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Eritrea for mobile viewing Problems of Eritrean refugees: fear, alcohol, frustration, violence

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Date: Wednesday, 21 November 2018


Integration Eritreans hardly integrate. Their problems are accumulating and assistance is difficult, writes SCP in a new report.

Problems of Eritrean refugees: fear, alcohol, frustration, violence
Photo Robin Utrecht 


Evil Bet-El Teklemariam steps out of the Rotterdam metro. An Eritrean man who accompanies them has just told her the cause of his problems. She enters the Holland Casino. "Do you know that your Eritrean customer gathers his allowance", she asks an employee. He reacts defensively: "We can not say anything about our clients. Privacy rules. "


Outside, Bet-El Teklemariam sees two other Eritreans enter the casino. Eritrean status holders, says Teklemariam, start out from boredom or gambling out of disappointment, because the integration does not happen. "The man who gambles threatens to become homeless."


As social educator Bet-El Teklemariam, who is of Eritrean origin, tells about newcomers from Eritrea tinkering the problems over each other. Domestic violence; alcohol problems; frustrated Eritreans who do not feel heard by the aid workers; desperate people who have been waiting for family reunification for years. She has a network of about two hundred Eritrean newcomers living across the country, she says. Daily appt and they call them. At night the phone is on 'quiet' nowadays.



Between 2014 and mid-2017, 17,000 Eritreans applied for asylum in the Netherlands: over three-quarters are younger than thirty, many are from the countryside and a large part is orthodox religious. It is after the group of 44,000 to 50,000 Syrians who came in recent years, the largest group of newcomers. This Friday, the Social and Cultural Planning Office (SCP) presents its qualitative research 'Eritrean status holders in the Netherlands' . A total of 26 status holders and 22 experts were interviewed for the study. Teklemariam was responsible for part of the interviews.


Eritreans are very sweet people, says Teklemariam. But most people do not do well in the Netherlands. Their health deteriorates and they increasingly withdraw in their own circle. "I am not a negative person," she says, "but this is reality."


From the report: I do not have contact with the Dutch. I find them aloof and weird. They never greet us. I feel that they do not like us. (...) The Dutch are not hospitable. I do not need contact with them. They do not want us, why would I want to contact them? (Eritrean woman)




Researching this group is not easy. Both newcomers and experts - not just those with an Eritrean background - only wanted to be interviewed on condition of anonymity. A quantitative research was without success, says Teklemariam. Eritreans are afraid of the government and speak the language badly, questioning them on a large scale is impossible. The experts are, according to the SCP report, "among other things hesitant to contribute to the negative image or stigmatization of this group".


The image that looms up is gloomy: Eritrean status holders "find it hard to find a connection with Dutch society". They have little contact with Dutch people because they do not speak the language and experience the Dutch as distant. The contact with the emergency services is also difficult: there is a "considerable gap between Eritreans and institutions," according to the SCP. Exclusion is lurking.


From the report: It is not that they (...) look very much like those women or something, not at all, but the women do have a different role. (...) The Dutch think that's weird. Because they are so alone, and so shy, it also gives a huge distance. (Expert)


A recent SCP report on Syrian status holders described their integration as a considerable task - most people receive social assistance benefits and 40 percent have psychological problems. However, the life of the Eritrean newcomers is fully on the way, but it is an even greater challenge, writes SCP. Most do not have a job, "except for a few." It is "not daring to say that the starting situation of the Eritrean group is even worse than that of the Syrian group".


Bet-El Teklemariam himself fled from Eritrea to Germany in the early 1980s. In 2000 she moved to the Netherlands, following her love. In Rotterdam she has been working as a volunteer with refugees for about fifteen years. Normally for the daughter of an old priest, she says. "That's how I am".


Nowadays, Teklemariam accompanies young Eritreans on behalf of Nidos, the foundation that organizes the guardianship for minor asylum seekers nationwide. She teaches Eritrean women in Alphen aan den Rijn and Dordrecht and she works as a volunteer at the refugee consultation in Ommoord, Rotterdam-Noordwest.


There Teklemariam sees Eritreans hanging around in the hall without complaints. "Just to chat". One of the first things they have to learn about the Netherlands is coming on time. "If you are late, your appointment in the hospital will not go through."


From the report: volunteer 1: "You have to be patient if you are a buddy of an Eritrean, because they are not like the agreements."


Volunteer 2: "You first have to motivate someone and that he really comes to appointments, because nine of the ten times they just do not come."


Domestic violence


Most questions are asked by Teklemariam about making an appointment with the general practitioner, following language lessons (Teklemariam: "Some language schools want to make money and do not give lessons.") And about work. Eritreans want to work, but often do not have the right papers and do not succeed.


There are so many more problems, says Teklemariam. She regularly hears domestic violence. Expectations about the new life together are often unrealistic. Often they only lived together in Eritrea for a short time. If the husband and wife come to the Netherlands separately from each other, they have not seen each other for a few years. Sometimes they have had another partner in the meantime. This causes tension. And with the arrival to the Netherlands, the relationships within the marriage have also changed: women no longer have to strictly obey their husbands. "That causes quarrels."


In Eritrea, men are the boss, they work. Women stay at home. That Eritrean men are mostly unemployed in the Netherlands, they feel as a loss of status. They do not bring in the money, the state does. Teklemariam knows several men who mistreat their wife and sometimes also the children. And men who spend their benefit on gambling, alcohol or soft drugs.


From the report: We just sit still. We are quickly taken up, have a good home and we get money. The only thing they do not do well is that we have no work. We have not learned to sit at home and only eat. They think we are lazy, but we want to work. (Eritrean man)




Eritreans often can not go to rescuers, says Teklemariam. They ask the Eritreans at the first meeting the shirt. That scares off. "An Eritrean then thinks you are from the IND [Immigration and Naturalization Service]."


Healthcare professionals take too little account of the experiences and background of Eritreans, she thinks. The Dutch individualistic society is at odds with the rural, more community-oriented way of life. "In Eritrea you are brought up as a woman to become a housewife. You learn to cook, take care of your children and take care of your husband. And then all of a sudden everything is expected to take care of everything yourself. You have to learn them with a lot of patience. "Eritrean status holders do not easily go to a doctor or social worker with their problems, but ask for help from friends who are struggling with the same problems, according to the SCP study.From the report: Life in Eritrea was hell for me! I was assaulted by several men. Since then I have had various symptoms for which I have sought medical help. To date, doctors can not find an explanation. People often think that I am making something up. (Eritrean woman.


More use should be made of the few well-trained Eritrean newcomers as intermediaries, says Teklemariam. Municipalities relied too much on Eritreans who came to the Netherlands in the eighties and nineties. They often stand at a great distance from the new group, do not take the time for guidance and are usually not competent. Well-trained Eritrean newcomers know the target group, says Teklemariam, but their expertise is barely used. They can take this group by the hand and prepare for a visit to a doctor or the municipality. "Now Eritreans are super tense for every visit to the municipality or social worker", says Teklemariam.


From the report: I think: I simply wrote it down or explained it, but then there is another concept or a word in what was difficult. And for some psychological concepts, for example, there are no words in Tigrinya either. So then people express themselves much more like: I sleep badly. I have a headache. My head is full. Those kind of things. Or: I am weak. I have no strength. (expert, doctor)

Drawing Kamagurka



Correction (November 16, 2018): In an earlier version the name Alphen aan den Rijn was misspelled.

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