Eritrean refugees CalaisPresident Isaias Afwerki’s government can hardly contain its delight. The ‘new engagement’ ushered in by the European Union was just the boost the flagging regime was looking for.

Eritrea’s key ideologue, Presidential adviser Yemane Gebreab, made plain his satisfaction in an extensive interview with Austria’s Bruno Kreisky Forum.

(See below for transcription of Yemane’s interview.)

EU policy

The EU policy has been embraced by the British government, which in March 2015 issued fresh guidelines for the treatment of refugees.

These can be found  here and here.

The documents, frequently based on a discredited Danish government report, have been used to turn British policy towards Eritrea on its head. This – despite Human Rights Watch describing the report as “deeply flawed.”

The aim is simple: to cut the number of Eritreans arriving in the EU and the number of Eritreans receiving refugee status. The first is not working – Eritreans are still fleeing their country. But the second is having a dramatic effect.

The number of Eritreans granted refugee status has fallen from 83% in 2013 to just 49% in 2014.

These changes come:

  • Despite there being no improvement in the rights situation in Eritrea, which remains the most repressive country in Africa.
  • Despite an admission by a French diplomat that promises of reform and democratization of the country, were “nonsensical drivel.” As the diplomat correctly reported these promises are “nothing new. For the last two decades, Eritrea has allegedly been ‘on the verge of great changes.’”
  • While a critical report by the UN Commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea is being prepared.

The Yemane interview

Migration

The renewed discussion between Eritrea and Europe, Yemane says, is designed to “encourage the EU to become more constructively and positively engaged in conflict resolution as well as economic development and social development in the Horn of Africa.”

“Migration is now is a global phenomenon. What makes it very complicated is the involvement of criminal networks. The EU has started the Khartoum Process where the EU and countries of the Horn of Africa are working together to tackle this issue. Eritrea has presented a four point proposal to the Khartoum Process.

“The first point calls for bringing to justice the human traffickers and other criminals, including people who are complicit and co-operate with these criminals under different guises.

“The second point calls for a review of EU policies, and polities of European countries, regarding migration from Eritrea. Eritrea has brought this up because until recently most countries in the EU felt that the situation in Eritrea was so bad that it meant that any Eritrean arriving in the Europe should get asylum. We said this was incorrect; it was unjustified. The majority of Eritreans, almost all Eritreans arriving in Europe, come for economic opportunities and that therefore this policy needs to be reviewed and corrected. I am glad to say that this review has been taking place and now more and more European countries say Eritreans are economic migrants and should be viewed in the same way as migrants from other countries.

“The third point was to call on countries of the EU to respect the right of Eritean migrants and provide them with opportunities for jobs, for education and for skills training so they could return to Eritrea and help build the society.

“The fourth point is that Eritrea has embarked on an ambitious and major nation building process and campaign. We believe that in the next 3 to 5 years that Eritrean economy and the situation in the country will be at such a level that Eritreans will not be compelled to leave their country for reasons of not finding enough opportunities in their own country.

“We presented this proposal and called on EU to co-operate with us on this nation development agenda. I am very glad to say this collaboration and co-operation is going very well. There will be a follow-up meeting of the Khartoum Process in Cairo at the end of this month (April 2015) and Eritrea will be presenting projects in this meeting that will deal with this issue of migration.”

On conscription

Yemane outlined the role of National Service recruits, saying that they were designed to bolster a small professional army. Until 1998 – and the invasion of Eritrea by Ethiopia – National Service was for 18 months. Since then we have had to keep larger numbers under arms. Now, after reviewing out situation we have decided to go back to 18 months.

“The implementation will begin in 14 months time. People will be released in 14 months time. We expect 10,000 people when they are released. They will need jobs. We are asking for co-operation from EU on this. We have been discussing with Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, UK. They have been able to come and visit and ascertain the facts. Now the true policy is emerging. All the Eritreans who have left the country – even those who deserted the country – even their own units – will not be punished. They can come back. We welcome them back. They do not have to come permanently to the country. Thousands come every summer.

“After realising this Demark issued a report. Now the UK has done the same. There are new guidelines from the UK government issued at the end of last month. National Service no longer constitutes persecution or degradation or inhuman treatment. Hence people who flee to seek protection will not be granted refugee status in the UK. National Service does not constitute forced labour. National Service is not indefinite. It is between 18 months and 4 years. And there are many other points.”