The E.U. Missing the Target

Radio Erena: 13 January 2020

Reporting for the New York Times from Brussels on 8  January, Matina Stevis-Gridneff uncovered appalling findings of the European Union’s relations with Eritrea, regarding its policies on curbing immigration.

The report says that out of its 4.6 billion Trust Fund for Africa, created in 2015 to address the root causes of immigration, the E.U. gave 22 million to Eritrea for road building. The shocking fact is that Eritrea uses forced labor in carrying out the E.U. funded project.

With the rising number of Eritrean refugees coming to Europe, the E.U. is under scathing criticism from human rights activists. According to activists, the policy not only violates European human rights law, but it also increases the number of refugees on an annual basis. Stevis-Gridneff reveals that 30 thousand Eritrean applied for asylum in Europe, of which 80 percent were granted asylum in 2015-2016. This means that Europe considers “Eritreans legitimate refugees.” Then we can ask If the E.U. countries consider the Eritrean refugees ‘legitimate,’ why do they take the pain to stop them from coming?

Running on a counter track, the E.U. policy on Eritrea is ultimately counterproductive. Financing the Government of Eritrea to stop its population from crossing land and sea to come to Europe is the idea of the nationalist and extremist parties in Europe. With right-wing parties coming to power; Europe has been spending heavily on trying to stop immigration. As the cost goes higher, and the number of refugees increases, the rightist policymakers have come up with the idea that the best policy would be to pay the governments in Africa to hold back their peoples from coming to Europe’s mainland.

The policy smells foul, and criticism against it has been commonplace. In meetings inside and outside the E.U. Parliament, Eritrean activists keep informing deputies and officials that such a policy will not end immigration. It will only buy the Eritrean government more time. It does not address the real causes of the problem. The main cause is simply the infinite National Service that forces the youth to leave their country in droves towards safety. The problem is not economic; it is, rather, the experience of living under a brutal dictatorship. A survivor of 2013’s tragic Lampedusa accident, in which a sinking immigrants’ boat claimed the lives of 360 Eritreans, stated, in heart-breaking tone, “When I met my fate in the sea; I knew that I was dead. My family, sooner or later, would know about my death. To die is a known fate. In Eritrea, you really do not know whether you are alive or dead.” It is this nightmarish situation that compels the youth to leave the country. It is not the lack of jobs or training; it is the loss of hope under infinite military service and forced labor. Despite the money being paid to the Eritrean government, no end to immigration can be seen in the near future.

By Fathi Osman