Editor’s Note: President Isaias Afwerki was interviewed by local media on domestic issues on Saturday, 20 January this month. Here is final Excerpts of the interview. Foreign powers have been using youth migration to shake the unyielding determination of the Eritrean people. What has the government of Eritrea done to tackle these conspiracies diplomatically and legally? And what message do you have to the people of Eritrea, in general, and the youth, in particular?
These are the challenges and conspiracies of the past 25 years. Threats have different levels and hierarchy. Military aggression is a violent threat. No less lethal are conspiracies that undermine the cohesion and unity of a nation; machinations aimed at disintegrating the fabric of the society. The previous three US Administrations – the Clinton, Bush and Obama Presidencies – pursued policies of “regime change” against Eritrea. In much broader terms, economic, political and psychological subterfuges were unleashed against Eritrea to weaken the resolve of the youth. The network involved operatives in the region and certain countries in Europe. This is the backdrop behind the increased migration of Eritrean youth. It is also related to the wider phenomenon of heightened migration in the global sense with the emergence of a unipolar global order after the end of the Cold War where the powerful have strived to control the economies of the weak.
US National Security Strategy of 2002 envisaged reliance of selected “Anchors” to advance US perceived interests in a specific region. In this scheme, if a country is perceived as an obstacle to the strategy, it must be erased from the map. In 1991 (when we achieved our liberation), we had hoped fifty years of historical mistakes and injustice (on the part of the US) would be redeemed. But as I pointed out earlier, what prevailed was a new US agenda that again victimized Eritrea. This was the genesis of the strategy of “regime change”.
The migration programs especially those that targeted Eritrea were designed to advance this strategy. The story is long. It also encompassed hiring of quislings to facilitate these programs.
Let us take the case of Eritrean nationals in Israel for instance. The original plan was to entice Eritrean youth for migration abroad in order to organize an armed opposition for “violent regime change”. The estimation was that this should be feasible since most of the youth have undergone military training in the National Service. There were other factors and attributes that were taken into account too. These were some of the reasons why youth migration was encouraged in an organized manner.
What does a youth need to cross the border to Sudan? Who organizes it for them? One cannot venture into the unknown without facilitators and guides. Once they arrive in Sudan, they are approached by UN agencies and they have to fill forms. When they do that, they have to demonize the government so they can be accepted by these agencies. The script is… “endless national service and slave labour; gross violation of human rights” etc.
There are networks that perform the necessary “paper work” for “these refugees” in the Sudan; that organize the illicit trips to Libya or Egypt. Police and security officials are involved in this network. They say there are around 40 thousand migrants in Israel today; out of which around 20 thousand are Eritreans. When the original subversive schemes failed to materialize and the migrants became a burden there, the issue now is the manner of their expulsion.
As I emphasized earlier, those who wish to return from Israel have every right to do so. This was communicated to the authorities in Israel. Naturally, we requested access to register the 20,000 or so Eritrean migrants. But this was not allowed. If, as are told now, they are “asylum seekers… who have escaped human rights violations’ that needs to be verified too.
Furthermore, these youth who have been victimized need to make up for lost opportunities and support to start a new life in their country. They need to receive vocational training; to acquire employable skills which could be done relatively easily in Israel in view of the advance economy and technological advantage there. Again, these proposals were rejected. They simply wanted to deport them by giving each one of them 3,500 US dollars. But how much has each of these migrants paid to reach the country? What are the tribulations each has faced at the hands of human traffickers to enter Israeli – not accessible by any means – from the Sudan and through Egypt? The high price they must have paid cannot be equivalent to 3,500 dollars. They need fair compensation to start a new life in their home country. Our estimation at the time was each one deserves a compensation of 50,000 US dollars.
The discussions with the authorities in Israel reached a deadlock. Later, they said the Eritrean migrants will be deported to Rwanda and Uganda. Now they are dubbed as “infiltrators”; not “refugees”. We are told they will be deported to any country that can accept them. These are human beings; not livestock. No country can claim legal responsibility to receive our nationals. This cannot be acceptable by any standards. In this connection, we also deplore the cynical policy the EU has announced recently. They have allocated 700 million dollars to Ethiopia, ostensibly to “create jobs for Eritrean youth in the country”. What is rationale and legality of this act?
