The 17/09/2016 London Refugee welcome march: The voice of the voiceless in Action
By Petros Tesfagiorgis The day was Saturday 17 September 2016. A colleague and I members of Eritrean Refugees Support Association in the United Kingdom ( ERSA-UK) made it to the 11.30 am appointment with Migrant and
By Petros Tesfagiorgis
The day was Saturday 17 September 2016. A colleague and I members of Eritrean Refugees Support Association in the United Kingdom ( ERSA-UK) made it to the 11.30 am appointment with Migrant and Refugees Communities Forum (MRCF) at Marble Arch/Speakers Corner. MRCF is one of the organisers of the Refugee Welcome March.
Our appointment with MRCF is to pick up T-Shirts with a slogan “I am a refugee”. These shirts were allocated to refugee groups in order to be on the first row of the march. Together with Syrians, Somalis, Ethiopians and many other nationalities we were 2 Eritreans in the front row me and Feven Hadera. Feven works tirelessly for the welfare of Eritrean refugees and she is a frequent visitor to Shemelba & other refugee Camps in Ethiopia. Last Easter, she with others prepared food that fed 500 refugees in Calais/France known as the “Jungle”. The refugees expressed their satisfaction to see fellow Eritreans care for them. Lul Seyoum the director of iceras and Andy Gregg a member of Eritrea Focus were also in the crowd behind us.
For a short time, I got out of the line to look for Paulos Mikael –Eritreans for Unity and Justice” legacy of the late Wedi Vaccaro, Who prepared – the placards and slogans? However unable to push back further I returned to my place. I learned later that Paulos’ train was delayed. It was impossible for him to make it to the front line. However to be anywhere in the march is good enough.
On my way to look for Paulos, I passed through a sea of people chanting slogans. I was overwhelmed with excitement. They made my day. I was in a cheerful mood. It was fulfilling and inspiring to be part of people who share the same value and campaign for justice, peace and love for fellow human beings. I felt singing “give peace a chance” a popular song during the Vietnamese war in America. Yes, the people of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia ought to engage in mass movement against war in the Horn of Africa. War takes the lives of innocent people especially women and children. The alleged claim of the threat of Ethiopian Invasion has become an escape goat for the Eritrean Government – to hold the Eritreans people hostage and deny their human rights. Today in Eritrea, there is no rule of law, anybody could be imprisoned without being charged and incarcerated indefinitely. The worst is the indefinite national service which gave rise to the exodus of refugees into exile. They are being robbed of their future unable to exploit their God given potential wasting their life to do forced/slave labour.
Here are some of the slogans
Choose Love than hate” “I stand with refugees”
“End the drowning in the Sea.” The life of refugees matter”
”Open the borders, Fight racism and Islamophobia”.
“Every Child matters. Get children to safety “
It was estimated that there were over 20,000 marchers. They came by coaches, trains and cars from all over Britain. In its evening news the BBC said 60 religious groups – Christians, Muslins, Jews and other denominations and 50 organisations such as human rights activists and NGOs like OXFAM were present.
The march reflected the authentic voice of the voiceless. An activism in action that puts pressure on the British Government to accept more refugees stranded in different places such as the “Jungle” France, Bulgaria, Greece etc. and those languishing in refugee camps in Sudan and Ethiopia. In her speech at the UN General
Assembly in New York on 19 September 20916, the British Prime Minister Theresa May showed reluctance to accept more refugees and preferred to help refugees in the first country of entry which is the neighbouring countries and mentioned Eritrea in particular. I hope the All Part Parliamentarian group for Eritrea (APPG) raises more questions at the House of Commons.
On the other hand, there is a move on the part of the Eritrean regime and its supporters to divert the sympathy of the international community and keep a blind eye to the pains and sufferings of the Eritrean people.
This is a move to mislead the international community that things are well in Eritrea. Yamane Gebreab, the advisor of President Isaias is touring Europe beginning from Germany, seeking financial and diplomatic support. For the regime the life of thousands of Eritreans drowning in the Mediterranean Sea – languishing in many prisons in Egypt, Libya and Israel and those languishing in refugee camps in the Sudan and Ethiopia , many of them develop mental health problems, does not matter.
The attempt to hoodwink the international community is very will orchestrated and coordinated. For example on 20 /09/2016 there was a seminar in London which focused on education in Eritrea: the leaflet distributed says “Presenting the higher education, leadership, research and real case studies.” I did not attend the seminar. But I can say, yes there is an education system in Eritrea, yes children go to school. But what type of education do they get in the schools? Does it prepare the students for a better life? The last school leaving year at the end of year 11 grade, all the students are forced to go to Sawa military training camp to complete their 12th grade. In the schools there is no conducive academic environment – it is a military yes man settings? The only University – the Asmara University – the students of whom tried to have an independent students union – was closed. Its chairman Kessette was imprisoned and now in exile. After the students finish 12th grade they serve the degrading indefinite national service that gave rise to the influx of huge number of refugees to exile. According to UNHCR by mid-2015 there were 363,167 Eritrean Refugees and asylum seekers all over the world.
What is amazing in the London Seminar is that there was no speaker from the Diaspora in the UK who went through all these educational process. Instead they rely on foreign experts who has a scant knowledge of Eritrea or who have vested interest such as Mary Harper from BBC whose report from Eritrea kept a blind eye to the repression in Eritrea. Her report followed by protest letters one from 6 Eritreans organisation in Diaspora, the BBC has yet to respond. The others speakers are expatriates and I don’t think they know very much of Eritrea. They may be innocent professionals sharing their expertise.
The only one who came from Eritrea is Professor Tadesse Mehari and nobody expects him to risk his life to tell the truth. In fact there is an inbuilt mechanism in the school system to control the students as well as the teachers.
The just seekers cannot allow the urgent human crises Eritreans are in to be exploited by those who seek to make political capital out of human misery. Indeed it represents a formidable challenge. What are the reactions from the Diaspora justice seekers?