by General Teklai Kifle “Manjus”. Multiple sources have described to the Monitoring Group how Eritrean officials collaborate with ethnic Rashaida smugglers to move their human cargo through the Sudan into Egypt and beyond. This is in most respects the same network involved in smuggling weapons through to Sinai and into Gaza.

422. According to former Eritrean military officials and international human rights activists, military officers involved in the practice charge roughly $3,000 a head for each person exiting Eritrea.

…The Monitoring Group has obtained details of a Swiss bank account into which the proceeds from smuggling have been deposited and has provided the Swiss authorities with information related to this account, together with the personal and contact details of the Swiss-based coordinator of this trafficking ring and details of the coordinator’s Egypt-based associates. [16]

For the SEMG’s extraordinary claims it cites as its only sources an “interview with Eritrean individuals directly involved in people smuggling operations” and an “interview with Eritrean source, Switzerland, March 2011.” In the 2012 follow-up report, the SEMG repeats the same human trafficking claims, citing no sources as evidence. “The trafficking of arms and people is managed by the same networks using the same vehicles, and the same Eritrean officials are implicated,” the report states. The SEMG then claims to have acquired 1,300 testimonies of which “61 were from Eritreans who identified the names of Rashaida smugglers.” Artfully interweaving groups of similar testimonies as vignettes, the report attempts to illustrate the validity of earlier claims made by the SEMG. Finally, it shows photos of body wounds of two unnamed and faceless torture victims. The annex is only 3 pages long, filled with photos, and has nothing to do with human trafficking allegations.

After reading both reports, one is left scratching their head. That’s it? No real people’s names? No bank account numbers? No photos of human traffickers? Where is the hard evidence? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To put things in perspective, imagine a man is brought to trial on charges of torture and the prosecuting team presents the following as their “evidence” against him:

1. Claims against him by unnamed interviewers with no transcripts for the court to review

2. Pictures of unnamed and faceless victims he allegedly tortured

3. 61 snippets of testimonies by the nameless victims who he allegedly tortured

4. Claims against him by people who openly call themselves his “opposition

5. Claims against him by one of his former torturer buddies, who is unnamed

The defendant then demands access to the evidence and witnesses for cross-examination but his request is denied. Based on the information, he is then found guilty and expected to accept his sentence. Would that be justice? Of course not. However, this is exactly what Eritrea has had to face regularly in regards to the UN Security Council and SEMG reports. This system of international law requires incredible trust in the prosecutors–the SEMG, in this case–who Eritrea had no say in appointing. And if we think that the SEMG is actually a committee of independent experts as opposed to a prosecuting team, then why would the head of the SEMG, Matt Bryden, say “we’re trying to make the case that any improvement in Eritrea’s conduct is the result of sanctions, and that it’s too early to lift them because of the other violations they have committed”? [17] In essence, he’s saying ‘yeah, I know we couldn’t find evidence that they support terrorism but please keep the sanctions because of this new human trafficking ordeal.’ In other words he is prosecuting and making a case against Eritrea and, unfortunately, it’s completely within his mandate to share his opinion [18]. That’s UN justice for you. The SEMG’s “evidence” would be considered a joke if wasn’t so serious. According to the UNSC, the successful implementation of “targeted sanctions” on any nation is premised on the expectations that the “panel of experts” will uphold the highest standards of evidence, which is the key tenet of the 2003 Stockholm Process. In this regard, the 2003 UNSC states:

While recognizing that it might sometimes be necessary to uphold the confidentiality of sources of information available to expert panels or monitoring groups regarding sanctions busting or non-compliance, the Stockholm paper notes that the credibility of the findings and the integrity of the process required that evidence be as transparent and verifiable as possible….sanctions should be based on concrete evidence of violations of international law or Council obligations, and not based on presumptions, media reports or motivated allegations. [19]

The SEMG report clearly falls short. To make matters worse, Eritrea doesn’t get to comment or defend itself at any point in the process because according to the SEMG, which unprofessionally leaked the report to the media before Eritrea could see it, [20] “the Government of Eritrea failed to provide responses to any Monitoring Group correspondence and declined to grant the repeated requests.” How convenient. Where have we seen this sort of tactic before? For years, the world has been unable to hear Eritrea’s side of the story:

A. On the Kenyan defections: “Eritrean officials were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.” [21]

B. On Eritrea’s alleged bombing of the AU (proved false by WikiLeaks [22]): “Eritrean officials were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.” [23]

C. On claims of human trafficking: “Eritrean government…did not respond to requests to provide information for this report.” [24]

D. On relations with the US: “It has been difficult to talk to Eritrea frankly. We have had trouble getting them to talk to us. I sent the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs to talk with Mr. Isaias and he didn’t see her.” [25]

E. On breakdown of US-Eritrea relations: “Eritrean officials were not immediately available to comment on the decision” [26]

The list goes on and on, ad infintum. The point is that Eritrea is not allowed to defend itself in court, in the media, in reports, or anywhere in the international arena. It’s no surprise that Eritrea is so misunderstood by the world. In contrast, the darlings of the mainstream media, the US and Ethiopia, were also accused of violating the Somali arms embargo by the former Somalia monitoring groups yet we saw no prosecution by the UNSC. Is this justice? No way! In the words of Richard Pryor, it’s “just-us” and unfortunately Eritrea isn’t one of “them.”

Following the SEMG report, the UNHCR released a report in November 2012 entitled “Refugees and the Rashaida: human smuggling and trafficking from Eritrea to Sudan and Egypt.” [27] The document states that “it has come to light that some members of the military and Eritrean Government are complicit in smuggling” and it references the 2012 SEMG report. It talks about General Teklai Kifle, adding no new information, and then goes on at length about the Rashaida ethnic group’s involvement in the human trafficking business. In regards to both of them, “it is thought there are varying levels of experience and organization within the groups of Rashaida who engage in taking Eritreans to Sinai. However other networks, such as those organized by some members of the Eritrean Government for smuggling arms are highly organized.” In other words, the government is the syndicate–the major player. What’s interesting about this particular report is the divisive new ethnic and regional dimension it seems to take:

There is a marked difference between the majority of the refugee population and those now leaving Eritrea. Those now leaving the country are young, Christian, Tigrinya from urban areas. Much like young Sudan-born refugees, the new arrivals are generally unwilling to remain in an enclosed camp setting without access to higher education or employment.

…Eritrean brokers are key to arranging onward movement with Rashaida from within the camp. The facilitators in the route are usually of the same ethnicity as those embarking on the movement (Hamood 2006: 50). Furthermore, life in the refugee camp is characterized by ethnic divides. Different ethnicities are thought to have different aspirations. One testimony states that people from Akele-Guzai region are thought to have strong connections abroad and to be most likely going to Israel. Those from Maekel region are believed to be going to Europe, while those from Gash Barka are simply associated with smuggling people out of Eritrea and settling in Sudan (Mehari 2010).

Turning to the reference section to investigate the source of the aforementioned claims, the report cites an “unpublished paper” by someone named “Mehari, K” (Mehari, K. 2010. ‘Desert in Disorder’ unpublished paper). Investigating the rest  of the citations for follow-up is a futile task as most references are made to personal interviews with individuals like Meron Estifanos, who was integral in propagating the fabricated “coup” in January 2013 and using it as a springboard for the so-called “Forto 2013” campaign. [28]

Returning to the latest publication of the US State Department TIP report, we hear echoes of the SEMG’s allegations of corruption by senior Eritrean army officers. As opposed to the 2009 report, the 2012 publication is focused less on migrants workers more on youth conscripted into national service. More notably, the report seems to focus on the Eritrean government’s alleged conscription of minors. It states that “adolescent children that attempt to leave Eritrea have been forced into military service despite being younger than the minimum service age of 18. As part of the requirements to complete their senior year of high school, adolescent children are also sent to Sawa, Eritrea’s military academy, prior to their eighteenth birthday.” Surprisingly, this claim was later cited by Child Soldiers International in a 2012 case study to support the claim that Eritrea uses child soldiers. This “study” was, in turn, posted on the UNHCR website and is currently being used by journalists and various NGO’s to propagate the notion that Eritrea’s use of “child soldiers” is driving youth out of the country.

Nowhere is the international media’s desperation to point out the Eritrean government’s blunders more evident than in its claim that Eritrea uses “child soldiers.” When the average person reads about child soldiers in Africa, she/he may conjure up the classical CNN-promoted image of regime-indoctrinated 9 year-olds mowing down civilians. Perhaps the image is sometimes a wee bit less graphic but the reality is that the claims of child soldiers in Africa perpetuates the stereotype of a barbaric Africa out of control and encourages intervention against nations like Eritrea. Thus, such claims must be taken seriously. In regards to their Eritrea study, Child Soldiers International states the following:

To prevent increasing evasion of national service by school leavers, the government announced in 2003 that the final year of secondary education, Year 12, must be performed at the Sawa Military Training Camp in western Eritrea near the border with Sudan. Because the Year 12 designation is based not on a child’s age but rather on the school grade achieved, some Year 12 students are under 18 years old. According to a recent US State Department report on human rights in Eritrea, “Students at Sawa were typically 18 years old or older, although a fair percentage were as young as 16 years old”.

The government denies underage conscription and argues that students attending the twelfth grade in Sawa should not be confused with national service conscripts. However, the Year 12 students at Sawa have military status and are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defence and subject to military discipline. They are therefore in reality soldiers, even if not fully operational members of the Eritrean National Army. [29]

The sad part about this is that the “Eritrea recruits child soldiers” claim is entirely based on this hair splitting of mandatory twelfth grade education. Such reporting is irresponsible for two reasons. Firstly, this report is based on non-independent politically biased sources like the US State Department. Secondly, even if 16-year-olds attended Sawa they are not considered members of the Eritrean National Army, as CSI even admits. Consideration should also be given to the fact that while most of the world submits to more lax standards on child soldier laws enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Africa has collectively gone above and beyond by signing the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which by default accedes to the “Optional Protocols” of the CRC and increases the minimum military recruitment age from 15 to 18. [30] Given these more stringent laws and the known fact that most reported child soldiers are between ages 15-18 years old, it’s no surprise that half of the world’s child soldiers are in Africa. [31] Regardless of the facts, the media is quick dish out the child soldier label in Africa. There’s a reason why the spineless international media points out “child soldiers” in Eritrea while it ignores “child soldiers” in the UK, which is also a signatory to the Option Protocols and refers to the exact same argument as Eritrea. [32] Let us also refresh the UN’s memory and recall that in 2002, the UNSC Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, visited Eritrea to assess the use of child soldiers. He concluded that there was “no systematic use of child soldiers” and said that “the absence of the ‘child soldiering’ phenomenon was particularly impressive since no other conflict zone he had visited recently had been free of the problem.” [33]

As shown above, there seems to be a concerted effort to link Eritrea to human trafficking. The reality is that we have yet to see any hard evidence to support this allegation. To make matters worse the international press almost reflexively blames it on child soldiers, forced labor, and lack of [insert word like freedom, democracy, religion, or other’s words used to destroy Iraq, Libya, etc.]. As some of the wikileaked diplomatic cables suggest, the US State Department has made efforts to drive youth out of Eritrea to weaken the government. It then turns around and blames the Eritrean government for “human trafficking.” These actions are part of a broader concerted and systematic effort by the US Administration to destroy Eritrea through the control of human migration. To understand this we must go back in history.

History of Migration in Eritrea

When Eritrea gained independence in the 1991, there were approximately 500,000 Eritrean refugees living in the Sudan. [34] At that time, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) deemed the Eritrean refugee situation in East Sudan as a “protracted refugee situation.” Spanning back to the 1960’s, it was the world’s second longest standing refugee program after Palestine’s. [35] One year after independence, about 70,000 refugees returned home. In subsequent years, repatriation dropped dramatically. By 1995, there were still 282,000 refugees living in the Sudan, despite peace in Eritrea and despite the nation entering the so-called “African Renaissance.” [36] In a surprisingly honest 1996 Inter Press Service article, Arnulv Torbjornsen, UNHCR-Sudan chief at the time, admitted that “we (UNCHR) created a monster in Sudan”and that “we still support 2,000 jobs in the refugee business there, and there are vested interests in keeping the Eritrean refugees. If they repatriate, their refugee empire will collapse. We have to take a lot of responsibility for creating the situation in Sudan.” [37] He then goes on to explain that 80-90% of the refugees want to repatriate in Eritrea. He also said that “UNHCR conducted a survey in the camps in August 1995, and all said they wish to go home. But perhaps only about 50 percent of those spontaneously settled want to return – they have shops, houses, children in school, etc.” Therefore, complete repatriation was impossible, despite peace and development in Eritrea, due to the ineffectiveness of UNHCR and the adoption by refugees of a new cultural and economic life in the diaspora.

In 1998, Eritrea was plunged into a two-year war with Ethiopia, displacing hundreds of thousands once again. By war’s end, there were 50,000 returns and with hostilities over, UNHCR invoked the “cessation clause” (under Article 1. C. (5) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees [38]), which would terminate Eritrean refugee status as of 2002 unless individual refugees could demonstrate a continuing need for international protection. Thus, Eritreans in the Sudan would no longer be considered refugees but rather undocumented “migrants” and incoming refugees would no longer be accepted “prima facie” (i.e. automatically without processing) as they had been for decades. To gain UNHCR recognition and resettle in a wealthier nation, many Eritreans began to seek asylum–whether real or not–on the grounds that they would be persecuted if they returned to Eritrea. Thus, at this point incoming Eritreans transitioned into “asylum-seekers” as opposed to refugees. As one UN report explains “the number of Eritrean asylum seekers entering Sudan has grown quite dramatically, from around 1,000 in 2003 to almost 33,000 in 2008, with a somewhat smaller figure (between 22,000 and 25,000) in 2009 and 2010.” [39] This rise in asylum-seekers stems from the sudden cessation of prima facie recognition, which had been in place for decades and created a continuous pipeline for many Eritreans to resettle in much wealthier nations around the world. Instead of considering this reality, the UNHCR put together a 2004 position paper, taking a reductionist outlook and concluded that there was a rise in Eritrean asylum claims and decreased repatriation because “the human rights situation in Eritrea has seriously deteriorated in the past two years…with regard to the treatment of opposition political groups and movements, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, arbitrary detention…and the treatment of draft evaders.” [40] The paper relied almost entirely on highly biased and politically motivated US State Department annual human rights reports on Eritrea. It also speckled in supposedly “independent investigations” by Amnesty International, which:

1. Did not collect its data from within Eritrea; [41]

2. Relied purely on the questionable personal accounts of nameless asylum-seekers that seek resettlement; and [42]

3. Has historically been used to promote imperial humanitarian intervention in non-western nations. [43]

Notably, the UNHCR paper did not seek or consider the accounts of Eritrean officials or, as some may prefer, the work of independent observers. The paper, which strongly argued that Eritrean asylum-seekers should not be returned to Eritrea, signified a new post-2004 policy direction for UNHCR that would only serve to perpetuate migration out of Eritrea. The “cessation clause” was revoked, meaning undocumented migrants would no longer be carefully reviewed on a case-by-case basis but rather en masse. Eritrea is still dealing with the consequences of this decision.

