A day doesn’t go by without news of the recovery of dozens or even hundreds of dead bodies of refugees/immigrants fleeing from countries ruled by dictators and trying to reach the island of Lampedusa on rickety boats.
Many of them came from Eritrea, a country that has been dubbed “ an open pit gulag” ruled for the past twenty years by Iseyas Afewerki, a despot who has the dubious honor of being named the most vicious dictator of the whole of Africa.
Among the numerous injustices and abuses that plague that country and have been reported by human rights organizations one should mention the sawa, i.e., forced indefinite conscription, the persecution of dissidents and journalists , the total lack of freedom of the press, and the persecution of religious minorities.
On the foreign policy front, the UN has imposed sanctions “ an arms embargo against Eritrea, which has been accused of supporting Islamist militias in Somalia” .
Mainly it is the youth who are escaping from Eritrea, in search of a better life and dignity. In the majority of cases these attempted escapes are intercepted by the regime’s police and the young people are sentenced to the “open pit gulags” where they are subjected to every imaginable form f torture .
In other cases, when they contact human traffickers to help them escape, they often become victims of blackmail and kidnappings, as was the case for the 80 Eritreans who are still held by desert marauders in the Sinai desert after their capture in July of last year. They are still in chains and will be released only after each of them pays an 8000 dollar ransom .
The bodies filling what has been dubbed “the Mediterranean cemetery” belong to the “lucky ones” who managed to escape the gulags, crossed the whole of the Sudanese desert, and were able with great difficulty to reach Libya (the documentary “Like a Man on Earth” provides a dramatic testimony of these trips).
Typically, there they were faced with yet another challenge, meaning, trying to escape Gheddafi’s henchmen and then board a rickety boat directed to Lampedusa.
When the conflict erupted in Libya, first the revolts, then the air raids by Western powers, the young Eritreans were faced with additional problems, such as:
1. Escape the air raids;
2. Hide so as not to be mistaken, because of their black skin, for Gheddafi’s mercenaries from Subsaharan countries;
3. Avoid being captured by Libyan rebels, who are aware that Iseyas sent between 200-300 Eritrean troops to support his friend Gheddafi.
Thus, one must recognize how unlucky these young people were, considering that they had overcome so many challenges just to end up drowning on the last leg of their journey towards Lampedusa.
And the more shameful the responsibility and complicity of Western countries, especially Italy. Just like it did with Gheddafi, Italy signed several economic treaties with Iseyas Afewerki , obtaining favorable conditions based on the cheap, slave labor provided by the young men interned in the gulags and starving peasants.
We can consider ourselves fully complicit in the misfortunes of these young Eritrean over the whole range of their vicissitudes. First because our country supports the Eritrean dictator, then because it supports Gheddafi and its “gendarme of the Mediterranean” policies preventing the refugees from reaching Italy via the sea.
We are responsible for the practice of “respingimenti”, at-sea-deportations carried out by the Italian Coast Guard for refugee boats in the Sicilian Channel, not to speak of the detention in special jails called “Centers for Identification and Expulsion” of Eritreans caught undocumented on Italian soil.
If we want to draw any lesson from the whole Libya debacle, we are still in time to appeal to our government to cancel the treaties with Iseyas Afewerki, thus breaking the first link in the chain of misfortunes that befall young Eritreans.
We are also called to act on all the other links, meaning struggle for their right to be granted political asylum in Italy, a country that ranks last in Europe for the number of applicants who are granted refugee status.
We are called to struggle against the Bossi-Fini law and the emergency law packet, which are the basis for turning an undocumented status into a crime in itself, the practice of at-sea-deportations and the special detention centers (Cie).
Considering the historical ties that unite Italy and Eritrea, its former colony, it is essential that all those who care about human rights understand the importance of acting in a timely manner at the political level by pressuring our government to act in such a way as to promote real change in Eritrea, and the restoration of basic democratic rights such as free elections, a multi-party set up, universal suffrage, etc.
There is no doubt that this is the time to act, to avoid more dead bodies turning up in the Mediterranean, before more Eritrean blood be spilled because, unlike most f its neighboring countries in North Africa and the Middle East where revolts have taken place, it is next to impossible for the Eritrean people to rebel, on account of the tight hold the dictatorship has on the country.
Without the shadow of a doubt, Italy will be forced to reckon with the situation and pay a high price – in economic, terms, as far as its image internationally, in terms of conscience and conflict- if it does not face the picture described above at its point of origin.
If it fails to do so, these damned of the earth shall continue to persecute our consciences.
We ask you to sign this appeal which will be delivered to Italian Secretary of the Interior, Roberto Maroni and to Secretary of State, Franco Frattini.
Comitato per la solidarietà con i popoli del nord Africa in rivolta (Committe for solidarity with the peoples of North Africa rising up), for information contact Hamid Barole Abdu: 339.5919387, Pina Piccolo: 338.6268250, Patricia Quezada: 339.1923429
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