Dutch ban Eritrean youth congress after ‘incidents’

A police officer stands guard in Nijeberkoop, in the north of the Netherlands, in this May 14, 2016 file photo. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2017
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Dutch ban Eritrean youth congress after ‘incidents’

THE HAGUE: Dutch authorities have banned a youth congress of Eritrea’s sole political party after protests erupted at the conference center where the meeting would have taken place.
“Public order and security cannot be adequately guaranteed at the moment,” authorities in Veldhoven, in the south of the Netherlands, said in a statement.
Local police said on Twitter they made “dozens of arrests” on Thursday after “incidents” in front of the conference center where the congress would have been held from Friday to Sunday.
The mostly Eritrean demonstrators blocked the center’s entrance after a call to “prevent the conference” was launched by former Eritrean Finance Minister Kubrom Dafla Hosabay on his Facebook page.
The Dutch government had earlier voiced concern over a visit to The Netherlands by an Eritrean presidential adviser to address the conference, saying it found the situation “awkward, since a top Eritrean official will be addressing Eritreans who have left their country.”
Yemane Gebreab, adviser to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, had been due to address some 650 members of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).
According to the youth movement of the PFDJ, the congress would have been the 13th such event held in Europe, which aims to persuade “young Eritreans to become more active in serving their communities and the interests of Eritrea.”
Eritrean refugees make up the second largest group of refugees taken in by The Netherlands in recent years, after Syrians, and some have voiced fears of being intimidated.
In 2016, the Dutch took in some 2,800 Eritreans, some nine percent of all refugees welcomed into the country, according to the official Dutch asylum-seekers’ organization.
The University of Tilburg said many of the 20,000 Eritreans now living in The Netherlands still feel intimidated.
Eritrean organizations here “report on people who are not loyal to the regime and... make sure that this is known so that measures can be taken,” said Van Reisen.
Back home “people are punished. They do not get food vouchers. They are fined. They are put in prison. So their lives are really made impossible and very miserable.”
Isaias’ regime is accused of jailing thousands of political prisoners since he came to power in 1991 in the Horn of Africa nation, one of the world’s poorest countries.
No general elections have been held since the ex-rebel Marxist leader took power after a three-decade independence war against Ethiopia.
The UN last year estimated some 5,000 Eritreans were risking their lives every month to flee the country, making them one of the largest contingents of people risking dangerous journeys to seek a new life in Europe.


Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

Updated 42 min 41 sec ago
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Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

  • Some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops
  • ‘It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps’

LAREDO, United State: They started work in the cool of the morning and moved quickly, uncoiling reel after reel of vicious-looking fencing and tying it with barbed wire to green poles hammered into the ground.
Over the course of three days, a gleaming, shoulders-high barrier of concertina-wire emerged like a silver snake along a lush riverbank, stretching as far as the eye could see.
This was the work of 100 or so American troops from the 19th Engineer Battalion, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Rather than finding themselves in a far-off warzone, the soldiers are in Laredo, a busy border town overlooking a stretch of the Rio Grande river in southwest Texas, carrying out controversial orders from President Donald Trump.
He has sent about 5,800 troops to the border to forestall the arrival of large groups of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico and toward the US, in a move critics decry as a costly political stunt to galvanize supporters ahead of midterm elections earlier this month.
Before the election Trump called the matter a “national emergency” and warned that so-called migrant caravans were an “invasion” with “some very bad thugs and gang members.”
So far at least, the most visible aspect of Trump’s deployment is the fence, a visible deterrent and physical obstacle to migrants, designed to corral would-be asylum seekers toward organized points of entry into the US.
Over the weekend, Lt. Alan Koepnick’s platoon could be seen stringing concertina wire, which is built to snag clothing, along one edge of a quiet riverside park near downtown Laredo.
As families walked dogs, grilled sausages and relaxed, the soldiers mounted the wire, occasionally ripping their camouflaged uniforms on its metal barbs.
Koepnick said some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops.
“But there’s also been a lot of support, people coming in, vets shaking our hands, bringing us cakes, water, things like that,” Koepnick said.
About 100 yards (meters) behind him, a group of people on the Mexican side of the river could be seen standing on the bank.
“You’ll see people across the river cursing at us in Spanish, throwing bottles at us. But on this side it’s more positive,” Koepnick said.
He and his soldiers were unarmed, but a group of armed military police officers stood by to provide “force protection.”
Under US law, the military is not allowed to conduct domestic law enforcement in most cases, so soldiers here will not have any direct interactions with migrants.
Trump created a media whirlwind by sounding the alarm about the migrant caravans before the November 6 elections. He has mainly stopped raising it since, though last week he praised the military’s work.
“They built great fencing, they built a very powerful fence,” said Trump, who wants to build a hardened wall along the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border.
Laura Pole, a British tourist visiting Laredo for the third time, was less enthusiastic.
“It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps,” she said, but added: “I really don’t know what’s the best thing to do.”
The border mission has put the supposedly non-political military in an uncomfortable spotlight.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has hit back at critics who say the Pentagon should not be doing Trump’s political bidding, saying “we don’t do stunts.”
He visited troops on the border last week and reiterated that their job in the short term was to assist under-resourced Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and put up physical obstacles.
But “longer term, it’s somewhat to be determined,” he said.
After some rank-and-file troops grumbled about the purpose of the mission to US media last week, they are now under strict instructions not to voice personal opinions to the press.
Several soldiers AFP spoke to said their time on the border provided valuable real-world training, albeit without the risks of combat.
“We have a very large group of brand-new soldiers and it’s really good for them,” Corporal Samuel Fletcher said, citing a chance for the green troops “to do real work and put their skills to use.”
In Laredo, large groups of migrants from the caravans in Mexico had not arrived.
Instead they were mainly headed to Tijuana, about 1,300 miles away in San Diego, where authorities say more than 3,000 have already arrived.
Still, a CBP agent, who was not authorized to give his name, said he was glad of the military assistance as each day, “hundreds” of migrants attempt to cross the approximately 30-mile stretch of border he patrols.
The military deployment is set to wrap up December 15 and it is not clear what will become of the wire fencing.
Already, the winds whistling down the Rio Grande valley are strewing trash, clothing and plastic bags along the jagged wire.
“Nobody seems to know when it’s coming down. It’s not really our decision,” said Koepnick.
“If we are told to take it down, we will take it down with a smile on our faces, like good soldiers.”