Date: Wednesday, 24 October 2018
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.  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.”  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. 
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.”  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.”  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.”  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.”  McMullen is no longer the ambassador but in light of the recently fabricated “coup” rumor that the international mainstream media has been recklessly trumpeting,  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.”........................
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