The EU needs to change course in dealing with Eritrea

Just prior to the Valetta Summit on migration, the EU’s obsession with “normalizing” relations with the regime in Asmara has reached frenetic levels.

The recent influx of migrants to Europe has many European nations running around for quick fixes,  particularly in light of the growing resurgence of far right movements and xenophobia taking hold throughout Europe.

The focus on the regime in Asmara is also understandable because tiny Eritrea has achieved the rather dubious reputation of being the largest producer of migrants per capita, with a whopping 26% of the “refugees” crossing the Mediterranean from the impoverished Horn of Africa nation.

The EU’s erroneous assumption in pursuing the policy of rapprochement with the regime in Asmara is that Eritrean refugees are leaving their country in droves because of lack of employment opportunities– an assumption that flies full in the face of the reality on the ground.

The regime in Asmara has never been in the business of providing job opportunities for its people; nor has it ever toyed with the idea of engaging in the normal behaviors of states.

Literally, hundreds of thousands of Eritrean youth are languishing in an indefinite military service, which for all intensive purposes, amounts to slave labor. The regime has had in place a shoot-to-kill policy on the border where dozens are killed every month.

This is a regime whose military top-brass and security personnal are busy lining their pockets with the proceeds from the illegal trafficking in persons.

This is a regime that has made diverting every resource into an arms bazaar of contraband arms into an art form.

This is a regime whose vocation since its inception has been destabilizing the region and whose leadership has demonstrated a precocious talent for troublemaking. Conspicuously missing in the repertoire of talents of the regime in Asmara is a willingness to discharge ordinary obligations of any normal state, such as trying to create jobs. Eritreans are not leaving their country in droves because of lack of jobs, which may or may not be created courtesy of EU money.

Eritreans are leaving their beloved country because of a totalitarian regime bent on bringing an entire population down to its knees.

To the extent that the EU can help stem the tide of migration, particularly from Eritrea, it can only do so by exerting pressure on the regime in Asmara to change its behavior at home and mend fence with its neighbors in the region.

If past practice is our only guide, the leaders in Asmara, as much as they like to play dangerous games of brinkmanship, often respond to pressure. The best option is for the EU not to blink first in this time honored Eritrean game. Because, after all, the people of Eritrea deserve better.

When by far the most patriotic people in Africa are voting with their feet– stampeding to leave their country, one has to ask much more serious questions of political accountability than mere negotiation with the Devil.

Coddling incorrigible offenders can only embolden them to continue to do what they know best, terrorize their own people at home and destabilize neighbors left and right!


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