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A study, commissioned  by the Dutch government, confirms the use of intimidation and societal pressure by the Eritrean authorities on their diaspora living in the Netherlands  to extract additional taxes.

The report concludes that:

The means of collection that are described can add to the fact that it is very difficult for Eritreans in the Netherlands to detach themselves from the country that many of them have fled. The Cabinet has labelled this as unacceptable before and this remains unchanged.

The report – commissioned by the Dutch government – finds that the 2% tax is collected by the Eritrean authorities through its consular and other officials.

“According to the report Eritrean embassies are responsible for the collection of the diaspora tax and they fall under the control of the governing party, the PFDJ. The local head of the PFDJ is the person who is really in charge in the embassies; this person is usually not an Eritrean diplomat.”

The Dutch authorities call on members of the Eritrean diaspora to report any intimidation to the police and promises decisive action:

When firm evidence emerges of intimidation and unlawful coercion in relation to the collection of the Eritrean diaspora tax by the embassy in The Hague, diplomatic measures will not be ruled out.

Martin


Unofficial translation of the letter from the Dutch ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Eritrean diaspora tax in Europe report

 To: Chair of the second chamber of the Dutch Parliament

Date: 18 September 2017

Subject: Eritrean diaspora tax in Europe

Dear Chair,

In a letter to your Chamber on 15 December 2016 (“Eritrea and the influence of Eritrea in the Netherlands”, kst 22831-125), the Cabinet stated that it would commission a study into the diaspora tax in several European countries. This study was requested by your Chamber as per the motion 119 of Parliament member Karabulut (Kst 22 813-119). The research has now been completed and the Cabinet hereby presents the research report, titled “The 2% Tax for Eritreans in the diaspora”.[1]

The DSP-research, background and methodology

In 2016, several options were explored for investigating “the nature and extent of the diaspora taxation in the European context”, as was requested in the motion. Contact with the European External Action Service (EEAS) in Brussels and with the relevant EU member states showed that there was no political support, or a sense of priority, for a common European study into this subject from other member states.

Following this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned its own study in seven countries. This study was executed by the DSP-groep in Amsterdam in cooperation with European External Policy Advisors (EEPA) in Brussels and the Tilburg University. The DSP-groep has previously produced a qualitative study into the integration of Eritreans and issues in the Eritrean community in the Netherlands for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. The diaspora tax was covered in this study, among other issues.[2] The current study builds on this previous work. The group questioned 23 Eritreans in the Netherlands as well as Eritreans in Italy (15), Norway (14), Belgium (11), Germany (9), Sweden (8) and the United Kingdom (7) using interviews and questionnaires. All of these countries have been formally notified and have been given the opportunity to contribute to this study. With the exception of Belgium, all countries have a relatively large Eritrean diaspora. In addition, 34 international experts were consulted and an extensive literature study on diaspora tax was undertaken.

To the best of our knowledge this study is the first targeted effort to map this tax to date. The Cabinet therefore wants to thank the authors for the work that was done. Naturally the scope and methodology of the study were constrained by finances and the time available; the diversity of the contexts in the studied countries and the secrecy of the Eritrean diaspora. A substantially larger number of Eritreans would have to be interviewed in order to come to a truly accurate representation of the Eritrean community. Moreover, individual cases cannot usually be used to produce an objectively verifiable result, even if executed with utmost care. The findings of this study should be viewed in light of these circumstances.

The Eritrean embassies in the five countries studied have been approached by the DSP-groep, but have not responded.[3] In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has presented a questionnaire about the diaspora tax to the Eritrean embassy. In response, the Eritrean government stated that Eritrea has provided detailed information on the tax many times over the years and that it considers these new questions a provocation that is, according to Eritrea, typical of the hostility and lack of respect for Eritrea that the Dutch parliament and the Dutch government displays.

The findings of the DSP-report

The report covers the following aspects of the diaspora tax:

  1. The historical context and the legal basis of the tax.

The report explains that the tax was invented by foreign offices of the EPLF in the eighties.[4] Back then, the EPFL fought for independence of Eritrea and helped Eritreans in the diaspora to send money home. Gradually, the custom of sending contributions to the armed struggle via EPLF-offices came into existence within the diaspora. After independence, such contributions were formalized by means of two proclamations from 1991 and 1995. The DSP-groep argues that there is no clear legal basis for levying the diaspora tax, since the country has no valid constitution and lacks a legitimate legislature. The same applies to the sanctions for not paying the tax. The DSP-report states that the consequences of not paying the tax (see point 3) can be regarded as forms of coercion. This coercion is aimed at Eritreans in the Netherlands and Europe, and family members in Eritrea. The instruments that the Eritrean government allegedly uses are sorted into four categories by the researchers: 1. emotional pressure, 2. Intimidation and fear, 3. punishment and 4. extortion (related to fraud).

