YPFDJ-UK Statement on the Tragic Loss of Eritrean Lives in Lampedusa

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Understanding the root cause of the problem might help find the solution
Understanding the root cause of the problem might help find the solution


On the 3rd of October 2013, over 300 Eritreans were among the those who lost their lives while crossing from North Africa to southern Europe (Lampedusa, Italy) when their boat capsized. This boat, which caught fire and sank in one of the worst disasters to hit the area in recent years, was believed to have been loaded with about 500 migrants among which 200 are still unaccounted for. Another tragedy was reported on Friday the 11th of October 2013, when a boat carrying approximately 250 people mostly from Syria capsized in the Mediterranean Sea near the Italian island of Lampedusa. Among these, 34 migrants died and at least 221 were rescued by Italian and Maltese ships.

The recent disasters are neither isolated incidents nor will be the last ones. Even before the most recent disasters, it had become clear earlier that the potentially deadly perils of the crossing had not stopped the flow of migrants to Italian shores. It was reported by the coastguards, that in five separate operations more than 500 migrants had been rescued in quick succession. While this is a very sad tragedy, one cannot forget those that become victims of various hostage takers and their crimes (killing for ransom, rape, organ harvesting etc.) on their route to Europe. Many have paid dearly both financially and with their lives and this has not stopped and is continuing unreported. Those that got caught up in these recent tragedies in the sea and those that lost their lives in the hostile African deserts in north Africa and Sinai dessert are somebody’s sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. On this occasion the YPFDJ UK chapter wishes to express its deepest sadness at the loss of these lives and extends its heartfelt condolences to their bereaved families and relations at these darkest of hours.

While it is easy to condemn the organised criminals involved in human trafficking throughout the migration route, from the source countries through to the dangerous seas and harsh deserts, and indeed we strongly believe they should be brought to justice and the practice be stopped immediately, it is imperative however to examine all factors, internal and external, that have brought about this unacceptable level of migration and ask why many people are willing to put their own lives and that of their beloved ones (in some cases minors) at risk.

It is undeniable fact that the absence of normalised relation between Eritrea and Ethiopia following the war of invasion the latter unleashed on Eritrea on the pretext of border dispute from 1998-2000 has hindered the economic, social as well as political progress which Eritrea embarked upon soon after its independence. Indeed this has contributed to the economic hardship Eritreans face with a large portion of their productive work force engaged in the defence of the nation and its independence. The international community and in particular, the guarantors of the peace agreement (USA, UN & AU) upon which the cessation of hostilities and subsequent final and binding border ruling was agreed have a responsibility to compel Ethiopia to abide by the ruling it signed up to and return the occupied Eritrean territories to their rightful owners. This will not only enable those internally displaced for over 15 years to return to their homelands and farms to support themselves and contribute to the national economy but more crucially it will allow those tens of thousands of our youngsters to return to a more economically productive life once the danger from Ethiopia is removed as a result of the full implementation of the agreed peace accord.

While one must never underestimate the contribution of the stated external factors and the unjust economic sanctions imposed on Eritrea on the rise of migration, it is perhaps more crucial for us (Eritreans) and our government to look at the internal factors that are contributing to migration bearing in mind that we have control and primarily responsible for the internal factors. The reasons behind the illegal migration of young Eritreans should be thoroughly examined and discussed carefully to increase awareness and to find internal solutions.

Economic migration is not new or unique to Eritrea, indeed a combination of challenging living conditions, limited opportunities at home and a natural human desire for better life are ideal ingredients for migration. What is disturbingly new in the case of Eritrea though is the level of risks – real risks, people are willing to take in search of perceived better life away from home. Here we must ask why many have and continue to follow a path to almost a certain death and suffering when in fact the risks of staying at home can’t possibly compare to what potentially awaits them at the hands of human traffickers, unforgiving seas and deserts on their way to Europe and elsewhere. Needless to say most of those who do make it to their preferred destination invariably find the grass is never greener on the other side. They end up living as illegal immigrants with limited or no right to work for undefined length of time. They find very limited opportunities for further education and thus live on the margins of the mainstream society doing low paid jobs and as a result leading lifestyles of those on or below the poverty line, a life they have never imagined existed in Europe.

The Italians have asked the EU for help stating that this is not a problem for Malta or Italy to deal with alone. Some EU and other officials have talked about looking for solutions to this risky migration by dealing with the problems in the source countries. While we may not fully agree with them on the root causes of migration, indeed looking at the source of the problem will go a long way in finding a solution. In this regard, YPFDJ UK calls for:

1. The international community to shoulder its responsibility in holding Ethiopia accountable for its continued refusal to uphold the rule of law and to immediately vacate occupied Eritrean territories as per the final and binding border ruling which both countries signed up to. This will pave the way for normalisation of relations between the two nations and thus encourage economic and security cooperation, improving the living conditions of their respective peoples.

2. The international community to lift the unjust sanctions imposed on Eritrea on the false and baseless premise that Eritrea supports armed groups in Somalia. These sanctions by sinister design hurt the ordinary people economically.

3. The UN through its humanitarian organisations to ensure that the fate of those Eritreans languishing in many refugee camps in countries such as Ethiopia, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Israel and others does not become as tragic as those perished in the seas and deserts. It must safeguard their human rights according to international law and protect them from traffickers. It must also engage the Eritrean government in addressing this problem.

YPFDJ London, United Kingdom
21 October 2013 
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