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Eritrea opens its doors to the world

Asmara, Eritrea

Western politicians and journalists who go to Eritrea tell of a country other than that described by the international press in recent years.

By Marilena Dolce | EritreaLive

According to Swiss Eritrea it is not a “North Korea” in African style they say, unsettling the old assumption of Jeune Afrique, 2010 dossier.

Roaming the streets of Asmara in the car or by visiting other areas of the country they say, you do not have the impression of traveling “in the heart of the continent’s last dictatorship”, again to quote Jeune Afrique.

So Thomas Aeschi (UDC/ZG), Yvonne Frei (PS/AG), Claude Béglé (PPD/VD), Christian Wasserfallen (FDP/BE) and Susanne Hochuli (Verdi), Swiss politicians from different political sides, on their return, after the journey last February, said they had found a different situation in Eritrea to as they imagined.

Susanne Hochuli said to the press and local television that “Eritrea is not North Korea”, adding that the current situation described above is a lie, to which she herself had given credit.

“You think”,  said the Councillor of the Canton of Aargau, “that there is a state which controls all, while we have been able to move freely, we talked to people, we have known many, and we asked whatever we wanted. We listened to open criticism of the regime”.

Also Thomas Aeschi, UDC, after returning from the trip stated that “Eritrea is not a hell”. “The reason why many leave the country,” he says, “is for economic reasons because” he continues, “it will not be hell nor a heaven on earth and, more immediately, offers fewer prospects for young people who know, thanks to Internet and television, the Western style of life”.

The Swiss delegation wanted to see with their own eyes what the situation is in the country from which come the highest number of asylum seekers”, 9.666, according to SEM data (Secretary of State for Migration), concluding that it would be good that Switzerland resumed diplomatic relations with Eritrea.

For this reason, at their return, they wrote a letter to Simonetta Sommaruga, currently responsible for immigration, to ask for a meeting, suggesting sending of a delegation from the immigration office, as they did last year from England, Norway and Denmark.

Many politicians and institutions in their respective European countries involved in immigration, became, in 2013, a hot potato for Europe, have been to Eritrea in the last two years.

In November 2014, Eritrea, along with 28 states of the European Union and Libya, Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Tunisia participated in Rome at the conference called “the Khartoum process”, named after the Sudan’s capital, where he had begun the previous summer.

Objective of the “process” was to stem migration flows and to learn more, listening to individual countries, as of the situation that ia at its limit, which is causing the death of men and traffic of humans.

This is the reason that triggers a dialogue between the European countries and, where possible, those from which migrants leave and transit.

In the same months, from August to October 2014, a Danish Committee on Immigration went to Asmara to understand how you live in the country from which come from so many young asylum seekers.

The working method is by the textbook: they observe the country and guaranteeing anonymity, listen to different sources, Western embassies, Eritrean intellectuals at home and abroad, international organizations, the IOM (International Organization for Migration) and, of course, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea.

Anonymity allows each respondent to express a personal opinion, not necessarily in line with the official organization he works for, or to express a negative opinion on the host country of its diplomatic representation.

The report is positive.

In the country, they say, there is no terror, it circulates freely, the check point are very few and only in critical areas, in the markets there are fruits, vegetables and general goods. Above all, they write, the reason why people emigrate is economic. Western embassy says that 99.9% of Eritrean asylum seekers are economic migrants.

So Eritreans are migrating from poverty.

The numbers of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put the Eritreans in second place in the rankings of migrants, immediately after the Syrians. But remember that these numbers are the result of the spontaneous statements made for asylum seeking and that because the Eritreans are granted asylum on humanitarian grounds, there are many Africans who declare themselves Eritrean, inflating the figures.

Andreas Melan, Austrian ambassador in Addis Ababa, said last November, during an interview with APA (Austria Presse) that 40% of Eritrean migrants in Europe are Ethiopians.

Unfortunately it is real that the Eritreans abandon poverty of their country, a difficult historical heritage. Thirty years of fighting (1961-1991) have exhausted a country where even today, in many areas lacking water and electricity.

If the reasons for emigration are, as is said, political, it appears to spring to ones eyes of the international political problems more than those of domestic politics.

Eritrea became independent in 1993, five years later, in 1998, it was attacked by Ethiopia, the conflict caused by a disputed border which ended in 2000, with an international decision favourable to Eritrea that Ethiopia continues to ignore.

Paradoxically, this situation will become a noose for Eritrea, which is accused by international humanitarian organizations to keep a neck hold on their own country by forcing citizens to a long military service and to pay national service, the latter born after independence, to work on the reconstruction of Country.

