Two Eritrean Ministers are in Germany at the start of a campaign to overcome European opposition to doing a deal with a government the UN labels “a serial abuser of human rights”; the UN says 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month.

Eritrea, politically isolated for years, and often called the “North Korea of Africa”, is the biggest source of asylum seekers in Europe relative to its population, at 2.13% (Syria, by contrast, is 1.25%).

Eritrea is a “Country of Particular Concern” for the US State Department, due to severe violations of freedom of religion. Many Christians who leave it via neighbouring Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt have become easy prey for human traffickers, especially in the Sinai desert. Some of them were caught and beheaded in Libya by the Islamic State. Still many have made it to Europe by boat: the percentage of Christians is hard to estimate, but to visit camps in, for example, Calais in France, it is clear that the Christian proportion is high.

Despite this, the German government is welcoming representatives of the Eritrean government for discussions. Talks in November 2015 laid the groundwork for how European institutions would co-operate with African partners to fight “irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking [of] human beings”.

This aim, says Martin Plaut, a former BBC Africa Editor who has visited the country several times, “is laudable enough. But consider the implications through the eyes of a young refugee struggling to get past Eritrea’s border force, with strict instructions to shoot to kill, or to escape from the clutches of the dictatorship of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir”.

Under the plan, Europe would offer training to “law enforcement and judicial authorities” through new methods of investigation and “assisting in setting up specialised anti-trafficking and smuggling police units”. The plans envisage Sudan receiving a range of computers, scanners, cameras, cars and all the necessary training at 17 border-crossing points.

Germany has already felt the consequences of the mass exodus: in 2015, 25,000 Eritreans sought asylum there.

Source: Martin Plaut