Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has claimed the exodus of youth to Europe is a deliberate policy fomented by foreign powers to weaken the country.
The hardline regime is accused of jailing thousands of political prisoners. And refugees from the repressive Red Sea state make up one of the largest contingents of people risking the dangerous journey to seek a new life in Europe.
The former rebel Marxist leader said in a speech on Tuesday to mark 25 years of independence that the 5 000 Eritreans a month who risk their lives to flee the country, according to the United Nations, were leaving because they were encouraged to do so.
“The greatest historical threat to Eritrea’s archenemies being the Eritrean people, ‘human trafficking’ was employed to disperse and weaken Eritrea’s human capital,” Afewerki said. “This policy was given paramount priority under the rubric of ‘granting asylum status’ to Eritreans. The campaign was formalised with the official blessing of the US president.”
Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1991 after a three-decade war, which saw Eritrean rebels fighting far better-equipped Ethiopian troops, which were backed first by Washington and then by the Soviet Union.
He also blamed the woes of the isolated Horn of Africa nation on deliberate policies to undermine its economy, and said the past quarter of a century had been “sadly a narrative of incisive hostility against the sovereignty and independence” of Eritrea.
“Economic sabotage is further resorted to on a constant basis, with the aim of creating poverty and starvation to instigate crisis in the country,” Afewerki said, criticising the nations that block Eritrea’s demands that its expatriates pay a 2% income tax through its embassies.
Expatriate taxes, along with gold, copper and zinc mines, are one of its few sources of foreign income.
With an annual per capita gross national income of $480, Eritrea is one of the world’s poorest nations, according to the World Bank.
“Various subterfuges are also conducted by Washington to destroy the mining industry and discourage foreign investment and development assistance,” Afewerki added.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Eritrea’s media as the worst in the world for press freedom. Afewerki said the problem Eritrea faced was the “psychological campaigns and media demonisation” of the country, with “suffocating measures to prevent objective media portrayal of the reality in Eritrea”.
Afewerki led the rebel army to victory and has remained in power without ever holding an election.
Speaking in front of a military parade, he made no mention of stepping down from power or of elections.
He ended the speech by shouting “Victory to the masses!” — AFP