By Lambros Kyrikakakos,
FIRST, I want to reiterate that the time you give us to reply to your questions, is always diametrically opposite and inconsistent with the gravity of accusations against us. This shows that there is no genuine intention on your part to approach our issues in a balanced and honest manner. You made no real effort to include the views of CECCO and our local organization, The Eritrean Community in Winnipeg Inc.
We are the main representatives and importers of Eritrean Culture in Manitoba (The Eritrean Community in Winnipeg Inc. , with ACOMI, has run the African pavilion, the Folkorama and our festivals for the past 25 years). We are the biggest Eritrean Community in Manitoba and the only one that promotes and highlights our culture, through our cultural educational programs, which you can see on our website at www.eritreancommunity.ca
You have ignored this fact and shown a propensity for over representing the voices of a marginal few. I strongly believe that your reporting is not representative, balanced, or rigorous enough to scratch the surface of the issues that matter to the community-at-large. By privileging the voice of a few self-declared “human rights” activists I can only conclude that you do not have a serious interest in canvassing our community and accurately reporting on our festival from the point of view of the ordinary Canadian-Eritrean.
The tradition of the Canadian-Eritrean Festivals goes back 25 years and it is the celebration of Eritrean history and culture. It is a time where we celebrate our music, our traditional dances, food, art and most importantly, a time where we connect with our community members from all over Manitoba and neighboring provinces and our friends from the wider Winnipeg Community. One of the highlights of the festivals is the musical performers that come from Eritrea. These musicians are famous in Eritrea and they are extremely popular with Canadian-Eritreans. The articles you write grossly mischaracterize this fact by giving them false labels like “military bands”.
We inquired into the possibility of bringing legendary musicians from Eritrea and we were informed that there was no application submitted to bring musicians from Eritrea this year. This is in part because there was a focus on local talent and secondly, due to administrative changes the Government of Canada has enacted to visitor visa applications. Since October of 2013, Eritreans along with citizens of 29 other countries must submit their biometrics at in-person visa application centers within 30 days of when they submit an application for a visitor visa. Canada did not open a VAC in Eritrea and makes the process for getting the visas impractical for financial reasons because the closest VAC office is in Nairobi–approximately 1863 km away. Canada’s visa office in Nairobi covers 18 countries, including Eritrea. The Nairobi office is widely known to be bogged down by service delays and long processing times. The new biometric requirements make it challenging to bring musicians from Eritrea into Canada and also affects the ability of our family members from visiting us from Eritrea.
We regret the impact that these regulatory changes have had on Eritrean musicians and the ability to bring arts and culture representatives from Eritrea. Despite this, it has had no impact on the attendance at our cultural festivals. The Eritrean festival in Toronto, for example, experienced a record level of participation. All of which, you can see online. Our Festival will continues to be a celebration of our proud history.
The Winnipeg Free press ran a story in April 2014 about lobbying efforts by Mr. Matas and Mr. Awshek who argued that the band was inadmissible for human rights abuses. On one hand, the sensationalist arguments you’re publishing do well for political activists like Mr. Awshek , who work to make political capital from the Canadian-Eritrean communities. On the other hand, it is reinforces the belief among Canadian-Eritreans that the Canadian media does not understand the realities of our communities. I would like to request that you consider running a story noting the concerns that we have about the negative perception of our community. Besides the fact that journalists never actually attend our festivals before reporting on them, individuals we speak to at our seminars are hurt over the hyperbolic characterization of our festivals as military fundraisers or some kind of illegitimate gathering of terrorist sympathizers and thus creating an unnecessary marginalization and discrimination. Many Canadian-Eritreans, who sit on varying ends of the political issues, including refugees, attend our festivals. Consider for example that in June 2013, on the occasion of another band visit in Winnipeg, your paper characterized a mostly female musical group (Abeba Haile and Bekita Ali who one of the famous Eritrean female artists) as alleged rapists in Eritrea, completely misinforming your readers. Canadian-Eritrean are sensitive to the lack of balance in the articles you publish. It would better serve the overall discussion about Eritrea if you provided greater context and fairness in your reporting.Your articles would have better served your readers and Winnipeg public serve the overall discussion about Eritrea if you did not avoid speaking about important geopolitical factors that unfairly affect Manitobans of Eritrean descent and unfairly discriminate us.
Our Festivals will continue to be a celebration of a proud history of the Eritrean-Canadian Communities, their culture and history. Our legendary musicians continue to hold an important place in the hearts of our members and our communities.They have remained an intact symbol of Eritrean music and Arts, genuine representatives of our Eritrean history. This unique experience will be always proudly shared with our Canadian and Manitoban sisters and brothers.
On Behalf of Eritrean Community in Winnipeg Inc.
The Coalition of Eritrean Canadian Communities and Organizations (CECCO)