A new report prepared by the Security Sector Program (ISSP) of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Nairobi-based SAHAN Foundation has revealed that Eritrean diplomats and prominent nationalities of the Red Sea state are massively involved in human trafficking and smuggling activities in the Horn of Africa region.
The report was prepared upon the request of the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan and describes the illegal activities that are taking place from the Horn of Africa via Libya to Europe as a “dangerous and organized illicit trade”.
The 39-page report entitled, “Human Smuggling and Trafficking on the Horn of Africa-Central Mediterranean Route” was made public February 19, 2016 during a consultation meeting organized by the new ISSP office, which was opened in Addis Ababa.
The new report was summarized and presented to the Addis Ababa-based diplomats and the press by Matt Bryden, chairman of SAHAN. Bryden indicated the different human trafficking routes, mainly the Northern and Southern route, to Europe.
Accordingly, human trafficking between the Horn of Africa and Europe is run by a “sophisticated and integrated international networks that derive massive profits from the mass movement of thousands of migrants and refugees”.
“The principal smugglers and trafficking kingpins who dominate the central Mediterranean Route are predominantly Eritrean in nationality who reportedly collaborate with ethnic Somalis, Ethiopians and Sudanese to eases border crossings,” the report read.
The study claimed that there are two groups of migrants from Eritrea; those who fled Eritrea on their own and those who claim to have been assisted. Those travelers said that they have contacted facilitators in and outside Eritrea for a safe passage out of the country. Others allegedly said to have contacted smugglers over the internet who provided local contacts usually in Asmara.
“These facilitators – alleged to be government facilitators – would typically arrange for transportation to Sudan or Ethiopia without any immigration procedure…Some prominent Eritrean human smugglers appear to rely upon the services of Eritrean diplomats abroad,” the report stated.
Some migrants are also reported to have obtained Eritrean ID cards and passports at the Eritrean embassy in Khartoum.
Some well-connected Eritrean smugglers operating from Khartoum are said to have organized flights to remote international destinations from where European visas are obtained for their passengers.
The report identifies some of the key Eritrean nationals involved in smuggling and trafficking.
Among them is an Eritrean individual known as John Habtu a.k.a. Obama. He is mentioned and profiled in the report. Another pioneer smuggler was Habtom Merhay, who is indicted in the US in 2010 and pleaded guilty to having smuggled several “first-class” migrants from Eritrea.
The other smuggler is a man by the name Efrem Misgna, who according the the report has been arrested in Italy, routinely serves as an escort for Eritrean government and party officials when they visit Europe. The report also published a picture of Efrem along with Yemane Gebreab, senior government official, during the latter’s visit to Stockholm in 2012.
“Human trafficking is an issue related to security that demands concerted efforts from members of the IGAD region and the international community” Commander Abebe Muluneh, Director of ISSP, who chaired the meeting, said.
It was also reported that migrants risk abandonment in the desert, kidnapping for ransom by criminal gangs and abduction or execution by militants affiliated with the Islamic State (IS).
The attendees expressed the urgency and need for international collaboration to respond to the problem. Some even demanded the Security Council to pass a resolution against the officials and criminals involved in the smuggling.
It is reported that there is a sharp increase in the arrival of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, with a record of 34,451 new arrivals into Ethiopian camps between January 1 and August 31 in the year 2015.
Back in 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ethiopia has reported the total number of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers is well over 140,000.
This new report indicated that – in the same year – 154,000 migrants entered Europe via the Central Median Route. Out of this 39,000 migrants are from Eritrea, which is the second smallest country in Africa.
The study, which was conducted between June and September of 2015 worked in close consultation with government officials from Ethiopia and Sudan and reportedly received excellent support from European countries, notably the UK and Italy. Researchers also stated that they have visited Egypt, France, Kenya, Sudan, Switzerland, Tunisia and the UK to meet with government and NGO officials and migrants from the Horn of Africa, mainly from Eritrea. The team also said that it interviewed over 200 fresh migrants, some during first arrival and others in the country of destination.