John Aglionby in Nairobi
September 17, 2015 3:14 pm
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The EU is aiming to sign a €200m aid agreement with Eritrea by the end of the year as part of its efforts to reduce the flow of migrants from the east African country which is the source of the third largest number of people flooding into Europe.
Neven Mimica, EU commissioner for international co-operation and development, said in Nairobi on Thursday the aid would be boosted by money from the €1.8bn emergency trust fund for Africa that Jean Claude Juncker, EU commission president, announced last week.
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However, Mr Mimica admitted that negotiations with the regime in Asmara over the so-called national indicative programme, are being delayed by Brussels’ refusal to allow the government to manage the money because of its human rights record.
“We do not see our development projects would successfully be implemented through government channels,” he said. “Our approach would be to take steps to assist with concrete programmes that would target the concrete needs of the people in Eritrea.”
“By the end of this year we should have a clear decision or refusal on a national indicative programme,” the commissioner said.
The government of President Isaias Afwerki, who has been in power since independence from Ethiopia in 1993, is considered one of the world’s most totalitarian. The UN has reported that some 3,000 Eritreans have left the country each month over the past two years, with more than 300,000, or 5 per cent of the population, having fled since 2000.
It is estimated that tens of thousands are seeking to enter the EU.
In June, a UN general assembly commission found that “widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the government”.
“Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity,” it said. “Individuals are routinely arbitrarily arrested and detained, tortured, disappeared or extrajudicially executed . . . On the pretext of defending the integrity of the state and ensuring its self-sufficiency, Eritreans are subject to systems of national service and forced labour that effectively abuse, exploit and enslave them for indefinite periods of time.”
There are indications that some €500m of the trust fund might be allocated to address migration from the Horn of Africa, with Eritrea likely to be the major focus. However, considering the circumstances, the money is likely to be spent on projects in neighbouring countries.
Officials say it would take about six months for money from the trust fund to be disbursed, a third of the time for regular aid projects. Some EU member states are proving reluctant to approve the trust fund because its mechanisms reduce their control over the money.
EU leaders are expected to approve it at their summit in Malta later this month.
Mr Mimica said that the EU would not be encouraging nearby countries like Kenya to take more refugees because they are already housing tens of thousands from Eritrea, South Sudan and elsewhere.
Eritrea suspended co-operation with Brussels in 2011, although an EU mission remained open in Asmara. Discussions on resuming links began last year.