Sinéad O’Shea writes: Horror has been expressed at the latest catastrophe in the Mediterranean. Little has been said, however, about Eritrea. Yet 22% of all people entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. After Syrians, they are the second most common nationality to undertake these journeys. Many who died this week were from the former Italian colony.
So why is it so rarely discussed? The answer is essentially the problem. Eritrea is without western allies and far away. It is also in the grip of a highly repressive regime. This week, it was named the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists, beating North Korea, which is in second place. Reporters without Borders has called it the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.
Nobody talks about Eritrea because nobody (ie westerners) goes there. In 2009, I travelled there undercover with cameraman Scott Corben. We remain the only independent journalists to have visited in more than 10 years. There we witnessed a system that was exerting total control over its citizens. It was difficult to engage anybody in conversation. Everyone believed they were under surveillance, creating a state of constant anxiety. Communications were tightly controlled. Just three roads were in use and extensive documentation was required to travel. There were constant military checks. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy petrol. Even maps are largely prohibited. At the time, Eritreans had to seek permission from a committee to obtain a mobile phone. [Continue reading…]