A major conference focusing on the plight of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Europe concluded successfully in the afternoon hours of 20 October 2017 in Brussels. Organised under the theme of ‘Eritrea and the On-going Refugee Crisis in Europe,’ the first day of the conference featured, among others, Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, as keynote speaker. Speeches and presentations were also made by three Eritrean refugees who shared their personal experience and several other experts.
The first day of the conference was attended by over 100 participants representing more than 30 civil society organisations (CSOs), including some officials from the EU. Two of the panel discussions in the first day were moderated and opened by two members of the European Parliament, Ms. Ana Gomes and Ms. Marie-Christine Vergiat. The conference opened by a welcome address presented by Mr. Claus-Peter Appel, Deputy Representative of the State of Hessen (in Germany) to the EU. The second day of the conference featured a closed consultation of CSOs aimed at developing a broader common strategy of advocacy in support of the plight of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Europe. A more detailed report of the conference will be published soon by the organisers of the event, one of which is ELS.
At the end of the conference, participants issued the following joint statement in response to a declaration made by the EU on 19 October 2017 at the end of a high-level consultation on migration.
Brussels 20 October 2017
As more than 30 organisations, who are currently meeting in Brussels on the issues facing Eritrean refugees, we note with deep concern the statement of the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk [Thursday 19 October 2017] saying that: ‘We have a real chance of closing the Central Mediterranean route’.
Mr Tusk was commenting on decisions made by EU leaders at yesterday’s summit in Brussels, which agreed to offer Italy more help with Libya in shutting down the sea route for refugees and migrants, by stepping up funds for a special fund for northern Africa.
The EU is already working with Libyan coastguards to forcibly return Africans to Libyan detention camps in which rape, torture and slavery are routinely practiced. Finally, closing the Central Mediterranean route for refugees desperate to escape Africa’s notorious dictatorships will have a disastrous impact on people – many of them children – who have risked all to flee from repression.
We urge European politicians not to adopt this fortress Europe policy, turning their backs on the most vulnerable refugees and betraying the sacred principles enshrined in the human rights and other treaties they are signatories to.