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430 Chapter 12 The Policy Agenda in Europe and Africa Zara Tewolde-Berhan, Martin Plaut, & Klara Smits Introduction At the time of writing, the number of displaced people globally was at a peak. In 2015, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR), over 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced (UNCHR, 2016b). Eritrea is ranked as the ninth greatest source of refugees, with 35,500 people fleeing its borders in 2015. UNHCR estimates that a cumulative total of 411,300 refugees have originated from Eritrea up to the end of 2015, many of whom are unaccompanied minors (Ibid., p. 17). The exodus of Eritreans poses serious questions for policymakers around the world. These Eritreans are fleeing ongoing human rights violations in their country, which the United Nations (UN) Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea concluded amount to crimes against humanity (OHCHR, 2016). These men and women arrive in many countries around the world, from Australia to the USA, frequently after traumatic journeys, which can last several years. On route, they are vulnerable to human traffickers and smugglers, who become rich by exploiting them. Knowing how to deal with refugees, while at the same time maintaining a welcoming environment among national populations, is proving to be a challenge for receiving countries. This chapter takes a look at how the European Union (EU), African Union (AU), and Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have attempted to deal with the situation of refugees and human rights violations. Firstly, it examines the EU’s mishandling of Eritrea, after which, the relationship between Eritrea 431 and AU/IGAD is described, as well as attempts by these organisations to manage the refugee situation and deal with human trafficking, followed by a short conclusion. The European Union Post-independence Since Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia, relations between Eritrea and the European Union have been complex, with some attempts by the EU to have a more constructive dialogue, but with limited success. The EU’s response to Eritrea has developed over many years. It should not be forgotten that the EU supported the Eritrean people well before Eritrea’s de facto independence in 1991 when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) captured Asmara, particularly during the famine of 1984/85 (Keneally, 1987). At this time, cross-border operations led by European countries fed hundreds of thousands of refugees who would otherwise have starved. Since Eritrea’s independence was ratified by the United Nations in 1993, following the Eritrean independence referendum, Europe has attempted to build a relationship with the Eritrean government, despite its repression of its people and its human rights violations. This has not proved easy. These issues were perhaps most starkly highlighted during the 2001 clampdown on all forms of opposition to the government, with the imprisonment of senior politicians, journalists, and editors. Among those who have been held ever since is Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist (Pen International, 2015). Due to his status as a Swedish citizen, the EU has repeatedly called for his release and EU representatives have taken up his case (European Parliament, 2015). When the arrests took place in 2001, the Italian Ambassador to Eritrea, Antonio Bandini, presented a letter of protest to the Eritrean authorities. He was promptly expelled from the country. Other European ambassadors were withdrawn in protest. The EU presidency said that relations between the EU and Eritrea had been 432 “seriously undermined” by the expulsions (Politico, 2001). At first, the EU demanded that Eritrea improve its human rights record before normal relations could be resumed. President Isaias Afwerki did nothing of the sort, assuming that he could outlast the EU’s anger. He was right: in the end it was the EU that buckled. An internal EU document dated October 2008 explained just how poorly the EU responded to the situation (Caprile, 2008). The report said that it had been decided at the time that European ambassadors would be: “...conditioning their return on the willingness of President Isaias to engage on human rights dialogue. This request was never satisfied, but EU Ambassadors nevertheless returned to Eritrea, in a non-coordinated way” (Ibid., p. 8). As time passed, the EU re-assessed its relationship with Asmara. Although there had been no sign of movement on human rights by the Eritrean regime, it was decided to attempt to try to have a ‘new beginning’ with Eritrea. In May 2007, President Isaias Afwerki was invited to visit Brussels and warmly welcomed...


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