Policies and Da’aro Youth Project.
I recently ran my first half marathon to fundraise money for the Da'aro Youth Project, a charity that supports and empowers unaccompanied young asylum-seekers from East Africa. Many of the charity's beneficiaries are from Eritrea, my family's native country.
I chose this charity because I want to galvanise action and draw attention to the hidden epidemic of the human rights abuses Eritreans face, not only within Eritrea itself but also overseas in the UK due to its brutal "necropolitical" policies. As theorised by writer and philosopher Achille Mbembe, necropolitics refers to “the capacity to define who matters and who does not, who is disposable and who is not.”
So, the theoretical framework of necropolitics reveals the discrepancies in how the state values people's lives. When one examines the treatment of migrants and refugees within the UK and Europe through this lens, it is evident that certain groups matter much more than others. Some lives are protected whilst others are sacrificed. Necropolitics can be understood as the politics of death, as is implied in the roots of the word ‘necro’ stemming from the Greek nekros meaning corpse.
Mbembe’s idea of necropolitics underpins how I understand refugees to be treated: as disposable and inferior.
In the case of many young Eritrean asylum seekers, a nexus of factors such as fear of deportation back to Eritrea (where they face indefinite military service), the trauma gained from the treacherous journey to the UK, and the hostile laws they face on arrival, have left many with just one form of agency: suicide.
Indeed, a terrifying suicide epidemic is growing amongst this demographic.
"Some lives are protected whilst others are sacrificed"
Recent policy changes such as Priti Patel’s ‘Nationality and Borders Bill’, known as the most radical reform to the asylum system in decades, which many organisers have now appositely renamed as ‘The Anti Refugee Bill’ are central to this. Several charities have urged the British government to reform their inhumane approach towards young asylum seekers and refugees. Many have ended up in an unsupportive care system, or have been held in detention centres for disproportionate amounts of time.
Recently, another young man, Henok, took his own life. Henok fled Eritrea at just 14 years old due to the prospect of indefinate military service, undertaking an inconceivably long, difficult and dangerous journey. After fleeing his homeland, Henok spent 8 years trying to reach the United Kingdom, where he dreamed of starting a new and better life. During this time he was trapped in a Sudanese refugee camp. He crossed the Sahara by himself. He travelled through Lybia and eventually crossed the Mediterranean sea. By May 2020, he finally made it to Conventry. But his suffering was still not at an end, for he now had to face the U.K.’s hostile asylum policies, which left him unable to work and surviving off very little money. He was broken in spirit and mind. Last summer Henok committed suicide. He was 23 years old.
One must question why this hidden suicide epidemic exists. The interrogation should be three-fold:
1) What sort of brutal hardship are these young people enduring that they are willing to risk their lives by escaping through dangerous routes, with no guarantee of freedom at the end of the journey, or even survival?
2) Why are we seeing a number of young Eritrean refugees committing suicide in the UK? What is the current UK government's asylum policy? How much funding does children’s mental health (especially within the care system) receive and why are they cutting this so drastically?
3) How can we better advocate for an improved care system and ensure that care leavers are provided with adequate mental health support?
The continued silencing of Eritrean citizens has played a crucial role in cementing the brutal dictatorship that has shattered the lives of so many. Afwerki’s dictatorial government has psychologically destroyed Eritrean society and left the country in political paralysis.
The population has reached its limit, enduring the cruel ramifications of the conflict with Ethiopia which upholds a hollow form of nationalism – especially considering the ongoing deprivation of their basic human rights. Countless Eritreans are forced to flee daily as a result. Essentially, the country has been stuck in a trance of empty hope, palpably visible within the area of human rights and economic growth.
Da'aro Youth Project was formed by Benjamin Hunter after his best friend Alex, a young Eritrean asylum seeker, took his own life at the age of 18 following an ongoing struggle with his mental health. After the devastating death of Alex, members of the British-Eritrean community in South London organised to aid unaccompanied young people arriving in the UK to help them integrate better into the community and to support their social needs and mental health challenges.
“When possible, Da’aro also provides support in legal, medical and Housing & Child Services through specialised casework support.”
According to the Guardian (2021), as well as in-house research conducted by the Da’aro Youth project, in the last year suicides within this group have doubled. And despite these troubling numbers many more cases, regrettably, go undetected. This is because coroners are not obliged to record immigration status and only children in care are reported to the Department of Health and Social Services; care leavers are not accounted for. Many of these young, unaccompanied asylum seekers were at varying stages of the asylum-claiming-process. Some were in foster care or recent care leavers, and awaiting the outcome of their claims. Many feared being deported back to the uninhabitable conditions they had left behind.
Sadly, some were accused of falsifying their age, and, though many suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), they continued to be siloed from accessing mental health facilities.
This is why organisations such as Da’aro are so crucial. The support this organisation provides to these young people is invaluable, especially in the face of such limited aid from the state. Da’aro provides community and a safe place for asylum-seekers to socialise, be cared for and simply exist as young people. Initiatives like Injera club allow them to get together, play games and eat a traditional home-cooked meal. Where possible, they also provides support in legal, medical and Housing & Child Services through specialised casework support.
As a member of the Eritrean Diaspora, I am fully aware of the human rights abuses Eritreans face. This propelled me to join the female youth-led organisation, One Day Seyoum, another brilliant Eritrean organisation which campaigns to end human rights abuses committed against the Eritrean people (as well as supporting Eritrean refugees worldwide). One Day Seyoum is a great source of information on Eritrea’s political-economic history and explains the current political paralysis.
It is essential that we try to educate ourselves and take action on these matters. Though what I am discussing may seem like a domestic, isolated problem to some, issues of migration and displacement are of global impact and importance. Eritrean citizens last exercised their civic rights in 1993 when they voted for independence from Ethiopian hegemony. Approximately 99.83% of the 98.5% population turnout voted in favour for independence. Yet, after almost 30-years of heroic struggle, their vote has only led to one of the most repressive totalitarian dictatorships in the world.
The true liberation of Eritrea remains elusive.
I urge you to find out more about the situation via One Day Seyoum’s website.
For more information see:
Please consider making a direct donation to Da’aro Youth Project via their website:
Brainscan will be donating a portion of the proceed proceeds from our print zine to Da’aro Youth Project.
Naomi is currently completing an MA in Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy at Goldsmiths. Prior to this she worked in International Development as a Consultant for Nathan Associates.