Sunday, November 22, 2015

Desperate Eritrean Child Escapees Are Committing Suicide in Ethiopia | VICE News

Desperate Eritrean Child Escapees Are Committing Suicide in Ethiopia | VICE News: "Desperate Eritrean Child Escapees Are Committing Suicide in Ethiopia
By Sally Hayden

November 20, 2015 | 7:02 pm
VICE News is closely watching the international migrant crisis. Check out the Open Water blog here.

Eritrea — nicknamed the "North Korea of Africa" — is currently experiencing an exodus of children.

After Syrians, its citizens were the second most common nationality attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe this summer. That voyage is only one hurdle on the long and treacherous journey out of the tiny Horn of Africa nation, which is estimated  to have lost nearly 10 percent of its population — 400,000 people — in recent years, as they risk death to escape its repressive dictatorship.

A large proportion of these people are minors, often unaccompanied, who are fleeing compulsory and indefinite military service.

What happens to those who don't make it across the Sahara, to Libya, and on into Europe? VICE News has discovered that between June and August this year at least four unaccompanied Eritrean minors in refugee camps in neighboring Ethiopia attempted to kill themselves, while a fifth succeeded.

Job Onyango, a counselor for the Center for Victims of Torture — who work in several camps in northern Ethiopia, close to the Eritrean border — told VICE News the spike in suicide attempts came during the summer when the seas were calm and migration to Europe reached a peak. "Most of these young people had expectations of migrating [further on]," he said. "And so they are not being able to go, and that's one of the reasons that is causing them to feel desperate and take these measures."

It is common for families to save up and pay for one child to make the journey to Europe, Onyango said. Those left behind can feel devastated and become desperate.

Related: Eritrea Won't Play in a Regional Soccer Match After Most of Its Team Sought Asylum Abroad

Eritrean refugees are currently arriving into the camps in northern Ethiopia at an average of 200 each day, according to Onyango. "Almost half of them are minors," he said. "The majority are under 35 — minors and young men and women, and even the adults coming in are coming with two or three children."

Medhanye Alem, an Ethiopian counselor and focal person for child protection issues in the Mai Aini refugee camp, south of Shire, a town in northern Ethiopia, told VICE News that challenges for Eritrean minors include not getting enough food or other basics like soap. "The ones who stay in the camp for three or four years get depressed and attempt suicide," he said. "And there is also peer pressure, especially the ones who are living under group care." In Alem's experience, many young Eritreans discriminate among each other based on ethnicity. Eritreans from the south are particularly vulnerable, according to Alem, because they're believed to be "evil-eyed." 

"Those children usually attempt suicide," he said.

Eritrea has compulsory military service, meaning many young people flee the country before they have to enlist. Those who stay are paid low wages and often enlisted indefinitely. Some are thought to be sent to conflicts abroad — Eritrean troops are believed to be currently fighting  with UAE troops in Yemen.

Refugees who survive the border-crossing — where a "shoot-to-kill policy is enforced — arrive in Ethiopia owing money to smugglers or saddled with the knowledge that their escape has put their families' lives at risk and swaddled them in debt. "In most cases the ones who are close to Ethiopia, they cross by their own but the ones who are far they pay the smugglers 5000 nakfa ($298) per child. Most of them cannot afford that," Alem said.

Alem has worked with young people who were caught the first time they tried to escape Eritrea and sent to prison, or have been victims of rape and other attacks along the border.

"Among the recent group of young people we had were those who had been captured at the border and were taken into prison and tortured in prison and these are minors under the age of 18," Onyango said. Their condition was "very symptomatic with trauma and similar to other marks that we have seen in other escapees."

Related: UN Report Alleges Forced Labor at Canadian-Owned Mine in Eritrea

Onyango agreed young people — including those in refugee camps — tend to be very concerned about their future. "The Ethiopian government gives them access to education to the highest level — primary, secondary, and university," he said, though admitted that life was still a struggle.

"Our main role is just to teach them to cope with life in the camp. Control emotions, deal with conflicts, and have realistic goals for the future."

Onyango said the camp's services had responded quickly to the crisis by offering emergency help and training for those working directly with children. 

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd 

Watch the VICE News documentary, Drowning for Freedom: Libya's Migrant Jails:

TOPICS: eritrea, africa, ethiopia, center for victims of torture, shire, refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, torture, suicide, depression, open water"

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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Giving money to Eritrea and Sudan to stop refugees is almost satire | World news | The Guardian

 A migrant waits to disembark in Sicilian harbour of Messina, Italy. Photograph: Antonio Parrinello/Reuters

African governments have been offered €1.8bn to help stem the flow of refugees to Europe. Yet the migrants European leaders want to “send back” are in many cases fleeing the governments the EU is now collaborating with.
It could almost be satire. Amongst those present at the Malta summit in Valletta were Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia – widely condemned for their disregard of human rights.
In Sudan, for example, according to the High Commission for Refugees there are 400,000 internally displaced people in Darfur, thanks to continued conflictbetween rebel groups and government forces. A further 6.9 million people are in need for humanitarian assistance. By the end of 2015, the UN estimates there could be up to 460,000 refugees in Sudan alone.

For many in Sudan, smuggling and trafficking has become a lucrative business. Reliable sources in the country allege that many National Intelligence and Security Service officers have been involved in human smuggling for financial gain. The security force are also alleged to be involved in trafficking operations in eastern Sudan and Darfur, transporting refugees up in to Libya. 
Amnesty International was quick to point out these contradictions, arguing that the EU should not cooperate with those guilty of grave human rights abuses. “With the EU seemingly intent on enlisting African nations as proxy gatekeepers, the Valetta summit is likely to result in a one-sided border control contract dressed up as a cooperation agreement. Refugees and migrants deserve and are entitled to better,” said Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.
To date, there has been no evidence that the EU’s previous financial incentives to Omar al-Bashir’s government have made any positive impact on the crisis, so why will they now?
In November last year, the EU launched another controversial policy, known as the Khartoum Process. Announced in Rome, it pledged to tackle human smuggling from the Horn of Africa into Europe by providing countries in the region with financial, technical and political incentives to manage and control migration.
As part of this, the EU pledged to offer Sudan and Eritrea significant payments. However, in the absence of monitoring mechanisms and transparency, these funds will likely disappear without trace, swallowed by two government who are currently under international sanctions for human rights abuses.

Writing in African Arguments, migration researchers Maimuna Mohamud and Cindy Horst said the Khartoum Process represented a “worrying precedent”.
“All participants of the Khartoum Process ... have policies and political systems that directly render them responsible for creating conditions that produce refugees and migrants in the first place,” they argued.
Last month, Mike Smith, chair of the commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea, emphasised the significant number of Eritreans arriving on the shores of Europe: after Syrians and Afghans, they made up the third biggest group of people attempting to enter in 2014.
But EU leaders seem to be turning a blind eye to this, once again turning to cash incentives as quick fixes.
For a meaningful solution to the problem, the EU should be forcing the issue of conflict in Darfur, or pressurising Isaias Afwerki’s government to end indefinite military service in Eritrea. Only this way will the root of the problem be addressed.