UAE-Eritrea: Strained Relationship

Last June,  a small ship arrived from the UAE carrying relief aid for Eritreans in Dankalia. However, the Assab port authorities denied the ship entry to the port and it couldn’t berth at the Assab docks. Its captain decided to stay offshore where the ship threw its anchor and waited for few days until the UAE and Eritrean authorities could resolve the problem. Apparently they didn’t and the ship sailed to undisclosed destination with its cargo.

The Eritrean government has downplayed the dire situation in the Dankalia region where the people are still living on the edge of starvation since early 2020. Many have trekked to the refugee camps in neighboring countries while some of them crossed the Red Sea heading towards the war-torn Yemen.

As soon as news of the suffering of Dankalia was spread, diaspora Eritreans launched an aid and awareness campaign on social media to publicize the plight of the beleaguered region.

Meanwhile, since the beginning of this year, the relations between the Eritrean and the UAE governments has been straining due to differences over regional policies concerning Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya.

In the first week of August 2020, diplomats from the Arab Gulf made an unannounced visit to Asmara where they met Isaias Afwerki. They left Eritrea on the same day on a private jet.

The UAE has a naval base north of Assab where it had hastily built an airbase during the height of the war on Yemen. The base lies in the center of a five-mile radius security-zone which is off limits to unauthorized personnel. The security area has been hampering free movement of the Danakil fishermen who depend on the sea for their livelihood.

In a related news, Eritrean sources said that the UAE has made indirect contacts with several opposition leaders. The opposition sources added, “…the contact is still in its embryonic stage and it is not yet clear what the UAE’s motivation is behind the overture.”

However, while some elements of the opposition suspect “the gesture is probably to put pressure on Isaias Afwerki,” others suspect “the UAE is trying to broker a deal between the Eritrean government and its opposition.”

In 2018, the UAE and Saudi Arabia were instrumental in brokering a deal between Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister, and Isaias Afwerki, the Eritrean president. But two years after the deal was signed, nothing has changed on the ground.

Related reading
Pandemic and Government Induced Oppression in Dankalia (June 2, 2010)


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