On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department issued a directive to the Department of Homeland Security asking it to impose visa sanctions on three African countries for refusing to take back deportees from America.
According to unidentified sources quoted by the Washington Post, the three countries include Eritrea. It is not clear whether the directive will be implemented and how many Eritreans are likely to be deported.
Many human rights organizations have criticized the move, claiming that it is likely to affect thousands of Eritreans seeking asylum in the United States. If implemented, the sanctions will also affect legal travel to the U.S. of all Eritreans, including government officials.
The move also appears to overlook the fact that most of the Eritrean migrants in the U.S. are victims of abuse by the current and previous governments.
A Lifetime of Abuse
Since gaining independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after 30 years of civil war, Eritrea remains under an authoritarian regime that has a long history of clamping down on dissenting voices and jailing anyone who attempts to flee the country.
In 2016, the United Nations accused President Isaias Afwerki’s regime of using indefinite military service, arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances to intimidate its citizenry.
Escape is not an option for many Eritreans as the government has issued a shoot-to-kill order on the borders and those who attempt to leave without legal documents are labeled traitors.
Now the U.S. government is working hard to send Eritrean migrants back to these horrifying conditions. Many Eritreans have to endure a lifetime of compulsory military service, which the U.N. and other human rights organizations say amounts to modern-day-slavery.
European Migration Crisis
The prolonged totalitarianism has seen Eritrea top the list of African countries that produce a staggering number of migrants every year. Some experts even refer to Eritrea as the “North Korea of Africa”.
The International Organization for Migration reports that close to 100,000 Eritrean migrants arrived in Italy by boat between 2014 and 2016.
In the last five years, illegal migration to European countries through the Mediterranean Sea has risen to unprecedented levels, with Africans forming the majority of migrants arriving in Europe every year.
Unfortunately, thousands of them have died while trying to cross the sea on flimsy boats. Others are languishing in detention camps in Libya, where they are often abused and sold as slaves by their captors.
It’s a crisis that has left Italy thinking about closing its ports to migrant rescue ships operated by non-governmental organizations.