  1. The context of international law

The report mentions reports of the ‘Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group’ (SEMG) and Resolutions of the UN Security Council, the African Union, the EU and the advice of the Dutch government’s advisor on international public law (Extern Volkenrechtelijke Adviseur).[5] In all of these reports and statements, it is explicitly stated that the levying of a diaspora tax is allowed in principle under international law, but that levying of the tax can only take place without coercion or intimidation.

  1. The organisation of the tax collection

In chapter 5, the DSP report elaborates on the bodies involved with the collection of the tax, including Eritrean embassies and consulates. The main findings concern the role of the political party – the PDFJ – and concludes that the decisions of who is taxable, and what part of an individual’s income is taxable, are arbitrary (and sometimes negotiable). According to the report Eritrean embassies are responsible for the collection of the diaspora tax and they fall under the control of the governing party, the PFDJ. The local head of the PFDJ is the person who is really in charge in the embassies; this person is usually not an Eritrean diplomat.

Next, the manner of the diaspora tax collection is covered in the report, along with the question of whether the tax is voluntary or mandatory. The DSP report states that payment of the taxes is enforced through the refusal of services, especially consular services.[6] The interviewees mention other instruments, such as taking away privileges, social pressure and exclusion. In addition, the DSP report notes vagueness around the procedures, the amounts and especially the consequences of paying or not paying of the diaspora tax.

  1. Differences between the countries that were studied

When comparing the taxation in the various European countries, the DSP-groep concludes that several factors are of influence to the modus operandi, such as: the presence of an Eritrean embassy, the size and strength of the diaspora and the interest for the diaspora tax shown by the government and politicians of the host country.

  1. Perception of the Eritrean tax payers and conclusion

Finally, the authors describe how the Eritreans interviewed experience the diaspora tax and the ways in which they are coerced to pay. The authors summarise that the levying of the tax is accompanied by forms of coercion that give the Eritrean authorities a strong hold on the Eritrean diaspora in the countries that were studied.

The UN assessment of the diaspora tax

Since 2011 the ‘Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group’ (SEMG) invoked by the UN has been researching the collection of the diaspora tax by Eritrea and the possible use of the tax revenue for purposes that are sanctioned (for example the purchase of weapons). In these annual reports the SEMG does not comment on the legal basis, but refers to the proclamations that form the basis for the collection of the diaspora tax according to the Eritrean government.[7]
In resolution 2023 (2011), the UN Security Council calls on Eritrea to stop the collection of the diaspora tax. This resolution also dictates UN member states to hold accountable all persons – on their territory – who are guilty of the use of coercion and other illegal means of collecting this tax. The SEMG concludes that taxation by the Eritrean government is increasingly taking place under the radar and is no longer collected ‘door-to-door’ as a consequence of the resolution.[8] According to the SEMG, the focus has shifted to collection on a ‘voluntary’ basis through the organisation of cultural events where the tax is collected and the use of intermediaries that travel to Eritrea with cash. The SEMG also sees the threat of denying consular services as an instrument to force the diaspora to pay the tax.[9] As early as 2013, the SEMG advised the UN member states to call a halt to the collection of the tax via their national police authorities.[10] The main obstacle for tackling tax collection that is accompanied by coercion, fraud and extortion is the limited amount of police reports filed by Eritreans, due to the fear of possible consequences for themselves or family members in Eritrea.[11]

Societal consequences of the Eritrean diaspora tax in the Netherlands

The means of collection that are described can add to the fact that it is very difficult for Eritreans in the Netherlands to detach themselves from the country that many of them have fled. The Cabinet has labelled this as unacceptable before and this remains unchanged.
The means of collection of the diaspora tax that are described in the report have negative effects on the integration of Eritreans in the Netherlands. Those that do not pay the tax (on time) risk social exclusion and isolation, a means through which Eritreans feel pressurised to comply with the ‘obligations’ imposed on them. The DSP-groep report states that payment of the tax can sometimes be a requirement for participation in social events and is therefore accepted by a large number of Eritreans in order to avoid a possible confrontation with the Eritrean government and avoids crossing an imaginary ‘red line’. The fear that family members in Eritrea will be victimised if there is non-payment can also play a role.
The already difficult participation of Eritreans in Dutch society is jeopardised by a combination of the diaspora tax, high dependency on social security payments (50% in 2014) and possible other contributions.[12] When these people are pressured to give up part of their – in many cases already limited – financial means, they can sink below the minimum level of subsistence. This limits their ability to integrate into and participate in Dutch society. This is especially true for those that have trouble accessing municipal arrangements for participation and integration, as is the case for many Eritreans who have recently arrived in the Netherlands.

