The Eritrean dilemma – the route to Europe is now almost blocked

For some time now it has been clear that Eritreans are finding it increasingly difficult to escape the dictatorship and make and new life for themselves by travelling to Europe.

Once this was possible. But the evidence is mounting that Eritrean refugees find the route blocked. Some are trapped in extremely dangerous detention centres in Libya, but overall the flow of asylum seekers is drying up.

These statistics are from Frontex – the EU’s official border guards.

They are for the numbers using what Frontex calls the Central Mediterranean Route

2015        2016         2017        2018

38,791     20,721      7,055       3,529

The figure for 2018 is one tenth of what it was just four years earlier.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, produced data which bears out this trend.

It can be seen here.

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This is a trend that has been developing since 2016 – if not earlier.

Lower numbers are leaving Eritrea

Eritrea has been described as one of the world’s fastest emptying nations. The widely quoted estimate – first stated by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in 2012 – is that 4,000 to 5,000 Eritreans are leaving their country every month. Since then, this number has been quoted in numerous articles and reports. This includes a 2014 study by the RMMS, which tried to shed more light on this estimate by exploring the ‘ jigsaw’ of numbers from different sources and concluded that, although plausible, the number could be slightly overestimated.

One explanation for the lower number of Eritrean arrivals in Italy in 2016, could be that indeed lower numbers have been leaving Eritrea in 2016 compared to the years before. Earlier in 2016, RMMS reported on a deterioration of the living conditions in Eritrea. Reduced purchasing power and reduced access to cash from remittance flows could have limited the ability of many to fund migration.

As I warned three years ago: Europe’s “wall” across the Mediterranean is almost complete.




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