The Big Lie Behind the Eritrean Exodus Across the Mediterranean

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Glen Ford, Executive Editor of The Black Agenda Report, says there are various nationalities among the boatloads of migrants crossing the Mediterranean claiming to be Eritreans

By The Real News,

WELCOME to the Glen Ford Report on The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, the executive producer, coming to you from Baltimore.

The International Organization for Migration, the UN, Amnesty International, has warned the number of migrant deaths on the Mediterranean Sea this year could surpass 30,000. The exodus from Eritrea has been driven by the Orwellian system of mass surveillance, arbitrary detention, and a brutal system of conscription that amounted to indefinite slavery, said the IOM. It urged other countries to offer protection to Eritrean asylum seekers and to respect the principle of providing refuge to people with well founded fear of persecution. With few exceptions, the UN panel said Eritreans forced to return to their country were arrested, detained, and subject to poor treatment and torture. 

Joining us now to discuss this is Glen Ford. Glen is the co-founder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. Glen, as always, thank you for joining us today.

GLEN FORD: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about Eritrea, because that’s a place that most Americans have never heard about. And that means it’s very easy for the United States to carry out its big lie campaign. And those reports that you were just reading are part of the big lie campaign. Eritrea is a small country on the African side of the Red Sea, right next to Ethiopia, the second-largest country in Africa with a population of 100 million people.

Ethiopia and Eritrea are not presently good neighbors. Ethiopia is an ally of the United States. It does much of the United States’s military bidding in Africa, and therefore Ethiopia gets diplomatic cover from the United States if the UN and Eritrea gets beat up at the UN. The Obama administration put sanctions against Eritrea back in 2009 by telling the outrageous lie that Eritrea, which is a half-Christian, half-Muslim country with a government that is totally secular, the lie that Eritrea was supporting al-Shabaab, the Muslim fundamentalists in neighboring Somalia. That would be like saying that Syrian president Assad supports ISIS, although of course the United States has said that, too.

Anyway, last year the U.S. backed off of that lie, admitted there was no evidence of the Eritreans collaborating with Somalia, but now they’ve got another one. And that has to do with those grossly inflated figures on Eritrean refugees. We have to understand that by designating Eritrean refugees as political refugees who are deserving of asylum, what the United States and the Europeans and the United Nations have done is put a premium on being Eritrean. And so this, that’s how you arrive at a situation where Ethiopia with 100 million people, which is as poor as Eritrea, has several counter-insurgency wars going on, and a long, long and undisputed record of torture and mass arrests and executions, while Ethiopia hardly shows up. It’s way down the list in terms of refugees. But Eritrea, with 6 million people, has the giant share. Number one or number two, sometimes, right behind Syria. Or why Somalia, which has been devastated by wars for more than a generation, and is so desperately poor they should coin another term for it, is behind refugee status, or people fleeing to Europe, behind Eritrea.

It is well known in that part of Africa that refugees try to assume the identity, if they can, of being Eritrean because they will get a better reception, if they make it to the other side of the water without drowning, from those European governments. It will be more likely that they get to stay and not be deported. So it’s very valuable to act like and tell people that you are an Eritrean. That is the effect of United States foreign policy. To inflate the numbers of people who claim to be Eritrean who are fleeing, many of whom if not most are actually fleeing a government that is allied with the United States, Ethiopia, or a country that the United States has virtually destroyed, like Somalia.

PERIES: Now Glen, why are they doing that? The United Nations report and the Amnesty report and the IOM that I just cited, all are calling for the protection of the refugees coming across the border, coming across the Mediterranean. So what’s wrong with providing protection to them?

FORD: Well, you just read the copy, the language, which said that Eritreans should be given that special consideration, that they certainly are political refugees. If the question is, why is the United States carrying out this long campaign against Eritrea, it’s because Eritrea wants to be an independent country. It’s been called by some the Cuba of Africa. It does not wish to entangle itself in all of these corporate webs of the World Bank and the IMF and such. It doesn’t want to sign any kind of treaty with AFRICOM, the U.S. military command, which has agreements with all but three countries in Africa, Eritrea being one of them. All of that makes Eritrea an enemy country. Enemies can be lied about at will.

The irony here is that the lie they tell about Eritrea actually reduces the impact and the level of support, at least moral support, that people should be giving to the refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia who really are fleeing horrific circumstances. And one more thing. When they talk about virtual slavery to the state, they’re talking about a draft. And somebody’s draft is none of the United States’s business.

PERIES: So in terms of the number of people expected to come across the Mediterranean, what they cite as being 30,000, what are they composed of and what are they fleeing?

FORD: Well, they’re composed of lots of folks who are fleeing a general kind of conflagration. Now throughout the northern tier of Africa, ever since the United States and its European allies brought down the government of Libya, the whole region is inflamed. But the Horn of Africa, where Eritrea and Somalia and Djibouti and Ethiopia are, that has been inflamed since 2006 when Ethiopia, at the prodding of and with the backing of the United States, invaded Somalia. Which actually set al-Shabaab in motion as, at that time, the main resistance force.

So this, this terrible chaos that has befallen the region is an effect of U.S. foreign policy. It certainly is not, it’s not the result of some policy by the government of Eritrea, a small country of 6 million people.

PERIES: Glen Ford, thank you so much for joining us and shining the light in this region from a perspective we don’t normally hear from. Thank you.

FORD: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.