COLOMBO’S NGO PREPARES TO SEND US (FAKE) ERITREANS ResQ, the NGO of the Italian former magistrate, makes a promotional video to collect 250 thousand dollars to join sea taxis. The aim is to exploit political conflicts in the area to boost flows.
by Francesca Ronchin
“Are you ready to save a life for $ 600?” Do you want to buy a life jacket for a mother and a child for 50 dollars? ” With a promotional video, the Italian NGO ResQ, which as Honorary President counts on illustrious magistrate Gherardo Colombo, recalls a tragedy of 8 years ago, that of 3 October 2013 in which 360 Eritreans lost their lives off the coast of Lampedusa, to collect 250,000 dollars by 30 June and join the fleet of NGOs at sea.The coffins, the tears, the overcrowded boats, in the video there are all the elements, even a cheerful Eritrean background music, perhaps to help face the journey to Libya and Europe with a certain confidence.”Many Eritreans are preparing to go to Libya because from May to August is the best time,” explains a roundup of foreign activists as if leaving their country is a natural urgency like the migratory birds. “This year we expect that many more will decide to embark on this dangerous journey”. A curious marketing operation, because in the last two years Eritreans stopped, almost, to migrate. Since January 2021 there have been only 800 arrivals to Italy, a small thing compared to the 16 thousand in 2015 and annual averages of 10 thousand at the time of the Lampedusa shipwreck. A gradual decline that began in 2018, when Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace agreement that put an end to a cold war climate that lasted 18 years. Thanks to the new Ethiopian Premier Abiy Ahmed, in fact, in 2018 Ethiopia finally recognizes the borders established by the United Nations in 2002 in Eritrea and starts a new course. Although they had already been considered completely baseless by the Monitoring Group of the United Nations Security Council, the UN secretary Antonio Guterres finally decides to lift the sanctions against Eritrea. “They were motivated by a series of factors that no longer exist,” he explained without specifying that the one who had to stop the abuse was not Eritrea, but Ethiopia.Perhaps ResQ does not know that the country is now on a path of reconstruction and perhaps is unaware that the media fuss, if it certainly helps fund raising, currently at 24,000 dollars, might also boost the flows.
In the video, nothing is accidental. Migrants are all considered “refugees” which is untrue. A young American actress tells that “in 2020 thousand refugees died”. The entire migratory phenomenon is traced back to the Eritreans status, who have always been considered refugees as a result of those long-standing sanctions inflicted to their country. The arrival of a new ship and the tragedy of 2013 is linked to the chance to reduce the deaths at sea when data shows the opposite, the more the rescue ships, the more the deaths and the use of dangerous rubber boats. It is no coincidence that during Mare Nostrum and Triton II rescue operations, which saw an enormous deployment of emergency vehicles, were also the most lethal years.When I ask ResQ for information, why a fundraising campaign is targeting Eritreans, Lia Manzella, vice president of ResQ explains the initiative comes from some of the partners, in particular by Alganesh Fessaha, of the NGO Ghandi Charity who has been working for years with the Eritreans in the refugee camps of Ethiopia. Alganesh, also known as the Angel of Refugees, is part of that so-called Eritrean opposition which, together with Don Mussie Zerai, has been particularly active for years to facilitate the escape of young Eritreans from their country even if this could mean getting stuck in the refugee camps in Ethiopia (at the moment at least 100,000 Eritreans are stuck). In a series of public meetings, she explains how her organization provides young Eritreans imprisoned in North Africa with an airline ticket to take them to the refugee camps in Ethiopia. “Then from there they can always flee to Sudan and attempt the other route to go to Libya,” she explained at the Human Dignity Award in Bergen. But the ResQ initiative about the so called “Eritrean ship” can also count on the help of other key figures of anti-Eritrean activism such as Vanessa Tsehaye, who works from London with the Horn of Africa section of Amnesty International and promptly retweets all the “Eritrean ship” ResQ post. In recent months, Amnesty has been particularly active in making accusations and reports, often based on little evidence, against the role of Eritrea in the recent conflict in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia.Why focusing on a revival of the anti-Eritrean narrative right now? ResQ doesn’t know exactly. Certainly the climate generated by the conflict in recent months between the TPLF, the Tigray party leading Ethiopia until 2018, and the federal government, helps. The new axis between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the President of Eritrea, who since 2018 are engaged in stabilizing the entire area, has seen enormous media mobilization by anti-Eritrean activists, activists who today have also become anti-Ethiopians. Activists who might not lack political interests, and who are often close to TPLF which has always had excellent introductions within the international community. The ground is certainly fertile for fundraising and new potential flows from the Horn of Africa. But at what price?