Source: The Australian
- By RHIANNON DOWN
- 7:05PM JANUARY 12, 2023
The nation’s Eritrean community has expressed horror at the federal government’s decision to allow the right-hand man of Eritrea’s dictator to enter the country to host an event rejected around the world as a front to spread pro-regime propaganda and intimidate the diaspora.
Yusuf Saiq, a known crony of dictator Isaias Afwerki, whose regime has been accused of crimes against humanity, torture and mass incarceration of political prisoners, arrived in Melbourne this week for the Eritrean Festival. The Eritrean community is appalled that Mr Saiq, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) head of organisational affairs, has been granted a visa, arguing his government is responsible for killing millions of people in the Tigray war.
Eritrea has been dubbed the “North Korea of Africa” and has one of the world’s worst human rights records, with its government detaining an estimated 10,000 political prisoners, often underground or in shipping containers. The PFDJ is renowned for conscripting its citizens into indefinite military service.
Members of the Eritrean community who speak out against the regime report being harassed and made to fear for their families in their homeland, and claim pro-government sections of the diaspora are used as spies and PFDJ“puppets”.
The United Eritrean Australian Movement for Justice contacted Anthony Albanese’s office last month and previously met with his representatives to warn them about the festival’s links to the regime.
Similar festivals have been cancelled in Germany, Sweden and Norway, and the US has placed sanctions on the PFDJ.
The festival, from Thursday to Sunday, features Eritrean musicians – many of whom promote pro-war messages – and is run by the Eritrean National Communities Council and the Victorian Eritrean Community Association.
When The Australian contacted the Eritrean consulate, in Highpoint shopping centre in Melbourne’s west, a man who would only identify himself as Yassin confirmed Mr Saiq was inside but would not answer further questions about the festival.
Yassin provided the same email address listed on the ENCC’s public Facebook page when asked for a means to contact Mr Saiq, who is expected to attend the festival on Friday.
Hatu Gmedhin fled Eritrea as a refugee eight years ago and fears for the life of his brother, who was detained by the regime and from whom he has heard nothing in three years.
“I am receiving calls from unknown numbers who say, ‘You are against our people and our government and you will be facing the consequences’,” he said.
“Maybe they will kill me, who knows.”
Mr Gmedhin said it made him “angry” to know Mr Saiq was in Australia and urged people to boycott the event.
Saba Abraham, who also fled Eritrea decades ago and has become a prominent refugee advocate, said she was disappointed Saiq would be attending the festival. She said pro-regime sections of the community had tried to recruit her when she first came to Australia.
“They told me my support is needed for the people of Eritrea,” she said.“But this government is unlawfully imprisoning and torturing people.”
Home Affairs and the Prime Minister’s office were contacted for comment.