DAY 233: ርሑስ በዓል ልደትን ሓድሽ ዓመትን።

December 11th, 2017 § 0 comments

[PS I can't make Tigrinya characters come out on my phone except as question marks. I imagine people whose language actually is Tigrinya must have a workaround, and I wonder if they could share it.]

Hoping as I always do to expand our horizons beyond the narrow confines 0f Western Europe, I’m posting an early Christmas greeting in Tigrinya which I expect you know is one of the two main languages in Eritrea, as well as being spoken by quite a few people in Ethiopia, particularly Eritrean refugees. I know, and some pedant is sure to tell me, that in both the Orthodox and Ge’ez calendars Christmas is some way away, but you might as well start practising your greetings, particularly if you’ve been invited to any


Eritrean Christmas parties. (Even worse if your Eritrean friends are Pentecostal or Jehovah’s Witnesses and so should be persecuted, and have a right to asylum which you can bet they won’t get.) Reader, I feel, as so often, appallingly ignorant. I thought the ‘refugee crisis’ was limited to the one at my back door, where 1.3 million refugees (roughly) – Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and others arrived in Europe in 2015 and made us feel generous and warm or besieged and hostile depending on our attitude to the Other. What I didn’t know was that a comparable number of Eritreans had already been making their way, via UNHCR’s  camps in Ethiopia, to Europe two years or more before.

Their situation – already in 2013 – was described in a UNHCR report as follows: ‘Eritrean refugees cross into Ethiopia through 16 entry points from which they are collected and brought to a reception station for screening and registration. Before departure from the reception centre, the refugees are issued with basic assistance items, including sleeping mats, blankets, jerry cans, water buckets, soap and mosquito nets. They are also provided with tents and food rations once they get to the new camp.

As of the end of May, Ethiopia is hosting 71,833 Eritrean refugees in four camps in Tigray region and two others in the Afar region in north-eastern Ethiopia. Transfers to the new camp are taking place every second day.’ All these thousands, four camps (now five)  of whom I knew nothing; the refugees had to arrive on our doorstep to become a ‘problem’ which I had to worry about.

The huge number of Eritreans were driven not by war but by an


authoritarian regime and particularly the forced conscription described in the Amnesty report ‘Just Deserters‘ and elsewhere. They have often survived – as you might expect – appalling dangers in Sudan, Libya and Egypt; they have sometimes arrived ironically in the ‘safety’ of Tel Aviv to be treated, naturally, as  dangerous black strangers.  They, like all other refugees, want in the long term to go home; looking out at the sleet driving past the window I felt sure that for an Eritrean something warmer would be preferable.

Their popular poet Keesom Haile, writing in Tigrinya, has been thinking – as I hope we all do. And why not start with Marx and Lenin?

Learning from History

We learned from Marx and Lenin:
To be equal trim your feet
For one-size-fits-all shoes.
We made their mistakes, too.

Equally, we all make mistakes.
The evil is in not being corrected
Aren’t we known
By what we do, undo and do again?


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