Category: English

Eritrea Rejoins East African Bloc Nearly 16 Years After Walkout

FILE - Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki speaks during his visit at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 9, 2023. During that visit to Kenya, Afwerki said that his country would rejoin the East African bloc IGAD "with the idea of revitalizing this regional organization."
Eritrea has rejoined the East African bloc, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), nearly 16 years after the politically isolated state pulled out of the body, Information Minister Yemane Meskel said Monday.

"Eritrea resumed its activity in IGAD and took its seat" at a summit organized by the seven-nation bloc in Djibouti on Monday, Meskel said on Twitter.

He said the country was ready to work toward "peace, stability and regional integration."

The authoritarian state suspended its IGAD membership in 2007 following a string of disagreements, including over the bloc's decision to ask Kenya to oversee the resolution of a border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia in 1993 and fought a two-year border war with its neighbor that poisoned relations until a peace agreement in 2018.

Map of Eritrea
Map of Eritrea

Following the rapprochement with Addis Ababa, Eritrean troops supported Ethiopian forces during the federal government's war against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and have been accused by the United States and rights groups of some of the conflict's worst atrocities.

That war ended with a peace deal signed in November last year that called for the withdrawal of foreign forces, but Asmara was not a party to the agreement and its troops continue to be present in bordering areas of Tigray, according to residents who have accused the soldiers of murder, rape and looting.

'North Korea of Africa'

Monday's announcement comes after Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki told reporters during a visit to Kenya in February that his country would rejoin IGAD "with the idea of revitalizing this regional organization."

Isaias, 77, did not attend Monday's summit in Djibouti, sending Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Adviser Yemane Ghebreab to the meeting instead.

Workneh Gebeyehu, executive secretary of IGAD, hailed Eritrea's return to the bloc, saying in an official statement: "Let me take this opportunity to welcome back the State of Eritrea to the IGAD family."

Dubbed the "North Korea" of Africa, Eritrea was sanctioned by the United States in 2021 after sending troops into Tigray.

In a rare news conference in Kenya earlier this year, Isaias dismissed accusations of severe rights abuses by Eritrean troops in Tigray as "fantasy."

Human Rights Watch in February called for fresh sanctions against Eritrea, accusing it of rounding up thousands of people, including minors, for mandatory military service, during the Tigray war.

The country sits near the bottom of global rankings for press freedom, as well as human rights, civil liberties and economic development.

Category: English

Swiss Council of State Wants Eritrean Asylum Seekers Leave to Third Countries

Lucerne, SwitzerlandAsylum seekers from Eritrea whose applications have been rejected in Switzerland will be required to go to a third country, the Council of States has said.The decision comes following the motion of Damian Müller, which was accepted by the small chamber on Monday, calling for a pilot project that would permit to send citizens of Eritrea with rejected asylum requests to a third country, reports.

As an example of a third country, Müller mentioned Rwanda, while clarifying that it does not mean that the asylum procedure is outsourced.

“It is about people who have gone through an asylum procedure in Switzerland, who have received a negative decision and who do not need international protection. Those affected could travel from Rwanda to another country,” the statement reads.

However, the motion has been called unrealistic by Lisa Mazzone, a prominent Green Party politician in Switzerland.

She said that a large number of applications filed for asylum by citizens of Eritrea are secondary requests after births and family reunifications, stressing that Eritreans who have been in the country for a long period should be permitted to work The recent changes also raised concerns among the Federal Council’s members. According to the federal cabinet of the Swiss Confederation, Eritreans, whose asylum applications have been rejected could be sent to a third country, only if they have a connection there. In addition, the Council said that there is no legal basis for financing the pilot project while stressing that human rights standards should be guaranteed in a third country.

Swiss Federal Council said that Eritrea does not support the involuntary return of its citizens, adding that if the project is implemented, this means de facto relocation to a third country.In addition, the Council also approved a second motion by Damian Müller related to the issue of repatriation.

“In order to get Algeria to cooperate on forced repatriations, this motion requires the Federal Council to apply for restrictions on the issuance of visas for the Schengen area under the Schengen Code. The Council of States accepted it on Monday with 28 votes to 11 and 3 abstentions,” the statement reads.

Müller said that at present the cantons are being subject to significant difficulties after repatriations to Algeria are not working, in spite of repatriation agreements.

Authorities in Switzerland are continuously attempting to deal with the influx of asylum requests. Previously the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) said that Switzerland accepted a total of 1,651 asylum applications in April this year.

In the fourth month of this year, authorities in Switzerland decided to create  additional accommodation places following the increased number of asylum requests.

Category: English

Isaias Afwerki Led Eritrea’s Freedom Struggle, But Turned His Country Into a Prison Camp

Eritrea spent decades fighting for independence against enormous odds. Its people finally achieved their goal in the 1990s, but Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki has since created one of the world’s bleakest dictatorships, prompting countless Eritreans to flee.

