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Artillery Row

From Asmara to Camberwell

On the globalisation of domestic conflicts

You could sense the excitement on social media on December 30th when news emerged that protestors had clashed with the police in Camberwell, London. Left-wingers sat up, imagining a case of police brutality against innocent civil rights activists. Right-wingers sat up, imagining that an intifada had broken out on British streets.

There was general bemusement when it turned out that the stick-wielding activists were Eritreans.


After scratching our heads, most of us lost interest. There was passing amusement when a former Senior Investigating Officer at the Met Police complained on GB News that the public had not been helping the cops. You can be fined for driving a bit dangerously while trying to apprehend a criminal, sir — why would you wade into violence if you’re not involved?

Still, the issue itself seemed too odd and complex to care about. But I was curious. What was going on?

Eritrean activists, it turned out, were protesting outside a London theatre, where they believed a pro-government event was taking place. Many of them bitterly and understandably dislike the brutal dictator Isaias Afwerki. 

Isaias has been in power since leading the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front to victory against the Ethiopians to secure Eritrean independence in 1991. As soon as the taste of freedom entered his people’s lungs, he clamped his hand over their mouths. He has no time for elections and lustily persecutes all dissidents. This week, a grim Washington Post report detailed the appalling conditions in his network of crammed, crumbling, sweltering prisons.

The dislike of anti-government activists has taken on a more urgent edge amid rumours that Eritrea is bound for war with Ethiopia. According to Mohamed Kheir Omer, writing for Foreign Policy, “The current trajectory suggests a probable collision course that could have devastating regional implications.” (Not another war, dear God. We have enough already.)

Conflict within the Eritrean diaspora has had international implications. It has spilled across the world, from Tel Aviv to Toronto. Wherever you find Eritreans, it seems, you will find a hell of a fight. In 2022, supporters and opponents of the government clashed outside the Eritrean embassy in Islington, with several people being arrested.

In Sweden, in August 2023, opponents of the government stormed a pro-government event in Stockholm. Between 100 and 200 people were detained, and 50 were injured, with tents and cars being set on fire. “It is not reasonable for Sweden to be drawn into other countries’ domestic conflicts in this way,” Gunnar Strömmer, Minister for Justice, justifiably complained.

In Tel Aviv, in September 2023, supporters and opponents of the government clashed again, with, according to NBC, “construction lumber [and] pieces of metal and rocks” being used as weapons. More than 100 people, including 30 police officers, were injured. Benjamin Netanyahu, not a man to be messed with, immediately announced that the combatants should be deported. 

The beginning of September also saw Eritreans clashing in Norway and Switzerland. Two weeks afterwards, they were fighting in Germany. More than 200 people were arrested, after an enormous brawl that left 26 German police officers injured. According to Al Jazeera, “officers were attacked with bats, nails, metal rods, bottles and stones.”

Across the Atlantic, in Canada, Eritreans had been brawling in Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary. Violence tended to surround festivals, which some described as celebrations of Eritrean culture and others claimed were pro-government propaganda platforms.  

I’m not going to be the arbiter of that because it doesn’t make an important difference. If you’re being hosted by country X you shouldn’t be causing disorder in the name of country Y. It’s that simple. 

Don’t get me wrong — I rather respect the pluck and dedication of the anti-government lads. They can’t protest Isaias in their homeland or they will end up in jail with a serious chance of being tortured or “disappeared”. The desire to resist apparent state propaganda exercises is more than understandable. If I was in their shoes I’m sure I’d want to kick up a stink as well.

But the plain fact is that it is not the problem of their host countries

But the plain fact is that it is not the problem of their host countries. As Peter Beuth, Minister of the Interior for the German state of Hesse, bluntly, rightly said, “Our police officers are not a buffer stop for conflicts in third countries.” The officers weathering bats and bottles have nothing to do with Isaiah. An enterprising left-wing excuse-maker couldn’t even play the “colonialism” card to any real effect. Ethiopians have more responsibility on that score than Europeans.

Of course, this applies when Muslims and Hindus clash in Leicester as well, or when a small minority of activists think violence in Gaza justifies violence in LondonThere’s a broader issue here. When people arrive in new countries as a result of immigration, they don’t forget the countries they left behind. They bring at least some of their hopes and grievances with them.

I’m no different — I’m an immigrant in Poland yet I continue to write about British politics. Granted, it seems preferable to sticking my ignorant nose into Polish politics — and I have yet to attack a Polish police officer to express my dislike of Rishi Sunak — but at scale there will be atomising consequences to containing all the disagreements of the world in single nations. The least — the very least — we can do is not to riot over them.

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