It is in all the newspapers: ‘More than 100 dead in boat tragedy at gates of Europe’ is today’s headline in the Guardian. We read with mounting sadness as the death toll rises to 200, 300 or more feared dead. The dead are referred to as ‘migrants from Africa’. In the smaller print we learn that many are Eritreans and Somalians. On page 2 of today’s Guardian it says: In the past two decades, almost 20,000 people are recorded as having lost their lives in an effort to reach Europe’s southern borders from Africa and the Middle East.’ There are also articles about who is to blame. Is it the criminal gangs who traffic in people? Is it the European policy on migration? Is it a failure of technology?
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea commiserates with the dreadful loss being felt by the death of so many. But there is no doubt as to who and what is to blame for the death of so many Eritreans whose boat sank near the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa: The ‘who’ is Isaias Afewerki. He has murdered these people by making their lives impossible to live in Eritrea; the ‘what’ is the government of thieves who support his brutal regime.
Why were these Eritreans fleeing Eritrea knowing that they, too, might easily become sad statistics detailing more deaths at sea? What kind of brutality compels people to risk travelling in such unsafe circumstances? The newspapers say nothing about Afewerki’s brutal regime. The newspapers do not mention that life in Eritrea is so cheap that the government has made a prison out of the entire country, never enforcing its own constitution, killing people without legal procedure, forcing thirteen-year-old children into the military to serve indefinitely, keeping anyone who complains imprisoned in steel containers in extremes of hot and cold, underfed, beaten, tortured and raped.
The newspapers do not mention that there is barely any food in Etitrea for the normal populace; that it is rationed; that failure to comply in every last detail with the state’s bidding can result in imprisonment, the removal of all your human rights, and the rights of your family and other loved ones. That a tragedy such as this, if it is reported at all in an Etritrean newspaper, will be blamed on some imaginary foe.
There is no independent media in Eritrea, and the ‘free’ media of Europe does not carry the story, today, of the crimes committed by Afewerki, whose reach extends beyond Eritrea to Etritreans in diaspora who have to continue paying an illegal tax on their earnings to the Eritrean state – the few who were permitted to leave the country. Eritrea is as bad as Russia when it was totalitarian, and only exceeded by North Korea in its absence of human rights – entire football teams have gone to play games abroad and then run away.
But Afewerki, and the corrupt regime he presides over, is not the only perpetrator of this crime: Eritreans in diaspora have a duty to speak out about the atrocities committed in their name every day in a country that permits no outside enquiries. And the Etritrean agents abroad who make the lives of so many miserable by bullying and threatening them if they dare to speak out are also the murderers of these people. Europeans today are wringing their hands, and the Pope has told Italians they should feel shame for failing to act to save these people when they could, but the real culpability begins at home, in Etritrea, in the government, in the enormous bank account of a leader who keeps his people at near-starvation level with no jobs and no education.
This is not the first time such a terrible tragedy has occurred. When will be the last tie?