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Eritrea: The Tragedy behind a Tragedy

By: Tedros Abraham  21/04/2015  Some 350 Eritreans were among the 850 people who perished in the migrant boat that sank off the coast of Libya on Saturday night, a United Nations spokesperson said on Tuesday. Ethiopia declared three

By: Tedros Abraham


 Some 350 Eritreans were among the 850 people who perished in the migrant boat that sank off the coast of Libya on Saturday night, a United Nations spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Ethiopia declared three days of national mourning after it confirmed the people brutally killed by the Islamic State in Libya were indeed its own citizens. However, Ethiopians were not the only nationals, at least three Eritrean Christians were also among them. As often, there is neither a national mourning nor coverage of the tragedy on the Eritrean state owned media. Once again, Eritreans condemned to mourning in silence, by a regime that does not even tolerate grieving publicly.

Eritrean and Ethiopian Christians share so much in common, but politically they are divided, and the no war no peace standoff continues. However, this week, these seemingly two diaspora communities are united on social medias in anger and grief. Eritreans in particular are grieving for two different reasons. In the last Sundays’ Mediterranean boat tragedy, the UN fear more than 350 Eritreans on board could have lost their lives. The UN confirmed as many as 800 lives could have died in the latest tragedy. The 28 survivors gave conflicting accounts; according to one Bangladeshi survivor’s estimate, more than 950 passengers might have trapped inside. Other survivors stated majority of the people on board were predominantly from Eritrea and Syria, heading towards Europe in the hope of searching protection and a better life. Syrians are escaping from a bitter sectarian civil war and from the Islamic State’s onslaught. However, presumably, Eritrea is a peaceful country, where there is no active war, but its inhabitants are on the run for more than a decade.

Eritreans tragedy Europe’s moral dilemma

  Last year alone, 218,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean into Europe, from this huge number Syrians ranked first fleeing civil war in their country, and Eritreans were second. Eritrea is often absent from the headlines of the mainstream media, except, when there are moments of migrant boat tragedies across the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

In October 2013, when a boat capsized near the Italian Island of Lampedusa, 365 people perished, 360 of them Eritreans. The magnitude and horrors of that tragedy, shocked people across the globe, consequently European governments promised to do more to save lives. That change of policy by the EU saved thousands of migrant lives, who would have died otherwise.

However, after increasing domestic pressure to curb the mounting number of migrants, many countries began to gradually abandon their search and rescue operations. They argued, such humanitarian assistance is only encouraging many more migrants to take the risk, hoping they would be rescued. The decision by the rest of European governments to withdraw their humanitarian commitment from the Mediterranean Sea was a big blow to the Italian and Maltese governments, who felt abandoned. Prime Minister of Italia, Matteo Renzi warned to European governments, ‘Europe cannot close its eyes and commemorate the tragedy later.’

Consequently, European foreign and interior ministers gathered in an emergency meeting in Luxembourg and came up with a ten-point plan to deal with the ongoing tragedy. Some Italian politicians warned, as much as one million migrants could cross the Mediterranean Sea this year alone.

The recent increase in the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe turned out to be a huge moral dilemma to European governments. The European Union as a block is bounded in Universal moral values and Human Rights obligations. Abandoning desperate migrants at sea to face certain death could shake the very moral foundation of the Union, and many advocates of human rights warn, such indifference, could be a catastrophic mistake. However, at the heart of this crisis is a dilemma for European policy makers, ‘how to effectively deal with a tragedy which doesn’t seem to stop any time soon?’

What should be done?

Some politicians argue ‘you can’t stop people from taking a deadly journey, if you can’t help them solve the very reasons that forced them to take that journey in the first place.’ Hence, diplomacy could be one of the main game changers in curbing these dramatic episodes. However, carrot alone does not seem to effect change on the ground, without a stick. European governments should do more to pressurize authoritarian governments in Africa and Middle the East, causing mayhem and suffering to their people. After all, in an increasingly globalized world, a mismanaged domestic affairs of one country is a burden for the rest of the international community.

It could be for this reason perhaps, European Union indicated lately, a change of policy towards Eritrea, and promised more than 350 million Euros in financial assistance in the hope of helping the government to create job opportunities that would eventually deter the young from escaping in search of a better life in Europe. Nevertheless, this new incentive is met with a strong opposition from both human rights organizations and Eritrean oppositions groups in the diaspora. Giving financial assistance to a dictator already under United Nations sanctions for his involvement in the destabilization of Somalia and Djibouti could be regarded, rewarding for his belligerent behaviors and dismal human rights records.

After the 2011 Arab uprising, some European politicians have learnt a bitter lesson, removing dictators does not always bring peace and stability to the countries suffering from serious human rights violations. They argue, Western powers militarily engagement to remove authoritarian governments accused of human rights violations, rarely achieve the intended objectives afterwards. Libya is a case in point, in 2011; the west helped the Libyan rebels to remove Muamar Gadafi, however, today the country turn out to be European government’s nightmare. Not only it is a springboard to illegal migrants, but also most prominently, Isis is just on the doorstep.  Consequently, some Europeans blame their very governments for the lawlessness in the country and the humanitarian tragedy that is unfolding in the Mediterranean shores.

