East Africa: EU-Horn of Africa Migration Policy Inherently Flawed, New Report Suggests

Photo: aljazeera
Eritrean Refugees
7 November 2017

A new joint report takes a critical stance on the European Union's Khartoum Process and suggests it puts more migrants in harm's way, instead of limiting mass migration and combating issues of trafficking and smuggling.

The joint EU-Horn of Africa policy on migration is in dire need of a revamp, according to a new report from the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), and The Centre for Human Rights Law at SOAS, University of London.

The policy in question is the European Union-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, also known as The Khartoum Process. Established in 2014 between 37 EU and African states, the multilateral policy intended to curtail mass migration from the Horn of Africa into Europe and tackle regional issues of trafficking and smuggling. Critics say the policy has exacerbated the regional situation and puts more migrants in harm's way.

An Eritrean woman who left her country two years ago now resides in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and is planning to continue on to Europe. "I know refugees are kidnapped, sold, even killed. They don't give the migrants enough water or food for days. They beat and torture men. They rape the women. I heard so many bad things from others who have already gone through but I have no other way but to travel through the same route," she said.

Hala Al-Karib, Regional Director of SIHA said: "Europe's efforts on migration are too focused on to trying to stop people from moving. They treat illegal cross-border movement as an issue of law enforcement rather than as a symptom of deep-seated governance and extreme poverty problems, and fail to take into account people's reasons for leaving, or their terrifying lack of choice."

The report compiles anecdotal interviews from more than 60 Eritrean refugees. Eritrea ranks as one of the world's poorest countries and has one of the worst human rights records. Each month, five thousand people leave the country, in hopes of escaping political repression, religious persecution, harsh labor practices, hunger, and forced military enlistment.

Dr. Lutz Oette, co-author of the new report and director of the Centre for Human Rights Law at SOAS, takes issue with the policy and its partnership model, in which the EU provides funding, services and other benefits in exchange for African countries' management of migration. "The whole process needs to be restructured. I think one needs to go back to the drawing board in terms of policy making, get other actors involved and escape that instrumental, state-centric logic that has been pursued so far," he told DW.

The report advocates for new policies between the EU and its African partners, in which the political factors that cause migration are addressed, and the safe passage and fair treatment of migrants becomes a shared responsibility. The report also supports new policies that would reflect the experiences of the individuals and communities concerned, and in which the fundamental rights of refugees and migrants are upheld.

Ethiopia welcomes its enemy in open door strategy

Drifting across the desert

"It took us four days traveling from Asmara," a 31-year-old Eritrean man says about the trek from the Eritrean capital, 80 kilometres north of the border, after arriving in Ethiopia. "We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day." With him are another three men, three women, six girls and four small boys.

No turning back

"Living conditions in Eritrea are more dangerous than crossing the border," says a 39-year-old Eritrean soldier - now a deserter after crossing into Ethiopia - who served 20 years in the military. After being collected by Ethiopian soldiers patrolling the border, Eritreans are sent to a registration center to begin the process to claim asylum in Ethiopia.

Camp life

New arrivals are allocated to one of four refugee camps in Ethiopia's Tigray region. The Hitsats camp is the newest and largest, sheltering around 11,000 refugees, with 80 percent under 35 years of age. "Even if they are seeking political asylum, there will be an economic side to it as they are young and need to generate income to live their lives," says camp coordinator Haftam Telemickael.

Making the most of the situation

The camp's infrastructure is simple but neat. There's little rubbish lying around, and people make their accommodation feel as homely as possible. "When I drink a cup of coffee among the flowers it feels good," says John, 40, standing in the small garden full of flowers around his Hitsats camp home that he shares with his 10-year-old daughter. His wife is in America.

Hard-fought gains

"The Eritrean people are good," says Luel Abera, an Ethiopian official who helps coordinate refugee arrivals before they move to a camp. "They fought for independence for 30 years. But from day one, [Eritrean President] Isaias [Afwerki] has ruled the country without caring about his people's interests." Isaias has ruled Eritrea for more than 25 years.

Constant influx

"I don't want to talk about why we crossed," says 18-year-old Haimanot who runs a small shack in Hitsats that recharges mobiles for one Ethiopian birr (0.04 euro) a charge. In February 2017, 3,367 Eritrean refugees arrived in Ethiopia, according to Ethiopia's refugee agency. Around 165,000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers reside in Ethiopia, according to the UN.

Sleeping more easily

"In Sudan there are more problems, we can sleep peacefully here," says Ariam, 32, who came to Hitsat four years ago with her two children after spending four years in a refugee camp in Sudan. Refugees claim the Eritrean military conducts raids in Sudan to capture Eritreans. Ethiopia's border with Eritrea is much more heavily guarded against incursions.

Generosity or strategy?

"Ethiopia's response is to manage the gate, and figure out how it can benefit from these inevitable flows of people," says refugee analyst Jennifer Riggan. More money is also spent hosting refugees nowadays due to international efforts to stop secondary migration to Europe. It may also be a way for Ethiopia to bolster its international reputation after controversy about recent protests.

Comradeship trumps hate

Military positions from the 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea still stand alongside today's border. All the while both governments accuse one of plotting against the other. But Ethiopia appears willing to differentiate with ordinary Eritreans. "We are the same people, we share the same blood, even the same grandfathers," says Estifanos Gebremedhin with Ethiopia's refugee agency.

Moving away

"My children are in America but there is no point my going--I am an old man now," says 74-year-old Tesfaye in Shimelba, Tigray's first Eritrean refugee camp which opened in 2004. Thousands more Eritreans live in Ethiopias cities outside the camps. Many others decide to leave Ethiopia and migrate onward, some legally, like Tesfaye's children, many more illegally, often dying trying.

Shared past not forgotten

"The Ethiopian soldiers who found us were like brothers to us," says 22-year-old mother-of-two Yordanos. Eritrea was Ethiopia's most northern region before a referendum officially giving it independence in 1993 made Tigray the most northern. Hence many Eritreans who cross the border share the same language, Tigrinya, and the same Orthodox religion and culture as Tigray's inhabitants.

Author: James Jeffrey

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