Radio Erena: 08 April 2020
As usual, whenever the government of Eritrea is hit by a human-made or a natural calamity it takes refuge with its people; the very people which she is depriving of the basic human rights for three decades. At the present, as the world faces the sweeping threat of Covid-19 pandemic, the Eritrean Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, are forcing Eritrean expatriates to donate for the so-called National Campaign against the Covid-19.
These forced donations are considered by the government as a sort of solidarity gesture from the diaspora. Tweeting from Asmara, the Minister of Information said that the Eritreans living in the US have donated 2.7 million dollars in few days in what he described as the “Noble tradition of solidarity with and compassion with their people back home”. Although this exaggerated statement is difficult to verify due to the lack of transparency and accountability, the situation of Eritrean diaspora in the Western countries is conspicuously not only different but also less difficult than their fellow citizens in the Middle East.
In the Western countries and due to the liberties and acquisition of the nationality of the country they are residing in, the Eritrean embassies cannot- unlike in the Middle East- force donations on Eritrean diaspora.
What happened in Riyadh last week reflects this patent difference. The embassy has ordered the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) Riyadh Branch to donate for the Campaign, likewise the Eritrean Community and the Eritrean International School. The later paid five thousand Riyals (1328 USD), in addition to the individual donation of each parent who has a child in the school (the total number of the students is 3000). The payment of these institutions shall not exempt the individual donations of the its members.
The punishment of those who decline to donate, for whatever reason, would be the deprivation of all embassy services. This has been the norm in the past two decades in Saudi Arabia, but today, the condition of the Eritrean expatriates can only be described as grim. The Saudi Residence Permit (Iqama) recent regulations put fees on every family member, which in turn, increases the financial burden on the families. Such regulations have forced many Eritrean families to leave the country and resettle in other countries. Definitely, Eritrea was not a place to choose; because they realize that once they are inside the country, they will never be allowed to travel abroad. Sending the families abroad, only the fathers stayed behind to meet the expenses of travel and the day-to- day resettlement costs.
It is against this appalling background that the Eritrean officials are forcing the residents to donate.
Are we, then, against the initiative to help our fellow citizens during the spread of this devastating pandemic? Absolutely Not. This government who is forcing its expatriates to donate does not allow churches, mosques and civil society entities to work against the pandemic. It is a well-known fact that the Ministry of Health forced the closure of the clinics owned by the Catholic Church and confiscated their equipment. These clinics were vital for the farmers in the countryside. The same authorities did not allow medications, equipment and basic needs to enter the country; because they were sent without direct government supervision and intervention.
Certainly, the millions of dollars which will forcefully be collected from the wretched expatriates will not end up where they should be. Earlier donations, in millions of dollars, were spent on arming and equipping Ethiopian anti-government forces. The Eritrean authorities spent generously on Tigray Democratic Movement Forces (Demht), the matter which aroused the dismay and criticism of the Eritrean Defense Forces which only received morsels of the mammoth amounts.
In a country of three million there are only hundred doctors, with only one intensive-care specialist, in addition, the dire health policies forced 54 Orotta Medical School graduates to stay behind in the countries to which they were sent to pursue their higher education. Were all these future specialists mistaken when they had decided not to return and serve their homeland? Only the miserable health policies of the Eritrean authorities can tell. In Eritrea, as an only one case among many others, the authorities imprison incommunicado the Chief Medical Officer of the main psychiatric hospital in the capital in jail for religious reasons for two decades.
How can a government with such horrible record be entrusted with peoples’ safety and financed during these hard times which face the country and its people?
By Fathi Osman