For UNHCR to somehow expect 100% of Eritreans to gleefully return to post-war poverty in the face of a decades long culture of resettling in other countries is quite ludicrous. Many still hadn’t returned in 1996 while the honeymoon of independence was still there. Significantly, the UNHCR position paper–and their many other publications to follow–failed to make the slightest mention of the other etiologies of increased asylum and dwindling repatriation:

1. Natural economic migratory patterns. According to the Harris-Todaro theory of migration, migrants make a rational decision to increase their welfare or utility by moving to another place where they can expect to earn a higher income. [44] This is evident all throughout Africa and is a significant driving factor in “brain drain.” Why is Eritrea, a remarkably poor nation, exempt from this consideration?

2. “No peace no war” situation. Despite the cessation of hostilities in 2000, the threat of a return to war in Eritrea is real and unrelenting. The Ethiopian government not only refused a “final and binding” ruling that would normalize relations but it also encroached on the Temporary Security Zone (buffer), which is now sovereign Eritrean territory [45]. In fact, Ethiopia initiated an attack on Eritrea last spring [46].  The year before that, Ethiopia openly called for the overthrow of the Eritrean government, violating resolution 3314 (XXIX)(3)(g) of the UNGA. [47] Thus, the threat is very real today. It was even more real back then. Why was this not considered?

3. Internally displaced people (IDPs). Returning refugees had to compete for resettlement with the 210,000 IDPs that were already present in 2000. This cannot be ignored, considering that there were still 45,000 IDPs in 2005, who would not be fully resettled until mid-2008. [48] Many of them were among the 80,000 forcefully expelled from Ethiopia, after Meles Zenawi infamously stated that his government could “expel anyone even if we don’t like the color of their eyes.” [49]

4. Severed Eritrea-Sudan relations. On account of the ruling National Islamic Front’s support of terrorist groups like the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement that were radicalizing Eritrean refugees in East Sudan during the 1990’s, official diplomatic relations between the nations were terminated in 1995. [50] This made tripartite coordination between UNHCR, Eritrea, and the Sudan difficult. Diplomatic relations were only resumed after 2006.

5. Protracted refugee situation. As alluded to above, the presence of a decades-long UNHCR administered refugee program in East Sudan has created an economy and culture that inhibits its termination. In fact, various refugee camps economies were so successful that they became self-reliant and transformed themselves into villages. [51] In addition, various camps were seen as assets to the Sudanese Government, as large local mechanized farms became dependent on the cheap labor of Eritrean refugees. [52]

6. Reduced UNHCR donor funding. With the war over, donors expected Eritreans to return home and were reluctant to pledge more funds for East Sudan. [53]

7. Recurrent droughts. During periods of drought some Eritrean families would relocate to the Sudan.

8. UNHCR-Sudan’s ineffectiveness. UNHCR ignored the self-criticism of Torbjornsen. It was only in later publications–when the damage was already done–that the organization came to grips with it’s general ineffectiveness:

The internal factors which have visibly affected the operation in eastern Sudan include UNHCR’s recurrent financial crisis; lack of consistent long-term vision compounded by a lack of institutional memory; changes of senior management without effective accountability, bringing about frequent changes of direction … Disregarding the history of the operation has invariably led to repeated reinventions and ultimately the waste of opportunities and resources.  [54]

Following the UNHCR’s change in policy, it was discovered that the UN Peacekeeping Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), which was present in Eritrea from 2000 to 2008, had also been involved in the trafficking of Eritreans yet UNCHR reports fail to mention or downplay this key fact. Instead they point the fingers at the Eritrean government, the Rashaidas, or whatever boogeyman fits their agenda.  Let us recall that in a January 18, 2007  wikileaked diplomatic cable entitled “UNMEE: Confronting Sexual Abuse and Exploitation,” the US Chargé d’Affaires in Eritrea,  Jennifer McIntyre, wrote that “since the establishment of the UN Peacekeeping Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2001, there have been few reported incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse and trafficking in persons within Eritrea.” However, she then goes to make the following admission:

What has been an on-going problem is human smuggling, with one highly visible case in fall 2006 of a UN Volunteer who attempted to smuggle several Eritreans to Ethiopia in an UNMEE vehicle. (Refs B&C) Other smuggling cases have predominantly involved local staff crossing the border in UNMEE vehicles. In one case, upon arrival in Ethiopia the local staff called UNMEE headquarters in Asmara to inform UNMEE staff where in Ethiopia they had abandoned the vehicle. [55]

This diplomatic cable validates what Eritrean government officials had been saying for years, despite downplaying or outright denials by UNMEE. In addition to illegally spying on the Eritrean Defense Forces, peacekeepers were accused of trafficking Eritreans, having sex with Eritrean children, and making pornographic films of Eritrean women, contrary to traditional culture. [56, 57] It was only in 2007 that UNHCR finally reported–albeit via passing mention–that “according to the refugees, some members of the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) were involved in human trafficking.” [58] And for what reason were they doing this, exactly? In a meeting with a group of Eritreans, a candid Italian UN officer admitted that “peacekeeping is a lucrative business and that is why I am here.” [59] In 2008, Eritrea had seen enough and the “peacekeepers” were eventually kicked out. However, the damage had already been done. A pipeline outside of the country had been created through the work of foreign smugglers. Often times this smuggling leads to exploitation, which then deems it as “human trafficking.” [60] To this day Eritrea is still dealing with this issue.

Another important point illustrated by McIntyre’s leaked cable is that Eritreans were being smuggled into Ethiopia. Historically, Eritreans have migrated to the Sudan for refuge and hope of resettlement but migration to Ethiopia became somewhat of a new phenomenon that only took place after the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia. Why is this the case? According to the US government-funded Cultural Orientation Resource Center (COR), which is responsible for “orienting” refugees, the “Eritrean refugees first crossed into Ethiopia in May 2000 after the 1998-2000 border conflict” and “many have fled conscription and come to Shimelba, a refugee camp just 25 kilometers (air distance) from the Eritrean/Ethiopian border.” [61] They claim the camp is made of 60% Tigrinyas and that “roughly speaking, about half the cases in the P2 group [those eligible for group US resettlement] were born in present day Ethiopia, were deported by the Ethiopian Government between 1996-2000, and then later fled back to Ethiopia.” In other words, half of those eligible for US resettlement on the basis that they are Eritrean are actually Ethiopian. The document then states that the second largest group is that of the Kunamas. COR then goes on to explain that “the camp is run by the Ethiopian government with UNHCR oversight. There is a ‘central committee’ that is elected by the camp population, and the committee represents the refugees on various issues, liaising with NGOs and the Ethiopian government.” As we will see, this has led to a new sort of politicized resettlement program of supposedly Eritrean refugees.

In 2007, UNHCR announced that “700 ethnic Kunama refugees from Eritrea” were resettled in America from the Shimelba Refugee Camp. [62] Notice that it doesn’t simply say “Eritreans” but rather takes a divisive turn by singling out one ethnic group from Eritrea. This is uncharacteristic of the highly nationalistic Eritreans (“kulu dihiri hager” or “everything after nation”). So what’s going on here? Well, we learn from COR that “for some Kunama, being in Shimelba is akin to ‘returning home,’ excepting the irony that they now are refugees in their own homeland.” What COR is highlighting is that fact that Kunamas are located on both sides of the border. During the Eritrea-Ethiopia war, many Ethiopian Kunamas were displaced and found refuge at the Shimbela refugee camp. Still, why is it that only Kunamas, whether Ethiopian or Eritrean, were being resettled in the US?

We learn from the Chargé d’Affaires in Ethiopia, Deborah Malac, in an October 6, 2008 wikileaked diplomatic cable entitled “The View From Inside Ethiopia’s Eritrean Refugee Camps,”  that politicized resettlement was being used in the Shimelba refugee camp to organize an Eritrean opposition:

UNHCR officials declared that they were unaware of any Eritrean opposition activity within Shimelba, though one Protection Officer noted that some Tigrinya refugees had requested urban relocation due to opposition harassment in the camps. ARRA [Ethiopian Administration for Refugee/Returnee Affairs] officials stated that opposition activity within the camps was not permitted, but a handful of Shimelba Kunama refugees insisted that, in fact, the opposition “controlled” activity within camp and moved in and out freely. They also alleged complicity between ARRA and the Tigrinya and Kunama opposition. They said that the Kunama opposition, DMLEK [Democratic Movement for the Liberation of the Eritrean Kunama], ensured that all elected Kunama officials to the refugee council were either DMLEK members or sympathetic to the opposition. [63]

It doesn’t end there:

According to the refugees, DMLEK used intimidation tactics to force compliance from uncooperative refugees by threatening to use DMLEK’s “relationship” with both ARRA and UNHCR to ensure that the offending individual “would never leave the camp.” One refugee, after refusing to join DMLEK, claimed he was arrested by the Ethiopian police on a trumped up charge and held for several weeks. Another refugee, who was a veteran of both the Eritrean liberation struggle and the 1998-2000 border war, said that when he arrived in Shimelba, ARRA offered to send him to Addis Ababa, and provide him with a vehicle, if he agreed to work in the opposition’s radio station. When he refused he was told he would never be allowed to leave, and that he would never be resettled. Another refugee said that the largely Tigrinya “Sedeg’e” opposition group tried to force him to join by telling him that if he did not, he would never leave the camp. (Note: Sedeg’e is also known as the Eritrean Revolutionary Democratic Front (ERDF), and is one of the three groups that joined together to form the Eritrean National Salvation Front (ENSF). The DMLEK and the ENSF are both members of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA). End note.)

The refugees said that armed persons could often be seen in the camp. They said sometimes the armed persons were local Tigrayan (i.e. Ethiopian) militia, but other times the armed men were opposition. The refugees said that some DMLEK members had family living in the camp and would come and go regularly. (Note: PolOff saw several armed Tigrayan militia walking through the camp at various times.)

(C/NF) PolOff could not find any Tigrinya refugees who would speak as openly as the Kunama, but the Kunama refugees said that the Tigrinya were dominated by Tigrinya opposition groups just as the Kunama were dominated by DMLEK. The Kunama refugees asserted that some Tigrinya refugees regularly left the camp to receive military training for short periods of time, and then would return. At one point during a conversation between PolOff and contacts in the camp, the contacts visibly stiffened, and warned PolOff that they were under observation by what they termed as a “politically active” Tigrinya refugee.

Is this a refugee camp or rebel training camp? It’s sort of hard to tell. This seems very reminscent of the Syrian Free Army organizing in Turkey near the border before they started operating in Syria. Anyway, the cable continues:

(C/NF) The Kunama refugees also said that DMLEK was opposed to resettlement of the Kunama refugees, and therefore, pressuring people not to resettle. The refugees stated that DMLEK wanted the people to stay to be used as a resource, and wanted the young men to join their organization to fight Eritrea. They said that DMLEK was spreading misinformation about life in the United States including showing the movie “Roots,” alleging that the Kunama would be treated like slaves in America. One refugee noted that in the last year, positive reports from Kunama who had already resettled were beginning to counter DMLEK’s negative message.

…The presence of Eritrean opposition activity in the camps was not surprising. The defensive tone in EmbOffs discussions with UNHCR, ARRA, and international NGO officials suggests that they had a vested interest in denying any knowledge of it, otherwise they might be required to address opposition harassment of refugees. The visit was yet another reminder that a priority of ARRA’s refugee program was to address Ethiopia’s national security concerns with Eritrea. Post cannot confirm complicity between ARRA and the opposition groups, but we do note that ARRA, as an organization, falls under the purview of the Ethiopian National Intelligence Security Service. End Comment.

Thus, it comes as no surprise when websites like–that brand themselves as “Eritrean opposition”–write articles with headlines like “Peaceful demonstration in Eritrean refugee camp Ethiopia (Shimelba) 06/12/2009.” [64] Anyway, from reading past US State Department “Proposed Refugee Admissions” reports for successive fiscal years, we learn about the US’s role in bringing the Kunamas to America. The Kunama case was first mentioned in the FY 2003 report (published in 2002), when they explain that “among groups under consideration for possible P-2 designation are…Kuname Eritreans in Walanibhy Camp in Ethiopia.” [65] Explaining why they are receiving P-2 designation, the report states that “these 4,000 Eritreans have no local integration prospects and are viewed with suspicion by Eritrea due to their decision to seek refuge in Ethiopia during the war. We will actively pursue an appropriate P-2 designation for this group during FY 2003.” They were still under consideration in FY 2003 and 2004. [66] In the FY 2005 (published in 2004) we learn something new. The report says “we continue to monitor the situation of the group of Eritrean Kunama in Ethiopia and have urged UNHCR to consider a group resettlement referral of those who do not choose to voluntarily repatriate to Eritrea by the end of 2004.” [67] Thus, we learn that it was the US, and not the UNHCR, that made the request for resettlement. It is usually the other way around: UNHCR makes the referral and the resettling nations choose whether or whether not to resettle them. Why they specifically requested to resettle Kunamas is a mystery. They do the same thing for religious minorities in Iran and Bantus in Somalia. If not for genuine concerns for persecution, one can only suspect an agenda to forge a sub-national identity and foment division. In any case, in the FY 2007 report they finally said that they were processing up to 2,500 Eritrean Kunama in Ethiopia, with the vast majority slated to come to the USA in FY 2007. [68] The rest is history.

Thus, as the above shows, external entities have been using the refugee situations in the Sudan and Ethiopia to drive a politicized migration out of Eritrea.  We have shown how US State Department reports were used by UNHCR to grant Eritreans prima facie status following 2004 to expedite resettlement processing and how they were granted P2 status (group resettlement in US reserved for rare minorities) to resettle them in large groups.

Moving on to more recent times, the US State Department’s “Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2012” states the following:

For the first time in 20 years, staff representing the Departments of State and Homeland Security began processing Eritrean refugees inside Sudan residing in a remote camp along the eastern border. This initiative is designed to bring hope to individuals who can neither return to Eritrea nor locally integrate in Sudan.

…Eritreans continue to seek asylum in neighboring countries due to political tensions and increasing political repression; many are attempting dangerous onward migration to Europe and the Middle East in search of better economic opportunities. [69]

Thus, they are focusing more on resettling Eritreans living in East Sudan on the basis of political repression. To call them “army defectors” or “work migrants” in search of a better life would mean that they would have to be returned to Eritrea, as practically every nation in Africa–dealing with the same internal problem–has decided to do despite threats from UNHCR (Libya, [70] Egypt, [71] the Sudan[72], Angola [73], Tanzania [74], etc.; see below).

