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Why the West Shouldn't Give Aid to the Eritrean Regime

At the G7 Summit in Germany, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, said that more needs to be done to stop people leaving their homelands and crossing the Mediterranean. He emphasised that the UK could use its aid budget to stem the flow

Meron Semedar is a One Young World Ambassador from Eritrea who now lives and works in the United States. He regularly writes for One Young World and the Huffington Post about the issues affecting migrant communities, and the circumstances which force them to flee their home countries.

At the G7 Summit in Germany, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, said that more needs to be done to stop people leaving their homelands and crossing the Mediterranean. He emphasised that the UK could use its aid budget to stem the flow. But the G7 rhetoric sounds familiar and superficial. So often, money is thrown at incredibly complex and nuanced questions, but fails to provide a lasting solution. Let me explain why, using my native Eritrea as an example.

Donating more aid to African nations ruled by corrupt leaders is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. Dictators and their powerful networks loot the money and the people who need it don't see a penny. Donations always beg the question: 'Who really benefits, the poor people trapped in a cycle of poverty, or the wealthy elite and their Swiss bank accounts?'.

Recently reports have emerged that show how powerful Eritrean individuals hide hundreds of millions of dollars in off-shore accounts whilst the average income in the country is at less than 50 cents a day. In a country led by a regime which does not approve foreign aid because it fears foreign influence, aid is rarely helpful.

The human rights situation forces young Eritreans to flee

A recent UN report accuses the Eritrean government of extrajudicial execution, torture, indefinite national service, and forced labour. It also reported that the regime's human rights abuses may constitute crimes against humanity. Another report claims that EU nations are doing backroom deals to offer aid or lift sanctions against the regime to 'tighten border controls' - so that fewer Eritreans arrive in Europe to claim asylum.

The prospect of 'tighter border controls' is terrifying. Border patrols have a 'shoot to kill policy'. Young people are forced to serve in the army with little to no pay and no guarantee that they will ever be allowed to leave. Migrants are in danger of death even before they get on a boat across the Mediterranean.

Economic push factors contribute to emigration as well

The dictator of Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki, often speaks about 'self reliance'. It sounds good in principal, but in reality, Eritreans are reliant on money from abroad. At home, his regime has expropriated private business and limits education opportunities. Eritrean entrepreneurs emigrate and run businesses in South Sudan, Angola, Dubai and South Africa. The country is chronically dependent upon money sent from the Eritrean diaspora. 32% of the nation's GDP comes directly from remittances and all Eritreans working abroad pay a 2% tax to the government.

G7 leaders know these facts, so when David Cameron states that 'We need to deal with the cause of this migration, not simply with its consequence', I wonder how he thinks aid will change the situation.

How to deal with the root causes

G7 leaders should work together and call on Ethiopia to resolve the border dispute that compels the Eritrean government to maintain military conscription. Ethiopia is occupying the Eritrean land 25km inland from the internationally agreed border.

Resources need to go towards private Eritrean diaspora radio channels like Assenna (based in London) and Erena (based in Paris) that educate young people about the dire situation of migrants. This will help dissuade them from undertaking dangerous migrations.

More funding is needed for human rights, refugee, civic and education organisations that assist new arrivals in Ethiopia, Sudan, Europe, the USA and South Africa. Western donors should look towards community based organisations, rather than corrupt governments.

We need to build a sustainable education system in refugee camps, especially in Ethiopia and the Sudan, to empower the next generation of Eritreans. The only university in Eritrea was closed in 2003. Once a young Eritrean finishes school they know they will be shipped off for military training and indefinite national service.

Eritreans need to have a political, social and economic system built on the rule of law with rights to political assembly, opposition and dissent - but Isaias has made it clear that any opposition activity is banned from Eritrea.

Don't misspend valuable aid money

Aiding a ruthless regime with no accountability is not the solution. As an Eritrean, I do not support any move by world leaders to prop up the Eritrean regime with aid money. This is not the way to stem the flow of migrants.

We know that change will come to Eritrea some day soon. I hope that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom realises that throwing money at a problem is not the solution. We need a multi-pronged approach with a long-term commitment to seeing it through until the end.

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