How do we explain Eritrea?
Despite illegal migration being a global phenomenon, an exaggerated Eritrean migration issue is being politicized to demonize Eritrea
By Feven Gerezgiher | MNDaily
Last Thursday, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs hosted a documentary filmmaker and a panel of experts to discuss the refugee crisis from Eritrea. Not a single Eritrean was involved in the production of the film, nor was one scheduled to speak.
For a myriad of reasons, a disproportionate number of migrants to Europe have come from Eritrea, thus sparking international interest in what certain outlets call the “North Korea of Africa.”
An exotic issue, journalists portray the Eritrean situation as if it is on the scale of great tragedies like the genocide in Darfur or the Holocaust. It’s not.
Eritrea was the only country in the world to meet its health Millennium Development Goals in 2014. There is a notable lack of military or police presence. The country’s cool gelatos, gorgeous landscapes and peaceful vibe make hearts yearn for an Asmara retirement.
Many people on campus fall under the “Is Eritrea a new airline?” category, despite Eritreans’ long-established presence in the Twin Cities area and the University of Minnesota. Those who know it’s a country rarely know much of its complexities.
So my initial reaction to last week’s event was that of incredible frustration. The fate of my parents’ people — my beloved grandmother and countless cousins both beloved and not — is inextricably tied to propaganda circularly propagated by foreigners.
They play into a discourse that avoids criticizing a foreign-occupied border, strong European pull factors and unwarranted sanctions on Eritrea.
But a friend reminded me that the Center for Victims of Torture treats many people from Eritrea. To the extent that I support Eritrean sovereignty, I cannot deny the lived horrors of the refugee experience. Instability in the region has allowed for a terrible exploitation of people just looking for a better life.
Disagreement over Eritrean politics has engendered rifts in many communities. More than ever, conversations about forced migration corner Eritreans in the diaspora into defending an administration at the expense of genuine engagement with refugee trauma, creating a false dichotomy of either “supporting the government” or “supporting human rights.” In fact, these are not mutually exclusive concepts.
To allow non-Eritreans to speak alone on Eritrea is to deny the agency its own people have in resolving this situation.
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