This piece is the first in a series of articles on the “The Traffic Racket.” The series will look into the shocking evidence of a smuggling and trafficking network facilitated by human rights activists working with refugee agencies, state governments and officials, NGOs and international bodies to smuggle Eritreans, particularly children, from Eritrea. Exploited Eritrean migrants often show up on European shores with few observers understanding that the growing tide of trans-Mediterranean migrants is the result of a larger trafficking racket. Part one looks into the role of Eritrean “activists.”
Tragedy on the Mediterranean
Sunday, April 19 witnessed the deadliest migrant shipwreck in the Mediterraneansince World War II. More than 850 migrants from multiple countries were pronounced dead the next day after their boat capsized during a voyage from Libya to Italy.
In less than forty-eight hours following the tragedy, before the proverbial dust had settled, the majority of migrants were said to be Eritrean. According to Carlotta Sami, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Catania, Sicily, “there were Syrians, about 150 Eritreans, Somalians.”
Observers found it somewhat odd that, of the 20 different nationalities aboard the ill-fated vessel, only the number of Eritreans were tallied and definitive. This did not appear to be a one-time exception or anomaly, either.
Only a couple hours after Cami’s statement, an updated UNHCR statement by Adrian Edwards, declared that “among those on board were some 350 Eritreans, as well as people from Syria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia.”
Again, no definitive casualty figures for any groups other than Eritreans. Thus, how was the official number established? How were the bodies identified and confirmed to be Eritrean? Why were numbers not established for other groups?
With a number in hand, Eritrea immediately came to the fore of the horrific international tragedy. Journalists wasted no time in turning to the nation’s domestic politics and human rights situation. From the ensuing barrage of sensational headlines, it was clear that the plight of Eritrean migrants would be singled out and politicized.
Just a few of these headlines, for instance, highlight this reality: Eritrea: Africa’s land of exodus (Stefanie Duckstein, Deutsche Welle); Crushing repression of Eritrea’s citizens is driving them into migrant boats (Dan Connell, The Guardian); andEscaping Eritrea: ‘If I die at sea, it’s not a problem – at least I won’t be tortured’ (Mark Anderson, The Guardian).
Unlike the reporting on other ‘first nations’ that regularly produce Europe-bound asylum seekers and migrants, reporting on Eritrea mainly centered around alleged domestic repression rather than conflict and poverty, which have historically been the leading causes of flight by asylum seekers and migrants worldwide, respectively.
“If you look at the numbers last year,” explained Volker Turk, the director of international protection at UNCHR, “over 50 percent of the people who crossed the Mediterranean were people in need of international protection. Mostly Syrians, Eritreans, some Somalis.”
Tim Lister from CNN, however, noted the exceptionalism of the Eritrean migrants. According to Lister, “Eritreans want to escape repression or military service; Somalis flee Al-Shabaab and clan warfare; Syrians have given up hope of returning home.”
Again, Matina Stevis of the Wall Street Journal echoed, “The continued Syrian war is pushing ever more refugees out to Europe, where they seek asylum and safety. Sub-Saharan Africans are fleeing their homelands because of either conflict or deep poverty. Eritreans, the second-top nationality of migrants reaching Europe last year, are leaving in hordes because their country enforces mandatory conscription in the army, does not pay them and does not allow them to return to work.”
While Business Insider’s Editor Armin Rosen explained that “Eritrea has a population of around 6.3 million and accounted for 20% of the total [asylum seekers in Europe]”, Dan Connell, writing for the Guardian, explained that “Eritreans are second only to Syrians in the number of boat arrivals, though the country is a fraction of Syria’s size and there’s no live civil war there.”
Most reporting on Eritrea was more or less the same and the emerging post-tragedy narrative on Eritrean migrants suggested that they, unlike all other migrants groups (with the exception of Gambians), were fleeing their homeland due to government repression rather conflict and poverty.
Absent from this narrative, unfortunately, were any voices of dissent or more nuanced analyses for a more contextualized understanding of Eritrean migration.
Naturally, the question thus emerges: Upon what evidence do the aforementioned journalists base their claims about the domestic situation in Eritrea?
One cannot help but notice the glaring fact that none of the authors have either visited Eritrea to field their reports or based their writing on entities that report from Eritrea such that claims behind the domestic situation can be substantiated firsthand. In fact, many of the entities cited—and some of the author themselves—have already demonstrated compromised credibility and bias vis-a-vis Eritrea...............
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