BY MARTIN SCHIBBYE | BLANKSPOT *
Mining Engineer Clas Lindström worked for Bisha Mining in Eritrea during the same period that three workers claim they had to work in the mine against their will. He remembers an unusual plant, but did not see any signs of slavery.
The joint venture Bisha Mining has, in order to attract foreign workers, always made great efforts to welcome visitors. Attracting skills from abroad, to a distant place in the Horn of Africa, is otherwise difficult.
“Eritrea is a dysfunctional country and much lacking, but in the mine it was very good standard, both on the houses and on the food,” recalls Clas Lindström, who worked for Bisha Mining in Eritrea between April 2010 and July 2014.
According to him, the first few years were strict control over who would be allowed to work in the mine. After reading Blankspots reportage from Bisha, where three former workers accuse the management of slavery, he hears of him to give his picture.
“Private companies were not allowed to hire [non-national service] staff, which meant that most employees were over 50 years of age or women with young children.
The picture Clas Lindström got [at that time] was that anyone who could carry a weapon was recruited to the Eritrean army.
“We had a guy who walk in circles and talking to himself, and a crane driver who claimed he was 87 years old, so the average age was a bit over 50 years. No one in arms for age was there.
According to Clas, the three individuals who sued the Canadian company Nevsun, which owns 60 percent of the Bisha mine, can be any. The Eritrean company Segen, which they worked for, was a subcontractor that the mining company, according to Clas Lindström, was forced to cooperate with for road maintenance and construction.
“Eritrea has a rule that means that if they say that you should use a local contractor, you have to do it. They say you have to use local products, you have to do it. It is the way they want to work, to use the country’s workforce.
Around the mine, the State operated some construction projects and road maintenance works, and at those sites, subcontractors worked.
“Workers for local entrepreneurs who Bisha mining were forced to hire were employed and we as foreigners working there could not influence the conditions of Segen Construction, owned by the state.”
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Clas Lindström also saw several signs of shortcomings in their work environment.
“The company [Segen] lacked protective equipment, routines, workwear, everything. The machines were in abysmal condition and were ported from driving in the mining area. They were able to drive around without lights in the middle of the night.
Two of his comrades, who worked with constructions during the launch of the mine in 2010, protested so strongly to Segen’s work management that they did not get entry permit to the country after a leave.
“Segens flaws in quality and safety were raised at every meeting, we complained, but nothing happened. We couldn’t influence anything but protest,“ says Clas Lindström.
He believes that the three who sued Nevsun should instead sue Segen and the state of Eritrea because local workers in Bisha Mining received proper protective equipment, 15 minutes of security dialogue before the beginning of the shift, training of Western experts for each Work operations, training in structured work, good housing, food and regular rest.
“Segens staff, on the other hand, could be seen sleeping in holes in the field. In the end, it is the state of Eritrea that must be held responsible for how these people were treated, says Clas Lindström.
Today, when he reads about Eritrea many years later, he does not recognize the image of the country.
“I’ve been there and traveled past the markets of Karen and Asmara and never seen any shortage of merchandise or any famine. Big goats were running around, but the media picture is due to the fact that so few travel there to see for themselves, or that they are not admitted.
During his time in the mine, he met with high-ranking relatives of the president who were moving like anyone in the country.
In comparison to Zimbabwe where he also worked, the contrast was great.
“There politicians travel behind machine guns. In Eritrea, they move in T-shirts and jeans, like anybody. But just because the leadership in Eritrea has won a war, it is not certain that they are suitable for running a country.
He emphasizes that he has not seen everything, and that others may have a different picture, but some slavery was not in the mine itself.
He himself remained for more than four years.
“I saw things that are unacceptable, but stayed. Not for the money, but because I want to believe I could show the locals I worked with things that could be done better. That you can act against their fellow human beings in a better way. In the hope that they, in turn, teach others in their country and eventually change the reality they live in.
* Software translation from Swedish