Alas, we arrive at the latest Proposed Refugee Admissions publication. The FY 2013 report states the following:

Both Eritrea and Sudan are currently designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Both Eritrea and Sudan are currently designated as “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC) for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The USRAP continues to be available through Priority 1 referrals to Sudanese, Eritrean, and other refugees who are victims of religious intolerance. Refugees from Eritrea and Sudan with refugee or asylee family members in the United States also may have access to the USRAP through Priority 3, subject to its resumption. Certain Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia may have access to the USRAP through Priority 2.

Three countries of origin (Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Eritrea) presently account for the vast majority of U.S. admissions from the region. In East Africa, we continue to process P-1 Somalis in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. We are coming closer to completing P-2 processing of Eritreans in Shimelba camp in Ethiopia, but will continue to process P-1 UNHCR referrals after the P-2 group is completed. We were able to conduct the first DHS circuit ride to Sudan in over twenty years to process the first group of a protracted caseload of Eritrean refugees there. [75]

Note that Eritreans and Sudanese are the only groups explicitly named that are granted P1 status ANYWHERE on the grounds that they are undergoing religious persecution. Somalis are restricted to certain refugee camps. What African wouldn’t take advantage of this fact? Is it any surprise that many of them are claiming Eritrean identity (see below). Also, if lack of religious freedom was truly worth P1-status everywhere in the world, then Saudi Arabians would be coming droves. However, we know that’s not the case. In regards to Africa specifically, the report makes the following proposal:

From East and Southern Africa, we expect 9,000 admissions, primarily Somalis in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and South Africa; Eritreans in Ethiopia and in Sudan; and additional small numbers of P-1 referrals of various nationalities in the countries above, as well as in Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

…Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, we anticipate up to 1,500 Sudanese, Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and other sub-Saharan African refugees to be processed in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Russia.

A total of 2,032 Eritreans are slated to come to America this year, making them the 6th highest ranking resettlement group. This is amazing when one considers that Eritrea ranks 112th in population size and only contributes 0.079% of the world’s population. Much like the Palestinians and Israeli-Jews, the Eritrean population has a very high proportion of its people living in the diaspora with anecdotal numbers placing the diaspora population at ~1.5 – 2 million versus a domestic population of 6 million. Like the Israelis, Eritreans maintain dual citizenship and actively participate in the Eritrean domestic economy. From the FY 2013 report, we also learn of another concerning piece of information: most of the Eritrean refugees targeted for resettlement are of working age and male. In a section tabulating the age data of the top 20 most resettled groups, Eritrean refugees have the highest percentage of “working age” resettlement in America (84%), suggesting preferential recruitment of youth that would have otherwise been developing their homeland. All the other refugee groups don’t even come close.  This is in line with McMullen’s aforementioned comments on focusing on the youth. Clearly, the United States is set on driving young Eritreans to resettle outside of Eritrea. Finally, it should also be noted that Eritrean refugees are the most predominantly male resettlement group (73.8%), beating the next group by almost 13% (the Sudan had 60.8%). In the past, this has made depression a significant issue as males have been unable to find Eritrean mates in the new land [76].

Resettlement in Third Countries

As a result of the actions by the US and its client states to preferentially resettle Eritreans outside of Eritrea, migrants from throughout East Africa have picked-up on this trend and are using it to their advantage. It is well-documented that migrants originating from countries other than Eritrea regularly claim Eritrean identity to increase their chances of acquiring visas and gaining refugee status. Nowhere is this more obvious than in than in the case Israel.

In a March 2008 interview with Haaretz–long before Eritrea was in the human trafficking limelight–the Eritrean Ambassador to Israel, Tesfamariam Tekeste Debbas, said that he sent a letter of protest to the Israeli Foreign ministry explaining that the refugees (referred to as “infiltrators”) were “not political refugees, but rather work migrants or army deserters.” The Haaretz article goes on:

The Eritrean ambassador, Tesfamariam Tekeste, noted…that his letter of protest included several issues of concern to his government. First, he said, at least half of the infiltrators represent themselves as Eritrean while in fact they are from other African states, such as Sudan or Ethiopia. “They know the Eritreans automatically receive a six-month visa, so they pretend to be Eritrean,” he said.

The letter also mentioned the fear that hostile elements helping to smuggle Africans into Israel could exploit them for carrying out terror attacks. “If that happens, the accusing finger will point to Eritrea,” Tekeste said.

“Israel is turning itself into a migration destination for Eritrean citizens fleeing from army service or looking for work,” Tekeste said. “The fact that you issue six-month visas encourages people to come here.” [76]

Unfortunately, comments from Eritrean officials–as opposed to personal accounts in Human Rights Watch reports–often fall on deaf ears. Few believed the ambassador. However, in May of 2011 we learned that he was right all along. According to Haaretz, an “asylum seeker, who can only be identified as Ibrahim, came to Israel from Eritrea in November 2009. He was arrested a month later and held at the Givon prison in Ramle for a year and a half. The prolonged detention resulted from the Population and Immigration Authority insisting that he came, in fact, from Ethiopia.” He was then asked to provide an Eritrean birth certificate or prove his identity. Being unable to do so he was questioned by the Population and Immigration Authority. Ibrahim then “attempted to escape during the interview, and eventually admitted he was Ethiopian, rather than Eritrean, and was therefore immediately returned to custody.”  [77]

It doesn’t end there, however. In October of 2011 we learned from another Haaretz piece that false claims of Eritrean citizenship were so common by Ethiopian “infiltrators” that the Interior Ministry began to seek “documents issued by the Ethiopian consulate…to attest to the fact that asylum seekers in Israel who claim to be Eritreans [were] entitled to Ethiopian citizenship and [were] therefore not eligible for asylum.” Haaretz also “obtained information which shows that the Ethiopian consulate’s documents are routinely issued in almost every case in which the documentation is sought by the Israeli Interior Ministry.” In addition, the newspaper also “obtained minutes of the meeting from a committee that advises Interior Minister Eli Yishai on refugee matters showing that the Ethiopian consulate almost always issues the transit documents for asylum seekers at the Interior Ministry’s request, relying on Israeli authorities’ representation that the person in question is Ethiopian.” [78]

By 2012, 52% of Jewish Israelis (compared to 19% of Arab Israelis) viewed the so-called African infiltrators as a “cancer.” [79] And with more reports of asylum fraud, news of the migrants quickly caught the media’s attention, spurring further investigation by Israeli journalists. One reporter for Ynet decided to go undercover in a predominantly Eritrean and Sudanese neighborhood to shed light on the lives of the refugees. In his article he reports:

My cover story has not been finalized yet, but luckily I run into Jeremiah, who’s been in Israel for three years now. “What do I tell those who ask how I got into Israel?” I ask him. “Lie,” he says. “Don’t tell the whole story. The Israelis, and mostly the non-profit groups working with the infiltrators here, like to be lied to.”

“Say you were a soldier, and that if you return to Eritrea you’ll get a death sentence. Keep in mind that you must be consistent with your story. The bottom line is that everyone uses the story I’m telling you here, and this way they fool everybody,” he says. “Almost none of them arrived on foot from Egypt to Israel. None of us crossed any deserts…it’s all nonsense.” [80]

If Jeremiah is telling the truth, then refugees are regularly exploiting Eritrean identity. With merely the hope of raising their quality of life, who can blame them? It’s simply way too easy given the fact that, according to UN statistics, 90% of Eritrean refugees are eligible for refugee status. [81]

Over time, it became increasingly clear to Israeli officials that practically all the “infiltrators” were not refugees but rather “migrants.” As the Minister for Education, Mr. Gidon Sa’ar, announced, “we need to stop the flooding of this country with immigrants from Eritrea. They are not refugees, but rather labor immigrants.” [82] The former head of the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority, Mí. Yaakov Ganot also acknowledged that “in our examinations, I would say that 99.9 percent of them are here for work. They’re not asylum seekers: they are not at any risk.” [83]

The abuse of the asylum system is not only limited to Israel. We see the same thing happening in the United Kingdom. In a 2004, UK comptroller a House of Common commissioned report entitled “Improving the Speed and Quality of Asylum Decisions.” The report went on to state that, “disputed nationality is a key issue in Ethiopian applications. The Directorate generally sought to remove failed applicants to Eritrea irrespective of whether the applicant had ever been there, and adjudicators often disagreed with this approach. The Directorate has taken steps to improve its country information and refusal letters.” [84] Then on June 16, 2009, the Daily Telegraph reported that former Miss Ethiopia beauty pageant winner, Jerusalem Mehari, was caught abusing the asylum system by taking on an Eritrean identity. She first “renounced her Ethiopian citizenship in 2007, a few days before her UK student visa expired, and claimed Eritrean nationality.” Her claim was that she “was a Jehovah’s Witness and there was a risk of her suffering persecution in Eritrea.” Sarabjit Singh of United Kingdom’s Home Office said that “the only reason for seeking and maintaining Eritrean nationality is to claim the right to remain in the UK…What the claimant is trying to do is nothing short of an abuse of the asylum system.”

In Toronto last year, a refugee by the name of Nighisti Semret was stabbed to death on her way home from work. She claimed to be of Eritrean origin and was granted asylum in Canada in 2010. According to the Toronto Star, she became a member of the local St. Michael’s Eritrean Orthodox Church and “while members of Toronto’s close-knit Eritrean community said Semret was not well-known because she hadn’t been in Canada long, a local Eritrean church offered to pay for her funeral with funds from the community.” Although the article admitted to not knowing why she sought asylum, they were quick to point out that Eritrea “is ruled by one of the most repressive regimes in the world.” [86] As later reported by Sam B of Natna blog (site down), she was later found to be an Ethiopian by the Eritrean community. [87] After learning of this information, the police notified local reporters who did not publish the new information but instead increased their attack on Eritrea. As Sam B notes, Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun even poses that the Eritrean government may have had a motive to kill her. “Could that motive have stemmed from a scam from her former country where refugees are shaken down and threatened to pay a special tax back to their homeland or face retribution?” he asks. [88] In spite of full knowledge of her identity, the Eritrean community “did not interfere in the prayer or vigil held for her. They in fact fully supported it. As one community leader put it; ‘she has no one, Ethiopian or otherwise, she is our sister, too.'” [89] Sadly, stories like these don’t make the headlines.

Asylum fraud under an Eritrean identity also happens regularly in the United States as well. According to an article published in the Oregonian on October 13, 2012, a group of Eritrean and African refugees were resettled in Threemile Canyon Farms in Oregon via the International Rescue Committee [90]. The article states that among the refugees is “Thierry Gasasu, an Eritrean.” Most Eritreans reading this are probably chuckling at this quote. Although there are an array of different ethnic groups in Eritrea, they know that Gasasu is not an Eritrean name. In fact, it is a well known Rwandan name. Honest error? Perhaps. The reality is that this same sort of error keeps happening again and again, often going unchecked by the media or their watchdogs. For instance, back in 2010, the New York Times falsely claimed that an Ethiopian indicted on terror charges was of Eritrean origin. On March 10, 2010, however, Radio Sweden, reported that  “Sabrina Schroff, the man’s lawyer in the United States, says that the Ethiopian native denies all the accusations. The New York Times identifies him as Eritrean, but the Swedish Foreign Minister holds that he is originally from Ethiopia.” [91] Despite the NYT’s error CNN was still calling him a “resident of Sweden originally from Eritrea” almost two entire years later. [92]

The above cases of asylum fraud and false claims of Eritrean identity cannot be taken lightly. Firstly, they only represent the cases of those who were caught. How about the countless others? As illustrated above, many of the false asylum-seekers cases are of Ethiopian origin, which is likely due to the shared cultural, linguistic, and physical features of the sisterly peoples. Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, is 15 times more populous than Eritrea. It also has multiple active insurgencies and multiple reports of genocide in different parts of the country. In fact, post-Meles Zenawi Ethiopia, a ethno-federalist state with a quickly growing Muslim protest movement, [93] is among the top 15 states expected to disintegrate and become ungovernable in the next fifteen years, according to the “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Trends” published by the US National Intelligence Council. [94] Thus, how is it possible that Ethiopia comprises less asylum-seekers than Eritrea (43,400 from Eritrea vs. 42,500 from Ethiopia)? [95] As illustrated in the many cases above, the authorities of resettling nations are reporting of growing numbers of Ethiopians claiming asylum under an Eritrean identity, dating as far back as 2004. If most nations with the exception of the United States get their referrals from the UNHCR, why do no official UNHCR documents make no mention of this trend?

If we also compare the US resettlement data from the department of Health and Human Services website [96], we see that Eritrea has had progressively increasing resettlement numbers while Ethiopian resettlement numbers have waned (Fig. 1). The drop in FY 2002 is due to 9/11. From early 2007 to mid-2009, the US embassy stopped processing non-immigrant visa, which may account for the dip in US resettlement. [97] If that is in fact the case, then that suggests that the issuing of visas by the US Embassy in Eritrea has a significant effect on US resettlement. This is something that should be monitored closely. 2,032 are expected to be resettled  in the US this year.

Figure 1. Refugee Resettlement in the United States since FY 2000.

Football Players

By now, almost every Eritrean is aware of the repeated high-profile defections by the Eritrean national football players during matches in other African countries. In the case of Tanzania, 13 football players, who participated in the July 2011 CECAFA Kagame Cup, failed to show up for a flight back to Asmara. They later reported to the Home Affairs Ministry asking for asylum but, according to the Tanzanian National Refugees Committee, “none of the applications met the criteria for refugee status.” [98] The UNHCR then intervened calling for their protection while arrangements could be made for their transfer to a third country. Ten months later, we learn from the Houston Chronicle that four of the players had already made it to Houston, three were due to arrive one month later, four were resettled in Boston, and two in Virginia. [99] How is it possible that every single one of the 13 players was able to arrive in America so quickly? According to the US State Department, only less than one percent of refugees worldwide are ever resettle in a third country, let alone America. [100] This case may come as a surprise to many Eritrean refugees around the world who have had to languish in refugees camps for years on end awaiting resettlement. The article then goes on to explain that “after their escape in Tanzania, where [the players] outran their handlers and met at a rendezvous spot before going to the US Embassy to seek protection. They were certified as refugees by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and spent months in Romania before being approved for placement in the U.S.” The fact that they planned, in advance, to go to the US Embassy is quite telling of the current US Adminstration’s role in promoting youth migration. High profile asylums of Eritrean sports figures are designed to send a message to the Eritrean football-loving youth that loudly declares, “if you leave your country, then USA has your back.”

