By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, November 03, 2013
The recent drowning of 350 Eritreans off the coast of Lampedusa was a tragedy of mammoth proportion. Repressive political environment that has been prevalent in Eritrea since independence is the primary trigger for this colossal calamity. A repeat of such incidents, and mass exodus of young and old Eritreans would persist so long as Esayass Afewerki remains in firm control of the country.
It is deeply saddening that these young men, women and children who were lucky enough to escape the clutches of organ harvesting Egyptian Bedouins perished a whisker away from the Italian coast. What is further distressing is refusal of the Eritrean regime to allow the family of the deceased to bring their loved ones home for proper burials.
Candle lit vigils are being held by Eritreans around the globe including refugees living in various camps in Ethiopia although the event was unfortunately marred by violence possibly instigated by Shabyia agents. But various Eritrean human rights activists refuted this in their letter titled’’ An Open Letter to the Ethiopian Authorities.’’ They claimed without providing a shred of evidence that ‘’..... certain sources seem to be under erroneous impression that the vocal refugees are Eritrean government agents controlled by the government itself. Nothing could be farther from the truth.’’ How they are able to deny the existence of Eritrean spies within the camps with absolute certainty is simply mind boggling. Since they seem to have inside information, is it also possible they could inform us whether Shabiya is financing Al-Shebab or not?
The activists further stated: ‘’ We learned that camp attendants whom we assume are directly connected with government security apparatus has opened fire on innocent and unarmed refugees causing one fatality and many serious injuries.’’ Very quick to blame the Ethiopian government, and yet, completely absolved the Eritrean dictator, who is responsible for the Lampudesa tragedy, of any involvement in the unfortunate disturbances through his agents.
Writing an open letter to the Ethiopian government with a CC to UNHCR commissioner was simply an overreaction of the worst sort. Couldn’t they have contacted the relevant authorities before going to the cyber space and air waves? Was the motive to blacken the good name of Ethiopia for providing sanctuary to hundreds and thousands of Eritrean refugees fleeing their country as a result of the rampant violation of human rights?
This type of knee-jerk response seems to be a common trait among the Eritrean activists of one form or another. During the Ethio-Eritrea border war around 60,000 Eritreans were expelled from Ethiopia and the retort to this action was very deafening. And yet, when over 200,000 Ethiopians were booted out of Eritrea for no apparent reason, leaving their properties and belongings behind, not a single Eritrean came to their defence. The Eritrean expellees are now freely returning to Ethiopia, and by and large, they have managed to re-claim their businesses and properties from their legally appointed representatives without too many difficulties. Is this sort of magnanimous deed likely for Ethiopians who were forced to leave Eritrea empty handed?
‘Arbi Harnet’ which is a clandestine organisation stationed in Eritrea has joined the fray and stated in reference to the Lampedusa tragedy: ‘’Security in Asmara is now said to be, being overseen by soldiers from the Ethiopian Opposition Groups based in Eritrea mainly from the Tigray People’s Democratic Front known as Demhit locally.’’ The Islamist Eritrean website Awate.Com further elaborated: ‘’ ........TPDM members with noticeable Tigrayan accents were roaming the Merkato neighbourhood of Asmara and asking for ‘’metawekia’’ and ‘’mewasawesi- Ethiopian words for ‘’moving permit’’-whose Eritrean version is ‘’tessera (Italian)’’ and ‘’menkesakesi’’ respectively.’’
This is very amusing indeed. Why is ‘’Demhit’’ involved when Eritrea has its own ruthless security apparatus that is causing en mass flight of the youth to Ethiopia and Sudan? It appears that this is merely the usual venoms and baseless accusation of Tigryans by the Eritrean elite which dates back to the dissolution of the federal system that existed during the Emperor’s era. Already Tigrayans living in Eritrea exist under very difficult conditions, and the alleged involvement of ‘’Demhit’’ is bound to take this to a new and dangerous level. The blame game which has no material basis seems to persist among the Eritrean intelligentsia, and if this erroneous perception is not corrected, it could have serious and devastating implications.
Tigrayans have always been hospitable and respectful to the Eritrean people notwithstanding the humiliation and cruel insults heaved against them. At this juncture there are over 80,000 Eritrean refugees living in various camps in Tigray and as far as possible, they are given adequate assistance in order to help them lead a normal and dignified life. The local people have welcomed them with open arms and made them feel at home. Some refugees are in higher education in different universities and others are offered vocational trainings including tailoring, metal-work, electronics, food preparations and general construction. Small businesses are mushrooming in the camps and the owners are exempted from paying taxes.
A significant number of Eritreans that were on the verge of deportation from Egypt and other countries have been saved and given asylum in Ethiopia avoiding possible elimination by the dictator. Those who are lucky enough to secure resettlement in Europe and America are supported until their departure from Ethiopia. Over all the treatment Eritrean refugees is exemplary and the UN commissioner for Refugees Mr Antonio Guterres confirmed this during his recent visit by stating that Ethiopia is ‘’ a pillar of refugee protection.’’
Leaders of Eritrean human rights organisations which include ICER, HRCE and Habeshia Agency have lost their sense of judgement and fairness, and appear to have an incredibly inflated opinion of themselves. They have totally unrealistic expectations and had the audacity to strongly demand that the refugees leave the camps and be allowed to mingle with the population at large and compete for jobs. Ethiopia is a poor country and has no capacity to employ refugees that consists of 240,000 Somalis, 80,000 Eritreans, 62,000 South Sudanese and over 30,000 Sudanese. Even if it were to consider a fraction of them, it would have adverse political, social and economic consequences.
If the intentions of the Eritrean activists and plethora of opposition groups are to assist their own people, they must stop their petty awrajawinet and embarrassing squabbles and work in unison to remove the tyrant who is the root cause of the problem. Otherwise, there would many more Lampedusa’s in the future and the Eritrean youth would continue to be sources of organs for the cruel Arabs. In the meantime, we implore the Ethiopian government to prevent leaders of the so called human rights activists such as Meron Estifanos, Elsa Chyrum, Dr Yebio Woldemariam and Father Mussie Zerai from entering the country for besmirching the good name of Ethiopia.