Italy Cooperates with Eritrea on Immigrants

Italy should engage in a relationship of constructive partnership with Eritrea" - Bonwyn Bruton
“Italy should engage in a relationship of constructive partnership with Eritrea based on development aid and investment to try to resolve the issue migration” – Bronwyn Bruton, Vice President of the African Center of the American think tank Atlantic Council

By Askanews,

Italy should commit to a relationship of constructive partnership with Eritrea, based on “development aid and investments” to try to resolve the issue at the root of the migratory flows that are coming from the Horn of Africa country.

Bronwyn Bruton, Vice President of the African Center of the American think tank Atlantic Council, is convinced with that. She is an an expert with an experience in the Horn of Africa and recently returned from a visit to Asmara.

According to UN figures, the Eritreans are second, after the Syrians, for the number of asylum applications in Europe in 2014 were about 37,000 ones arrived in Italy. what push them to flee, according to Bruton, is there are both “push factors” and “pull factors”.

“On the one hand, the conditions in Eritrea are hard,” said Bruton in an interview via Email to askanews. “The compulsory military service forces the majority of young Eritreans in labor camps in pitifully low wages. Many have worked for years with no prospect of demobilization. The desire to escape this national service is definitely the reason why many young people are fleeing from Eritrea “.

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At the launch of the Khartoum process last November in Rome by the EU Member States and countries of origin and transit countries along the migration route of the Horn of Africa, Asmara said it was ready to put an end to military service indefinitely, restoring the rule that allows a leverage of 18 months. A commitment reiterated in recent months in all European delegations who went on a visit to the country, but never declared in an official manner. Asmara has always justified the lever indefinitely with the situation of “neither war, nor peace” situation with Ethiopia, due to the lack of demarcation of the border as a result of the war of 1998-2000. Since the year of independence in 1993, the country is led by President Isaias Afewerki and have never held elections.

In addition to the lever as a factor of pressure to emigrate, Bruton said, there is also another powerful factor of attraction: many European countries have adopted a policy of automatic recognition of political asylum to Eritrean refugees.

“And knowing that they will be granted the right to live and work in Europe strongly encourages migration for economic reasons,” Bruton said. So much so that, according to Bruton, “there is the possibility that some of the refugees arriving on Italian shores “are not Eritreans, but migrants from other areas” in the Horn of Africa, “especially from poor Ethiopian region of Tigray, with hoping to take advantage of the automatic recognition of asylum [by claiming Eritrean]”.

Moreover, according to Bruton, many young Eritreans know nothing about the difficulties of the crossing, because the information, especially in rural areas, are limited. “Young people who have made it to Europe are also accustomed to return to Eritrea every summer and also assist their family,” said the analyst.

“These returns are considered by many young people as a living proof of the well-being and freedom, not of poverty or of a tomb in the sea, that await them abroad.”

Addressing this flow of migrants is “extremely difficult,” admits Bruton, but “as far as possible, Italy should engage in a constructive partnership with Eritrea, based on development aid and investment, to encourage the review of the program leverage and provide jobs for the young. After obtaining evidence of substantial and demonstrable improvements on the economic front and on that of human rights, it might be possible to “review the policy of automatic political asylum.”

In fact, the process of normalization of relations between Italy and Eritrea started last summer, with a visit to Asmara by former vice foreign minister Lapo Pistelli. Later this year, he allowed to resume development cooperation with projects of an economic value around 3 million euro. These initiatives was in the agricultural sector, through the FAO, and direct commitments in the health sector.

If there are positive developments by Asmara, the Italian government’s intention would be to launch next year a more ambitious program of cooperation, with the objective of offering job opportunities to young people and thus limit the migration. In addition to Italy, even Germany has resumed cooperation and the EU as well is discussing Asmara with an aid of over 300 million euro for the period 2014-20.

But Bruton said, you must also launch ‘education programs within Eritrea to inform young people about the risk of becoming victims of human traffickers and the enormous difficulties of life as a refugee.

Bruton does not hide that, it may seem hard to imagine if the Eritrean government tolerates such programs, but she believe that if Italy can not start a constructive partnership with Eritrea, focused on improving economic conditions, Asmara give opening test.

For the American analyst it is also “possible and probable” a process of political rapprochement between the US and Eritrea.

“First of all, the growing stream of refugees shows that policies of isolation do not work and that it is time to adopt a new approach,” highlighted Bruton. And if “Europe has a strong incentive to recommit with Eritrea, if only to reduce the arrivals of refugees, the United States will not want to play the part of those obstructing these efforts.”

“Even Asmara should be actively engaged in this process of political reconciliation,” said Bruton in conclusion, since even the Eritrean government has strong political incentives to end the isolation that has experienced so far.

International isolation following the failure to resolve the conflict with Ethiopia of 1998-2000 and the sanctions imposed on Asmara in 2009 for alleged support to jihadist Al- Shabaab, accusation always rejected by the Eritrean government.

This month, the UN Commission for Human Rights in Eritrea said that about 5000 people are fleeing the country every month because of violations of systematic and large-scale human rights, pointing out that some of these abuses may constitute crimes against humanity.

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In its response, Asmara has branded the allegations as “totally baseless and worthless”.

As a direct result of the dissemination of this report, human rights activists have launched a petition to ask Europe to tying aid to the request of “respect for fundamental freedoms and the start of true democratic reform”.

* Software Translation from Italian