And make no mistake about it: the US knows the cultural significance football to Eritreans. Following the first defection of 4 football players in Kenya, US ambassador McMullen acknowledged in a 2010 diplomatic cable under the derisive subheading “SOCCER TEAM 1 – REGIME 0,” that “Eritreans are mad about soccer” and that the Kenyan defections “will be stunning news for the Eritrean population.” [101] This first round of defections, however, did not take place through the US Embassy. They were discovered to be hiding in a refugee camp under the protection of UNHCR and were granted automatic group asylum in Australia eight months later. [102] Apparently, their case takes priority over the millions of Somalians sitting in the same Kenyan refugee camps, fleeing civil war, drought, and religious persecution. Sensational headlines from the Associated Press, re-printed by ESPN and Sports Illustrated read, “Official: Players say death awaits them in Eritrea.” [103] Why does the AP take the asylum-seekers words at face value when they clearly have a vested interest in inflating their story for the purpose of resettlement? To this day, we have yet to see any evidence of deportees being executed by Eritrean authorities; only the claims of asylum-seekers.

It should also be mentioned that in the case of the Tanzanian defection, the players were transported via emergency evacuation from Dar es Salaam to a holding facility in Romania. Do all Eritrean refugees get this kind of treatment? Upon further inspection, we learn that this facility is the Evacuation Transit Center that was built in 2008 (officially, 2009) “by the Romanian government, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide a temporary haven for refugees in urgent need of evacuation from their first asylum countries due to life-threatening conditions….it received its first group of refugees, 40 Eritreans, last November and all have been found resettlement homes.” [104] Since then, there have reports of the transportation of large groups of Eritreans. In one case, 30 Eritreans were transported from Tunisia. [105]. This is important because it signifies a growing trend of expedited  large group evacuations of Eritreans from atypical locations. The asylum-seekers no longer have to be at a sub-Saharan refugee camp to await processing. They can be in a US Embassy, like the Tanzanian players, or perhaps in the Middle East under temporary protection status. In the words of the US State Department’s “Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2012”:

And according to the Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, we anticipate Sudanese, Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean and other African refugees to be processed in Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt. We will also process individuals who were forced to leave Libya as a result of the conflict there, some of whom will be interviewed at the UNHCR Evacuation Transit Center in Romania. We project as many as 1,300 individuals will be referred to the USRAP from the Tunisia/Libya border, and as many as 500 individuals will be referred to the USRAP from the Egypt/Libya border, during calendar year 2011. [106]

How many of those 500 were Eritreans? We don’t for sure. However, we do know that after 3 years of operations, the facility has housed 600 refugees, which, according to the UNHCR, includes “Eritreans, Sudanese, Palestinians, Ethiopians, Sri Lankans, Iraqis and Nigerians.” [107] Of that list, only Iraqis rank higher for US resettlement, according to the Proposed Refugee Admission report for FY 2013. That should tell us something.

Thus, it is clear that Eritreans are deliberately being resettled in third countries with the complicity of the international media. Eritrea maintains that it is a victim of the policies of external entities while the US and various human rights groups point the finger at the lack of human rights in Eritrea. Some groups have conducted independent studies and have come to different conclusions in regards to the causes of migration out of Eritrea. According to conclusions of a 2009 study conducted by the Global Forum on Migration and Development, in cooperation with the European Commission and the Eritrean Government:

Migration is not a phenomenon that happens only in Eritrea. It is a global issue that needs global collaboration for a viable solution acceptable to all parties involved. Eritrea is a poor country and therefore this circumstance serves as a main factor for migration. To make migration a positive contributing force to development, Eritrean migration policy needs to be more flexible and up-to-date. The benefits of migration accrue in terms of transfer of money (remittances), technology and know-how. Important as they are, remittances don’t require the physical movement of the migrants to the country.

To achieve all these, there is a need for planned and dynamic handling of the benefits of migration. This has to be done without compromising the rights and economic status of citizens by promoting openness and freedom of movement but at the same time not compromising the national interest. Therefore, the policy has to aim to address the manpower needs of the country emphasizing creation of jobs (following labour intensive technology in production) and In-country Human Resource Development Schemes as well as encouraging remittance and technology transfer.  [108]

They don’t blame the Eritrean government for human trafficking, child labor, or human rights abuses. It does suggest “promoting openness and freedom of movement but at the same time not compromising the national interest.” Unfortunately, these conclusions fell on the deaf ears of the international media as they do not fit the “human rights agenda.”

The “Human Rights Agenda”

So what does all this human trafficking business mean anyway? If we consider the above and inspect some of the recent developments in regards to human rights of Eritreans, we begin to see some trends. Most notably, it seems like the international mainstream media is trying to connect human trafficking of Eritreans to “human rights abuses” by the Eritrean government–the “human rights agenda.” The press often sites the usual suspects: US State Department human rights and TIP reports, US-funded NGO’s, “Eritrean” opposition websites and members, SEMG reports, and biased “experts”/”journalists” on Eritrea. In each case, the excuse for people leaving Eritrea is always the same: human rights abuses. Not all the other possible causes mentioned above. No one ever considers the words of independent analysts or Eritrean officials. Most importantly, they ignore the words of the people living in Eritrea with the excuse often being that Eritreans are too scared to speak up. In saying so, they are unknowingly calling the Eritrean people cowards, which is an insult considering what Eritreans have gone through to achieve the liberation of their nation. In contrast, however, they seem to have an incredible fondness for the words of Eritreans that leave their nations–i.e. asylum-seekers. Asylum seekers–whose hopes of resettlement rely on stories of persecution–make up practically the entire basis of the reports and articles by HRW, AI, SEMG, Dan Connell, and many others who seek regime change in Eritrea. Is it any surprise then that the foundation of their entire “human rights abuse” argument relies on asylum-seekers? Is it any surprise then that they fight tooth and nail to “protect” them? Is it any surprise then that they are promoting youth migration, politicizing it, and then calling it regime sponsored “human trafficking?” No surprise at all.

What is a surprise, on the other hand, is the number of times that the UNHCR publishes or references the work of petty anti-Eritrean websites, organizations, and individuals who take the “human rights” stance. It should be made clear that these entities are not only “anti-regime,” as some like to pose, but rather outright anti-Eritrean since they all have (1) called for sanctions against Eritrea; (2) practically ignored or downplayed the ever-present existential threats against Eritrea; and (3) consistently repeat the same line used by the late Meles Zenawi that “we like the Eritrean people, we just want to get rid of their government.” With that said, let us review how many times each of these anti-Eritrean elements has been published or referenced by UNHCR:

Human Rights Concern, Eritrea (Elsa Chyrum): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23

Gedab News: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55

Dan Connell: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Léonard Vincent: 1, 2, 3

Perhaps this will help Eritreans learn how to prioritize their enemies. The same that spread the rumor that the Eritrean president was likely dead is being published or cited by UNCHR documents almost 55 times. [109, 110] UNHCR also cites the work of the same Léonard Vincent of Reporter Without Borders (RSF), who openly admitted in his book  that he illegally smuggled an Eritrean Ministry of Information employee through the assistance of RSF personnel and the French Foreign Office. You simply can’t make this stuff up. It should be noted that for some of the documents, the UNHCR website has a disclaimer that reads, “This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.” If that’s the case then why publish it in the first place while not publishing material from non-US funded independent groups or, the Eritrean Ministry of Information website, in response to human rights allegations? Why are they so one-sided?

In light of the clear bias for anti-Eritrean entities, let us put things in perspective. Imagine you’re a young bright-eyed UNHCR intern, fresh out of Harvard, whose dream is to one day work for Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or some other non-profit organization that the media says helps the disparaged people of the world. At orientation, your boss assigns you to work at a refugee camp in East Sudan next month and suggests that you read up on the situation in Eritrea. Like a good intern, you log into the UNHCR website and access RefWorld, the supposed “Leader in Refugee Decision  Support.” You read through countless documents on Eritrea, meticulous in your reading and checking up on all citations. You also check out the US State Department-funded COR website for some extra background on Eritrean refugees in Kassala. After a while, you start to think, “surely it can’t be that bad,” so you check out some Eritrean websites for Eritreans’ personal views of their country. You remember all the websites listed in the citations of the UNHCR website so you check them out. After reading all the latest articles from,,, and their ilk, you come to the heart-crushing conclusion that Eritrea must be the most horrible place on Earth. All your dream organizations, like HRW, AI, RSF, and many others have nothing positive to say about life in Eritrea. You come to see the Eritrean government as an enemy of the Eritrean people that uses the “CIA” argument as a scapegoat for its failures–essentially what the media tells you. Although, you may have some doubts when talking to average Eritreans at the local community center, who often speak wonders of the Eritrean government and tell you about the FBI harassing them for supporting the Eritrean government, you have trouble accepting the distant notion that there is some crazy conspiracy to destroy Eritrea. Surely, you’re not crazy! You accept that it’s just another African tragedy. Hopeless. Now all you want is to be part of some great cause–like your hero Rachel Corrie, perhaps. As a result, you join in on the “human rights agenda” against the Eritrean government.

What we are seeing now is the “human rights agenda” on full display. Following the fabricated coup in January and the failed attempt to turn it into a campaign, [111] we see people like Dan Connell and Elsa Chyrum going around the world giving talks on human trafficking in Eritrea [112]. We see people like Meron Estifanos and the so-called “International Commission on Eritrean Refugees” writing letters to the UN Secretary General, urging him to launch an investigation into what is causing the human trafficking of Eritreans. [113] In each of these instances, these individuals and groups have been pointing the finger at the Eritrean government and we are now seeing increased efforts to see actions taken against Eritrea for alleged human rights abuses.

At its 21st session on September 27, 2012, the Human Rights Council considered the situation of human rights in Eritrea under the terms of the confidential complaint procedure (1503 procedure). By this method human rights groups and victims of human rights abuses file confidential complaints to the HRC. However, according to resolution 21/1 on Eritrea, the HRC ultimately decided to switch to the public procedure (1235 procedure) under which it can hold an annual public debate about the alleged gross violations of human rights in question. [114] This essentially represents an escalation of the case. If no change is noted in regards to the human rights situation in Eritrea, the HRC can have the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC ) pass a resolution condemning Eritrea. According to the Human Rights Education Association, this would serve as public condemnation that “tarnishes the reputation of the leaders in the state in question and discredits their legitimacy as political elites.” [115] Resolution 21/1 also called for a “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea” to investigate the complaints and report back to the HRC during the twenty-third session in June 2013.

On September 28 2012, Ms. Beedwantee Keetharuth, a lawyer from Mauritius who worked for Amnesty International’s African Regional office in Uganda and is touted to have “extensive experience in monitoring and documenting human rights violations across Africa,” was appointed as “UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea” (Fig. 2). According to the HRC’s meeting minutes:

Eritrea noted the decision of the Council to refer the situation in Eritrea to the public and reminded the Council to abide by the principles of neutrality and impartiality. The Council had clearly violated the provisions prohibiting politicised action and had not justified its motion to disregard those basic principles and criteria of admissibility. Eritrea therefore rejected the decision of the Council because it was politically motivated and did not accept the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. [116]

Following her appointment, there was no mention in the UN press release or any media reports about Eritrea’s rejection of her appointment [117]. Without that needed context for the reader, they instead say that “she had requested meetings with the country’s diplomats” but unfortunately, “the meetings had yet to take place.” [118] Once again, Eritrea is made to appear uncooperative because Eritrea’s voice is silenced. It should come as no surprise if her future report says “I had trouble getting a hold of Eritrean officials.”

Figure 2. UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, Beedwantee Keetharuth (Sudan Tribune)

Figure 2. UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, Beedwantee Keetharuth (Sudan Tribune)

Upon further investigation we learn that Elsa Chyrum, the Director of Human Rights Concern, Eritrea, was key in getting Ms. Keetharuth appointed. According to the “Eritrean” opposition website

Elizabeth (Elsa) Chyrum has been instrumental in bringing about the appointment of a Special Rapporteur to Eritrea; four years’ work has culminated in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointing Ms. Beedwantee Keetharuth as Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea.

Mrs. Chyrum has been advocating and lobbying at the HRC for recognition of the severe human rights crisis in Eritrea since September 2008. She is passionate about justice for Eritrea, and has doggedly campaigned for the appalling human rights record of Eritrea to come to the fore of the international agenda. She has done this, and more, largely by funding herself and occasional contributions for travel and other expenses from well-wishers and sisterly organizations. [119]

Acting in concert with other self-proclaimed African human rights activists, Ms. Elsa sent multiple letters curiously addressed to “African Heads of State” [120, 121] urging those states with the “highest standards of human rights” to apply for the 5 vacancies in the African Group of the HRC. Exactly which benevolent African leaders did she send them to? We may never know for sure but what we do know is that Ethiopia, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Sierra Leone were all elected to the African Group last November. Add in Uganda (in office until December 2013) and we have a dangerous anti-Eritrean triumvirate of IGAD members that will decide on Ms. Keetharuth’s report in June 2013. [122] Ethiopia was voted in despite a letter of opposition from 18 AU nations. [123]

In addition, we can’t ignore the glaring fact that the US was also elected into the HRC last year. [124] During the Bush Administration’s term in office, the US opted to sit out in protest of the HRC’s excessive focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [125] In 2009, however, Obama decided to change directions and the nation was voted in. Now that the US has been re-elected and is in the company of its client states in IGAD, the US-driven, anti-Eritrean campaign is expected to continue with an East African face. Last year, Nigeria, Djibouti and Somalia led [126] the HRC to create a Special Rapporteur on Eritrea with US co-sponsorship [127] and we can pretty much expect the same moving forward. It’s also critical to note that the Kampala-based East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) was granted “special consultative status” with the ECOSOC earlier that year. [128] What does that mean exactly? The EHAHRDP, an umbrella human rights organization with a nightmarish acronym, has the power to make recommendations to the HRC and push for resolutions that promote its agenda. Elsa Chyrum’s Human Rights Concern Eritrea is part of that network and as the EHAHRDP website states, ECOSOC status will allow its “network members to deepen their engagement at the UN Level.” [129] If history is any indication, her influence will serve as a destructive force against the Eritrean people. Back in 2011, an article on the HCRE website declared that “as we celebrate International Human Rights Day, we welcome the Security Council Sanctions on Eritrea as a means of bringing to light some of the human rights abuses being perpetrated every day on Eritreans.” [130] Anyone who calls for sanctions on a nation is an enemy of that nation. There has never been an example in history where UN sanctions have benefitted the people of a nation. How, then, can one be Eritrean or a friend of Eritrea and wish for sanctions on Eritrea?

