Eritreans make their presence felt in UAE

Focus On Community By Afkar Ali Abdulla
Filed on September 13, 2003

DUBAI - They are a bit subdued, may be the 30-year long war with Ethiopia has had its impact. But when it comes to the UAE, the Eritreans make their views clear. The UAE is peaceful, secured and a fascinating place to live in, say many Eritreans.

While a majority of Eritreans are living in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman, they make their presence felt with their lively nature. A majority of the Eritreans in UAE are women who came to the country to enjoy better standard of living and to support their families back home.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Saleh Hassan Nawd, Consul-General of Eritrea in Dubai, said that after the independence of Eritrea in 1991, the government established its embassies and consulates in many Arab countries, particularly in those who supported the resistance against Ethiopia.

The UAE is considered to be the first country with which State of Eritrea has established diplomatic ties; with the opening of the Embassy in Abu Dhabi in 1993 and the consulate in Dubai in 2001.

There are about 3,000 to 4,000 Eritreans in the UAE, out of which 60 per cent are women, who primarily work as baby-sitters. "There was a need among the members of the community to interact and practice their culture and traditions, the reason for which they have established an association in May this year, under the patronage of the consulate," the Consul-General said.

The Eritrean Community Association in the UAE is a non-political and non-profit body open for every Eritrean citizen in the UAE, irrespective of any qualification, sex, religion, political belief or the like.

Mr Nawd pointed out that Eritrea had close relations with the UAE which is considered one of its important aid donors. "The UAE supported the education of more than 900 Eritrean students and has offered them scholarships to study in different countries. The Abu Dhabi Development Fund has played a great role in financing many development projects in Eritrea to help build the infrastructure of the country after its independence."

Speaking about the trade relations between the UAE and Eritrea, Mr Nawd said that the trade between Dubai and Asmara is flourishing at present. The consulate is looking forward to establishment of the Eritrean Business Council to represent the Eritrean businessmen and address their problems; offer its members a comprehensive range of updated news on the country and market development and provide them with contact details for new suppliers and customers.

The Eritrean Sea Line and Adules companies have two cargo ships each operating from Ajman and Sharjah ports to Asmara twice a month.

The Eritrean Airline will start operating form Dubai to Asmara from the beginning of October. The major items being exported from Dubai to Ethiopia include foodstuff, clothes, building material, electronics, household goods, textiles, automobile spare parts, batteries, cosmetics, used machinery and hardware. Some items like scrap iron, small fishes, baby sharks, seeds, spices, coffee and tea are air freighted from Eritrea every 15 days to the UAE and other AGCC countries.

Ibrahim Hamza, Chairman of Eritrean Community Association, said the aim of establishing the association was to bring the Eritreans together on a common platform and to help in solving the problems they face during their stay in the UAE, discuss matters concerning their country and provide them with updated news from back home. "The association has established a welfare fund to support those in need in case of sickness, death and any other emergency circumstances," he said.

Mr Hamza added that the Association's board members are now focusing on the establishment of a social and cultural club to be as permanent premises for the members to meet and organise the social activities. Currently, the community members are meeting at a makeshift premises in the consulate to discuss their problems or celebrate some national festivals or special occasions.

Asmaret Habtegiorgis, one of the community members, who is working in a private company in Dubai, said Dubai is like heaven for her. "I lived three years of my life here, I enjoyed it and I consider this place as my second home." She added that there is an Eritrean Women's Association, aimed at addressing the problems of women and providing them with the necessary assistance.

Eritrean women in the Northern Emirates usually get together for coffee ceremony once in a month and serve the traditional food like Injera and Zigni. They meet to strengthen their social and family ties and maintain their culture and traditions. Marzinab Mahmmoud, a housewife, said that Eritreans are grateful to the UAE as its leaders and people who supported Eritrea during their war with Ethiopia.

Samrawit Habtu, working as a trader in Dubai, said that Dubai is the ideal place for business. She added that most of the community members in the UAE are women. Eritrean women have always been the backbone of the Eritrean society. In the UAE, 30 per cent of their husbands' income is not enough for the household needs. In view of this, the Eritrean women are working at many outlets or as baby-sitters to help their husbands in supporting the family.

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION: Eritrea is situated in the Horn of Africa and lies between 12 and 18 degrees north latitude and 36 and 44 degrees east longitude. with over 1,000 kilometres along the Red Sea coastline, Eritrea is boarded to the north and west by Sudan and South by Djibouti and Ethiopia.

HISTORY: The 16th century was marked by continual attempts by the Turks to extend their influence on the Eritrean coast. The Italian colonisers landed in Massawa in 1885. The Italian colonial era lasted until 1941 when they defeated by British who in turn governed Eritrea until UN decided on Eritrea's future, namely to make it an autonomous unit federated to Ethiopia. Following the annexation to Ethiopia in 1962, the first organised Eritrean resistance was established, followed by an armed struggle that ended with the establishment of an independent country in 1991.

PEOPLE AND LANGUAGE: Eritrea's population comprises nine ethnic groups, most of which speak Semitic or Cushitic languages. The Tigrinya and Tigre make up four-fifths of the population and speak different, but related and somewhat mutually intelligible, Semitic languages. In general, most of the Christians live in the highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional beliefs live in the lowland regions. Tigrinya and Arabic are the most frequently used languages for commercial and official transactions, but English is widely spoken and is the language used for secondary and university education.

RELIGION: The population is divided between Christians and Muslims. The main Christian denomination is coptic and there are also considerable numbers of Catholics and protestants. In the Gash-Baraka, Christianity and Islam co-exist. Some religious places are impressive, religiously significant and important tourism attraction.

CULTURE: The nine Ethnic groups of the country offer a variety of lifestyles and culture. The sea is central to the peoples of the coast, while the law lander's lives are oriented around the camel and the farming communities of the fertile highlands gear people's lives to constant passing of the seasons. Style of dress, costume, decoration and art all reflect these variations.

FOOD: The agricultural land in various parts of Eritrea being fertile, the country produces good crops of cereals, vegetables and fruit, besides a good catch of Red Sea fish. Staple foods are Kitch (a thin unleavened wheat bread), Injera (a spongy pancake made from taff, wheat, maze or sorghum, Zigni (a stew of meat or mutton) Tsebhi (a stew of chicken or fish), both eaten with injera and shiro (a chik pea-based sauce, also for the injera), while national drinks are sewa (a home brew) and mise a honey based fermented drinks).

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