Who stands to gain and lose from peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea?

This week in North Philly Notes, Jennifer Riggan, author of The Struggling State, and Amanda Poole write about Eritrea and Ethiopia’s new peace deal in this article reposted from Middle East Eye.

On 9 July 2018, in a historic meeting in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, and Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki, signed an agreement on peace and friendship, officially ending their almost two-decades-long cold war. To reach this point, on 5 June, Ethiopia finally accepted a peace agreement that both countries had signed 18 years earlier.

Following two weeks of what appeared to be total silence, in his 20 June Eritrean Martyrs Day speech, President Afewerki responded favourably to Prime Minister Ahmed. Since then, events have proceeded rapidly.

A game changer

Following an emotionally evocative visit by a high-level Eritrean delegation to Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Ahmed travelled to Asmara. The prime minister’s visit to Asmara was rife with symbolism and emotion as thousands of Eritreans filled the streets of Asmara while Eritreans and Ethiopians in Ethiopia were visibly moved as they witnessed images of the Ethiopian and Eritrean flags flying together.

Most significantly, within moments of signing the agreement, phone lines between the two countries opened up for the first time in 20 years, connecting people across borders to a momentous historical event. On 15 July, President Afwerki visited Ethiopia for the first time in 22 years, coinciding with the opening of the old Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa.

The emotional significance of this moment of peace between the two countries cannot be dismissed nor can its potential

Commentators, analysts and diplomats have hailed the peace agreement as a game changer that will lead to openness, benevolence and cooperation benefiting Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and Africa and the Middle East more broadly.

The emotional significance of this moment of peace between the two countries cannot be dismissed nor can its potential. It mends broken friendships and sutures together ruptured identities. It allows Eritreans and Ethiopians to think of each other as brothers and sisters and gives many citizens of both countries a much-needed and long-awaited sense of hope.

But does everyone stand to gain from peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea? The benefits are potentially greater to some than to others.

Arab allies’ role

At the center of peace negotiations is the sleepy southern Eritrean port of Assab bordering Djibouti at the mouth of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, strategically located at the southern mouth of the Red Sea.

The United Arab Emirates has expressed a keen interest in Assab and stands to gain a great deal from Eritrean and Ethiopian cooperation over port usage. Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous country and one of its fastest-growing economies.

With a burgeoning textile industry, the country has been desperate for expanded sea access. Prior to the beginning of the border war with Eritrea in 1998, Assab served as Ethiopia’s main port. Since the war began, Ethiopia invested heavily in Djibouti but has found that arrangement insufficient for its growing industries.

Although Assab is an indisputable part of Eritrean territory, the fact that Eritrea’s northern port of Massawa is sufficient for its shipping needs meant that Assab largely fell into disuse when the border war broke out until the United Arab Emirates leased it in 2016.

While reports show that UAE has developed the port for military use related to the war in Yemen, the port has a great deal of untapped commercial potential. Thus, UAE is well positioned to benefit once Ethiopia begins using the port to its full potential.

 It is not surprising that UAE is reported to be a key player in the peace deal although the specifics of its role are not entirely clear

A number of actors played a key role in bringing about peace, most notably Ethiopia and Eritrea themselves. Arab allies also played a key role. Saudi Arabia and UAE, on good terms with both countries, played a bridging role between the two. It is not surprising that UAE is reported to be a key player in the peace deal although the specifics of its role are not entirely clear.

The Eritrean president visited UAE in early July just as peace was being negotiated. And UAE recently gave Ethiopia $1bn to alleviate currency shortages, a move that coincided with the resumption of Ethiopian diplomatic relations with Eritrea. One of the five provisions of the recently signed agreement on peace and friendship notes the opening up of the port for Ethiopian use.

Struggling State_smLeft in the cold

Meanwhile, other stakeholders may fare less well in the peace agreement. Djibouti, arguably, may be unhappy with these arrangements having provided Ethiopia with a port since 1998.Assab has been effectively isolated since the border war began, giving Djibouti something of a monopoly over strategic control over the Bab-el-Mandab strait and enabling it to attract key investments and political alliances.

But there are others who will potentially be left in the cold as Eritrea and Ethiopia warm up to each other. While Ethiopians have been gleefully waiting to board flights to Eritrea, Eritreans in Eritrea are unsure whether they will be allowed to leave and Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia are wary of whether the country will be a place that they can ever return to.

It is expected that peace between the two countries will lead to economic benefits to both Eritrea and Ethiopia as commerce, trade and tourism crosses the border. Ethiopian airlines flights to Asmara resumed on 18 July and were full, but social media reports suggested that only 80 people were on the return flight.

