Tackling the root causes of human trafficking and smuggling from Eritrea

Published: 8 Nov 2017

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To read the report in Arabic, click here.

The joint EU-Africa policy on migration from Eritrea and the Horn of Africa is in urgent need of reform, according to a new report entitled “Tackling the root causes of human trafficking and smuggling from Eritrea: the need for an empirically grounded EU policy on mixed migration in the Horn of Africa.” from the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), and The Centre for Human Rights Law at SOAS, University of London.

The Khartoum Process, agreed in 2014 by 37 EU and African states, is not deterring migrants from attempting the journey to Europe, nor reducing their suffering. On the contrary, anecdotal evidence suggests migrants are being forced to take greater risks and endure worse conditions as a result. The only winners are smugglers and traffickers.

Dr. Lutz Oette of SOAS, one of the authors of the report said: “The Khartoum Process established a platform for cooperation between Europe and Africa but its design and operation is problematic in a number of ways. It focuses too much on states and not enough on people; it sees migration as a local or regional problem, rather than one, of global responsibility; and – perhaps most problematically – it fails to address the root causes and political drivers of undocumented migration.”

The report is based in part on interviews with 67 Eritrean refugees. Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the worst human rights records. Five thousand people leave the country each month, fleeing forced conscription, harsh labour practices, hunger, religious persecution and political repression.

An Eritrean man interviewed in Europe told researchers: “I was put in indefinite military service and my family were starving to death as a result.” A woman, now working as a nurse in Khartoum said: “I heard one of my colleagues was arrested because he refused to do military service, so then I knew I could not stay.” A man now living in Addis Ababa said: “I was imprisoned and punished after I prolonged my leave without their authorisation… They tie your arms from behind your back which causes the blood to clot and causes injury to the hands.”

Eritrean migrants knowingly risk rape, torture and kidnapping when they leave. Many who migrate irregularly do so not because they are unaware of legal migration procedures but because the legal routes are so limited.

An Eritrean woman in Addis Ababa who left Eritrea in 2015 and is planning to travel on to Europe said: “I know refugees are kidnapped, sold, even killed. They don’t give the migrants enough water or food for days. They beat and torture men. They rape the women. I heard so many bad things from others who have already gone through but I have no other way but to travel through the same route.”

Hala Al-Karib, Regional Director of SIHA said: “Europe’s efforts on migration are too focused on to trying to stop people from moving. They treat illegal cross-border movement as an issue of law enforcement rather than as a symptom of deep-seated governance and extreme poverty problems, and fail to take into account people’s reasons for leaving, or their terrifying lack of choice. The problem is not simply a lack of capacity among African states to manage migration, and it is wrong to assume that Eritrea’s neighbours are capable of providing adequate protection to refugees.”

The report argues that the Khartoum Process’ partnership model, whereby the EU provides funding, services and other benefits in return for African countries’ management of migration, is asymmetrical and largely driven by European interests and demands. It is part of a broader trend of migrant and refugee “off-shoring” – whereby states pay another state to host asylum seekers or refugees.

Dr. Lucy Hovil, Senior Research Associate at IRRI, and co-author of the report said: “A new approach is needed that recognises the reality of life in Eritrea and the broader context of forced migration in the region, and addresses the drivers of insecurity – including inequality, injustice and marginalisation – rather than exacerbates them. Instead of criminalising vulnerable people and promoting policies that expose them to further risk, the EU must afford them their rights under international law to protection. Ultimately, the most efficient way to tackle smuggling and trafficking is to remove the need for them.”

The report and associated policy papers recommends the EU, IGAD and its African partners adopt new policies that address the political factors that cause migration, assume shared responsibility for migrants’ safety, and focus on enabling safe passage and fair treatment. The new approach should reflect the experiences of the individuals and communities concerned, and ensure that the fundamental rights of refugees and migrants to protection under international law are respected.

Download the report.

Download the policy paper on IGAD: “Strategies to tackle the root causes of human trafficking in the Horn of Africa: Complementing anti-trafficking laws with freedom of movement”

Download the policy paper on the EU: “A coherent European Union policy on mixed migration in the Horn of Africa: Participatory, contextual and rights-based”

Programmes: Rights in Exile
Regions: North and Horn of Africa
Type: Paper