(Above) Over 40 Eritreans gathered in the North West Migrants Forum to mark the 32nd anniversary of their country’s independence.
MEMBERS of Northern Ireland’s Eritrean community gathered in Derry at the weekend to celebrate their country’s 32nd Independence Day anniversary.
It was the first time the occasion has been marked in the city. Traditionally events are held in Belfast where the Eritrean population numbers in its thousands.
Derry still only has a very small community from the east African country. But on Saturday 42 men and women made their way to the North West Migrants Forum’s headquarters on Fountain Street.
(Above) Some of those who gathered in the Fountain Street Centre on Saturday afternoon.
The Eritrean War of Independence ended in May 1991 with victory over Ethiopia, regarded at the time as one of Africa’s strongest armies.
The triumph propelled rebel leader Isaias Afwerki to power and since then the country has had no other president. Nor has it held any national elections.
Initially Afwerki was described by US President Bill Clinton as a “renaissance leader”. But in the years since he has been described as an “unhinged dictator” by Washington’s envoy to the country.
Afwerki’s brutal years of rule have sparked a mass exodus with many thousands of Eritreans pouring into Europe in the hope of securing international protection.
Prior to Saturday’s celebrations those gathered in Derry offered up prayers for those who gave their life in pursuit of independence. They then discussed the current political state of their home nation with a range of opinions being put forward.
That was followed by the serving of a variety of Eritrean dishes and desserts.
(Above) A few of the deliciously spicy dishes that were served up.
One of the organizers, Idris Mahmud Mohammed, said it was a poignant but enjoyable day for everyone who attended.
“Here in Derry we only have a very small number of Eritreans. In other parts of Northern Ireland it is much more, maybe two or three thousand. So normally they celebrate in Belfast
but this year they wanted to bring it here to the city.
“Before we started we remembered our dead brothers who sacrificed their lives to set us free. After that everyone gave their opinion on what is happening back home.”
(Above) North West Migrants Forum volunteer and Eritrean native Idris Mahmud Mohammed with a cake to mark 32 years since his country gained its independence from Ethiopia.
A key component of the discussions was the need for a more cohesive approach in Derry. In Belfast the Eritrean community is well established and regularly holds events and meetings.
“We talked about wanting to have a community here in Derry, a legal entity either through the embassy or the Northern Ireland government,” said Idris.
“We agreed that such an organisation would be good in terms of us helping and looking out for each other.
“With all that done we started enjoying our traditional Eritrean dishes.
“It was a nice day and we have to send a big thank you to the North West Migrants Forum for the hall and for allowing us to celebrate.”
10 Fountain Street, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, BT48 6QX.