BBC's Yalda Hakim Got It Wrong on Eritrea
Young Asmarinos enjoying a night out in the beautiful and safe city of Asmara -(Photo credit: Yalda Hakim/BBC World News)
When the BBC World News announced it was invited by Eritrea to come report on the country's health successes, many Eritreans knew from past experiences that the BBC will not stick to journalistic standards of accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, and fairness.
Indeed, it didn't take long for the BBC to prove those Eritreans right. Even before the report was completed, BBC correspondent Yalda Hakim gave a sensationalist title of "Inside the Secretive State of Eritrea" for her report.
But is Eritrea really a secretive state? Isn't it a contradiction to describe a government and country as secretive all while they are the ones who invited you to report on them?
The truth is all governments are more or less secretive. BBC selecting that title for Eritrea had more to do with marketing than accuracy. They know more people will tune in to watch their program if they use words such as "secretive" and "rare" than had they not.
From the start of her report, Yalda made it obvious to Eritreans she wasn't well informed on Eritrea's past when she credited the Italians for building Asmara. Sure, the initiative could be credited to them for a small part of the city, but the people who built it, and who are maintaining and expanding it are Eritreans. After all, Yalda wouldn't describe Addis Ababa as Chinese-built or Nairobi as British-built, so why do that with Asmara?
This pattern of making Eritrea the rule to the exception wasn't confined to its architecture, either. Yalda's report was fixated on Eritrea's economic migrants, as if this issue was limited to Eritrea. Throughout her report, Yalda emphasized 4,000 Eritreans were fleeing every month, even though this figure is an estimation of a spike the UNHCR said that took place for one month in October 2014. She presented this exaggerated estimation figure as the norm, which is misleading to say the least.
What Yalda and the BBC fail to understand is politics is playing a heavy hand in making the Eritrean narrative focus on its migration issues. No Eritrean will deny they don't have this issue, but to focus on it the way Western media has all while over a dozen African countries have far more people fleeing their borders than Eritrea does, reeks of being politically motivated.
For instance, in 2013, around 1,500 Eritreans left their country every month, according to Human Rights Watch, which cited UNHCR. This figure translates to 18,000 people fleeing Eritrea every year. In comparison, CCTV reported that Ethiopia had 800,000 of its people flee to Saudi Arabia in 2013  [that's 66,600 Ethiopians per month]. And if you compare Ethiopia's population (93 million) with that of Eritrea's (6.3 million), you'll learn that Ethiopia had 44x the amount of people fleeing their country to Saudi Arabia alone than Eritrea did worldwide, even though its population is just 14.7x larger.
Another example comes from Libya. Since 2011, nearly one out of three Libyans have left their country (2 million people out of 6 million).
In both these cases, their migration issues are rarely highlighted. And if they are, they are simply glossed over. Yet, when it comes to Eritrea, that becomes the main theme of every report, and is always tied to the country's politics to give the reader the impression that it's the cause of such migrations, when studies show it is not.
Had Yalda did her research she would know the leading cause of Eritrean migration to the West is UNHCR's 2004 policy position on Eritrea that designated all Eritrean asylum-seekers with prima facie status (i.e. automatic recognition of Eritreans en masse). Effectively, what this controversial and politically motivated policy did was take away the criminal aspect of their illegal migration, and force the hand of Western countries to accept these newly baptized Eritrean "refugees" into their countries (see data below). As more and more Eritreans headed for the wealthiest parts of the West [a red flag they are economic migrants and not genuine refugees], they would in turn fiance trips for their relatives and friends, which over time, created a snowball effect that led to a phenomenon known as the diaspora pull.
As the data below shows, when it comes to asylum cases in Europe, Eritreans receive a clear preferential treatment over other migrants. Not only is this unfair policy inducing more Eritreans to leave, but is actually rewarding Eritreans who leave their country for the West with free housing, money and legal residency in their respective countries.
All asylum applications:
- France: "nearly 90 percent being rejected" 
- United Kingdom: "the rejection rate is around 62 percent" 
- Switzerland: 85% of asylum claims were rejected 
- Sweden: "Sweden grants asylum to about a third." (67 percent rejection rate) 
Eritrean asylum applications:
- France: 55% accepted, 45% rejected 
- United Kingdom: 81.6% accepted, 18.4 rejected 
- Switzerland, 88% accepted, 12% rejected 
- Sweden: 100% accepted, 0% rejected 
This isn't the first time the BBC has mislead/lied to its readers about Eritrea. In its Eritrea Profile page, the BBC stated "A 2011 UN report estimated that about 70% of Eritreans cannot meet their food needs on their own”. The only problem is there was no such report, and the BBC fixed its error only after an Eritrean brought it to their attention.
Another example was in a 2014 report, the BBC described Eritrea as "tiny". They only changed this description after an Eritrean reminded the BBC that Eritrea is slightly larger than England in size. Seeing how this dismissive description would make England tinier, the BBC decided to remove it on the grounds of not being an "appropriate term to use given the size of the country".
But not everything Yalda reported on was misleading or wrong. She reported correctly that internet and TV satellite channels in Eritrea were not blocked or restricted. She also got it right when stating Eritrea has no private media, which is a concern for many Eritreans who feel that state media in the country is doing a poor job of informing its people.
In the end, Yalda's report came off as being blatantly biased and disproportionately negative. Like many reporters before her, she sensationalized her report to garner more viewers at the expense of truth. It also seems that she came to Eritrea with lots of negative preconceptions of what the country was like, and spent much of her time merely seeking to validate these claims or interpret information in a way that supports her fixed ideas in a behavior psychologists describe as confirmation bias. As a result, she focused on the narrative of migration to demonize the Eritrean government, when such issues affect most developing countries, irrespective of the political processes they follow.
The following is a video of Yalda Hakim's report. From the first 5 seconds into the video, you can see Yalda mislead her audience by presenting Ethiopian refugees walking across Yemen to get to Saudi Arabia as Eritrean refugees leaving their country.
5. 2014 EU Commission Report on Eritrean Asylum Applications
Evidence-Based Review: International Crisis Group’s Eritrean “Exodus” Report
Eritrea: A victim of Human Rights Charlatans
BBC's Yalda Hakim Got It Wrong on Eritrea Reviewed by Admin on 1:12 PM Rating: