Eritrea’s four Catholic bishops say the vast numbers of people fleeing the country had left the African country desolate.
Young Eritreans seek to live in “peaceful countries … countries of justice, of work, where one expresses himself loudly, a country where one works and earns,” said the letter, published June 9 on the Diocese of Keren website. Many others were now in the army or prison.
“There is no reason to search for a country of honey if you are in one,” the bishops said in their 35-page letter written in Tigrinya, a South Semitic language spoken by about 6 million people in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Ethiopia and Eritrea share a bishops’ conference, based in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, and an official at the Ethiopian bishops’ secretariat referred Catholic News Service to a translation of the letter on awate.com.
Thousands of people flee Eritrea every year in search of asylum.
“Instead of Eritreans aiming to leave their country, those who are in the diaspora should have returned… It is not rational to simply ask why our youth are leaving to foreign countries,” the bishops said.
They noted that many of the 366 migrants on board a boat that sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa last year were Eritrean.
The bishops’ letter, called “Where Is Your Brother?,” marked the 23rd anniversary of the end of the country’s war of independence from Ethiopia. It was signed by Bishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam of Asmara, Bishop Thomas Osman of Barentu, Bishop Kidane Yebio of Keren and Bishop Fikremariam Tsalim of Segeneiti.
The bishops noted damage to families, with members “scattered in national service, army, rehabilitation centers, prisons, whereas the aged parents are left with no one to care for them and have been spiritually damaged.”
Last year, Amnesty International called Eritrea one of the world’s “most repressive, secretive and inaccessible countries” and noted that its prisons “are filled with thousands of political prisoners, locked up without ever being charged with a crime”.
The bishops’ letter said Eritreans who are arrested “should first be handled humanely and sympathetically, and then, based on the accusations against them, they should be presented to a court” of law for a just trial.
Eritrean bishops are blocked by their government from traveling to Ethiopia, which makes it difficult for the conference to “work on issues, including pastoral matters,” that affect all dioceses, Father Seyoum Fransua, deputy general secretary of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, told CNS yesterday.
There is “no dialogue” between the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia or any bilateral political agreement that would enable the bishops to “work easily together,” Fr Seyoum said.
For this reason, bishops’ conference meetings have mostly been held in Kenya or in Rome, he said.