Eritrea says rights activists to blame for migrant crisis

Shipwrecked migrants disembark from a rescue vessel as they arrive in the Italian port of Augusta in Sicily on April 16, 2015 (AFP Photo/Giovanni Isolino)

Addis Ababa (AFP) - The secretive Horn of Africa state of Eritrea claimed Monday that human rights activists were partly to blame for the hordes of migrants heading to Europe.

The isolationist Red Sea dictatorship is one of the largest contributors to the exodus across the Mediterranean and has in the past also blamed a CIA conspiracy for the crisis.

In a newsletter from Eritrea's mission to the African Union, the country called for "a robust and concerted effort to identify, arrest and prosecute the human trafficking criminals."

It said among the criminals were "all those who in different guises, including human rights activism, are complicit in these crimes."

Although the commentary acknowledged there was a need for "increased opportunities for citizens in countries that are currently sources of migration," it also said there should be an "end of the selective and unjustified politicisation of the migration issue" when it concerned those from Eritrea.

In March United Nations human rights investigators said Eritrea was curtailing most basic freedoms, and that the iron-grip regime of President Issaias Afeworki uses "pervasive state control and ruthless repression" including extra-judicial executions and enforced disappearances to silence critics.

This has sparked a massive exodus from Eritrea, which after Syria is the second largest source of migrants risking their lives to get to Europe.

In October 2013, following a shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa on which 300 people were killed, Asmara accused the CIA of using human trafficking as a "ploy" aimed at "paralysing the indomitable people and government of Eritrea".

Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 after a brutal 30-year independence struggle, has consistently raised fears domestically that Addis Ababa is scheming to re-take the country.

This has allowed the government to conscript most adults into the army or force them to perform compulsory labour.

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