The repressive regime of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has forced many Eritreans to seek refuge abroad. Some commentators believe Afwerki is stoking conflict between Eritrean migrants and their host nations.

Authorities in several countries are facing a moral, legal and diplomatic conundrum over migrants from the East African nation of Eritrea

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the deportation of Eritrean migrants who were involved in violent clashes last Saturday.

The trouble erupted when a demonstration against an event in the Eritrean Embassy turned violent.

Clashes between rival groups of Eritreans in south Tel Aviv left dozens of people injured including several police officers.

Political divisions spread to the diaspora

On the same day, Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen, witnessed clashes between supporters and opponents of the Eritrean government during a rally marking the country’s independence day. 

Meanwhile, authorities in Giessen, a city in the German state of Hesse, are considering measures to prevent future clashes, after at least 26 police officers were injured during riots at an Eritrean festival in July.

And in early August, Swedish media reported that about 1,000 protesters stormed an Eritrean festival in Stockholm, setting booths and cars on fire and using rocks and sticks as weapons, leaving at least 52 people injured and more than 100 people detained.

The ‘distant’ catalyst

According to Nicole Hirt, a researcher at the GIGA Institute for African Affairs in Hamburg, the independence day festival has a long and peaceful tradition going back decades — but has morphed significantly in recent years.

“We are in a moral conflict here. On the one hand, the festival has always been a propaganda tool for the regime in Eritrea, but on the other hand, we have freedom of assembly in Germany,” Hirt told DW.

While these governments are striving to resolve this dilemma, the Eritrean regime of Isaias Afwerki is alleged to be stoking the flames from a distance.

Dr Selam Kidane, a psychology lecturer at the School of Human and Social Sciences in West London University, expressed her unease at the unfortunate turn of events. She pointed to the Afwerki regime as the source of the problem.

“The organizer of these events is the system who controls power in Eritrea,” Kidane told DW. “This system is doing many things out of law.”

Abdurahman Seeid, an African and Middle East political analyst, echoed this sentiment. He outlined two reasons why the festivals are organised by the Afwerki regime — and he said they have little to do with commemorating the country’s independence day.

“The first one is for a propaganda purpose in a way to show the diaspora societies, who are already controlled by the system, as a cult community and to tell them that they are different Eritreans, and not interact with others,” Seeid said. “The second reason is to collect foreign currency.”

The UN Human Rights Council has described the human rights situation in Eritrea as dire, with no signs of improvement

High costs for host nations

In addition to the high price of policing and medical costs incurred by nations that host Eritrean migrants, there are other social, political and diplomatic implications.

In a statement to the Swedish news agency TT, Sweden’s Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said it is not justifiable for his country to become involved in the internal conflicts of other nations.

“If you flee to Sweden to escape violence, or are on a temporary visit, you must not cause violence here. The police’s resources are needed for other purposes than keeping different groups apart from each other,” the statement said.

In a similar vein, Hesse’s Interior Minister Peter Beuth expressed his outrage following the riot in Giessen. He firmly stated that the police officers should not be used to resolve conflicts originating from other countries.

“Our police officers are not a buffer stop for conflicts in third countries,” he said.

Challenges for refugees and asylum seekers

This situation is creating a complex problem for Eritreans seeking refuge from the oppression of Afwerki’s government.

President Afwerki has ruled Eritrea in a one-party dictatorship since it gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991. 

Eritrea has one of the world’s worst human rights records and migrants living abroad say they fear death if they were to return to their homeland.

An Eritrean asylum seeker in Israel said that these actions by the government are simply a ploy to get them into conflict with their host nations.

“The dictatorial regime in Eritrea has been pursuing us from our very first day in Israel. It’s not enough that we fled from the regime in our homeland, it won’t stop seeking us out in the places where we’re seeking asylum and are trying to rehabilitate our lives,” he said.

According to data from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, the majority of Eritrean migrants who arrive in Germany are granted asylum — around 86% in the first half of 2023 — but Hirt fears that recent events could have an impact.

“This could result in a certain potential for aggression towards those who live in safety here and celebrate the government of Eritrea,” Hirt told DW.

In Israel — where Eritreans make up the majority of the 25,000 African asylum seekers living there — Netanyahu said during a meeting with a ministerial committee tasked to deal with the aftermath of the violence that a “red line has been crossed.”

“Riots, bloodshed — this is lawlessness that we cannot accept,” he added.

“They have no claim to refugee status. They support this regime,” Netanyahu said. “If they support the regime so much, they would do well to return to their country of origin.”

Source : DW

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