The truth about Eritreans in Europe and the smuggling trade

Western states ‘favouring’ the coming of Eritrean migrants – is this a way of weakening the Eritrean State?


Western states are being blamed by Eritrean officials who claim that different States are encouraging Eritreans to leave home and easily offering asylum, but with the underlying intention of weakening or marginalising the Eritrean Government at the same time.


Map of the greater horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan- google images

Map of the greater horn of Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Djibouti, Sudan- google images. “The Europeans and the Americans are contributing to this dynamic of human trafficking and misery,” says an Eritrean witness.

Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled in the past decade, making them the fourth-biggest group of refugees to enter Europe, after Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, according to recorded statistics.



A United Nations report in June 2015 described Eritrea as a “country where individuals are routinely, arbitrarily arrested and detained, tortured, disappeared or extra judicially executed.” As a matter of fact, the U.N. accused the Government of gross human rights violations that “may constitute crimes against humanity.”


As a consequence, since 2008, the number of Eritreans seeking refuge in Europe has increased enormously. They ranked second among asylum-seekers by 2014. In October 2015, the latest figures available: 42,460 Eritreans had sought asylum in Europe.


Fact: Switzerland had 23,770 asylum applications in 2014. Eritreans accounted for about 29% of them.




The smuggling trade

Since the EU re-admission agreement with Turkey to return failed asylum seekers who left from Turkey to come to Europe, there are fewer and fewer reports about the smuggling business. It is, in reality, a billion dollar business: how it is organised, how they communicate, not to mention the risks and the consequences for those travelling – these are elements that intrigue!


Reports from the victims claim that the smugglers often threaten and badly mistreat the travellers with harsh consequences if they do not pay, including being tortured.


Fact: the main payment system for smugglers in Khartoum is hawala. It depends on close personal relationships “trust” between people often separated by vast distances. There are no signed contracts, and few transactions are recorded in ledgers.


You will either drown in the sea or die in the desert”. Or worse still, someone will slaughter you like a lamb on your way to where you are going”.


Quote from Tesfom Mehari Mengustu, living in Albany New York, who helped three of his siblings flee Eritrea.


BN-ML349_0204er_H_20160204110504According to Europol, Europe’s police agency, the people organising the smuggling may have generated between $3 and $6 billion last year alone, and most of this money paid for the passages is raised and transferred by migrants’ and refugees’ relatives around the world (Reuters).


Based on interviews with approximately 50 refugees’ smugglers, European prosecutors and documents released from Italian and EU authorities; a very sophisticated system exists, built on a network of dealers in Africa and Europe. And indeed, this system is hugely based on matters of trust.


Although governments and law enforcement officials are continuously trying to stop those smugglers, the networks and their systems seem to elude law enforcement officials.


Smugglers cut costs to maximise profit. They use cheap, disposable boats, which are dilapidated and far from basic safety standards – rarely with enough fuel to get to the planned destination.


So far, the networks have managed to avoid law enforcement officers because they are based on anonymous cells spread across many countries: a business very much like a ‘secret society’.