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Eritrean Refugees Consigned to Oblivion

Awa Konate, BA Politics and African Studies

Cities, hopes and lives are perishing. What one once called home has now been reduced to nothing but reminiscence, where hope thrived. Deprived of any prospects for a better future, one has been reduced to nothing but a mere refugee, and a little supply of hope is the only reason one has yet to give up in the midst of this chaos.

I must ashamedly admit that in our time this generation has become so accustomed to seeing death that we are nearly desensitized to it, that at times our activism doesn’t reach further than online platforms.

This is something that I am guilty of myself. Simultaneously, at times like these it becomes particularly necessary to reflect upon my position of privilege. This is because I could be one of those many refugees whose stories we either hear of or, even worse, never hear of at all as they are simply consigned to oblivion.

As I keep check of all media options to keep myself aware of present world affairs, it is glaringly obvious that the refugee crisis of the last six months’s been at the core of Western media, with particular focus on stories about the Middle East and Syrian refugees.

According to the UNHCR, over 3 million Syrians have fled their country since 2013. It’s right that these stories are covered; in fact, they must be told in order for the public to grasp the damage that has been, and is still being, done.

Though this particular region is still not given the coverage it deserves, it certainly is granted more coverage than a country such as Eritrea. Perhaps it is because of the coverage which is extensively biased towards the Middle East that the world turns a blind eye to the escalating refugee crisis in the horn of Africa?

The crisis currently unfolding in Eritrea is barely recognized; stories of Eritreans suffering at the hands of non-Eritrean and Eritrean victimizers alike have passed us by unnoticed.

Previously praised by the United States as an “African beacon of hope” for its political dispute with Ethiopia, Eritrea is not a war zone. Yet with its six million inhabitants being ’ruled with an iron fist’, it has one of the largest proportions of refugees to arrive at Europe’s shores – Eritreans alone count for 22% of sea arrivers, the second largest demographic of refugees after Syrians.

This should hardly come as a surprise when it is considered that the country has a policy of systematic human rights violations and poor economic opportunities, as well as being affected by drought.

As a result, according to UNCHR a total of 216,000 civilians have been forced to flee to neighboring countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia, where nearly 1,600 arrivals are accounted for as unaccompanied children. Ethiopian and Sudanese officials expect the number to grow as the situation fails to improve.

Yet again this rapidly escalating crisis rarely crosses the consciousness of Western media. How can this be so? There are several reasons for the imbalance, all bound together in politics, history, and the access to media coverage which Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan do not necessarily guarantee.

Therefore, if we return to our question, what remains essential is to criticize the clear absence of eagerness or willingness in Western media to report the same bravery-drenched narratives, or simply cover refugee reports equally regardless of geopolitical importance. In effect, it follows that White hegemony dictates reporting of refugee crises, where significance is aligned racially

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