Living in exile: “I am not less than any other human. I just want to be heard and seen”

Ali* is an Iranian Christian convert who was reported to the police after some of those close to him discovered he had changed his religion. In 2015 he fled to Cuba via Armenia because it was the easiest place for him to get a visa as an Iranian.

Ali hoped to be resettled quickly in an anglophone country because of his fluency in English. He has been recognized as a refugee by the UNHCR and is in the resettlement process, but this has been slowed significantly because of political issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. CSW spoke with Ali who told us of his experiences of living in exile.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

“I’m a young Iranian Christian citizen who has been stuck in long and exhausting limbo against my will for more than half a decade in Cuba. I’m a refugee, away from all the loved ones and abandoned in a foreign land with no sense of ‘belonging.’ I’m a university graduate with an impressive background in sales and business management that has been achieved with dedication and hard work at international companies in my country.

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Massacres, starvation and wanton destruction: The international community must act swiftly to save Ethiopia’s Tigray region

There are worrying indications that atrocity crimes may be underway in Tigray, where civilians are bearing the brunt of a conflict pitting the armies of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and an allied ethnic Amhara militia against the forces of the former regional administration.  

In a tragic irony, the government of Ethiopia, one of the first nations to sign the 1948 Genocide Convention, currently stands accused of permitting and participating in violence that could amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.

Equally ironic is the fact that the future of a Nobel Laureate who professes Evangelical Christianity, is now inextricably linked with that of the leader whose regime is deemed to have committed crimes against humanity, including the crime of religious persecution that largely targets Eritrean Evangelical Christians.

For Eritrea’s leader, Isaias Afewerki, the war on Tigray is the fulfilment of a long-held vendetta against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). He has effectively groomed the leaders of Ethiopia and Somalia, aided in this endeavour by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s own antipathy towards the Tigrayan leadership and ambitions of centralising power.

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The COVID-19 pandemic could be an opportunity to save North Korean lives, if Moon Jae-In takes action

By Benedict Rogers

North Korea is ruled by the world’s most repressive, most brutal regime – one which does not allow any freedom whatsoever, one which violates every single article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights every day. It is also the world’s most closed nation – extremely difficult to get in or out of. Those who do visit – as I have done once – are tightly monitored and controlled, while those who try to leave the country without permission face imprisonment, torture and even execution if caught.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to tighten the restrictions on access even further. Like many countries dealing with coronavirus, North Korea has sealed its borders. Britain’s embassy in Pyongyang has been closed since 27 May, with Ambassador Colin Crooks stating on his Twitter page: “Working from London pending my return to Pyongyang.” And last week, the North Korean regime warned its citizens to stay indoors over fears that a “yellow dust” blowing in from China could bring coronavirus with it. The so-called “hermit kingdom” has become the “hermetically sealed” nation.

And yet this offers a rare opportunity to save lives, because due to its COVID-19 restrictions, North Korea has told China it will not receive repatriation of North Korean escapees. In normal times, China has a policy of forcibly returning North Koreans who escape across its border, sending them back to face certain torture, detention and in some cases execution – in flagrant breach of the international principle of ‘non-refoulement.’ Now, Kim Jong-Un’s regime says it does not want them.

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Save North Korean Refugees Day: Time to End China’s Illegal and Horrific Treatment of North Korean Escapees

Save North Korean Refugees Day, which falls on 24 September, aims to highlight the terrible trials faced by North Korean refugees in China.

It also marks the day, 36 years ago, that China became a signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, an agreement the country continues to violate through its treatment of North Korean escapees.

China’s forced repatriation of North Korean refugees is illegal as it violates the fundamental international humanitarian principle of ‘non-refoulement’, which prohibits receiving countries from returning refugees to a country where they would likely face persecution due to their “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.

And yet, that is exactly what they are being sent back to: North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, referred to by the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry as “a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world” in terms of human rights violations. CSW’s 2016 report previously revealed that deported escapees regularly face execution, torture, arbitrary detention, deliberate starvation, illegal cavity searches, forced abortions, and other sexual violence at the hands of the North Korean authorities.

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Long read: Eritreans wonder why their president is “making peace with everyone but the Eritrean people”

On the morning of 17 September, Eritrean security operatives arrested former Minister of Finance Berhane Abrehe in Asmara.  According to local reports, 73 year old Mr Abrehe was out having breakfast with his son when he was approached by security agents and instructed to accompany them.

The arrest followed the publication and launch of a two-volume book authored by Mr Abrehe entitled ‘Eritra Hageray’ (Eritrea My Country) in Washington DC. The book is described on the cover as presenting an Eritrean plan on how to end dictatorship and prevent it from happening again. The book received endorsements from several former Eritrean officials in exile, and were accompanied by an audio clip in which Mr Abrehe called, among other things, for the convening of the National Assembly and challenged President Afwerki to a public debate.

Mr Abrehe is currently in an unknown location.  He has been unwell for some time, and there are legitimate concerns for his wellbeing.  Mr Abrehe’s wife, Almaz Habtemariam, has been detained since early 2018, in reprisal for one of their four children fleeing the country.  Both he and his wife are veterans of the liberation struggle.

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