Given Eritrea’s travel restrictions, it is not surprising that there would be much more traffic to Asmara than from it. To leave Eritrea legally, Eritreans are required to have exit visas, which are almost impossible to acquire. Many welcome an open border if it leads to increased mobility for Eritreans, but this will require the Eritrean government to alter longstanding practices of restricting population movements. Unlike Ethiopians, Eritreans may not benefit from these newly opened travel routes.

Refugees are another population who may not benefit from peace. Open borders and increased mobility between the two countries are a source of concern and fear for many of the 160,000 Eritrean refugees hosted by Ethiopia, many of whom live in camps close to the border. Refugees voice concerns about protection of political asylees when the nearby border opens up and representatives of the regime in Asmara are free to travel across that border into Ethiopia.

Some of those political asylees were labelled as political dissidents while still in Eritrea, leading to their flight. Some have aligned themselves directly or indirectly with Eritrean opposition groups who until now were supported by Ethiopia.

A greater number of refugees fear repercussions that could amount to a witch hunt for political dissidents should Eritrean spies or officials have access to the camps, some of which are open and easily accessible to major roadways.

Many Eritrean refugees are fearful that their relative safety which has been guaranteed by the enmity between the two countries will be eroded as camps and urban spaces become penetrable by agents of the Eritrean government. Ironically, peace may make refugee lives in Ethiopia less peaceful.

Peace questions

Along with protection concerns, increased mobility between the two countries raises other issues for refugees, such as the continuation of the prima facia basis for granting Eritreans refugee status in Ethiopia. Will Eritreans who currently have political asylum for their opposition to the regime in Asmara continue to be protected in Ethiopia? Or will Ethiopia become a place, like Sudan, where they are vulnerable to capture and forced return by the Eritrean military?

On the other hand, some refugees wonder if the presence of an Eritrean embassy in Addis Ababa might help them. Refugees needing documents, particularly passports, to reunify with family members in other countries, have not been able to get them in Ethiopia.

Many have travelled to Uganda or Kenya to visit an Eritrean embassy where they are required to sign a letter apologising for leaving the country, admitting that they left for economic rather than political reasons, accepting punishment upon their return and agreeing to pay the two percent tax to the government, all in exchange for consular services.

A handful of refugees seem to be looking ahead towards repatriation. Some worry about whether it will be truly voluntary. Others wonder what resources will be provided for them to facilitate their return home. Almost all express concerns for their safety and the desire to see peace, and the chance to live free of government harassment in Eritrea, not only between the two countries.

Considering the Eritrean state operates on a logic of control and continues to deny that citizens who have fled are refugees in need of asylum, the safe and voluntary return of refugees currently residing in Ethiopia seems uncertain.

There is no doubt that peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia will change things in the region giving Ethiopia much-coveted sea access, boosting the economies of both countries possibly to the benefit of its Arab allies such as UAE. But closer to home, peace raises a number of questions that have yet to be answered as Eritreans wonder whether peace will benefit them.

– Dr. Jennifer Riggan is Associate Professor of International Studies at Arcadia University.

– Dr. Amanda Poole is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Both have been researching Eritrea for two decades and have been engaged in research on Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia for the past two years. 

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Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants

This week in North Philly Notes, Anna Sampaio, author of Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants, writes about sanctuary cities and immigration enforcement policies that continue to discriminate against foreigners.

Congress is once again embroiled in a debate about security and safety that trades on racialized fears of Latina/o immigrants, constructing them as criminal threats ready to take advantage of the generosity of “sanctuary cities” and calling upon an army of local law enforcement to aid in their restriction, detention and removal. In addition to being wholly manufactured, these debates around security and threatening foreigners plays to the worst instances of racism and allows for an entire population to be summarily targeted without justification. Moreover, the new legislation banning so-called “sanctuary cities” extends a pattern of restriction and punishment aimed at Latina/o immigrants to cities, states, and local governments that refuse to conform – locations such as San Francisco that have the audacity to uphold constitutional protections, due process, and the safety of all its residents.

Lost in the conservative fervor surrounding the new sanctuary city legislation is the volume of existing legislation, policies, departmental directives, programs, initiatives, task forces, databases, regional and local associations, vigilante groups along with a myriad of federal, state, and local departments devoted almost entirely to targeting, scrutinizing, restricting, encumbering, detaining and ultimately removing the population of immigrants at the center of the sanctuary city debate. In other words, immigration politics and policy has been steadily reorganized and restructured over the past 25 years into a system centered disproportionately around restriction and enforcement.

