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193 Chapter 5 Eritrean Unaccompanied Minors in Human Trafficking Mirjam van Reisen & Taha Al-Qasim I was just doing what the other people were doing. (Interview Estefanos with B, Skype, 19 October 2012) Introduction The large number of unaccompanied minors among the refugees characterises the human trafficking crisis from Eritrea. The exploitative character of the trafficking of unaccompanied minors is directly associated with their vulnerability. This chapter examines how unaccompanied minors are exploited as they are separated from their parents, adult siblings or carers during their migration journeys. It is shocking to see very young children, as young as four or five years old, crossing the border in the company of siblings who are only a few years older (Zeeman, 2016). The fragmentation of families in Eritrea combined with the push to drive youth out of the country (Chapter 3) has caused a dramatic exodus of unaccompanied minors. The ongoing recruitment of young people into indefinite national service is cause for deep desperation and parents see no future for their children within the country. The situation is summed up by a recent report by Africa Monitors (2016) entitled ‘Eritrean unaccompanied minors and human trafficking’, which states that: Children, as young as 8, have been reported to have crossed the border to Ethiopia from the southernmost parts of Eritrea. This has been happening since the early 00’s 194 but started turning into a major phenomenon after 2007 when droughts hit the southern region’s farmers. The economy was failing, most basic supplies were scarce. In some towns like Mendefera, water, if available at all cost as much as 2 USD for a barrel before the summer of 2007. Before 2009 the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights] was arranging the return of young minors to their parents from the camps. Those children usually crossed the border from the last villages near the border with Ethiopia. Those children who expressed willingness to return back to their homes were sent back within few months but many chose to remain. (Africa Monitors, 2016) As early as 2013 concerns were expressed about the conditions leading to the large number of Eritrean unaccompanied minors among refugees (Women’s Refugee Commission, 2013). There has been a rapid and steady increase in unaccompanied minors from Eritrea arriving in Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan (Vice, 2015). A recent report by the EU’s Frontex identifies the main route used by unaccompanied minors to Europe as from Ethiopia and Sudan, through Libya and the Mediterranean Sea to Italy (Frontex, 2010). According to figures provided by the UN Special Rapporteur, Eritrean children constitute the largest group of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy. In 2014, 3,394 unaccompanied Eritrean children arrived in Italy out of a total of 13,026 unaccompanied children and, in 2015, 3,092 unaccompanied Eritrean children arrived in Italy out of a total of 12,360 (UNHCR, 2016). There is a possibility that these numbers are underestimated as many unaccompanied children might not be registered (Anon., personal communication, Van Reisen, Skype, 22 January 2017). The research carried out for this chapter focuses on the extent to which unaccompanied minors became involved in practices of human trafficking for ransom during their migration journeys. This chapter will first address the circumstances driving young Eritrean refugees and unaccompanied minors to leave their country. Following this, the particular experiences of unaccompanied minors in human trafficking for ransom are identified. Finally, the trauma and psychosocial needs of unaccompanied minors are identified. 195 Figure 5.1. Map of routes taken by unaccompanied minors to Europe (Source: Frontex, 2010, p.19) An earlier version of the research carried out for this chapter was published in a report and some parts are reprinted here (Van Reisen, 2016). The research is based on interviews conducted between 2011 and 2016 in the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Israel, and Libya, as well as in refugee camps on the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea. A total of 15 in-depth interviews were conducted with unaccompanied minors aged from 15 to 17 years and their guardians aged from 27 to 29 years.27 The research was undertaken with the aim of understanding the experiences of unaccompanied minors from Eritrea on their migration journeys, with a particular focus on 27 The research was guided by the legal standard of the ‘best interests of the child’. The code of conduct involving minors and the principle of 'do no harm' were also applied. Particular attention was paid to the principle of mutual consent...


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