Eritrea: National football teams thousands flee for dear life

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The repressive and authoritarian government regime in Eritrea has suffered a new disapproval as its national football team refused to return to the country after a tournament in Kenya. Authorities have confirmed that it is the third time an Eritrean team had failed to return home after an international tournament.

According to United Nations authorities, hundreds of Eritreans flee the country every month. Allegedly, the country’s repressive government, poverty and a harsh national service regime forces its citizens to flee.

Following Eritrea’s exit from the Cecafa competition for East and Central African nation, the country’s football federation has confirmed that the players had not returned. Only the coach and an official returned to the allegedly repressive country.

“The Eritrean federation have done their best to bring a team to the competition – unfortunately these boys had other ideas. Definitely they are in Nairobi – we have so many Eritreans here – they must be somewhere,” Cecafa head Nicholas Musonye was quoted as saying.

Human Rights groups regard Eritrea as one of the world’s most repressive states. The government permits only four faiths – Islam, Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran. More than 90% of Eritreans belong to one of four recognised faiths. Last week, on Dec. 11, thirty elderly christian women were arrested for praying together as it is illegal for more than five people to gather outside the recognized religious denominations. According to a recent US State Department report, more than 3,000 Christians from outlawed denominations have been detained since the religious crackdown began in 2002.

Also, the Eritrean ministry of information has a total monopoly over domestic news – with television, radio and newspapers all falling under its control. After the border conflict with Ethiopia, the private press in Eritrea was shut down in 2001 and most journalists fled or were detained. In September 2004, the the only international correspondent in Eritrea, BBCs Jonah Fisher was expelled from Eritrea; a move that completely blocked the story of Eritreans from the rest of the world and left news agendas within the country entirely dictated by the government.

According to observers, many Eritreans seek to leave the country in search of freedom and and better life, with many prepared to cross into Libya through the desert and smuggle into Europe. Eritreans are not allowed to leave the country without the government’s written permission, reports claim.

Eritrea is still recovering from its military conflict with neighboring Ethiopia, a security zone separates the two countries today. The unresolved border issue compounds other pressing problems such as its repressive and undemocratic government. Other problems include Eritrea’s inability to provide enough food; two thirds of the population receive food aid. Moreover, economic progress is hampered by the proportion of Eritreans who are in the army rather than the workforce.

Eritrea’s president Mr. Isaias Afewerki who was elected president of independent Eritrea by the national assembly in 1993, has been president since then. He has been accused of hindering democracy and opting to utilize repressive and autocratic ideals in an attempt to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and develop its economy after more than 30 years of fighting.

President Afewerki received military training in China and in 1970 he co-founded the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and in 1987 he was elected secretary-general of the organisation. His government closed the private press in 2001 for endangering national security and arrested many journalists after several publications printed the dissenting views of some National Assembly members.

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