Overview of the Refugee Problem

Tricia Redek in her piece titled Human Tsunamis: Refugees and the Failure of Forced Migration Policy finds that in 2008 the numbers of claims filed by Eritreans exceeded those of Iraqis. In this case Iraq is considered to be a country with the highest refugee population next to Afghanistan.  Despite the integration program pursued by UNHCR for some time, the number of Eritrean refugees in the Sudan in 2009 was about 186,292 (UNHCR 2009 Global trend: refugees, Asylum seekers, returnees, internally displaced and stateless persons).  I am sure there could be an equal number of persons who conveniently are in a state of limbo where they lead their lives without minding too much to Sudanese laws or UNHCR rations. The number of Eritreans crossing the Ethiopian frontier during the 2009 and 2010 is estimated at 800 a day (personal communication). The indication is that the continuous stream of refugees to the neighboring countries is unlikely to slow down because Eritrea is entering into far deeper crisis where self induced violence from within or without is becoming imminent by the day. Under such circumstance one need not guess what is in store for those aimlessly wondering for a better future.

If events of the past decade are our guide, the situation in Eritrea will not improve a bit, thus, affecting further the ordinary men and women who live deprived of the basic necessities of life and also their children who after thirteen years remained corralled in god forsaken areas of the country and few scattered throughout the North and Southern parts of Africa, stateless. Obviously, the condition under which they live in Egypt and Libya is not comparable to that of Ethiopia and Sudan. Israel’s treatment to the 30,000 plus refugees in its territory leaves much to be desired. To date, there is nothing not even make believe measures  taken by Israel to rehabilitate, resettle or make token gesture in the field of education and skill building among the refugees.


  • To most of the refugee the common route for freedom is the Sudan which serves for some as a platform for trekking to Egypt and Libya which by virtue of their geographic proximity are the last frontier to their final destination, the European continent.  However, the road to freedom has never been smooth, but littered with landmines not familiar to many of the ex-service men and women who knew too well how those conventional landmines so common in the region for half a century look like. The landmines refereed to here are not the innate ones that blow haywire around you leaving physical damage or death, but the landmines incarnate of flesh and blood with a far reaching psychological effect, the traffickers and the delelti who facilitate that .
  • Most often refugees are lured to take this hazardous journey not because of human trickery alone but also of the undying urge of those who wants to make something out of their lives. It is known that refugees suffer from anxiety and restlessness to make rational decisions.  This opens to their exploitation by unscrupulous persons all the way from the Eritrean frontier to their unfortunate but illusive destination, the desert sands and the unquenchable belly of the Mediterranean sea.  Symbolically speaking the sea is the dividing line between the haves of the Northern hemisphere and have not of the South.  Ironically few are encouraged and supported by their families’ right from the start and many receive help after arriving in the Sudan by families and friends in the Diaspora. From this illegal enterprise it is the human traffickers, the corrupt officials and the psychopathic rapists that reap the profit. 
    In Egypt and Libya, the situation of Eritrean refugees and perhaps all those hailing south of the Nile fifth cataract is deplorable. It can simply be characterized as a flashback from horror movie.
  • While many refugees are kept in the Egyptian dungeons for months few are also kept in chains in the Sinai. Reminiscent, of the old US slave system where the slave master couples with whoever slave female he wishes to for lust or for economic reasons (increase the number of slaves in his household),  in Sinai the Bedouin has field days with married women, under age children and any women under their bondage. Their audacious demand for freeing their ‘slaves’ went unheeded for a long time. In fact Paucity of data will restrain me from categorically stating that refugee body parts are harvested for the lucrative world market but I can confidently affirm that bodily scars are evident in many as a result of cruel punishment meted upon them. With no one to claim them as his own the Egyptian authorities are indifferent to their plight and dismissive to any accusations by human rights group.
  • Libya, now under the tottering dictator has been a hostile place to be used as transit by Eritreans. It is in fact a very dangerous country for any person leaving Eritrea because of its special relationship with regime in Asmara. It deported few hundreds to Eritrea knowing full well that prison and death awaits them. Before the present uprising against the Colonel, the government was accused by human rights group of readying for deportation 245 Eritreans jamming them into three shipping containers mounted on trucks for a 12-hour, non-stop journey through the desert to the remote detention center at Al-Biraq, close to Sabha, a large town with first class airport. It is important to note here, that although Libya has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, its 1969 Constitutional Proclamation, declares that "the extradition of political refugees is prohibited." Be that as it may, the government never ceased to use the threat of deportation until it too is ready to be deported.

Both countries, poor and underdeveloped are xenophobic and intolerant to races they considered inferior. There are neither public institutions nor civil societies to defend the right of the refugees. Their treatment toward the Christian refugees in particular is known to have been harsh.  In terms of racial bigotry it is not different in Israel where the land is populated by people of European extraction.

What is to be Done

Frankly there is a lot to be done. One only need to follow the works of Fr. Mussie of the Vatican, Elsa Chirym and Meron Estifanos. From the task undertaken by the aforementioned individuals and others like them one learns the hopeless state of the Eritrean refugees who continued to be unclaimed by even well meaning compatriots who live in relative comfort. One normally assumes that the government in Asmara to stand up and take responsibility as it should. But this is impractical to expect from a government that lost direction longtime ago and reduced to neighborhood bully. It is against this background that a movement to establish an entity to coordinate the activities on the ground is in the formation. The International Commission for Eritrean Refugees (ICER){ still in the formation} has been working diligently to connect organizations, personalities and individuals across the globe to match a common strategy for the alleviation of the suffering of the refugees, for educating the uneducated, for informing the uniformed and for lobbying on their behalf.

Briefly, the task ahead is first and foremost to declare by our actions that the Eritrean refugees are not classical orphans whose time for adoption is way beyond the adoptable age. They are people victims of circumstance and have the moral and material backing of their compatriots. From here on,  the activities that we all need to focus on falls into place. They are:-  

  1. Lobby for their resettlement in a third country.
  2. Entice local and international organizations for the integration  of the refugees in the society they find themselves
  3. Improve their livelihood in the countries of temporary residence ( …. Community halls, libraries, photovoltaic as  energy source, common communication equipments, computers and hundreds of small things but that makes a whole lot of difference in their lives)
  4. Access to higher of education in their temporary of residence
  5. Through research to document their lives and how best to find solutions to their problems
  6. Complain, sue and defend for any cruelty meted upon them
  7. Use international charters, obligations and protocols as instrument to stir the consciousness of the world (it is fresh in our mind the benign act of the NATO forces, the Italian coast guards and merchant ships that purposely left hapless Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees to be swallowed by the sea). Only one person, Fr. Mussie cried foul for the inhuman actions of NATO and Europe
  8. Remind NCDC its responsibility to conduct a brotherly talk with the Ethiopian government for more scholarship and the release of anyone wishing to make something out of him/herself in the greater Ethiopian society.
  9. Take charge or cooperate with international organizations to fill gaps in the Sudanese refugees camps to ameliorate their living and social conditions.
  10. ABOVE all to educate and inform refugees fresh from the boat of the dangers lay ahead

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