Eritrea’s long struggle for independence finally ended in victory three decades ago. It seemed like a fresh beginning for one of Africa’s smallest countries, after fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds.

However, the Eritrean leader Isaias Afwerki soon established a highly repressive political system that caused many young people to flee. Since 2020, Afwerki’s army has been a key protagonist in one of the world’s most destructive wars, fighting alongside Ethiopian government forces in Tigray.

Michela Wrong is a journalist and the author of several books about African politics, including an account of Eritrea’s modern history, I Didn’t Do It For You: How the World Used and Abused a Small African Nation. This is an edited transcript from Jacobin’s Long Reads podcast. You can listen to the interview here.


How did Eritrea become an Italian colony, and what were the main legacies of Italian colonial rule?


The story of Italian colonialism in Eritrea comes in two parts. When the Suez Canal was opened, there was a flurry of interest by European powers in the Red Sea because they thought it would open up markets in the Far East and the Middle East. Italy came quite late to this game, having only been unified as a nation-state itself quite recently. But it was very keen on developing a colony in Africa because it had a high rate of population growth. Its leaders thought that an African colony might be a good place in which to settle poor peasants who were in search of land to cultivate.

In 1869, an Italian priest who was acting on behalf of an Italian shipping company bought the port of Assab, a key Eritrean port, from a local chief. Italy didn’t really do much with Assab at first, but that changed in 1885. British officials were running Egypt and were therefore in control of the port of Massawa, which is an Eritrean port today but was then controlled by Egypt. They invited the Italians in to capture the port.

The Italians seized Massawa and then started sending troops up into the highlands. They were bent on taking the Abyssinian Highlands. The dry, rocky area down at the coast did not interest them — they wanted the fertile interior. They ended up building a settlement in Asmara, having fought against a local Abyssinian warlord called Ras Alula.

Eventually, an Italian politician called Ferdinando Martini became the first civilian governor of Eritrea and started setting up schools, hospitals, and a legal system. But it was a tiny colony that was militarily and strategically irrelevant.

The second phase came after Benito Mussolini took over in Italy as its fascist dictator. He was a nationalist who believed in the purifying quality of war. He launched the Abyssinian campaign in 1936, which had two main objectives. The first was to settle Italian peasants in the fertile interior, and the second was to avenge the battle of Adwa in 1896, when Italian troops had been defeated — the first major defeat of a European army by African troops, and a massive humiliation for Italy.

Mussolini wanted to avenge that humiliation and avenge it he did. He used Eritrea as a jumping-off point, building up his troops before invading Abyssinia, as the country was then known. He deployed chemical warfare as part of the campaign. Italy was soon in control of Abyssinia and the emperor Haile Selassie was forced to flee into exile in Britain.

As he left, he warned the world that fascism was a threat to everyone, not just his own country. At the time, however, European powers like Britain and France were preparing for WWII. They were rearming because they realized that Adolf Hitler and Mussolini were going to be a problem, but they didn’t want to take on Mussolini at that stage of the game.

That inaugurated the second great phase of Italian colonialism, which was very different from the first. There was a lot of investment in Eritrea. Asmara became one of the most beautiful modernist cities in Africa — it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with all the cinemas and other public buildings. Italy’s best Fascist-era architects based themselves there, and it was dubbed “Little Italy.”

But it was also a place where, as fascism became more and more obnoxious, the racial segregation laws that were being enforced in Italy against Jews were also introduced in Eritrea. There had been a lot of mixed marriages between Italians and Eritrean women. Suddenly, it wasn’t possible for those Italians to give their children their surnames.

The two parts of the town were segregated, with poor slums where the Eritreans lived and nice white villas for the Italians. Cinemas were segregated and there were separate queues in shops. Eritreans were not welcome to have a drink in the cafés in the Italian district. If you were walking along the pavement and you met an Italian coming toward you, you were supposed to step off the pavement in respect for your white master.

The Italian colonial experience has left behind a legacy of anger and bitterness there. People get very upset about it, particularly the fact that, during the Italian era, they were only allowed to go to school for four years, so their education was truncated. But the irony is that Eritrea would never have existed as a country if Italy hadn’t colonized it.

Colonialism made this area that was carved out in the Horn of Africa much more connected to trade, and it industrialized at a much faster pace than Abyssinia, which later become Ethiopia. The influx of Europeans — not just Italians but also Greeks and other nationalities — brought technical know-how and skills for manufacturing. It was a much more cosmopolitan and heavily industrialized country as a result.

On the one hand, Eritreans are bitter about Italian colonialism, but they also know that it made them different. There is a sense of Eritrean superiority, and the legacy of Italian colonialism plays a strange role in that.