National service is “infinite and indefinite”, accuse these associations and the soldiers are paid too little, which is no longer understood by the generation born after independence who does not feel at war but that does not see its future at home.

In June 2015, the Commission of Inquiry on human right (COI) writes a report based on 550 anonymous testimonies of asylum seekers,that had been listened to in third party countries, which defines “forced labour that of national service that becomes a “crime against humanity.”

“We have reduced it and started paying the national service” said last December in EritreaLive Hagos Ghebrewiet, responsible for the economic sector of the party, People’s Front Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), adding “the international community exploits a problem that should be looked at from its roots. Why has national service been lengthened ? Because of the issue regarding borders, solved on paper but that Ethiopia refuses to comply to. If the international community solves this problem, it would solve many others.”

In February, the news that the international press ignores, alarm Eritrea: Ethiopia is moving massive troops towards the Eritrean border, if so, the Eritreans should, once again, close ranks.

For the moment, though, the country is opening its doors to foreign politicians and journalists to show it for what it is, very different from the descriptions of written reports abroad.

Who goes in Eritrea sees a country that, despite the unstable situation with Ethiopia, do not go hungry because it has built dams to retain water and improve crop yields, contrasting drought. A country where equal rights are a reality, which has banned the practice of female genital mutilation. A country where children are vaccinated, neonatal and infant mortality is very low, as well as that of pregnant women.

A country where young people, including 5.000 every month, as UNHCR, leave the country, are schooled, unlike their grandparents.

The beginning of the year marked a positive point for Eritrea.

In January, the European Union signed in Asmara a cooperation agreement by which Eritrea will receive 200 million euros to be used especially in the energy field, to advance the development of the country.

A country, says Hagos Ghebrewiet, which is growing by 3, 3.5% per year and that, “with greater resources, first of all energy, can improve their own development, by investing not only in mining, gold, copper, zinc but also in agriculture, fishing and tourism”.

No lack of work, in Eritrea there is no unemployment. The aim is to give young people a good job that allows them, after their studies, to live and make plans in their own land.

On the situation in the country Yemane Ghebreab, PFDJ (People’s Front for Democracy and Justice), interviewed by EritreaLive, he says that “Italy and Europe should change their attitude towards Eritrea which is not a problem to solve but an opportunity for investment”.

The immigration issue is also linked to the attitude of Europe and Italy” continues Yemane “who, believing that Eritreans should be protected by their own government, welcome them with open arms, not knowing that the same people in summer return here for the holidays”.

“On the issue of human rights” adds Yemane “Eritrea has nothing to hide”. “If Italians and Europeans were in Eritrea” continue “they might have noted it with their own eyes”.

A lengthy report has been released in these days of by Reuters, interviews with politicians, ministers, Western diplomats and ordinary people, that described a country that still has old problems, busy border and national service records important news, European funding and the visit to an Eritrean prison by a delegation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

If this new course will no longer be possible sceptical outlooks like that of Pascale Bruderer (PS/AG) will prosper.

Mrs. Bruderer said they did not have the attention of local media when they participated in the trip with colleagues so as “not to get a distorted image from situation on the ground, because”, it explains, “the meetings with representatives of the government and not with people they would have appreciated to meet ordinary people who gave the real opinion of the country”.

So far the cordon sanitaire from the West tended to filter eritrean news and images, possibly in black and white, to deliver to publishers, international organizations and governments, as of what they expected.

As written by Reuters, referring to the opinion of some diplomats, it facilitated a situation of isolation from which the spirit of “far ad sé” has come from Eritrea, has the go it alone method in a Country forged by decades of struggle and a victory achieved by their own efforts, thanks to the courage and determination of men and women.

The new course and new relations between Eritrea and Europe, need to find together the best solution to the problem of migrants, are lifting Eritrea from the shadow that has long been relegated.

Eritrea, a secular country, which allows anyone to profess their faith, with a population of about six million people, belonging to nine different ethnic groups, divided between Muslims and Christians, no religious wars within it, is a quiet village in a warm region.

Nevertheless since 2009 it is under UN sanctions for a charge, so far without evidence, as to aiding the Somali terrorist of Al Shabab.

Today, however, Russia, Angola, China and Venezuela have called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) that the Monitoring Group Eritrea Ethiopia (SEMG) clarify once and for all the matter for which it was decided to have them sanctioned, noting the lack of evidence. This is what we will speak about with the President’s Committee on sanctions as he will travel soon to Eritrea.

This is the future that Eritrea wants for itself, as of a small country in a strategic geographical position, that it is to be born again, building houses that are still missing, renovating the bombed cities, welcoming foreign investors to speed up the development process necessary for the new educated youth and the willing no longer to have to look outside for their own destiny.

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