Finally, our accompaniment portion of the course has commenced. It goes without saying that it is a good thing refugees have gone directly to there placement countries rather than waiting in the ETC. However, the opportunity to interact and take part in the journey of these brave people is something that will not only benefit us, but also those at home. (Read more from the UNHCR coverage of the Eritreans)
The group of around 30 is the first group of refugees to have fled the Libyan crisis being resettled by the Romanian ETC. In addition to the humanitarian aspect, this type of story warrants the press. We had every major outlet including the Associated Press and CNN in attendance for the arrival of our group as well as that of Romanian diplomats. The refugees took all this in stride and seemed to feel somewhat touched to find there are those interested in the hardship they have experienced.
Many of these men have not seen their families for several years. Eritrean people (both men and women) have a forced military enlistment. (Read more the plight of the Eritrean people here!) If this mandatory military service is not completed, the individual is denied a passport. This is of course accented by the phrase, "voluntary enlistment," which evens out to anything but voluntary. On paper the commitment is for 16 months, and military age ranges from 18-40. However, this is rarely the case. The service obligation is typically indefinite, living conditions are at best destitute, and those enlisted often suffer extreme human rights violations.
From Libya, our group transited through Tunisia where they were temporarily transferred to the Shousha Transit Camp. Their arrival here was a great relief not only to the workers here, but also to the Eritreans, who all but one, will eventually be resettled in the United States.