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95 Chapter 3 The Exodus from Eritrea and Who is Benefiting Mirjam Van Reisen & Meron Estefanos In addition I would like to say that the vested interest of the PFDJ is in the disintegration of the youth. (Interview, Van Reisen with X, face-to-face, 19 January 2017) Introduction What is the reason for the exodus of Eritreans from Eritrea? The country is not at war and there is no natural disaster underlying this mass migration. The Wall Street Journal (2016) called it “the fastest emptying country” in the world. Currently, it is estimated that a quarter of a million refugees from Eritrea reside in neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan (Laub, 2016). This chapter traces the beginning of the haemorrhage of people from Eritrea. How and why did this begin? Who is benefiting from this exodus? And, how is it linked to smuggling and trafficking across borders? These were our starting questions. This chapter draws on information provided by journalist Zecarias Gerrima to Mirjam Van Reisen in a personal communication, as well as two unpublished documents by Mussie Hadgu, a former aid worker in Eritrea, which describe in great detail how the cross-border trafficking in human beings evolved (Hadgu, 2009, 2011).14 Information collected by Africa Monitors since the beginning of 2016 is also used, including interviews with refugees 14 Excerpts from these unpublished reports have been lightly edited where necessary for comprehension and may vary from other published forms. 96 with regard to their experiences as they crossed the borders and tried to reach safety in Ethiopia or Sudan. The chapter makes further use of conversations between Eritrean refugees and the authors through Skype, Facebook Messenger and in face-to-face conversations. Some interviews were conducted particularly for this chapter. In other instances, interviews and conversations recorded previously were reexamined to understand certain aspects in more detail.15 This chapter looks at how the Eritrean government, which is run by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the state party in Eritrea, has conducted a systematic campaign against its own people since the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia ended in 2000. This period has seen one of the most extreme examples of a prolonged refugee crisis in modern times: After 2001 the government engaged in war against its own population and even the few who had returned from exile in the early 1990s had to migrate again, and hundreds of thousands [of] new refugees followed over the next 15 years. (Africa Monitors, 2016d) By the mid-2000s, the smuggling business in Eritrea had grown into a major industry. However, this mode of migration was not safe for refugees, as smugglers were hard to trust and the government was a significant threat. It was at this time that people who could afford to pay thousands of dollars started using the services of the army and intelligence colonels to ‘safely’ reach Sudan. As the colonels and their superiors started amassing wealth, they developed a new taste for money that was not easy to satisfy (Interview, Van Reisen with KD Hosabay, Skype, 30 November 2016), and even harder to abandon. In 2011, Hadgu wrote: The trafficking of Eritreans has even been globalised up to the point where extensive networks of traffickers have been involved in the trafficking process of Eritrean refugees to Europe and the USA and demand huge amounts of money (USD 15 To facilitate readability, the authors have edited quotes from the interview transcripts. For security reasons, sources have been anonymised. 97 10,000–20,000) under life threatening conditions and low rates of success. (Hadgu, 2011, p. 1) The US Trafficking in Persons report (United States Department of State, 2016) concludes that the Government of Eritrea is failing to combat human trafficking: The government has demonstrated negligible efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. [...] It did not develop procedures to identify or refer trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, including Eritreans deported from countries abroad or persons forcibly removed by Eritrean security forces from neighboring countries. (US Department of State, 2016) Human trafficking for ransom in the North African region has been recognised as predominantly associated with Eritrean hostages (Van Reisen & Rijken, 2015). The terms ‘smuggling’ and ‘human trafficking’ are often used interchangeably by the victims of this crime as they experience smuggling and trafficking as part of a continuum: while the refugee may actively seek assistance to flee the country (smuggling), those facilitating their journeys may be part of an (informal) organisation that systematically seeks...


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