The Global Human Rights Regime

Intervention in the name of human rights is the emerging tool of imperialism and we have seen a dramatic increase in targeted actions towards sovereign nations–particularly African nations–by the Global Human Rights Regime (GHRR; not my term). Prior to 1990, there were only two UN sanctions:  Rhodesia in 1966 and South Africa in 1977. Both failed to accomplish their stated goals. The 1990’s saw an explosion of UN sanctions, predominantly used against African nations. Despite the use of “panels of experts” and “monitoring groups” none of them worked. After a series of studies, the UN then decided to transition into using “targeted” sanctions in the 2000’s. Again, those didn’t work either. Eritrea, sanctioned in 2009, is a testament to this reality. In fact, the sanctions only strengthened the Eritrean people’s support of their government, as was evidenced by the international Hizbawi Mekhete campaigns (“popular resistance”), in which citizens around the world raised more money in support of their government, [131] and the massive, worldwide anti-UN demonstrations held on February 22, 2010. [132] In the spirit of resistance, Eritreans also initiated the E-SMART campaign (“Eritrean Sanctions Must be Annulled and Repealed Today”), which led to the creation of a website that is now the authoritative internet resource for understanding the facts and myths regarding the UN sanctions on Eritrea.

The Human Rights Council is also a new creation that came into existence in 2006 in order to promote the agenda of the GHRR. The HRC adopted special complaint procedures and special rapporteurs were given mandates to investigate alleged abuses. The US initially tried to appear as though it didn’t dominate the institution by taking a back seat and supporting it monetarily during its early years. China, Cuba, and other nations quickly took advantage by employing “bloc voting” to protect themselves from actions against their countries. Thus, the US position changed under Obama in 2009 as the country was elected into the HRC and quickly used its influence in the institution to invoke Responsibility-to-Protect (R2P) against Libya in 2011. The actions of the HRC were coordinated with those of the UNSC. Damaging human rights reports by Human Rights Watch, which is a member of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, were used to further justify intervention in Libya. The International Criminal Court, which was established in 2002 and has issued 21 arrest warrants (all Africans!), issued an arrest warrant for Muammer al-Gaddafi. In a destructive symphony of the UNSC, HRC, ICC, HRW, and other international institutions, an African nation was brought to its knees. The well oiled GHRR acted in full force and wiped the Libyan Jamahiriya off the planet in almost the blink of an eye. The odd thing, is that there seems to be an overwhelming propensity for the GHRR to take actions against African nations relative to others nations of the world. As an African nation, Eritrea is now becoming the increasing subject of their focus.

US troops are now slated to enter 35 African countries this year. [133] As Pepe Escobar wrote in a 2011 article for Al Jazeera, “Africom has some sort of military “partnership”–bilateral agreements–with most of Africa’s 53 countries” but “the exceptions: Ivory Coast, Sudan, Eritrea and Libya. Ivory Coast is now in the bag. So is South Sudan. Libya may be next. The only ones left to be incorporated to Africom will be Eritrea and Zimbabwe.” Thus, Eritreans must be ready for any eventuality as the external forces that seek regime change in Eritrea–for simply not following their rules or refusing to kneel down–are left with no choice but to pull the human rights card. The “terrorism” card didn’t work. The fabricated “coup” card didn’t work. They are now desperate for something–anything–as was seen by the arson of multiple Swedish community centers [134]. Their desperation for an excuse makes them dangerous. “Human trafficking” just might be their excuse. Will Eritreans allow the “human rights” card to destroy Eritrea? That answer lies solely in the hands of Eritreans.




3. “Exclusive: Eritrea reduces support for al Shabaab – U.N. report.” Maasho, Aaron. Reuters.  July 16, 2012. link

4. ibid.


6. “Eritrea Calls for Lifting of Sanctions.” Clottey, Peter. Voice of America News.. October 17, 2012.


8. McMullen, Ronald Keith. Economic consequences of African coups d’etat. Diss. University of Iowa, 1985.




12. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-386). Sec. 108-109.

13. “U.S. Expands Human Trafficking Watchlist.” Associated Press. June 16, 2009. link




17. “Exclusive: Eritrea reduces support for al Shabaab – U.N. report” Maasho, Aaron. Reuters. Jul 16, 2012. link



20. “In UN Sanctions Follies, Jim’ale Shifted to Somalia List, Eritrea Report Down, Bryden Spins.” Russell, Matthew Lee. Inner City Press. July 24, 2012. link

21. “Eritrea football team “hiding” in Kenya – official.” Reuters. Jack Oyoo Dec 15, 2009. link


23. “Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of bomb plot.” Reuters. Steve Bloomfield. February 2, 2007.

24. “Trafficking in Persons Report 2012” US Department of State. June 2012. link

25. “Foreign Affairs Committee. US Congress. 110th Session. Serial No. 110–131. Page 25. October 24, 2007. link

26. “US to suspend issuing visas in Eritrea” Sudan Tribune. Nov 27, 2006. link

27. Humphries, Rachel. “Refugees and the Rashaida: human smuggling and trafficking from Eritrea to Sudan and Egypt.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Research Paper No. 247. November 2012. link


29. “Child Soldiers International, Louder than words – Case Study: Eritrea: Widespread conscription of children goes unchecked.” September 12, 2012. link

30. “Guide to the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed.” Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. The United Nations Children’s Fund. December 2003. link

31. “AFRICA: Too small to be fighting in anyone’s war”. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs News and Analysis. December 2003. link

32. “Explanatory Memorandum on the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – Command Paper number: 5759″.  International Committee of the Red Cross. Customary IHL Study Database: United Kingdom: Practice: By Country: United Kingdom: Rule 137. Article 1. Paragraph 9. Updated on December 12, 2012. Accessed on March 15, 2013.  link

33. “UN envoy reports no evidence of ‘child soldiering’ in Ethiopia and Eritrea” United Nations New Centre. March 26, 2002  2002. link

34. “No turning back: A review of UNHCR’s response to the protracted refugee situation in eastern Sudan.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Policy Development and Evaluation Service. November 2011. link

35. “3. Norway’s policy towards UNHCR.” Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. link

36. “Africa Rising” TIME Magazine. March 30, 1998. link



39. “No turning back: A review of UNHCR’s response to the protracted refugee situation in eastern Sudan.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Policy Development and Evaluation Service. November 2011. link

40. “Position on Return of Rejected Asylum Seekers to Eritrea.” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. January 2004.




44. “Views on Migration in Sub-Saharan Africa: Proceedings of an African Migration Alliance Workshop.” Catherine Cross, Derik Gelderblom, Niel Roux and Jonathan Mafukidze. Human Sciences Research Council. Apr 1, 2007. Page 104.





49. “Ethiopia’s Ethnic Cleansing.” Calhoun, Craig. Dissent. pg. 47-50. Winter 1999.



52. ibid.

53. Kibreab, Gaim; Ohta, Itaru; Gebre, Yntiso D. “Displacement Risks in Africa: Refugees, Resettlers and Their Host Population.” Trans Pacific Press. Pg. 143-145. Mar 1, 2005.

54. R. Ek. “UNHCR’s operation in eastern Sudan, 1967-2009: lessons learned.” UNHCR, March 2009.


56.  “Regulation of Sexual Conduct in Un Peacekeeping Operations” Simić, Olivera. Springer. Pg. 36. Aug 18, 2012.

57. “Eritrea: UNMEE Dismisses Criticism by Top Military Official.” United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network. May 4, 2004. link

















74. “Tanzania rejects asylum request by Eritrean footballers.” Panapress. Oct 13, 2011.


76. “Eritrea asks Israel to deport ‘deserters.’” Ravid, Barak. Ha’aretz. March 25, 2008.

77. “Israel detains Eritrean refugee for 18 months because he couldn’t prove his identity.” Weiler-Polak, Dana. Ha’aretz. May 24, 2011.

78. “Eritreans turned down for asylum after Ethiopia claims refugees as their own” Nesher, Talila. Ha’aretz. October 24, 2011.  link

79. “The dark side of Tel Aviv.” Ynetnews. Adino Ababa, Danny. June 7, 2012. link

80. “52% of Jewish Israelis say illegal African migrants a ‘cancer.” LA Times. June 8, 2012.



83. “Closing the holes and the loopholes.” Wuraft, Nurit. Ha‘aretz.  June 21, 2009. link

84. “Improving the Speed and Quality of Asylum Decisions.” Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General. HC 535, Session 2003-2004: June 23, 2004. link

85. “Former Miss Ethiopia unlawfully held by British immigration.” Daily Telegraph. June 16, 2009.


87. Re-blogged link:


89. Re-blogged link:


91. “Swedish Resident Charged with Terrorism in US Court.” Radio Sweden. March 10, 2010. Re-published link







98. “Tanzania rejects asylum request by Eritrean footballers.” Pana Press. Oct 13, 2011. link

99. “East African soccer team players defect, settle in Houston.” Susan Carroll. Houston Chronicle. May 23, 2012. link



102. “Tanzania rejects asylum request by Eritrean footballers.” Pana Press. Oct 13, 2011. link






108. “Eritrea and European Community: Country Strategy Paper And National Indicative Programme For the period 2009-2013.” Global Forum on Migration and Development. Pg. 59. 2009. link

109. “Eritrean president appears to quash death rumour.” Agence France Presse. April 28, 2012. link









118. ibid.


120. Letter dated February 2008. “Re: Presidency of the UN Human Rights Council” link

121. Letter dated March 31, 2010. “Re: May 2010 UN Human Rights Council elections” link















59 thoughts on “Human Trafficking and the Human Rights Agenda Against Eritrea

  1. Very factual, honest and informative. This is an instant classic and a must read for all Eritreans and rational people.

  2. An eye opening article filled with facts that every one seeking the truth about the human trafficking issue must read. I thank the Author for giving us a thorough and well-researched article which will certainly enhance our understanding on the topic.

  3. Pingback: Human Trafficking and the Human Rights Agenda Against Eritrea | TesfaNews

  4. Why not write an article about why Eritrean national Media totally ignored Ahlam and 1000s of other Eritreans kidnapped in Sinai?A disgusting article that its main goal is to deny the truth which is Eritrean Mafia Government being involved in humanTrafficking .Absolutly disgusted

    • Ehiti Kelbi. Eritrea calls for the UN for an independent and impartial investigation of trafficking of Eritreans. The article above uses facts, data and honest analysis. Which groups are worried? Why they try to associate the Eritrean government? How the Eritrean government calls an investigation on himself if it does involve?

      Simply stupid!

      • Pretty character, you are the Mafia. Why do you keep gambling with this issue ? We the true Eritrean are really impatient about the human trafficking conspiracy against us.

      • Anta hebey.When did sheytan isayas call for investigations?? A month ago.Did this issue start in 2013 it is irrelevent.u need to get help u mad dog.If u wish to believe z article so be it.its ur right to be stupid.but i wonder why z author forgot to mention that eritrean national media totally ignored z issue.

      • I am now in Eritrea guys.I will tell u the truth what is really happening.In every cafe,home and any other public places,the leading talking issue is where are we heading.every body is sick of the the government.nobody comments loudly.every body is afraid to say something.but why? I believe they were heroes in war in liberation.but to be frank i really amazed how those who were ready to pay their life for the people turned to such dictatorship.still it is everybody’s question.lets talk and feel the real situation.before all we should put in consideration that our independence came by the people.the people deserve freedom.

  5. I’m posting this for @GeorgieBC. These are quotes on Eritrea before it went to war with Ethiopia and subsequently vilified by the international media:

    The Wall Street Journal, May 31, 1994

    “…Postwar Promise: Africa’s Newest Nation, Little Eritrea Emerges As Oasis of Civility. Eritrea is Africa’s newest nation: …has become an unlikely oasis of peace and civility … Secretary of State Warren Christopher calls Eritrea…a beacon of hope astride the Horn of Africa…..Perhaps even more astonishing, Eritrea is beginning to develop without the corruption so common else where on the continent. Nobody to Bribe ‘You can’t find anyone to bribe here,’ …That makes one U.S. aid official wistful. Of more than 20 countries he has worked in, he says, ‘Eritrea: is the one where you feel comfortable that every nickel you put into the place is going to be used properly….’They’re on a takeoff here,’ he says. ‘All they need is a little wind.'”

    Financial Times, 18 January 1996

    “…Proud, principled and impoverished, Eritrea is virtually without peer in Africa as it pursues its own model of development and vision of democracy. And when Eritrea’s army won its war for independence, demobilized fighters handed in their weapons. Weapons were not sold to criminals, or stashed in expectation of further political conflict, as happened in southern Africa. The foreign investor trying to clinch a deal in Eritrea may experience many things, but the knowing wink and outstretched palm common to so many African encounters are unlikely to be among them. Irritation? Maybe. Exasperation? Possibly. But corruption? Almost never….’They have created a climate where if a businessman tried to pay a bribe, he wouldn’t be able to do business,’ says Mr. Robert Houdek, the US Ambassador. ‘They know what an asset they have in establishing a reputation for cleanliness and they’re going to work hard to maintain it.’ … Given Eritrea’s grim legacy, its challenges are formidable. But thirty years ago most observers doubted that Eritrea would even win its war for independence. Who is to say that Eritrea will not again surprise the world as it seeks to liberate itself from poverty?”

    Washington Times, 14 September 1996.

    “…Though one of the world’s poorest nations, with an annual per capita income of $150, Eritrea is being seen as a model for the regeneration of a whole continent. So many African countries are struggling to recover from ruinous onflicts-Mozambique, Angola, Sera Leone-yet few exhibit Eritrea’s enthusiasm. “We have all seen so much waste and loss in Africa,” says Glenn Anders of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the development agency of the U.S. government that has made Eritrea its biggest per capita aid recipient on the continent.” This country could be one of the biggest success stories. The nationals’ sense of purpose, the discipline of its people, the hard work, which is evident in the countryside, gives us cause
    for hope. The government has also been financially responsible in the use of its resources.”

    The Globe and Mail 26 April 1997

    “…While many Africans are asking themselves what went wrong over the last three decades, Eritreans are embracing the future. While ethnic and religious conflicts make many African nation-states fragile, Eritreans are nationalistic and cohesive to a fault. While almost every African country depends on foreign aid, Eritrea in some cases refuses it. Now, four years after becoming independent, Eritreans are bringing to government the same confident, do-it themselves approach that helped them win the war. Government officials many of whom are former fighters now talk about the need to achieve “real freedom.” They don’t want to be slaves to any foreign donor country. They want economic self-sufficiency and they want to do it their way and with their own blood and sweat.”

    Africa Today May-June 1997

    “…Eritrea, Africa’s youngest country, is embarking on a campaign to abolish food aid and stand on its own feet four years after its independence from Ethiopia. From the ruins of war, which cost more than 250, 000 lives (on the Eritrean side alone), the Eritreans are transforming their new nation into a country that works.”