Terrorizing Latina_o Immigrants_smBeginning in the early 1990s, with the shift in enforcement strategies emphasizing “concentrated enforcement” along the U.S.-Mexico border – restrictionists in Congress buoyed by anti-immigrant hysteria dedicated unprecedented resources and money to targeting, detaining and removing undocumented immigrants. This included large scale increases in border patrol agents and increased time spent on border control activities, installation of fencing and physical barriers, and use of advanced surveillance equipment such as sensors and video equipment, infrared night-vision devices, forward–looking infrared systems, and drones. By 1996, efforts to deter undocumented immigrants through programs such as Operation Gatekeeper had effectively militarized the border while worksite raids resurfaced across the country. Moreover, the budget for INS doubled between 1993-1997, from $400 million to $800 million.

This dedication of unprecedented resources, time, and money toward restricting largely Mexican immigrants was succeeded by an era of enforcement, fed by a host of anti-immigrant legislation in the late 1990s that was accelerated in the era of security after 9/11. Anti-immigrant legislation proliferated in the late 1990s most notably with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). Together, these laws increased scrutiny of immigrants, increased penalties for unlawful presence, severely restrained judicial review and due process, facilitated increased detentions and deportations, and created a system to expand immigration enforcement by deputizing local law enforcement as immigration agents. This union of local and federal immigration agents facilitated through the creation of 287 (g) agreements “permitting designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions,” eroded the standards for separation between these law enforcement agencies enabling increasing entanglements such as Operation Return to Sender, the Secure Communities Program, fusion centers, the proliferation of Fugitive Operation teams carrying out large scale raids and round-ups.  Despite evidence of widespread racial profiling, insufficient oversight from the federal government, inadequate training, and incidents of abuse designed in some cases to “purge towns and cities of ‘unwelcome’ immigrants…resulting in the harassment of citizens and isolation of the Hispanic community” these collaborations between federal immigration enforcement agents and local law enforcement only proliferated after 9/11 as did the targeting and terrorizing of Latina/o immigrants.

Thus, between 2001-2009 over 2000 immigration related bills were introduced into Congress with the vast preponderance of those signed into law restricting immigrants and the most common and consistent restrictions resulting from expansions of  law enforcement scrutiny made possible through the empowerment (or extension of capacity) of local and state level law enforcement to execute greater levels of investigation, review, apprehension, and/or cooperation on immigration matters.

After 9/11 this process of deputizing local law enforcement to act as immigration agents, gained renewed vigor as additional memoranda of understanding were crafted between federal agencies and local law enforcement, and state and local personnel were granted security clearances required to access secured information in federal databases. With the creation of the Secured Communities Program in 2008 state, local and even tribal law enforcement agents had become thoroughly intertwined with federal immigration enforcement and consequently the number of immigrant detentions and deportations skyrocketed. Constructed as threats to national security, immigrants were now exposed to arrest and in several cases extended detention for even minor infractions of local ordinances, and increasing deportation. Between 1999 and 2007, immigrant detentions increased by 78%; more importantly, many of those deported committed no actual crimes or only minor infractions that were elevated to deportable offenses within the changes in legislation.

Latina/o immigrants overwhelmingly bore the brunt of this system of security and enforcement as they constituted the largest percentage of foreign born persons but equally because the new legislation and policies rested on the manipulation of racialized fears of this population as foreign and threatening. This despite the fact that among the millions of Latina/o immigrants apprehended, detained and/or deported in this era of security, and despite claims to increasing public safety, no evidence of terrorist activity or threats to homeland security has been found among those apprehended. Moreover, despite Trump’s description of Mexican immigrants specifically as “criminals and rapists” the reality is that immigration has become increasingly feminized and costs of a system focused on enforcement, detention and deportation has been felt in additional women, parents, and children being incarcerated or separated.

Thus, as Congress and individual states once again debate enforcement and greater security against alleged criminal threats posed by Latina/o immigrants we are well served to remember the billions of federal, state and local dollars, time and resources already spent on scrutinizing, restricting, detaining and removing a population that poses no actual threat. In particular, the extension of immigration enforcement to local police and sheriff officers has not increased public safety or security, has not rooted out terrorist associations or abated homeland security risks, but has succeed in terrorizing a population already made vulnerable by the current immigration system. Moreover, heightened scrutiny has generated increasing numbers of detentions, (including indefinite detentions), deportations, raids in immigrant communities, criminalization of legitimate expressive activity, denial of basic services, rising fees, and persistent harassment at the hands of multiple law enforcement agents, with few if any sources of support or respite.  In short, the only interests served by the new legislation banning sanctuary cities are lawmakers looking to whip up racialized hysteria among their constituents in an election year, or enforcement institutions who stand to make millions more in further detention of immigrants.

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