Don't give money to Eritrea, activist tells EU

2015-11-11 19:54
Eritrean refugees walk at a temporary camp in Kassala, in eastern Sudan. (Ashraf Shazly, AFP)

Eritrean refugees walk at a temporary camp in Kassala, in eastern Sudan. (Ashraf Shazly, AFP)

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Valletta - Eritrea, the African country that supplies the most asylum seekers to Europe, does not deserve any financial aid from the international community, an exiled human rights campaigner said on Wednesday.

"Eritrea has become one of the most paranoid, repressive and secretive countries in the world," Elizabeth Chyrum, director of Human Rights Concern - Eritrea, said before a meeting of European and African leaders in Valletta.

Commenting on reports that the European Union was considering giving €200m to Eritrea to stem migration flows from the impoverished nation, Chyrum pleaded for the bloc to reconsider.

"We can only express our bewilderment at the decision to provide assistance to the Eritrean government," she said, calling for the money to be spent instead on Eritrean refugees in Europe and other African countries.

According to the European Asylum Support Office, EU governments received 36 405 asylum applications from Eritreans during January-September, the sixth-largest group after Syrians, Western Balkan residents, Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis.

Chryum, who is based in London, said her fellow countrymen were desperate to escape from a militarized country where food is scarce, and there are no free media, independent judiciary or even functioning universities.

Comparing it to North Korea, she described it as a "police state" where "everybody is spied upon," mobile phone ownership is subject to approval by a government committee, and any gathering of more than seven people is "punishable by unwritten law."

Frozen conflict

Eritrea has not held any elections since it gained independence in 1993, and is locked in a frozen conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia. Its people are forced into often unlimited military service, which human rights groups consider as modern slavery.

Chyrum said parents tell children to fail classes at school to delay their conscription. She also said border guards apply a "shoot to kill" policy against anyone caught trying to flee the nation.

Her concerns highlighted the EU's moral dilemma, as the bloc juggles between its human right ideals and the necessity to secure African help to control the biggest refugee crisis Europe has experienced since World War II.

In Valletta, the EU was due to launch a new, €1.8bn fund to finance programmes tackling the root causes of migration, such as poverty and conflicts. EU governments have been asked to pour a further €1.8bn into it.

But German and west African human rights groups warned on Monday that by co-operating with autocratic countries like Eritrea, Sudan or Egypt on migration, the EU is stabilizing regimes and giving their oppressed subjects more reasons to escape.

"We don't need support of dictatorial regimes so that they prevent their suppressed opposition from fleeing," said Cornelia Fuellkrug-Weitzel, head of the German aid organization Brot fuer die Welt.

Read more on:    eritrea  |  east africa  |  migrants

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