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On the anniversary of independence, a severe indictment to the Country’s government for the tragedies of its migrants. A courageous act in a country where the President Afewerki represses all dissent.
They gave it the same title as the biblical quotation chosen by the Pope in his homily last July on Lampedusa, God’s question to Cain, «Where is your brother? ». And they make specific reference to the island of migrants, to that tragic day of October 3rd last year, that of the shipwreck off the coast of Sicily which claimed the lives of over 300 people, most of them coming from their own country. And it is with brave words that the four Catholic bishops of Eritrea turn to the country in a 38-page pastoral letter which bears the date of May 25, 2014, the twenty-first anniversary of the independence of the country.
The four Eparchs of Asmara, Barentu, Keren and Segeneiti in fact ask that question, «Where is your brother? » to their country which, under the iron fist of President Isaias Afewerki, has become one of the African countries from which most people today run away. With escapes that turn into odysseys not only in the Mediterranean Sea, but also in the dry Sinai desert, which the Eritreans cross trying to reach Israel, placing themselves in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers, just like the boat smugglers.
«Where is your brother? Since the environment in which we live aggravates the situation, rather than finding solutions that prevent recurrence of incidents similar to that of Lampedusa, this question deprives up of sleep», write the bishops of Eritrea. With a complaint of living conditions in the country without ifs and buts; the bishops face – for example – the issue of the lack of freedom of expression, because of which «our young people are fleeing to countries where there is justice, work, and where you can express yourself openly without fear». And they add: «There would be no reason to search for nations as sweet as honey if one already lived in such a place».
The Eritrean bishops also point their finger on the disintegration of families, of which migration is just one part: «the members of each family – continues the document – are today scattered between the national service, the army, rehabilitation centers, prisons, with the elderly left behind with no one to care for them. All this is making Eritrea a wasteland». There is also the question of prisoners – thousands of them, says Amnesty International, are jailed in Eritrea for political reasons and conscience: «Anyone who is arrested – write the bishops – should be treated with humanity and then, on the basis of the allegations made against him, must be brought into a court of law to discuss the case in a fair manner».
That which is contained in the pastoral letter, Where is your brother? » is a very significant intervention for a country like Eritrea, ruled by Afewerki since the independence obtained in 1993, and without room for any form of political dissent. An iron curtain that has rocked even religious freedom: in a country where more than 50% of the population is Christian, only three officially recognized Churches are allowed and they are Ethiopian Orthodox, Catholic (about 2.5% of the population) and the Protestant. All other Protestant denominations are outlawed and many of their followers are in fact in prison simply for this reason. Even the three main churches – however – have to deal with the diktat of Afewerki: the emblematic case of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the largely majority confession, whose patriarch – the abuna Antonio – was in fact deposed in 2005 by the strong man of Asmara, because not sufficiently aligned with his political positions. All circumstances, that make the intervention of the four Catholic bishops even more significant.