US News Eritrea: No return to school at the Italian school in Asmara
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The prestigious Italian school in Asmara, capital of Eritrea, was closed in the summer of 2020, following a conflict between the Eritrean government and the Italian authorities. This school was founded for and by Italian settlers at the start of the 20th century, but since independence in 1993 has grown into a respected establishment where students and teachers were predominantly Eritrean. After the authority shutdown of Catholic Church hospitals and clinics last year, this is yet another blow to international cooperation in this closed country in the Horn of Africa.
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This is a beautiful pale green building in downtown Asmara, behind the Roma cinema, two blocks from the seat of government. But this year, there will be no return to school for the students of the Italian school, because the license of this prestigious multilingual establishment was revoked by the Eritrean government during the summer, thus closing the doors, for the the first time since its founding in 1903, of an institution in this exceptional city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017 and nicknamed “the little African Rome”.
The reasons for this abrupt order are not yet clear. The Eritrean government, as always very secret, has not communicated on the subject and the Italian government, for its part, has only made public its efforts at diplomatic dialogue with Asmara.
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What would have broken the fragile bonds of trust, according to a connoisseur of the matter, would be the decision of the school administration to organize distance courses, just before the confinement of last spring. This decision would have been taken without the approval of the representatives of the Eritrean state, in contravention of the memorandum signed in 2012 between Rome and Asmara. And even before any sanitary restriction measures were taken in the country.
Relations between Eritrea and its former colonial power had deteriorated markedly after the arrests of reformists and independent journalists, in the purge of September 2001 and the large-scale human rights violations committed in the country since that date. The memorandum signed in 2012 was precisely the result of an effort to bring the two capitals together.
Still, the facts are there. The 1,200 students of the Istituto Italiano Statale Omnicomprensivo di Asmara, now 90% Eritrean, will have to be educated elsewhere. What saddens Niat, a former student of the school in the 2000s and who now lives abroad. “It broke my heart,” she says. Because I had the feeling that no one had fought for the students. They have been abandoned. "
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" We discover the world all together "
By evoking the teaching provided in this institution, Niat evokes his Eritrean teachers devoted to their pupils, their teacher in Italian and in Tigrinya, the national language. And also the curiosity of his friends enrolled in public schools in the capital, where discipline is more severe and teaching often of lower quality. “Personally, I wouldn't be the person I am without this school,” she explains. We discover the world together, we experience life together. Students and teachers are like members of the same family. "
This halt comes after the closure of authority, at the start of the school year in September 2019, schools of the Catholic Church. Closures that followed similar measures taken in previous years against the establishments of the Orthodox Church. And in October 2017, it was a private Muslim school in Asmara that had been violently closed by the authorities, causing an unprecedented popular demonstration in the capital. Several officials had spent months in prison and the famous founder of the school had died in custody.
This time, the conflict over the Italian school marks a moment when Eritrea more openly expresses its bad humor towards European countries, which it accuses of not keeping the promises of political support made at the long-awaited conclusion of peace with Ethiopia in 2018.
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