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African Migrants Risk Lives to Flee War and Persecution

October 9, 2013 by Open Doors in General

At least 181 migrants were killed after their boat caught fire last week. Two hundred more are still missing. Noborder network / Flickr / Creative Commons

The Oct. 3 sinking of a boat carrying around 500 migrants that claimed the lives of at least 181 people is the latest tragedy in a long line of accidents in which vulnerable migrants have perished due to the failure of vessels often described as “unseaworthy.” Desiring a better life and often fleeing persecution or conflict at home, thousands of refugees give their life savings to smugglers who promise their passage to the safety of European shores.

Father Mussie Zerai, Chairman of the Habeshia Agency, which works on behalf of these migrants, says he believes the majority of those involved in the shipwreck were Christians. “I look at the list of the survivors and 90 percent is Christian,” he said. “They are coming from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The situation is very bad because politically in Eritrea there is a dictator and they live without any type of freedom or democracy. Many Christians are persecuted because of their faith. It’s not easy for them to live in Eritrea at this moment.”

The story of an Ethiopian migrant who had previously survived the same crossing hit the European media last year when five human rights groups wrote a letter to the Netherlands’ then-minister of immigration and asylum affairs, to plead for him to be given the right to remain.

Abu Kurke Kebato, in his early 20s, was one of only nine survivors in a boat carrying 72, which had left Libya only to languish at sea for two weeks before drifting back to the same shores. Kurke Kebato told the BBC that after his arrival back in Libya, the Libyan authorities arrested him while “on his way to church.”

“Mr. Kurke Kebato was then detained for eight months during which time he alleges he was subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” wrote the five human rights organizations.

He then made a second attempt to reach Europe with his wife, and this time they were successful. However, until human rights organizations intervened, the couple was set to be deported from the Netherlands. He now lives there and says he is “happy in a democracy.”

The UN High Commission for Refugees’ Adrian Edwards agrees that for many migrants the choice to flee their home countries has become a matter of life and death. “You have to think of the tragedy that lies behind this, which is that many of these people are likely to have been fleeing war, fleeing persecution, fleeing human rights abuses in their own countries, so this is a tremendous tragedy of multiple layers,” he told the BBC.

Though this most recent ship had embarked from Libya, many of its passengers had already travelled a great distance in their quest to reach Europe before boarding the vessel. According to the UN, most of the passengers on the boat, which sank near the island of Lampedusa off the coast of Italy, were from Eritrea and Somalia, about 2,000 miles from Libya’s coast.

Pope Francis, whose first official visit was to the island in July to witness the mass migrant arrivals, condemned “global indifference” to the plight of immigrants, and has called this latest tragedy an “outrage,” calling Friday a “day of tears.”

According to UN figures, some 3,000 people try to flee Eritrea each month, while human rights groups have said the country is becoming a giant jail, with estimates of around 10,000 political prisoners. Somalia, meanwhile, has been ravaged by two decades of war and large parts of it are under the control of Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

More than 30,000 immigrants have undertaken the perilous journey to Italy by sea so far this year, including 7,500 from Eritrea and Syria respectively and 3,000 from Somalia, according to the UN. The number of immigrants who have died while attempting to reach Europe’s borders in the last 25 years has risen to almost 20,000.

Fr. Zerai says the international community must do more, and that granting asylum to a few is not enough. “All mass media, all international organizations and civic society need to push the international community to do something to change the situation,” he told World Watch Monitor. “In Eritrea, even in Ethiopia, we need more freedom, democracy and peace. That is the solution. We can give them asylum, but that is not the solution.”

According to Open Doors, the number of Christians incarcerated in Eritrea because of their faith is thought to be around 1,200, although some estimates claim the figure is as high as 3,000. Eritrea is ranked 10th on the World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which Christians experience the most pressure for their faith. “When Christians [in Eritrea] are discovered, they are arrested and held in shipping containers in military camps. At least 105 Christians were arrested in 2012, and 31 Christians were reported to have died in prison,” the World Watch List reports.

Source:World Watch Monitor

Father, as we mourn the loss of Christians who were engulfed in the dark waters of the sea, we take comfort in knowing that they have risen into the glorious light of their Savior. We pray for brothers and sisters who live in Eritrea where persecution is great, and for the countless others who are in prison for their faith in You. We pray for those who seek refuge in Europe, fleeing war, persecution and human rights abuses. Protect, comfort and strengthen them in the midst of the terrors they face. And we think of those who fell to their death, drowned without the hope of faith; we weep for their eternal suffering. And, we pray for the thousands upon thousands who live in Eritrea and Ethiopia who do not yet know You; may they be gathered into Your church and into the light and hope of the gospel of Christ. In the name of Jesus, our only true refuge of hope, Amen.

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