Our Special Correspondent
London, 3rd May 2015
Letter to Political Prisoners
Prisoner No 10 Eiraro Eritrea Seyoum Tsehaye
One of 11 Eritrean Journalists arrested in September 2001
My dearest friend Seyoum, it has been a very long time since I last saw you (2001) in Asmara Police Station No 2. You were standing just outside your cell door. You managed to smile. The smile lit up your face and your eyes. With a smile and your calmness you reassured me. I was nervous, not sure. We could not approach each other. We were standing in the middle of the courtyard of Police Station No 2 and the police were all around us watching, listening.
I wish I could tell you that since 2001 things in Eritrea had improved unfortunately it has not. If it had you and so many others would be free. We had dreams of building a nation that would become a beacon of light in Africa. Instead we have become the North Korea of Africa.
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Over the years more and more of our young people are leaving the country to seek asylum. In 2010 /2011 we started to hear the first horrific stories of the many Eritreans kidnapped, tortured and killed by human traffickers. Meron Estifanos and Elsa Chyrum collected the stories, and brought them to the attention of the International Community.
Early this year ( March 2015) Al Jazeera aired a documentary, prepared by Meron and her team, on human trafficking and specifically the trafficking of young Eritreans. The documentary is called – Sounds of Torture. We dealt with the horrific revelations at first with disbelief later we took strengths from the messages left behind by the victims themselves .The message was of faith: This Too Shall Pass
Seyoum in 2013 over 300 Eritreans seeking asylum drowned in the Mediterranean Sea there was an outcry and as you can imagine back home much sorrow. A sorrow that could not be expressed because the Eritrean Government would not allow any commemorative service and in fact at first did not even mention that most of the dead were Eritreans. I can imagine what you would have written
In 2015 Eritrea on a per capita basis, globally, is producing the largest number of asylum seekers, more than Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan where there are ongoing conflicts. Increasingly the largest proportions of Eritrean Asylum seekers are unaccompanied children as young as 7 years of age. Many of our young have fallen prey to unscrupulous people both inside Eritrea as well as outside the country. The mass movement of our people has established a vast criminal network focused on the trafficking of Eritreans.
My dearest brother, the months of March and April 2015 have brought us more sorrow. There have been more boats sinking in the Mediterranean sea and over 900 asylum seekers have drowned at least a third of them Eritreans. Our bitter cup was immediately topped up by the horror of the beheading and shooting, by ISIS, of a group of 30 young men from the Horn of Africa – mostly Eritreans and Ethiopians. At least 8 of the men killed by ISIS were Eritreans mostly from Zoba Debub.
In Eritrea our people are not allowed to grieve are not allowed to show their tears. Our Government is dealing with the drownings in the Mediterranean by questioning the motives of UNHCR, demanding that UNHCR share the list with them and threatening UNHCR with expulsion from the country. This time it seems that people are going to defy the Government.
Already the Eritrean social media are reporting tensions in Zoba Debub with reports of arrests of grieving families. Dear Seyom it is interesting to note that the defiance is taking place in the same areas that have recently refused a call to national service and where the Government has demolished so many houses.
As far as the Eritrean Government is concerned the people killed by ISIS in Libya are Ethiopians and according to the Eritrean Government newspaper Hadas Eritrea the action is justified because of Ethiopia’s presence in Somalia. I wonder what you would have written. How would you have found the words to bring the Government to account and console the families?
This time like in 2013, the European Union has met to discuss measures that should be taken to address and contain the large number of people that are crossing the Mediterranean Sea seeking asylum. The focus is on containment of the movement, ignoring the situation in the countries of origin that are generating the exodus. In the case of Eritrea they are planning to provide the Eritrean Government with more development funds – completely ignoring the fact that the Eritrean Government is the source of the problem. The situation is best described by Elsa Chyrum in her statement of Condemnation of EU inaction she states.
“It is scandalous that the EU’s approach to solving the Eritrean problem is to send further development aid to the country, when we know that money is likely to be used to prop up the regime rather than support people. Furthermore Eritrea itself must be called to account for its terrible treatment of its own people, to end indefinite national service, and ease the day to day trauma of Eritreans. Eritrea’s President Isaias Afeworki must make immediate and substantial reforms to bring greater freedoms for Eritreans or step aside to allow others to bring about change”
It is true that President Isaias Afeworki and those in Government with him, must be held accountable for the state of our nation. They must be held accountable for the death and torture of so many people inside Eritrea as well as the death and torture of so many Eritreans that have fled the country. However it is important that Eritreans, we learn the lessons of history and in particular the lesson that a leopard will never change his spots. President Isaias is a leopard who will never change his spots and therefore we should not count on him making any changes. We should count on ourselves. We should unite in our diversity to make the changes ourselves.
One day Seyoum we will meet again
I will write more soon