(part of Footsteps In The Dark series)
(Eritrea's Human Rights Record Turns Out Thousands Of Refugees)
The list of what an Eritrean refugee has to look forward to is tragic at best. Many of these victims of government indifference have no way of seeking justice. They often find themselves trapped between fences (literally) as the world argues about who should help them. All the while they did not choose to be there. This was not their way of taking the easy way out of an already hellish situation back home. For many Eritrean refugees their story begins with human trafficking, kidnapping, and/or a handful of other methods of exploitation.
On the Sinai peninsula between Africa and the Middle East the story of the Eritrean refugee plays out every day. Bedouin criminal gangs traffic Eritrean hostages across the Sinai in hopes of extorting cash payments from impoverished families back in Eritrea. When the families obviously cannot pay the extortion the rate asked does not come down. Instead the victims are tortured, some to the point of death. Those who survive are sold to other Bedouins to be used as slaves. Other survivors are at times told to run... to head toward Israel and get out of the Bedouins' sight.
For the runners the wretched fate that has been handed to them has only just begun. A life that many could never imagine has just gotten worse. And yet for these refugees the journey to a better life in their eyes has just begun.
At the border with Israel the Eritrean refugees are greeted with barbed wire, landmines, and border guards on either side of the fence. If the hot sand and lack of water don't kill them the possibility always lingers just beneath their feet and in the hands of the guards both in front and behind them. This long stretch of wire is the Eritrean refugees' version of limbo.
For these refugees their part in an over forty year history of Eritrean refugees has only just begun. For the Eritrean refugees who aren't taken to the Sinai and never have the hope of entering Israel there is another version of limbo.
In camps just over the border in the Sudan the Eritrean refugees attempt to hide from human traffickers who would send them north into Egypt. At Kilo 26 Camp some 12,500 Eritrean refugees wait till the day they can return home. These refugees are among the 130,000+ Eritrean refugees in camps all across the border with Sudan. All of them are subjected to over the border raids, kidnapping, and human trafficking. And yet around 22,000 Eritrean refugees have crossed the border since November of 2003.
Life in camps in Sudan is difficult, if not impossible at times, for the Eritrean refugees. They are reliant upon UN and other foreign aid in a country where human rights abuses are already common. When they attempt to make themselves more self reliant in the Sudan they open themselves up to new threats of exploitation and attack. For most the dream of returning home is the only thing they have keeping them alive. And yet for over a decade now they have been living as the people from nowhere with nowhere to go.
So for us in the West the question should have already arisen as to why and how this many refugees could be fleeing a tiny country such as Eritrea in the first place.
The protracted hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea have created running battles in which innocent civilians are made intentional "collateral damage". Fighting between the two sides often ends up becoming so bitterly entrenched that any member of the opposite state is considered fair game for war weary soldiers. Battlefields spill over into villages and urban areas. Rape and summary executions were all to common when open hostilities existed. Now the uneasy peace still sees militant acts between factions of the two sides. War is never to far from reality along the border between the two states.
Then when you add the horrific human rights record of the Eritrean state itself to the matter the reality of becoming a refugee is almost all the Eritrean people have left. Eritrean men and boys often "disappear" never to be heard from or seen alive again. Women and girls are subject to rape by government forces and police. This is then complicated by unjust taxation and extortion by government officials.
For the Eritrean refugees clinging to the wire along the border with Israel there is only the hope of life beyond the oppression they have come to know back home. This longing for freedom is so embedded in human nature that the Eritrean people would risk death to just get a peek at it. And yet if caught staring upon its beauty, these Eritrean people face prison in Egypt and Israel alike.
These are the people from nowhere...
These are the people with nowhere left to run.
(Note note all sources are listed)