How do you solve a problem like Eritrea?
The European debate on migration in the Mediterranean has taken precedence because of the increasing number of deaths of those attempting to cross. Many more will attempt to reach Sicily from Libya as the weather improves over the spring and summer, the busiest seasons of the year because of the calmer and presumably safer waters. As the debate about how to manage the inevitable surge of boatloads of refugees has focused on renewing the so-called ‘Mare Nostrum’ policy of sending European patrols closer to the Libyan coast, there is an element of analysis that continues to be missing. It concerns the causes of such risky migration in the first place. Why do so many men and women risk their lives and those of their families in making a trip with effectively limited chances of success? There is an apparent determination to shun an analysis of what is happening and what can be done in the country from where the overwhelming majority of these refugees originate: Eritrea. Indeed, all the corpses found during the night after the shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa last week were Eritrean. A whole generation of youth have been forced to leave their country, oppressed by the dictatorship.According to United Nations estimates, about 4,000 people escape from this small country in the Horn of Africa every month. Last year alone, nearly 10,000 arrived in Italy. Many are lost during the trip; about a hundred people a day flee from Eritrea through the Sudan. Those who are caught early get arrested because they lack papers; others die in the Sahara desert as they make their way toward the Libyan coast from the south, some may even fall prey to organ traffickers. Eritrea has earned the reputation of a country with a poor human rights record. The grave violations of human rights include arbitrary detention of those perceived to be political enemies, including opposition members (who have to operate in secret), journalists, and even former allies of president – or rather dictator – Isaias Afewerki.