Canadian miner Nevsun defends operations in Eritrea as locals flee to Europe – by Ian Bickis (Canadian Press/Canadian Business Magazine – September 4, 2015)

CALGARY – Canadian mining company Nevsun Resources is defending its operations in Eritrea following a damning report by the United Nations that accused the miner of using forced labour in the North African country.

Nevsun released an updated independent human rights report this week that found no evidence of forced labour or human rights violations at its 60-per-cent-owned Bisha mine in Eritrea, where thousands of people are fleeing on perilous treks to Europe.

The report by LKL International Consulting is in contrast to June’s UN report, which said Nevsun used forced labour at the Bisha mine after the company was required to hire government-owned contractors that included Segen Construction.

The UN commissioners spoke with former Segen workers who said they were forced to work at the mine while in the compulsory national service. “Even though Segen tried to conceal their status, the majority of Segen’s ‘workers’ were in fact conscripts performing their national service,” wrote the commissioners.

The UN report, which examined the overall human rights situation in Eritrea, found that “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the government. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.”

The grim conditions in Eritrea have spurred many to flee for Europe, with the International Organization for Migration saying more than 25,000 Eritreans have crossed the Mediterranean into Italy this year.

That represents by far the most from any single country on the route, which the IOM says is the deadliest entrance to Europe, with 2,267 deaths as of Aug. 25.

Todd Romaine, vice-president of corporate social responsibility at Nevsun, said in an email that the company’s operations help Eritrea in its ongoing development. He added that Nevsun is optimistic that well-paying jobs like those in the mining sector can help stem migration.

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