In 2013, we requested the UN, when Mr. Ban Ki Moon was the Secretary General, to undertake an independent and transparent investigation of human trafficking. As I clarified before, all the demonization campaigns; all the allegations of depicting” National Service as slave labour”; the false accusations of “gross violation of human rights” have failed to achieve the intended subversive agenda. We are always open to those who want to come back to their motherland, but their rights have to be preserved. The problem is there are agencies in Europe who have politicized the agenda of migration for their own selfish ends. The problems in Europe, with Brexit and other ramifications, growing unemployment in several countries, have also brought the issue to the forefront.
Migrants from Africa and elsewhere are employed, particularly in times of economic downturn, as janitors or babysitting pensioners. No one has the capacity to contribute in high-tech activities. This is modern slavery, especially in Africa. It is not acceptable to use the continent as a source of raw material and cheap labour, while holding hostage its economic growth. Who created the existing problems in the Middle East? We can take Libya as an example. Why has Libya become the corridor for such criminal networks? By whose legal authority has NATO destroyed the country? Who is benefiting from the transpiring situation? Who instigated this havoc and why? In this context, migration is an issue we need to see from a broader global scope. It is not something that is particularly targeted at us.
As I said, we made our plea on this matter five years ago. We called the UN and the UNSC to take a serious look at this case and take legal measures against the principal in the criminal network. Our calls fell on deaf ears at that time. Now, five years later, the issue has come into the limelight due to a dramatized CNN documentary. But, where and who filmed the documentary? Who were the enslavers and the slaves? It was a big topic on the TV network and it slipped without raising these basic questions.
Something has to be done about this 21st century slavery. All conscientious people, especially Africa, have to fight it. We have been fighting this issue from the beginning and many attempts have been made to silence us. We have been accused of human rights violations. They called our national service slavery. Now that everything has been exposed, we are working on how to defend our citizens. We have presented our plea again very recently. Of course we don’t expect it to end soon. Yet we will not stop our fight for this cause. Thanks to the resilience of our people, we have prevailed against all the odds.
Mr. President, the main victims of these evil plots are the youth. What particular message do you have for them?
We have apprehended a number of individuals involved in human trafficking, and the stories they tell to attract the youth are amazing. It is true people want to change their lives; make a better living. But most are deceived to ditch a lifetime opportunity of education to flee.
The wrong image of a “greener pasture” given to the youth must be debunked. The awareness of the youth needs to be raised. It is not easy to control the yearning of the young for this deception and to stop them from falling into the hands of these criminal networks, but some mechanisms must be worked out. We closely follow the plots made to drain our capacity. Intelligence operatives hunt the youth, particularly the educated, to spread their words of deception. We know the details of how these networks work. They put most of their focus on college students and the educated. So, here is where awareness of parents and the youth is needed. The youth naturally have bigger dreams, but the parents or families need to intervene and use their influence to protect them from these pitfalls.
The government is making substantial investments in education. Around 17 thousand students sit for their high school matriculation examinations annually. 10-15% of those students may join the colleges. How about the rest 85%? Where do they go? Can we create immediate job opportunities for them? It is not economic problems that are making these youths to flee their land. This issue demands an exhaustive study. What are the factors that are deceiving the youths? How are they polluting their minds? Is it the economic status of the countries that is attracting them? Then why are they going to Lampedusa, why not go to Saudi Arabia? There are richer countries in our region, if the issue is an economic question.
No one has a magic wand in his hands. This matter will remain a challenge, but the lasting solution will emanate from development projects we undertake in here. We may still pursue the diplomatic, political and legal aspects of this matter, but all the local organizations including the NUEYS, NUEW, administrations, communities, and even families, need to shoulder their responsibilities and work accordingly.
Thank you Mr. President