    Los Angeles Times, April 27,1998

    “…As the program converts warriors into workers, it also addresses a major global challenge of the 1990s: With the end of the Cold War and several little hot conflicts, oversized, big-budget armies are being downsized or demobilized. And governments from Maputo to Moscow are scrambling to figure out what to do with the soldiers. Little Eritrea, about the size of Pennsylvania and with 3.6 million people, has proved to be a model–especially compared with highly publicized efforts in Cambodia and Angola, where the United Nations spent millions to restore peace and sent thousands of troops to keep it. Both efforts eventually imploded… Eritrea’s success is all the more striking because the new government fended for itself for the most part–and succeeded. Last year, it completed the phased demobilization of about 60,000 of 95,000 troops. The only outside funding came for retraining–and then only in small amounts. ‘The Eritreans bring a lot of positive things to the nation-building experience, including a strong sense of self-reliance,’ said Gregory Craig, a senior U.S. State Department official. The odds were against success on many fronts: Ethnically, Eritrea has nine groups roughly split between Christian and Muslim–a formula for disaster from Africa to Eastern Europe, the Middle East to South Asia. Politically, Eritrea–the biblical land of Punt, later the Aksum kingdom and, over the past century, an Italian colony and an Ethiopian province–had to start from scratch. ”

    Toronto Sun, December 27, 1998.

    “… In Africa, a continent racked with wars, revolutions and repression and increasingly regarded as an economic and social basket case, there is one country that is reversing the trend and today is the democratic hope of the continent. It is Eritrea, the newest African state and UN member, about the size of England (or Florida) with a population roughly that of Toronto (3.5 million), situated on the Red Sea, above the Horn of Africa, bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. …Since it won independence at a cost of some 250,000 lives, Eritrea has confounded experts and reversed a trend in Africa that has been depressingly and persistently gloomy since the first country (Ghana) achieved independence from British colonial rule in 1956. As one who has reported from a score of African countries over the past 40 years, I’ve no hesitation saying that Eritrea is unlike anything I’ve encountered in Africa. After his first visit to the capital of Asmara, journalist Frans van der Houdt, with 14 years of covering Africa for a Dutch news agency, remarked: ‘I’d just about given up on Africa as hopeless, until seeing this country. Now I have renewed hope.’ Eritrea has no political prisoners (itself an oddity), there is no corruption in high places, no government limousines, bribery is unknown, and all the ‘leaders’ live modestly — some without pay. Eritrea refuses to accept unlimited foreign aid, which it feels is corrupting; …Religious aid is accepted only if it’s secular. “

    • More for @GeorgieBC:

      HEADLINE: Eritrea’s traits make it stand alone in Africa; Self-reliant nation has austere rulers

      October 15, 1998, Thursday, Final Edition



      BODY: ASMARA, Eritrea – Eritreans are rebuilding pre-World War II Italian locomotives under their own financial steam, evidence of a people determined to stand on their own on a continent awash in corruption and Western handouts.

      They even pay their taxes and spurn foreign aid.

      Eritrean Railways once was a triumph of Italian engineering when Eritrea was the jewel in the crown of Italy’s African possessions. Begun in 1887, it had taken 24 years to complete. In less than 30 miles, it rises 7,500 feet from the sweltering Red Sea port of Masawa to the blessed cool of the highland capital, Asmara.

      The spectacular railway, in which ancient Italian steam locomotives have been brought back to life, is a symbol of the no-nonsense, can-doattitude of the Eritreans, a proud people free of corruption. Last year, they rejected an $80 million offer from the European Union to beautify Asmara.

      The Eritreans will not accept anything that smacks of “aid dependency” – the crippling indebtedness of so many African countries. The government took food distribution out of the hands of foreign donors and sought to shift the country by swift, perhaps avoidably harsh, stages from an internationally relief-based economy to a locally productive one.

      The railroad is a picturesque metaphor for this African country that is so different from almost any other – so much at variance with the familiar Western perceptions of a continent sunk in calamities, natural and man-made, hunger, debt, civil war and an ever-growing gap between itself and the rest of the world.


      With Eritrea’s fall to the British in 1941 and, a decade later, its absorption into Ethiopia, the railway kept going until, in the 1970s,it appeared doomed forever. It was then that, in the war between Ethiopia and its rebellious province, both sides ripped up every rail and metal tie in the land for use in trenches and fortifications. After victory in 1991, the newborn Eritrean State received foreign offers for rebuilding the railway.

      “It would have cost us at least $200 million,” said railway chief Amanuel Selassie.

      Once one of the more advanced African countries, Eritrea was by then one of the poorest, its infrastructure, industry and agriculture an almost total ruin. Per capita income was around $75 to $150 compared with about $330 for other sub-Saharan countries. Eighty percent of its people lived off foreign aid.

      “It was just too damned expensive,” Mr. Selassie said, “so we decided to do it for ourselves.”

      There can be few relics of the steam era outside of railway museums like the 49-ton Giovanni Ansaldo, Genoa, 1937; or the 30-ton Ernesto Breda, Milan, 1927. Surely none is being restored – not for fairgrounds or theme parks but to become, once more, an integral part of a country’s transport system.

      Eritrean Railways boasts about 20 of these quaint behemoth steam locomotives. All pipes, pistons, cylinders and pepper-pot funnels, they all have a curious cone above the furnace; it turns out to be the container that discharges a steady trickle of sand down to the wheels, providing the grip they need to negotiate their way around innumerable bends, up those last dizzy heights to Asmara.

      Some of these steam engines are still in a state of seemingly total decrepitude. Others gleam proudly in a freshly painted livery of red and black. The men who wrought this transformation are older than the locomotives themselves.

      Some nearer 80 than 70, all Italian-speaking, they alone possessed the steam-era skills now being passed on to others. Meanwhile, younger generations have been scouring former battlefields for rails and ties, then laying them anew in their place of origin.

      It will cost Eritrea nothing in foreign expertise and a few million dollars for a track-laying machine and a special, indispensable type of nuts and bolts.


      Statistically, Eritrea remains one of the world’s poorest countries, ranked 168th by the Human Development Index, only two places ahead of its giant neighbor and current military adversary, Ethiopia.

      In the countryside, no tractors are to be seen, and farmers still work their rugged little highland plots with yoked oxen and primitive wooden plow. It is harder in the towns.

      It is not necessary to arrive in an Asmara at war, its airport under attack, from the anarchy of supposedly more sophisticated capitals like Cairo or Beirut to wonder at the order and cleanliness of the place, its well-kept public gardens, at the mere existence, let alone functioning, of such services, virtually unknown in the Middle East, as public telephone booths, at the few, unarmed policemen directing a well-disciplined traffic that hardly requires them.

      And there are virtually no beggars or crimes.

      In much of Africa or the Middle East, observers often find themselves searching for something positive, something – anything – to relieve the gloom. It is the opposite in Eritrea.

      “I scratch my fingers in the dirt,” said a Western ambassador, but I’ve worn them to the bone and found nothing.”

      What may be most troubling is the well-known case of an Eritrean journalist, Ruth Simon, former fighter and ambassador’s wife. She wrote a story for Agence France-Presse that, citing President Isaias Afewerki, said Eritreans were fighting alongside the Sudanese opposition inside Sudan. A year later, she remains under house arrest without trial. It is an inexplicable, seemingly gratuitous blemish on an otherwise good human rights record.

      The most common complaint among foreigners is a certain inflexible, we-know-best, we-are-always-right attitude on the part of officials. But that, they concede, is but the defect of this country’s vastly superior virtue; it barely stems the flow of superlatives like “extraordinary,” “exceptional” and “unique” they routinely bestow on it.

      What is Eritrea’s secret?

      It seems rooted in that Eritrea was both the last African state to win independence and the first to do so from another African state, and that it did so in one of the most remarkable “people’s wars” ever waged.

      In that crucible of formidable challenge and ultimate triumph were forged the qualities that continue, in large measure, to animate the newborn state.

      “Doing it ourselves” – as the railway chief said – sums it up: self-reliance, ingrained, passionate, stubborn, at times to the point of masochism, lies at the heart of the “ethics of the bush.”


      It was inculcated, above all, by the sheer loneliness of that 30-year war. Until the end, the Eritreans endured the indifference or outright hostility of most of the world, and not least an Africa for which the prospect of Eritrean secession was an intolerable threat to the sacrosanct principle of the inviolability of colonial frontiers.

      Other virtues they learned in those heroic years were self-denial, solidarity, patience, a high sense of national purpose that nonetheless accommodated pragmatism and adaptability.

      Eritreans remain deeply anchored in themselves and their own experience. So it’s almost a fetish of their leadership that, while open to the world, it doesn’t accept “models” or formulas of any kind. If anything, in fact, post-colonial Africa has served as a model of how not to proceed with the construction of its own latecomer state. The country has yet to ratify a constitution.

      It is typical that the leadership should have taken so long to draw up a constitution and has brought the entire people into a great debate about it.

      “They sometimes study things to excess here,” said a Western banker, “but it pays off. President Afewerki rightly says that Eritrea is like the tortoise that gets there in the end.”

      In their debate, the people were urged to consider the consequences, throughout Africa, of the “blind transfer” of foreign models, “regimes that appeared to be strong, but were actually weak, deriving their existence from the repression of the people, the plunder of natural resources and subservience to others.”

      The Eritrean solution is clearly not a fully-fledged, functioning democracy by the standard criteria of multiparty pluralism, independent media, sturdy civil society. It might be on the way – the draft constitution largely provides for such things – but it’s not there yet.

      “We think all Eritreans should have the right to establish parties,” said Yemani Gebreab, a presidential adviser. “But we also think that having parties for its own sake is meaningless. More important is to ensure the continuous engagement of the population in political life. If there are no other parties at the moment, that’s because no one feels the need for them.”

      Almost anywhere else such discourse would be the deeply suspect, special pleading of a proponent and beneficiary of the existing order, in this case the unchallenged ascendancy of the single party, now called the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice, which led the liberation struggle. But here it is not. For here, for starters, the speaker in question leads the most tellingly frugal of personal lives.


      All the former guerilla fighters worked for nothing until 1995 and then took salaries of which the highest – the president’s – is about $800.

      “Most African leaders are emperors,” said a Sudanese opposition leader, marveling at the modesty of Eritrea’s ruling class. For example, a government minister makes an appointment to see someone in the simplest of lean-to coffee shops outside his ministry. There are no perks, no official cars and, even in new buildings, no elevator to a fourth-floor minister’s office.

      People can walk virtually unchecked into the presidency itself or chance upon the incumbent in any bar or restaurant, where he insists on paying the bill himself.

      Such a lifestyle is one reason why the government, if not yet a true democracy, is highly popular and respected. The trust it, and especially Mr. Afewerki, inspires is palpable, almost excessive, breeding as it does a mentality of “leave it to him.”

      So seemingly pure itself, it can demand high standards from others. Mr. Afewerki has said Africa’s curse is not this or that objective, but the corruption of regimes that embody them.

      Another African, Martyn Ngwenya, head of the U.N. Development Program in Asmara, bears lyrical witnesses to the “corruption-free development environment” which Eritrea has achieved. “Here,” he said, “they fight corruption better even than Canada or the U.S. The convergence between what they say and what they actually do is almost complete.”

      GRAPHIC: Photos, A) The Giovanni Ansaldo, a 49-ton locomotive built in Genoa, Italy, in 1937, is being rebuilt for use in Eritrea.; B) A railroad man with steam-age experience in Asmara, Eritrea, repairs the Ernesto Breda, a 30-ton locomotive built in Milan, Italy, in 1927.; C) Eritreans are putting trains from its colonial-era master Italy back into rail service. The extremely self-reliant nation is doing all the work without outside help in part to save money., All By David Hirst/The Washington Times; Map, UNDER THEIR OWN STEAM: Eritreans are rebuilding Italian locomotives that are 60 to 70 years old, illustrating the determination of a people to stand on their own feet.

      The railroad chugs up into the mountains from the coastal city of Massawa to the capital, Asmara.

      The Washington Times

      TIME Magazine, March 30, 1998:

      “By logic, the nation of Eritrea (pop. 3 million) should not exist. The secessionist province’s independence fighters ought never to have defeated Ethiopia in their 30-year-long struggle. They were outmanned, outgunned, abandoned or betrayed by every ally; their cause was hopeless. They won by force of character, a unity and determination so steely not all the modern armaments, superpower support or economic superiority of Ethiopia could withstand it. The spirit that saw the Eritreans through 10 years in the trenches of their mountain redoubt at Nakfa has built them a nation from scratch, since independence was finally consummated in 1993.

      The emergence of Eritrea as a working state in so short a time is a remarkable testament to self-reliance. “We learned the hard way,” says President Issaias Afewerki, the rebel leader turned chief executive, “that our own sense of purpose, our own unity, our own organized capabilities were the only things that we could count on to succeed.” Alone in Africa, Eritrea carries little debt and accepts virtually no foreign assistance. Over the past four years, it has asked all but six aid providers to leave, including Oxfam and every religious organization. “It’s not that we don’t need the money,” says Issaias, “but we don’t want the dependence.” Aid, he says, subsidizes but corrupts the government, blocks innovative solutions to problems, so that people do not seek out and use their own resources.

      Just the physical improvements are impressive. All the rusted metal detritus of battle has been swept up into neat piles waiting to be recycled into rail lines, girders and tools. Men and women break rock by hand to repave the highway that spirals down 7,000 ft. from the capital of Asmara to the seaport of Massawa. Workers trained by the grandfathers who built the railroad in the ’30s lay reforged rails back toward Asmara; they have completed 26 miles in two years and cunningly restored the country’s two 1938 Italian steam engines.

      What sets Eritrea apart is the self-sacrificing character of its people, the thousands like Olga Haptemariam who rely solely on their own gumption. We meet her behind the counter of the building-supply shop she has opened in Massawa, striving to capitalize on the construction boom resuscitating this shattered equatorial port. “It’s my own business,” she says, pointing to the stacked cans of paint and tools lining the shelves. “It is doing very well, very nice.” She can’t wait to expand. “When I get more money, I want to get more materials from Italy, China. If I can bring them in, I can improve this business fast.”

      Olga is a self-made woman. While her brother went to university, she was married off at 16, already pregnant. Two years ago, she sought a divorce and demanded 30,000 birr as alimony. Out of that she paid the 2,000 birr for a business license and 18,000 birr for the shop. She earns 3,000 or 4,000 birr a month, occasionally as much as 7,500. She can afford to send her daughter to a private school, preparing her to study abroad and become a “doctor for women.” Olga vows never to remarry. “I think of business only,” she says. “I want to make this business very big, and I can do that best myself.”

      Nothing symbolizes this nation’s true grit better than the mountain retreat of Nakfa. There the near defeated rebel troops hewed out miles of rock trenches with bayonets and survived for 10 years beneath the shelling of the Ethiopian army. It still takes 10 hours in a four-wheel to drive the 137 miles from the capital over rugged mountain tracks. But Nakfa is a place of veneration akin to Valley Forge. “It reminds us forever of our resistance,” says Zacharias, a teacher at the new technical school. The national emblem is the camel that carried supplies to Nakfa; the country’s new currency, introduced in November to replace the Ethiopian birr, is called the nakfa. Despite Nakfa’s 9,000-ft.-high chill and barren soil, the government is determined to turn this inhospitable locale into a regional magnet.

