To Mogos Brahne studying in Groningen was the only way to legally escape Eritrea
Back home the situation is getting worse
Friends and family ended up in jail or dead
The only options are to obey the government or to leave the country
He’s made himself an enemy of the government by promoting human rights
He won’t be going back. ‘I only have this one chance of being free and I’m taking it.’
Reading time: 4 minutes (1098 wrds)
Mogos knows he is incredibly fortunate. The Master’s programme in criminal law and criminology in Groningen was his only way to legally escape the economic and political hardships of his country.
His case is very complicated. In short: After obtaining his law degree from the University of Asmara and working in the Ministry of Justice, he convinced his boss to allow him to study in the Netherlands. ‘I got lucky.’
He chose Groningen because he enjoys being around students of different nationalities and backgrounds. ‘I like the discipline here’, he says. Still, he does not feel good about being away from home and his family. ‘I am here now and I am able to get control of my life and my goals freely, but the situation in my country is getting worse and this disturbs me all the time.’
He is surprised that people know nothing about what is happening in Eritrea. ‘Some are mocking the situation, reflecting their sadistic and racist views about immigrants. It feels very strange.’
Eritrea, says Mogos, is not a place where you can express yourself freely without the fear of being arrested. The government’s violations of human rights range from suppressing freedom of expression and economic activity to freedom of religion. Anyone who diverts from the official line of the government is persecuted. Christianity and Islam are officially recognised religions, but followers of other faiths such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Protestants are seen as criminals.
Today, Eritrea is also top of the list for the world’s worst media censorship, followed by North Korea, Syria and Iran, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Many of Mogos’ friends who worked for the national media are now in jail. ‘If you’re not promoting the official ideology and what the government wants you to say, you are not one of them.’
Dedicated to the nation
Mogos has not seen them for almost five years. ‘You aren’t allowed to visit them in jail.’When one of his friends was taken to hospital in a critical condition not long ago, Mogos was finally able to see her. ‘But I could only wave at her from the distance. It’s depressing.’
‘Generally, all your time and energy is dedicated to the nation’, explains Mogos. By law, citizens who are 18 years of age have to serve in the nation’s military. Since the war for independence, conscripts do not know when they will be relieved of their duties. ‘Wages are too low to sustain yourself, let alone your family. Chances are very few to lead your personal life, look after your family and do whatever personal business you want to do.’
How did it come to this? Eritrea’s ruling party lead the country to independence from Ethiopia after 30 years of war. Since the country obtained its freedom in 1991, no national election has been held until the present day, leaving the party in total control. ‘It’s a common thing in Africa’, explains Mogos. ‘First they win your heart by leading you to independence and then they become your enemy.’ Mogos thinks that once they obtain power, they do not want to surrender their authority. ‘It’s not a new thing in Africa.’
What is there left to do? ‘Not much’, Mogos says. ‘I could never imagine a protest in Eritrea. The only options are to obey the government or to leave the country.’
Thousands of people are trying to escape from these conditions. Most of them head to neighbouring countries such as Sudan. Once they arrive, however, they are often abducted and transferred to Egypt, where they are kept as hostages for ransom and are subjected to any kind of torture until death.
Mogos is trying to investigate and expose this cause. For him, it is a very personal matter. ‘My nephew is one of the victims. He fled to Sudan two years ago and was abducted and taken to Egypt. After the family managed to pay for his ransom, they were told that he was dead. It’s a horrible situation.’
Others try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. A large number of these refugees lose their lives on this dangerous journey. Mogos thinks that some people in Europe do not care to understand the situation.
A recent cartoon in the Dutch daily newspaper Metro, mocking Eritrean refugees, particularly angered Mogos. ‘Europe is not the primary choice. What matters to these people is to save their lives and find peace. Nobody hears the cry of thousands of people who are destined to go through this misery’, he comments on the opinion site This is Africa. ‘The whole world is silent.’
Labelled a deserter
Mogos is trying to get these people’s voices heard. He is very active on social media sites, posting his opinions on Facebook and participating in discussions online. Additionally, he has started associating with people who promote human rights in Eritrea and is writing his Master’s thesis about the case. Trying to expose the country’ problems, he talks freely about the situation. ‘With these actions, I am also an enemy of the government’, admits Mogos.
For the time being, Mogos is a legal migrant and the Eritrean government is expecting him to return after his studies. But Mogos won’t be going back. ‘I only have this one chance of being free and I’m taking it.’
Once an Eritrean citizen flees his country, he is recognised as a deserter – a criminal. The only way to be allowed back into the county is to fill out an official form of apology, recognising unlawful action against the people and the government. ‘But there is no guarantee to be safe once you set foot in the country again’, says Mogos.
For now, Mogos is safe. But once he finishes his studies, the situation will be different. ‘I will be labelled as a deserter.’
If the problems in Eritrea continue like this, Mogos has little hope to ever return. He will not be able to see his friends and family again. ‘I don’t know how, but this situation just has to end.’