A paper prepared and read by Drs. Tsegezab Gebregergis at the protest demonstration on May 19, 2015, in Geneva, Switzerland

Highly esteemed spectators and other passers-by: your attention, your attention please! We have a message to convey directly to the international community; to the people and government of this country; the local and international press and to other observers!!!

First and foremost, in the name of the millions of Eritrean people, I would like to convey and extend our fraternal greetings to you, the honourable Swiss people and the friendly government of Switzerland; the members of the press corps present here and other spectators; especially so to the inhabitants of this beautiful and historic city of Geneva.

I would also like to salute and thank the people of Switzerland and their democratic government for providing a temporary home to the hundreds of Eritrean refugees living at present in different parts of the country.
It is also my great pleasure to use this rare opportunity to remind you all that, in 1712, here in this historic city of Geneva, a great man and philosopher by the name of Jean Jacques Rousseau was born and whose ideas revolutionised old Europe and the countries beyond.  He was the author of the Social Contract and the Origin of Inequality in Society.  On behalf of humanity in ‘The Social Contract’ Jean Jacques Rousseau authoritatively stated that:”Man is born free but he is everywhere in chains.”  This lonely man, who died just a year before the French Revolution exploded, was a great humanist philosopher whose philosophy massively influenced the population and galvanised French men and women into taking revolutionary action in 1789 to overthrow the ancient regime and radically alter French society.  I state this to act as an introduction.

Let me now explain who we are and why we are demonstrating in Geneva today. The organisers of today’s protest are Eritrean refugees and we have come to Geneva  to let the world hear our cries on behalf of the oppressed Eritrean people who are living today under the thraldom and chains of the PFDJ-led government of Eritrea.  Much to our dismay, even 300 years after Rousseau cried for freedom on behalf of humanity, the Eritrean people are still living in chains under the rule of an oppressive regime.  Yes, we have come to Geneva from various European cities to express our anger with the Israeli government’s planned deportation of Eritrean refugees.  Our purpose in organising and taking active part in this demonstration is to show our fraternal solidarity to our beleaguered compatriots in Israel, publicise their just cause and mobilise public opinion, so that the right of Eritrean refugees to live and work in Israel and elsewhere will be respected.
Let me also speak a little bit about our country and its people. Eritrea is a new country and a newcomer to the world political scene. Thus some of the spectators might not know the location of our country and the nature of Eritrean society.  Eritrea is located in north east Africa, sandwiched between the Sudan in the north and Ethiopia in the south.  Eritrea has a mosaic population estimated to be more than 5 million and is inhabited by both Moslems and Christians who have lived side-by-side, peacefully, for centuries.  The Eritrean people have historical, cultural, linguistic and geographical ties with the countries and people beyond the Red Sea region.  The coasts of Eritrea are separated by only 22 miles from Yemen (the Arabian Peninsula).  Eritrea shares maritime borders with three Red Sea states: Yemen, Djibouti, and Somalia.

Eritrea is thus strategically located on the southern entrance to the Red Sea and fully controls the western part of the strategic Bab al Mandab strait, also historically known as the Gateway of Tears and Anguish.  Eritrea also controls the areas of the Red Sea waters that lead to the Suez Canal.  Therefore, from a geographic, military and political point of view, Eritrea is one of the most important countries in the Horn of Africa.  Hence it is no wonder that, as a result of the evolving dangerous conflagrations in Yemen, overnight, Eritrea has become a very important partner to be consulted in finding a solution to Yemen’s raging internal conflict exasperated by the military intervention of Saudi Arabia.

After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, the Bab al-Mandab Strait became not only the connecting point between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, but also the shortest and fastest waterway linking the East and the West, and thus also of great strategic importance.

It is thus important to mention here in passing that the United States of America is highly dependent on the Red Sea’s geopolitical space, simply because most of the Gulf petroleum – i.e. America’s energy requirements – passes through the Bab al-Mandab Strait.  Likewise, the other industrialized West European countries have also geopolitical requirements in the Red Sea.  Again, this is because they mainly depend on the Gulf petroleum to meet their energy needs.  Most of the oil consumed by their industries passes through the Strait of Babe -al-Mandeb. In short, in Western eyes, the Red Sea has always been the main artery that carries Persian Gulf oil to Western industrialized nations.  They depend almost entirely on Gulf petroleum to run their factories, warm their houses and maintain their economies. Russia can also be included in the geopolitical range of the Red Sea, because the Red Sea is the shortest route that links its Black Sea ports with its fleet in the Indian Ocean – a fleet that plays an important role in Russia’s naval strategy.

Consequently, seen from military, political and economic points of view, the southern gateway of the Red Sea – the Bab al-Mandab Strait – is strategically very important.  It needs to be remembered that, during the 1973 war between Israel and Egypt, both Egyptian and Yemeni forces blockaded the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.  History seems to repeat itself.