      Many of the 10,000 current residents moved into their first concrete buildings just this year. Helping replace the city’s tin huts are young people doing their national service. Every Eritrean male is required to spend six months in the army and 12 more working on rehabilitation projects. Up here, some are also planting trees to revive the blighted landscape. “I like doing it,” says 24-year-old Daniel. “I teach people how to do things, and that is a way to develop our country fast.”

      In his blacksmith shop in the busy market town of Keren, Fikad Ghoitom explains the national attitude: show me, don’t tell me; ingenuity applied to example; homegrown know-how. Fikad’s brother saw a wood-cutting machine in an English magazine and forged one out of scrap metal. Down in the artisans’ suq in Asmara, men in blue overalls don masks cut from cardboard to weld new pots from old oil tins and cooking braziers from rusted rods. The clang, hammer, sizzle of makeshift industry are everywhere as boys flatten old iron bars for their brothers to beat into new shovels.

      Eritreans are extraordinarily dedicated to the public welfare. Doctors living abroad came back during the war as volunteer medics and still visit for six-month stints. Former fighters who went into the civil service took no pay for three years.

      This is not Africa, people will tell you in Eritrea. What they mean is that the country is astonishingly free of the social plagues that taint much of the continent. There is no tribalism or sectarian division here. National pride supersedes loyalties to nine main ethnic groups, at least 10 languages, Islam and Christianity, in part the consequence of the rebels’ insistence on mixing everyone together in its army units and now in national-service teams.

      Egalitarianism is ingrained, reinforced in the days when army officers wore no insignia of their rank on their shoulders.

      There is no begging, no corruption, virtually no crime. “We would not be so dishonorable,” says Russon, an Asmara taxi driver. However poor they are, families share with the truly destitute. A fierce sense of personal rectitude makes thievery unthinkable. “It is not the police who prevent crime but the honor inside us,” insists Fikad, the blacksmith. “The corruption is the lowest of any government I’ve ever worked for, including in Santa Rosa, Calif.,” says Michael O’Neill, an American adviser to the Commercial Bank of Eritrea. “They will not tolerate it in any way, shape or form.” During the war, the fighters were too desperate for money to put any into people’s pockets, and that scrupulous use of every precious resource carries over into the government today.

      What also sets Eritrea apart is the dedication to national purpose of its leader. President Issaias is one of Africa’s new men, hammered into leadership by the rigors of long war. Though soft-spoken, he is stern, almost paternalistic in his confidence that he knows best. His government is firmly controlled, even secretive, yet people seem to admire him. He is sharp and decisive, says what is on his mind, accepts diplomatic criticism when he considers it right and rejects it when he doesn’t. “What you hear is what you get,” says O’Neill. “He doesn’t dicker or pussyfoot.”

      The President has few doubts about his methods, even if they differ from those practiced in the rest of Africa. “We learned from the bad experiences of others,” he says, “what is bad governance.” He and his countrymen are determined to do better, on their own. “We are not rich; we do not have many resources; we are affected by things we cannot control. But we prefer to face our problems ourselves. If you teach someone to fish, instead of giving him fish, then he has a sustainable future.” He turns his nearly impassive face toward the reporter. “This is difficult for people; it takes a long time,” he says. “But in the long term, success can only come from inside us.””

      Back From the Ruins : Can this be an African nation that works?

      Newsweek International February 26, 1996, Page 40

      By Joshua Hammer, Staff Reporter

      It’s just the kind of reconstruction project that can ensnarl a Third World government. The narrow-gauge railroad that snakes from the Red Sea port of Massawa up a dramatic escarpment to the Eritrean capital, Asmara, was an engineering marvel when the Italians completed it in the 1920s. Nearly a century later it was a ruin. Soviet-backed Ethiopian troops and Eritrean rebels had ripped out its rails and ties to fortify bunkers during the long siege of Massawa. Yet reopening the rail link was vital to the economic health of the nation born in 1993 after the rebels won. An Italian company offered to do the work for $90 million, about 5 percent of the country’s annual GNP. In another country, officials might well have borrowed the money – and kept a cut. But the former Eritrean rebels hired hundreds of local workers to retrieve the missing parts. The crews reassembled the track and worked to repair four 1920s-vintage steam locomotives. Freight should start rolling again early next year. Total cost: about $5 million.

      From the ruins of war, Eritreans are transforming their new nation into that rarity on the African continent: a country that works. Hundreds of exiles have returned from the United States and Europe, bringing cash and technological expertise to a land starved for both. Former freedom fighters are mending ruined roads and clinics. They show the same unity and self-sufficiency that sustained them during the war, when they built huge subterranean complexes, and filled them with hospitals and schools. Fifty years after the great wave of African independence began, Eritrea could become the continent’s grandest success. “The incorruptibility and dedication of these people is extraordinary,” says U.S. Ambassador Robert Houdek.

      Like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, President Isais Afewerki has shed his wartime Marxist rhetoric, embraced privatization and opened the doors to foreign capital. So far the formula seems to be working: investors committed $250 million last year to ventures ranging from a Red Sea tourist resort to fisheries to apartment and office complexes. One American company, Anadarko, recently signed a $28 million deal to search for oil off Eritrea’s coast. After years of shunning the rebels, Western nations are rushing to aid the new government. Last year the United States gave $20 million, making Eritrea its biggest per-capita aid recipient in Africa.

      In the once somber capital, crowds of Eritreans stroll palm-lined Independence Avenue until late evening, passing newly opened cafés, restaurants and shops. Exiles like Ytbarek Cuddus, who built a successful oil services business in Houston, have returned with their savings to work day and night launching new firms. “When I set foot on Eritrea’s soil I wept and kissed the ground,” he says. Tewelde Andu, a former rebel communications chief who helped smash the port, now is Massawa’s mayor. Seated on the floor of his office, he unfolds maps charting a $10 million rehabilitation effort that has already restored half of Massawa’s graceful Arab and Italianate houses. New hotels host European tourists eager to explore the coral reefs along the coast and its 300 unspoiled islands. “It’s a fantastic feeling,” he says. “We’re rebuilding the city block by block.”

      Eritrea’s bright promise remains just that – a promise. The president has pledged to hold elections in 1997, but it’s an open question whether he, like so many other African leaders, will instead cling to power. Drought and erosion have tapped out many farms. Neighboring Sudan’s Islamic radicals want to enlist Eritrea’s 1.5 million Muslims. The younger generation, untested by battle, may prove weaker. But Eritreans seem determined not to debase the prize they fought for so long. “Our freedom was so expensive,” says Hagos Ghebrehiwet, a top official of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. “If this isn’t going to be a country we can be proud of, then it was all a waste of time.”

      Back to Top

      Postwar Promise: Africa’s Newest Nation, Little Eritrea Emerges As an Oasis of Civility

      Date: 01 Jun 94 05:27:00 GMT.” Subject: Eritrea in Wall Street Journal

      Independent at Last, It shows A Seriousness of Purpose Forged in a 30-Year War

      By Geraldine Brooks, Staff Reporter of the Wall Street Journal

      Asmara, Eritrea.- The president of this African country wears plastic sandals to official functions, draws no salary and prefers dusty Jeeps to limousines.

      The tree-lined streets of the capital are spotless and safe to walk until the wee hours. There isn’t a gun to be seen, even at the airport or at government offices.

      Eritrea is Africa’s newest nation: a Mississippi-sized slice of rugged Red Sea coast that has become an unlikely oasis of peace and civility wedged between the clan-fighting of Somalia and religious war in Sudan. Secretary of State Warren Christopher calls Eritrea, independent since May 1993, ” a beacon of hope astride the Horn of Africa.”

      The U.S., however, long opposed the Eritreans’ struggle for independence from Ethiopia. Since the 1960s, successive U.S. administrations had characterized the rebels as leftist and claimed that their secessionist campaign, if supported, would start a chain reaction that could put all of Africa’s fragile borders at risk.

      African Model

      Instead, the country is emerging as an African model, despite a history of misfortune on an almost Biblical scale. Eritreans scorched air swirls with the fine dust of drought-stripped topsoil and the dry rattle of locust plagues provides a depressingly familiar background tattoo. Too few doctors treat too many famine-ravaged tuberculosis victims, while in the towns, the wheelchair-bound casualities of a 30-year war roll uncertainly down bomb-damaged streets.

      A half-Christian, and a half-Muslim population of 3.5 million is further riven by nine separate ethnic groups and as many languages. With a per-capital income among the lowest in the world, the tiny country seems a prime candidate for the kind of tribal and religious strife tearing at so many other nations, such as Rwanda.

      Yet at a political congress in February,the country’s mufti, or supreme Muslim leader, sat companionably alongside his Christian Ortodox counterpart. Rural women wearing traditional veils joked with bareheaded city women in stores. And by the time the conference ended everybody had agreed to work toward multiparty elections for a democratic, secular government. Perhaps even more astonishing, Eritrea is beginning to develop without the corruption so common elsewhere on the continent.

      Nobody to Bribe

      “You can’t find anyone to bribe here,” says bemused American developer,Joseph Torrito, who is negotiating to build a hotel on the Red Sea and apartment blocks in Asmera. Initially, Mr Torrito had his eye on site in Asmera’s bouganville splashed colonial center. “In west Africa I’d grease the deal with $180,000 slipped to the city planner,” he says. “Here, the guy just said ‘ over my dead body you will build there’.” Citing the Eritrean’s intention to preserve the city’s picturesque turn-of-the-century heart, the planner steered the developer to less-sensitive sites.

      Part of the reason for Eritrea’s promise lies in its long and solitary struggle for independence.Colonized late by Italy at the turn of the century, Eritreans emerged from World War II expecting nationhood; instead, they were swallowed by neighboring Ethiopia in 1962.

      For the next three decades, an ill-equipped band of Eritrean rebels resisted the takeover, fighting Africa’s longest war. From mountain redoubts where schools, factories and surgical wards were gouged into hillsides to protect from aerial bombardment, the gurrillas slowly wrestled victory from black Africa’s biggest army.

      Ethiopia got millions in military aid from the U.S. during the reign of Haile Selassie and more from Soviets during the Marxist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. The Eritreans had no significant backers and fought a bargain-basement war, largely with captured weapons. Forced to sink their differences in the face of a common enemy, they gradually developed an egalitarian society in wartime trenches blind to gender, class and religion.

      “We though they were a bunch of Arabs backed terrorists,” says an Israel foreign-ministry official. “Was that ever a mistake.” Having supplied military assistance to Ethiopia during war, Israel now is scrambling to offer aid, providing training in agriculture and hydrology, books for libraries and even small amounts military assistance for new state, whose coastline commands a strategic stretch of the Red Sea.

      The U.S., too, is struggling to undo years of enmity. President Clinton has turned to the Eritrean president, Isaias Afeworki, to help mediate the bloody clan-war in neighboring Somalia. U.S. Navy ships are making port visits, and major oil companies are negotiating exploration deals. The U.S. military is in advanced talks on installing powerful over-the-horizon radar in Eritrea that would allow monitoring as far as Iran.

      Mr. Torrito,who once owned a gold mine in Sierra Leone, was among the first Americans scouting prospects. A retired U.S. Army colonel, he isn’t put off by spartan conditions. His most recent hotel room was ” what you might call air-conditioned – by a shell-hole in the wall where a small mortar had ripped through.” He says it is Arab businsessmen, familiar with the hard-working Eritrean refugees in nearby Persian Gulf countries, who are flocking to explore business opportunities. “It’s the smell of money,” Mr. Torroto explains. “It’s like Fabergé.”

      Inexpensive Lenses

      Among projects already under way is a sophisticated laboratory making lenses that can be surgically implanted to cure cataract blindness. An Australian eye surgeon, impressed by a pharmaceututical plant build by the Eritreans during the war, raised donations to equip the factory. With its skilled but extremely cheap labor, Eritrea can make lenses for $10 that Western producers usually sell for $120.

      Despite its roots as a leftist guerrilla movement in the 1960s, Eritrea provisional government now is unabashedly free-market. “I’m glad in a way that the Soviets intervened against us” during the war with Ethiopia, says a foreign-ministry official. “If they hadn’t backed Menghistu, we might have kept believing in [the Soviets] and ended up like Angola or Kampuchea.”

      But while the new investment code is liberal, government policies are shaped by social agenda. To avoid Africa’s typical slum-producing rural migration to the capital, the government has turned away investors who want to finance project only in Asmera.

      “One of the benefits of starting late is that you can learn from others’ mistake,” says Saleh Meki, the minister for marine resources, who is moving his own department to the bombed-out rubble of Massawa, the port city that saw the war’s worst fighting.

      Free Labor

      For now many of his staff are still “fighters” – the term used for members of the 95,000 strong guerrilla force which waged the war. The government has asked them to donate their labor for the country’s reconstruction. They received only allowance plus food and barracks-style accommodations. At first, some objected to the proposal that they work free for two more years, saying they had neglected their families long enough while they were at war. “If I’m a fighter struggling to liberate my land, who cares if my father is starving in Asmara:” says Mr. Meki.”But it’s another thing saying I can’t help him because I have to build a railway to Massawa.”

      In protest, many of former combatants took to the streets. The president, Mr. Afeworki, who led the fighters during the war, waded in among the demonstrators, trying to reason with them. Without firing a shot or throwing a punch, the two sides reached a compromise. The government promised that if the fighters worked for nothing a while longer, the government would cut back on opening embassies and delay development projects in order to find money to pay wages. The fighters’ sense of duty astonishs outsiders. “Office hour here officially starts at 7,” says Sei Etoh, a U.N. development expert working in Massawa, “but the fighters always show up early and stay late.” Eritreans say it is possible to tell who is a fighter simply by the way a man or woman speaks. “They use less ‘I’ and ‘my’,” explains an Eritrean who recently returned from the U.S. “The way they’ve lived has made them tend to talk in terms of group rather than the individual.”

      War-Emancipated Women

      But civilian life is putting unexpected strains on that idealism. At a bar in Massawa, a group of young fighters nurse glasses of tea and discuss their predicament. For some, peace has brought bittersweet changes. Fatieha, a slightly built 20-years-old, is glad she won’t have to witness any more of the wounding and killing that were a constant during five years in the trenches. She has gladly shed her khaki shorts for a silky dress. She has styled her hair and files newly grown finger nails. Still, she misses the sexual equality of the front.

      “Some of the civilians don’t understand that a woman must be free to go out, to work, to sit in a bar like a man,” she says. While the society sees her as a heroine, she worries that it doesn’t necessarily see her as an eligible bride. Some fighters who married at the front have been divorced by husbands under family pressure to take submissive civilian wives.

      Meanwhile, Fatieha’s friend Saleh misses a different kind of equality. At the front, he says, university graduates shared the same status as fighters who had never had a chance to go to school. Now, he works at an unpaid job alongside non-fighters earning fat salaries from the U.N. “It’s hard, when you’ve been at war and they’ve had the chance to get an education,” he say. “When we were at the front, we didn’t need money, but in town, you need clothes, you need cash to have a beer.”

