May 2019

Eritrea has seen a busy month. At the beginning of May 2019, Eritrea summoned the United Nations refugee council (UNHCR) top official to demand its citizens be returned from Libya. Under a third-country resettlement scheme adopted by the UN and the EU to resettle refugees in third-countries other than Europe, thousands of Eritreans were sent to a camp in Niger. Eritreans have traditionally accounted for a large part of refugees coming to Europe, fleeing tough political and socio-economic circumstances, and destructive open-ended conscription. After a July 2018 peace agreement with Ethiopia, the borders between the two countries were opened, leading to thousands of refugees crossing the border. Eritrea has since unilaterally shut the border, which has led to the crippling of border towns on both sides.

Demonstrating why Eritreans are fleeing the country, the government decided to block all social media sites on May 15, 2019, allegedly to curb planned protests as the country prepares for its 26th independence day on May 24. The Eritrean government’s attempts to block free speech and curb opposition is not new. Numerous government critics have disappeared, opposition figures killed, and human rights activists arrested. The current measure is the next in a long line of oppressive tactics to silence any opposition to the sitting government.

During this turmoil, the foreign minister of Eritrea and China met in Beijing on Monday May 6, committing to a mutually beneficial relation to both countries. China has steadily been growing its influence in Africa, especially along strategic points such as Djibouti. Eritrea was one of the only countries that was not in attendance during the Forum for China – Africa Cooperation held in Beijing in 2018, and Eritrea has traditionally avoided collaboration with China. Other countries in the region such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Djibouti have a huge debt to China, and claims have risen that China is luring ‘poor’ African countries into a debt trap to solicit assistance, support, or favours.

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