At present, there is Saudi-led bombing of Yemen.  It is claimed that the political objectives of the present criminal military onslaught and bombing of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, comprising corrupt and backward family dictatorships that are violently opposed to democracy and democratic principles (consisting of Egypt, the Kingdom of Morocco, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Kingdom of Bahrain, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Qatar, Pakistan, Sudan) aims to restore the “legitimate President Abd-Rabbuh Manzour Al-Hadi” to power and bring democracy to Yemen.  However, as far as the hard truth is concerned, the hidden political agenda of the US-government supported house of Saudi-led bombing of Yemen is to control the Bab al-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden.  This is being done with the express political objective of keeping the Iranians and their Houthi allies at bay and out of the region’s politics.  In other words, the illegal and criminal military action of the house of Saudi against Yemen has nothing whatsoever to do with legitimacy, democracy or human rights.

It is for all the above reasons that I mention that the Horn of Africa has always been the scene of endless wars and conflicts and thus also the producer of the highest number of refugees.

Thus, after all is said and done, ‘real politick’ seems to dictate and suggest that peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, and even in the Arabian Peninsula, cannot be secured by excluding, cornering and by imposing unjust sanctions against Eritrea on the one hand, and by showering money, praise and military gadgetry on the Tigrian rulers of Ethiopia on the other.
For the reasons I have already stated, throughout their history, the people of Eritrea have been the victims of successive powers.  Italy was one of the European colonial powers that victimised Eritrea and ruled its people for more than 50 years. Indeed, Eritrea was so named by the Italians when they colonised it in January 1889.  However, after the defeat of the Italians at the end of the Second World War, Eritrea was placed for a brief interlude under British rule.  In 1952, British rule was replaced by a sham federal relationship with feudal Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie.  The sham federal arrangement was, in turn, nullified by the Ethiopian Emperor in 1960 and Eritrea was placed under the direct Ethiopian colonial rule. In response to the Ethiopian open colonial aggression of Eritrea, in September 1961 Eritrean nationalists launched an armed struggle to end Ethiopian rule in Eritrea by military force.

At long last, after more than 30 years of bloody war, fighting for national independence, in May 1991, the Eritrean freedom fighters succeeded in kicking out the occupying Ethiopian army and de facto independence was attained.  There was thus great joy, jubilation and a mood of euphoria aroused by Eritrean independence and the entry of the freedom fighters to the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

However, the joy and euphoria of the Eritrean people was soon dashed when the EPLF/PFDJ-led government betrayed the aspirations of the Eritrean people to live under a democratic order of society and established instead a full-fledged dictatorship.  This sad episode became a harsh reality after the EPLF/PFDJ generals were heavily emasculated in the 1998-2000 war, which erupted between Eritrea and Ethiopia under the pretext of border conflict.  Furthermore, with the emergence of the opposition group known as the G-15, and the independent-minded journalists opposed to PFDJ dictatorship and their eventual imprisonment on 18 September 2001, the PFDJ dictatorship was fully consolidated and became deeply entrenched in Eritrea.  As a result, all hopes of living in a democratic society, which respects the human rights of the Eritrean people, vanished overnight and Eritrea became a big prison house for the Eritrean people. In short, Eritrea became a police state.

What is more, as a consequence of the introduction of forced and open-ended military service; arbitrary and inhuman detention practices; lack of human rights and religious freedom and rampant unemployment, coupled by the existence of ‘alluring’ refugee camps constructed by the Ethiopian government to lure young Eritreans to abandon their country, Eritreans began to flee and to undertake hazardous journeys via the Libyan and Sinai deserts to get to Israel and Europe in search of peace and freedom.

We believe that as long as the existing push-and-pull political factors force young Eritreans to abandon their country, it is cruel and against international law and norms to repatriate Eritrean refugees, against their will, to return to the country which is led by a government they detest or to send them to other African countries in exchange for Israeli arms and money.  We want to make it absolutely clear to all concerned that we stringently oppose such deals, because Eritrean refugees are not commodities for sale. We also believe that, according to international law and norms, the governments which have signed the July 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 protocol are legally and morally obliged to accommodate and give protection to Eritrean refugees until the dictatorial government in their country is removed and replaced by a government established for and by the people of Eritrea.

Finally, I would also like to remind the friendly government of Switzerland that there are hundreds of Eritrean refugees living in various camps that have applied for refugee status in this country and are still living in a legal limbo.  We therefore demand the Federal government of Switzerland speedily processes their applications and grant them political refugee status so that they could start a new, organised and stable life and gradually integrate into Swiss society.  In this connection, we would also like to point out that the hundreds of Eritrean refugees at present living in Switzerland are going to be the future leaders and ambassadors of their country and will provide a bridge between the Eritrean and the Swiss people.  Thus, seen from the importance of a person-to-person relationship, the presence of hundreds of young Eritrean refugees in Switzerland is very significant for the cementing the future mutual relationship of our two countries and their people.

Long live international solidarity between and among the people of all nations.