      The rebels’ success in war also has raised high peacetime expectations that aren’t easily met with a shattered infrastructure and an empty treasury. So committed to education that they carried blackboards in to the trenches for l iteracy classes during breaks in fighting, the Eritreans now have too few teachers to serve the civilian population. In some areas, children draw lots to see who will go to school.

      Good in an Emergency

      Health care, too, is a problem. “Their health-care system in war was excellent, but it was an emergency system,” says Cesar Manetti, an Eritrean born pathologist from Rockford, Ill. “When it had to meet the needs of a civilian population, it faltered. People in the cities felt `Now our brothers are here – they’ll help us.'” Faced by pent-up demand created by neglect during Ethiopian rule, barefoot doctors from the front lines couldn’t cope. For at least a year, the health minister (a surgeon) had to divided his day between the operating theater and his government office because demand for his surgical skills was high.

      Dr. Manetti is trying to set up a volunteer program to have U.S. experts help the Eritreans with the training. But the government, faced with an acute housing shortage, hasn’t yet been able to figure out where to put the volunteers when they arrive. The short-term answer is an infusion of foreign aid, but with the demands from Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia, Eritrea hasn’t enjoyed the attention from donors that it might have merited a few years ago.

      That makes one U.S. aid official wistful. Of more than 20 countries he has worked in, he says, Eritrea is the one where you feel comfortable that every nickel you put into place the place is going to be used properly.” He hopes the U.S. will open its purse a bit wider. “They’re on a takeoff here,” he says. “All they need is a little wind.”

      • For more than 70 years since WWII, bombed to stone age by alternate powers who shed crocodile tears for “LIFE, LIBERTY, DEMOCRACY, JUSTICE, EQUALITY, INDEPENDENCE,,, balalalal”,

        And,,, After 50 years of endless wars, wanton destruction & heavy price for liberty, cementing the destiny a nation, there is NO way Eritrea can go wrong, for ERITREA NEVER KNEEL DOWN for slave-empires preaching freedom, but worshipping slavery.


    • There was euphoria at the beginning …
      “Twenty years on from the euphoric celebrations of independence, Eritrea is one of the most repressive, secretive and inaccessible countries in the world.”

  6. All I can say is WOW!!! Thank you for a masterful and timely expos’e, it’s about time these rats got smoked out of the hole.

  7. Pingback: Human Trafficking and the Human Rights Agenda Against Eritrea | Piazza della Carina

  8. Blown out of words, As an Eritrean and a diaspora since childhood due to wars of oppression. I have seen the endless sacrifices made by our Heroic Eritrean Martyrs to set us Eritreans and Eritrea FREE from OPPRESSION and on a ROAD map of SELF RELIANCE. I’ve seen the Doable Standards of those powerful nations, Do this, Do that Don’t Do as I Do, Do as I COMMAND. I have witnessed Our BOLD Eritrean LEADERSHIP and united defiant Eritrean PEOPLE keep on MARCHING to build FREE Eritrea as a NATION ought to be. Today I have LIVED to witness hope from MAINSTREAM MEDIA, with Sense of TRUTH in a SENSELESS world.
    Thank you RED SEA FISHER.

  9. You have written something nonsense. We, Eritreans know the ordeal we are in more than anybody else. Those being tortured in Sinai are our brothers and sisters and we know how they are smuggled from the country and to whom we are paying. For your information, if someone kidnapped by Rashida and Bedeuin, we pay $20,000 -$£30, 000 cash to the coffers of military officers in ASMARA the capital city of ERITREA. Don’t know that? Are you telling us that we are paying the money to CIA or any American authority. If you really want to defend the Eritrean people or Eritrean youth, go to Asmara and ask randomly to any, i repeat, to any Eritrean about the situation. I think you are so influenced by the dictatorial regime in Asmara.

    • Nobody is denying the suffering of people in Sinai. Simon wrote about the external forces working to weaken Eritrea and using Human Right as a pretext.

      This is used in many counties that are not Western puppets, but you dismiss the undeniable. Plus Human smuggling is GLOBAL problem.

      And you should recognize the shameful involvement of the CIA in Africa, the information is easily available.

    • Dr Berhe Ogbu,
      Not sure if you really earned the title, but anyways, you claimed to have paid 20,00 – 30,000 (dollar/Euro??) to military officers in Asmara. Why don’t you dare to disclose the name of the officer that received your 20,000 dollar/euro? It is clear that the blood money is paid both inside and outside Eritrea. However, it is people like you (you already admitted) who are encouraging this criminal business to continue. If you were humane enough to expose at least the one you admitted to have paid, then you would deserve your Dr title. Otherwise, do not put non-sense allegations against people who are selflessly trying to educate and enlighten the public against such crimes.

    • Your comment is out of context. The Sinai atrocities and other sufferings of Eritrean youth are some of side-effects of the human trafficking Furthermore this article is well referred and based on facts. if you have comments based on facts pls do share. After all you are a “dr” and you should know that one can’t blindly oppose such a fact based article just because you don’t want the truth to come out.

  10. May be your article was intended to a non Eritrea reader. If so, you should get a credit for trying to deviate the truth. I wouldn’t leave my country if I had a future in Eritrea. I would not pay thousands for my siblings to leave the country if they were free to live peacefully. Every Eritrean in Eritrea knows what is what…Do not accuse CIA or any other external force…it is the cruelty and hopeless life in Eritrea made us all hate our forefather’s land and leave.
    how do you think that Eritrea could be represented in the outside media if there are no journalists working in Eritrea. Do you know that the Eritrean government expelled Catholic priests and sister who spent precious years of their life helping the local people only because they are white…non sense, non sense and non sense.

    • We all left Eritrea for different reasons, especially war and economic.
      Today Eritrea is suffering due to Geopolitical reasons which you seem not to take into account. The difficulties arise form the No/War No/Peace situation. You must be aware of this, and yet you dismiss what was written.

      You are defending the CIA and External forces as if Eritrea is not effected negatively by those who want to make Eritrea a puppet state.

      And spare us the nonsense about journalists. Most are fraud that are easily swayed by propaganda. The truth has become changeable.
      As someone said about journalists in the West, “Smart enough to be useful and naive enough to be used”.

      As far as the Catholic religious issue, I support the good work of many of the religious priests/nuns, and many are still there doing good work. What you failed to recognize is that most of the Catholic work is done by Eritreans as part of religious organization that have been active for decades.
      All of the were not expelled, some their visa was not renewed. And yet you tried to make it a racial issue by saying they were expelled because they were white. That is simply false, do not twist the truth.

      • Sorry to tell you 9of9 (whatever that nick means..), but Eritrea is suffering not because of the no-peace no.war status, but because of the policies of the GOE. Just like the north and south Korea issue, ours is with Ethiopia… If managed well, the success in Ethiopia will rocket it further while we in Eritrea will be like North-Korea if we don’t stand up now and demand change.

        10 years since the ruling we have neither by diplomacy nor strength been able to evict Ethiopia from our land. That says alot about the policy of GOE. They have shown they don’t have the diplomatic intelligence to solve the issue peacefully nor the correct economical knowhow to generate wealth and become a military power house. So in short they have failed us big time. I also believe that solutions to locked situations can be found through change, there is a world of opportunities in the dynamics of change and therefore the only way forward for us now is change.

        On the issues of human trafficking, there might be some truth in what Simon T. is writting here but it all boils down to conspiratory theories. I find it very unlikely that Eritrea from all the african nations was targeted as the only one. I mean what do we have that is so special to demand such pressure to get. Are our average eritrean youth above the average in terms of education/health compared to many african countries? I just doesn’t make sense and therefore i find it hard to believe what Simon T. is writting here. It is a masterpiece in terms of putting pieces together and find a scapegoat.

        If Simon T. is to be credible, maybe next time you can focus on the source and it’s policies… What is the underlying cause of the exodus? What policies are the triggering factors? If the GOE is trying to stop the trafficking in what way? Is it just acts of fire extinguting or are they looking at the main reasons and policies? If so how are the policies been evaluated and measured to ensure they work…..

  11. Simon,

    Overall exceptional work. You did well to give an overall picture.

    I understand the overall point was about the pretext of Human Rights, therefore I find this essay extremely useful, because this seems to be the future strategy of the enemy.

    Thank you for this timely report, as personally I expect the attacks to increase.
    I have saved your work. Again exceptional work.

  12. To Dr Berhe Ogbu,

    I have been to Eritrea several times over the past 10 years and have spoken to hundreds of Eritreans. I also have many family members that have left the country illegally over the past 10 years, a few of whom fought in the Badme war. I have first hand knowledge of how some of my family members left and I personally contributed money to assist them pay for their travels during various stages of the smuggling process. I have also heard first hand accounts from people who have had the unpleasant experience of dealing with Arab smugglers demanding money for the release of refugees and I can assure you they did not “pay cash to the coffers of military officers” in Eritrea. While I do not deny that there are probably some corrupt opportunistic low level government officers that may be involved in certain stages of the smuggling process I am certain that this is not government policy or a systemic problem (keep in mind that large amounts of illicit narcotics are successfully smuggled into the US every year from Mexico even though the US Federal Gov spends Billions of dollars to stop it. I am certain that there are some corrupt low level border agents who are involved in smuggling narcotics but I would not take the actions of some opportunistic border agent as official US Gov Policy or as a systemic issue). And it is well know in Eritrea that government officials sometimes pose as smugglers, or people wanting to be smuggled out of the country in an attempt to combat the issue. People who are preparing to leave illegally are well aware of government efforts to crack down and are very careful not to get caught. One can argue that the Government may not be doing enough to crack down on and identifying corrupt officers who may be involved in some stages of the smuggling process but to suggest anything else is a bit ridiculous and without merit. The following is a section from the released diplomatic cable from Matthew D. Smith cited in this article/post:

    “The smugglers charge a non-negotiable price that has increased substantially over the past several years. The most expensive and reliable service costs $4,000/person, and includes front-door service from Asmara to the Sudanese border. A less expensive ($1,000/person) but more dangerous smuggling route originates in Tessenai, near the Sudanese border. GSE soldiers tightly control the roads leading to Tessenai, and Eritreans unable to prove completion of national service are usually not allowed near the city. Passage from Mendefera (30 miles south of Asmara) to Ethiopia costs $1,000 to $1,300/person. Eritreans living abroad often pay the fee for their relatives’ escape in hard currency to banks outside Eritrea. Other Eritreans directly pay either the facilitator or the driver in local currency. ”

    I find the above assessment from Mathew D. Smith in 2008 to be accurate and reinforced by my own personal experience in the matter.

    I do not believe the writer of this article is as you stated ” so influenced by the dictatorial regime in Asmara (read:Brainwashed by the Government of Eritrea), but I do suspect that you are blinded by hate and lies. The writer of this article provided many citations (with links to sources) and presented a very good analysis of the situation, you on the other hand have made unsubstantiated claims and accused the writer of being brainwashed by the regime.

    • I laughed out loud reading your comment.

      What ruling class? What profit? I make my money in the US and there is such thing as a ruling class in Eritrea. I have probably spent more money in Eritrea for Eritreans than you made in 2012. Even the people I personally know who do not like the Government of Eritrea don’t make ridiculous statements like that.You are better off directing your comments to, the people affiliated with that website are without a doubt profiting from the suffering of my fellow Eritreans in the Sinai (and elsewhere) and are definitely taking handouts from the ruling class of Ethiopia (which does exist). Real Eritreans and Ethiopians know what is going on. The fact that you would even make those comments lets me know you are a fraud, Hawi.

    • Semrawit, I don’t see anywhere in this blog “stesfa”. I think you are mistaken.

      Plus “stesfa” is for Simon Tesfamariam, it is his Twitter handle.

  13. The West is becoming more and more a West of blunder as it is seen in Egypt, Libya and Syria. The same blunder has being tried in Eritrea with the help of some sold out eritreans or eritrean simulating ethiopians. What these or those idiots should realize is that Eritrea is a self crowned nation and no matter what a lie is used to vilify this proud nation won’t work. As to the renegades I wouldn’t lose any sleep over them as they are a repeat of the old story of …………!!

  14. Pingback: Meron Estefanos Retracts Claims of Organ Harvesting | Red Sea Fisher

  15. Pingback: Eritrean Spies and Hit Men: When Foreign Media perpetuates the Stereotyping of Eritreans | The Real Rahel

  16. Funny. The government of Eritrea totally prohibits the freedom of information inside the country, then its supporters want to criticize what information is pieced together from outside. You can’t call information false when there is no freedom of information in Eritrea to allow for a balanced discussion or assessment of the truth. The government’s lack of transparency and restrictions on information are to blame for ALL false information. If the government allowed for the free flow of information, false accusations could be exposed and evaluated for their value.

  17. “The recent ethnic cleansing of 78,000 Ethiopians of the Amhara ethnic group from southern Ethiopia by the Woyanne is a horrible crime. ER has been reporting similar ethnic cleansing campaigns against other Ethiopian ethnic groups, particularly the Ogaden & Gambella over the past several years. How is it that Meles Zenawi and his Woyanne junta are able to commit such atrocities against millions of Ethiopians?

  18. Pingback: Sudan Tribune and NED Support “Terrorist” Awramba Times | Red Sea Fisher


    Human Trafficking of Ethiopians to Yemen

    Published on Jul 26, 2013

    Untold horror stories of Ethiopians crossing the desert to reach Saudi Arabia though Yemen.
    Inhuman treatment, murder, and rape by the Yemenis. Officials look the other way to get their share of their profit.
    1) Average cost from Ethiopia to Yemen $400
    2) So far, estimated 40,000 Ethiopians are in Yemen
    3) An average 3-4 refugees die each day
    4) Reason for leaving their birth country (almost all, promised better economic life and wages than their own country)

  20. Pingback: Sudan Tribune and NED Supports “Terrorist” Awramba Times | TesfaNews

  21. Pingback: Setting the Record Straight: An Open Letter to Jihan Kahssay | Red Sea Fisher

  22. Pingback: Setting the Record Straight: An Open Letter to Jihan Kahssay | TesfaNews

  23. Pingback: Setting the Record Straight: An Open Letter to Jihan Kahssa September 19, 2013 Dear Miss Jihan Kahssay, » |


  25. As I research how #Eritrea is represented in Western media, it becomes increasingly clear that there is a systematic effort to present inaccurate information. Thank you for the clarity of your writing and advocating for accurate information which serves the cause of intelligent dialogue.

  26. Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Appreciate it gedkadddadad

  27. Pingback: Eritrea’s Proposals for Combating Human Trafficking and Smuggling

  28. Hey analysis – I was enlightened by the insight ! Does someone know if my business can access a sample a form document to use ?

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