Close the Eritrean Embassies Not The Borders
By Mirjam van Reisen
BRUSSELS (IDN) - Even though the military regime has closed the border and practices a shoot-to-kill policy to stop people fleeing, nearly every tenth Eritrean has fled the country for political reasons or belongs to the Eritrean diaspora. With over 200,000 having sought refuge abroad or chosen to live overseas recently, more than ten per cent of the population seems to prefer to live abroad.
In fact, according to Dutch Minister Fred Teeven, there has been a rapid increase of refugees during the last months. In 2013 the Netherlands received one thousand Eritrean refugees in total. Meanwhile, the number of asylum seekers arriving in the Netherlands from Syria and Eritrea has gone up from 1,000 a month in February and March to around 1,000 a week.
The question is what the reason is for the sudden increase in these numbers and what can be done about it. The numbers of Eritrean refugees has certainly increased after the disaster with the boat that sank on October 3, 2013 near Lampedusa. Hundreds of Eritreans died but the military regime stopped the bodies from being brought back home.
Moreover the mourning ceremonies in Eritrea were forbidden and announcements of the deaths were prohibited. In order to keep the population under control the regime deployed military troupes from Ethiopia, its archenemy. The population is increasingly confused and betrayed. Hence increasing numbers have fled the country. These have arrived early spring to begin the cross-over to Europe.
Teeven announced in an emergency debate in the Dutch parliament that he will increase mobile border controls at the Dutch borders. However, the question is whether this will help to change the direction of this stream of refugees.
The human smugglers may not worry about the measures to close the borders. On the contrary, the more the borders are closed the more profit will they make. The organisation of the smuggling is set up from within Eritrea. The Eritrean Border Control Authority, which is charged with the control of the borders, is also engaged in the illegal smuggling of its own people to cross over the border and beyond.
Its business model feeds on the desperation of the population and the lack of alternatives for it. The organised smuggling expeditions of illegal transportations through Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Chad and Europe are linked to organised crime networks, receiving protection from the highest level of government in some countries.
In Europe the illegal networks of the Eritrean military regime are coordinated from within its embassies and consulates, which are an extension of the illegal practices at home. From these diplomatic posts, illegal activities are organised by a network of informers and spies, which control the Eritrean refugees.
The Eritreans in Europe and elsewhere are extorted with a so-called 2% tax, which provides an income stream back to the country. Such extortion practices have already been declared illegal in Canada. Other extortions relate to the ransoms demanded for victims of human trafficking from Eritrean origin to which the Eritrean refugee communities are asked to contribute.
Given the fear for these spies and informers and the possible repercussions on family members back home, many Eritrean refugees are intimidated. They therefore refrain from asking help of police or other authorities who could offer protection from extortion. A recent study by Europol to identify extortion practices in Europe was hindered by the fact that Eritreans are not forthcoming with information due to fear of repercussions.
The human smuggling provides a business model that generates income to the Eritrean military. Rather than closing the borders to Eritrean refugees, it should be considered to close the Eritrean embassies and consulates. These form important hubs for the illegal organised networks and benefit directly from a larger number of refugees. These embassies are instrumental in the organisation of the trading of smuggling the refugees. They work with the illegal networks by selling Eritrean passports to Eritreans and non-Eritreans.
The EU should close the Eritrean diplomatic services and outlaw the extortion of the refugees through the so-called 2% tax. The EU should take adequate measures to stop the Eritrean regime from extorting the refugees and benefiting from them.
Next month a European Summit will discuss the measures to be taken following the Lampedusa boat crash. The Eritrean refugees are increasingly desperate and will take any risks to reach safety. During this Summit, the EU should not close its borders for these refugees, but in stead it should close the Eritrean diplomatic posts, which directly benefit from the trade of human smuggling and extortion of its refugees.
Prof. Dr Mirjam van Reisen is Professor International Social Responsibility, Tilburg University, Director Europe External Policy Advisors (EEPA), Member of the Duch Government Council on International Affairs and Chair of the Development Cooperation Commission. She is author of the “Human Trafficking Cycle, Sinai and Beyond”, 2014, Wolf Publications.