Radio Erena: 23 December 2019
Contrary to their legendary struggle for independence and dignity (1961-1991), the present of the Eritrean people stands in stark contrast to what they bitterly fought for. Twenty-eight years after independence, Eritrea is one of the worst dictatorships in the world, therefore, it deserves, with unenviable merit, the widely used moniker of Africa´s North Korea. It shares with its namesake the ruthless one-man rule and the cold and dark dungeons where devilish torture techniques are used and though, ironically, it does not share North Korea´s reputation for threatening its enemies with sophisticated missile technology.
What brings this comparison to the mind are the predicaments of Eritreans especially in the diaspora. Suicide, tragic deaths and domestic violence have become characteristics of Eritrean immigrant communities in Canada, the U.S, Israel, and Europe. Last week, a source confirmed to Radio Erena (Radio Erena website, 19 December) that an Eritrean threw himself under a train in London after killing his wife. The poor man has only welcomed his wife, who has been a refugee in Sudan, one week before. The source did not give reasons behind the dramatic event, but immigration-related disputes were related to the crime and the subsequent suicide.
Furthermore, in London, four Eritrean friends committed suicide in a span of 16 months. The Guardian reported the death of the nineteen-year-old Osman Ahmed Nur who hanged himself in a Camden Hostel for fear of being deported to Eritrea. Six months earlier, his friend Filmon Yemane,18, killed himself. In December 2017, another member of the friends’ group, Alexander Tekle took his life. This year, Muluberhan Medhanie, 19, committed suicide putting an end to the four-friends ill-fated odyssey. This ruined constellation of friends left Eritrea when they were under 18. They survived the shoot-to-kill policy of Eritrean Border Force Units; succeeded in avoiding human traffickers; dodged the corrupt Sudanese police officers; avoided being attacked by the saber-toothed Mediterranean sharks and finally they courageously endured Calais freezing weather before coming to their dreamland: The UK. How sad that these courageous youths, after this difficult journey, ended their lives with their own hands.
For Zeresenay Tesfasion, 34, his worst fears came true. In June 2018, he was deported from the U.S by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). He has been kept in detention after crossing into the U.S from Mexico. According to the Eritrean Refugee Association in the U.S, Zeresenay was among 700 asylum seekers whose demands for asylum were rejected by the Trump Administration which decided to send them back to Eritrea. Halfway through the deportation trip, Zeresenay plane stopped in Cairo. Before the flight to Asmara resumed, he sneaked to the shower area in the airport where he hanged himself to death.
Similar tragic incidents expand in time and space. In 2010, in Canada, Habtom Kibrab, 40, was found dead hanging from a tree in the Clayton Park area of Halifax. The Canadian immigration authorities rejected his asylum demand; as a result, he committed suicide to avoid deportation to Eritrea. Reported incidents are also accompanied by grave violence towards wives. In June 2014, an Eritrean detainee in an Israeli prison hanged himself; he was awaiting trial on charges of killing his wife five months earlier.
As I write these lines, the miserable figure of a fifteen-year-old boy hanging from a tree in a park in Rome never leaves my memory. This and so many similar incidents involve the lives of children. Eritrean society like any other society is afflicted by the grim phenomena of suicide, but its expansion among children is alarming. It is as well shocking to know that the UNCHR confirms that forty-four percent of persons living in refugee camps in Tigray are children. The question is how many of these children bear the burden of living their lives indefinitely in the squalor of refugee camps, as the flight from Eritrea continues unabated.
By Fathi Osman