Could it be such an experience, driving the European Union to deal with carrot diplomacy with dictators accused of immense human rights violations such as the one-in Eritrea? Eritrea, a country run with an unelected president, unimplemented constitution, hundreds of thousands its youth in active military service with nominal wage, and no hope of demobilization to lead a normal life. Therefore, there is no unemployment crisis in Eritrea, which demands European Union’s financial assistance. Eritreans of all social classes are fleeing the country from a system of government that enslave them for life, that deny them freedom of movement inside their own country that deny them to exercise their religion freely. The government intentionally and systematically violated all the four Universal Human Rights Declarations, forcing hundreds of thousands to pursue a dignified life elsewhere. Under the current dictatorial leadership, Eritreans have nothing to hope for, it seems for most of the young people, Europe is the only hope; ‘either get there or else die in the process.’

When one ask them if they were not afraid to lose their lives, they would tell you blatantly, ‘a dead cannot be afraid of death.’ When they try, at least they have hope, to get a second chance to start a new life. However, that may not be the case for many of the unfortunate 1600 souls, who paid the ultimate price so far this year, in a desperate search of a new and dignified life in a strange continent.

The writer can be contacted at,



Review overview
  • Hermella April 22, 2015

    The writing is on the wall for the higdefs PFDJ beasts that their end is so near.
    The great Martin Luther once said “so even though we face the differences and difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream”. So also we have our own dream that Eritrea will call all her children to erect democracy and rule of law in the ruins of tyrannical regime. Part of today’s struggle should be to keep hope alive and thrive to attain the dreams.

  • Temahlel April 22, 2015

    Eritrea has become the most worthless place to live in less two decades. It is a place where jails, torture, National-slavery, Arab slavery, burning of ones own languages and identity, self-hate to past millennial history, organ harvest for the Arab market, slavery in the evil Arab Passage unabashedly flourish.

    Eritrea is a land where one violates rights, jails and murders of any innocent citizen as Ali Abdu had done and flees to the West to seek refuge with out any qualms or human conscience. It is a land where liars and hypocrites have been destroying every foundation of the people for the last sixty years.

    Today, Eritrea has become the poster child of shame and humiliation for the entire African continent.

    • Anti-Higdef April 23, 2015

      “Today, Eritrea has become the poster child of shame and humiliation for the entire African continent.”

      Temahlel aka Teclay

      Why Eritrea as a country has to take the shame of a rootless monster ?
      Stop insulting the country.

  • AHMED SALEH April 22, 2015

    Ethiopia declared three days of mourning . Contrary in Eritrea the government
    usually try to suppress our people from expressing their outrage for the lost
    of love ones publicly . Even to mourn on national level is a crime under those
    thugs who are the main source to bring us down to witness our own man made
    tragedies . In fact it becomes beyond our ability to handle the reality of life inside
    the country .
    It is sad and true to say that Eritrean politics is so complicated and frustrating once
    you get involved . But at the same time we shouldn’t give up on those poor people
    who lean on us to stand beside their interest .

  • Hidat April 23, 2015


  • Truly Truly i say to you April 23, 2015

    Appreciating Tedros Abraham for well writes article and many good commentaries, atmost the Michael Tesfariam´s one, i say this:-
    It is not to harmless the so-called ISIS wicked mentality did, that causing danger. But to be honest this time i very doubt about the video´s authenticity. It could be the video manipulated. (satire). However under every fake (satire)video or authenticity, though i know there is for an evil or good agenda in their sight every political actors group for their political mission as using it, unfortunately sometimes in the cost of many innocent lives, but this time it seems me only the Ethiopian oppositions, so-called Ginbot 7, Arbenoch and their notorious media ESAT groups are very perfectly benefiting for their mission propaganda, of course temporary. Do not forget Abebe Gelaw when confronted Meles Zenawi as if Meles because shocked he knell down his neck that showed video, ESAT´s because perfectly manipulated the video, we know how they profited for their agenda. Normally if Eritrea´s oppositions were be clever they utmost should to be use it such scenario. Actually in Eritrean case their is no a need of video manipulation, because all what it happening towards Eritreans is real and fact.

  • Truly Truly i say to you April 23, 2015

    As I said this ISIS video could be forge, but do not tell me at first 400 in Mediterranean sea, then 365 in Lampedusa and now this four- five days before, from those perished 850 immigrants 350 at once of them as Eritreans that reported news is fake. But What have we done against the Mafia PFDJ regime for all this indescribable atrocity that is causing? Nothing! This time animals in all over the world has more worth than human being in Eritrea.
    Oh, Almighty God Lord Jesus Christ! In your image that you make human being like sheep without shepherded simply while perishing do not care you about and have pity? Yes, i believe it is our inquires that separated us from you, and our sins that have hidden us from your face, Our people are sloughing to redeem other interest without anything profiting us in return, pity and shown us mercy Lord, except you we are helpless, forgotten despised people on earth we stayed Lord!

  • Truly Truly i say to you April 23, 2015

    Please read at last paragraph written word:-, yes, i believe it is our “iniquities” i meant separated us from you, Lord “not inquiries.”