Response of the Cabinet

The Eritrean diaspora forms a heterogeneous group that can be divided, inter alia, into three different subgroups, depending on when they migrated to Europe. The first wave occurred from 1980-1998. This group fled during the independence war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The people were proponents of Eritrean independence and most of these refugees were – or still are – members of the ELF, and later the EPLF, which is currently the PFDJ (the ruling party). From this wave came a generation of youths who were born and raised in Europe. A second wave occurred from 1998-2010. They fled for a variety of reasons during and after the border conflicts with Ethiopia. The third and current wave (from 2010) has fled the present regime; the regime that is run by the party supported by (originally) the first wave. This means that a gap exists within the Eritrean diaspora between the recent arrivals and Eritreans that have arrived in the Netherlands at an earlier stage. Furthermore, diverse groups of Eritreans have different assessments of their government’s activities, such as the collection of diaspora tax. Cultural events that are organised are also experienced completely differently by the various segments within the Eritrean diaspora.

The collection of Eritrean diaspora tax has been a concern of the Cabinet for some time. Due to the limitations of this study, the secrecy of the Eritrean communities in Europe and the diffuse and changing approaches to collecting the tax, we cannot make conclusive statements about the situation in all countries that were studied. However, the DSP report does confirm the earlier analysis that the collection of diaspora tax in the Netherlands takes place in a non-transparent, and therefore undesirable, manner.
Besides this, the DSP-groep report confirms that the means of collecting the diaspora tax are complex, due to the many forms this takes, depending on the circumstances in a country. In the absence of an embassy (or office) the collection can take place via an ‘information office’ as was the case in Norway. When Canada took measures to tackle the staff capacity of the embassy, the tax collection was continued in secrecy, between intermediaries that travelled between Eritrea and Canada. The report does not clearly indicate why the political and media attention varies so greatly between the counties that were studied.

Thus, although there is no unambiguous picture, the Cabinet deems it necessary to keep challenging the ways in which the diaspora tax is collected. An overview is given below of the measures taken so far and the intended next steps.

Measures taken

  • On the 16 October 2016 it was decided by Ministerial Decree that the collection of the diaspora tax by Eritrea is prohibited when this is accompanied by fraud, coercion, extortion and other criminal offenses (nr. MinBuza-2016.707235; Staatscourant 2016, nr. 58321). Through this measure, the Public Prosecutor obtained the legal framework necessary to prosecute people that are involved in such means of collection.
  • Through active engagement, the Netherlands has succeeded in responding to two relevant paragraphs in the Eritrea-resolution that was adopted by consensus at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council last June 23rd: one paragraph calls upon the Eritrean government to stop the use of threats, extortion and other illegal means when collecting the diaspora tax and the other paragraph calls upon Eritrea to stop using so-called “regret forms”[13].
  • The Eritrean authorities have again – firmly – been addressed about the (means of) collection of the Eritrean diaspora tax in the Netherlands. These conversations took place, among others, in August 2016 and in April 2017 with Minister Koenders (Foreign Affairs), and additionally regularly at senior official levels, most recently at the end of July 2017. At the last conversation, a questionnaire about the current DSP study was handed over; no reply has been received to this.

Alongside the measures described above, the Cabinet has taken measures concerning the issues at play in the Eritrean community in the Netherlands in a broader context.

  • Several trajectories have been initiated to improve the integration and participation of Eritreans in the Netherlands. For example, work has been done to produce guidance; an informative brochure that covers the specific problems within the Eritrean community and that gives municipalities, societal and welfare organisations a framework for action. This guidance is available online from August 2017 at https://www.kis.nl/sites/default/files/bestanden/publicaties/handreiking-ondersteuning-eritrese-nieuwkomers-bij-integratie.pdf
  • In addition, the Expertise-unit Social Stability (ESS) of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment will expand its network in the Eritrean community to have a better overview of potential societal tensions. In the Autumn of 2017, ESS is organising two regional meetings in order to seek connections between various groups within the Eritrean community and to sustainably improve the cooperation with municipalities.

Planned measures

  1. The Cabinet will hand over the DSP research report to the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) of the UN Security Council, to the Commission of the African Union, to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and to the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Eritrea.
  2. The Cabinet will share the DSP report with EU member states and will introduce the issue of the diaspora tax as a part of the European-Eritrean relations that are based on a strategy of pressure and dialogue.
  3. The Cabinet will continue putting pressure on the Eritrean embassy in Brussels (co-accredited in the Netherlands) and will keep on making clear its dissatisfaction about the lack of available information, and ask for more openness about the manner of collecting the diaspora tax, in the Netherlands. When firm evidence emerges of intimidation and unlawful coercion in relation to the collection of the Eritrean diaspora tax by the embassy in The Hague, diplomatic measures will not be ruled out.
  4. The Cabinet will proactively enter a dialogue with Eritrea with regard to this issue. The Cabinet will continue to discourage the participation of high-level Eritrean authorities at ‘cultural’ or other diaspora events in the Netherlands.
  5. The earlier DSP report about the influence of Eritrea in the Netherlands (covered in the parliamentary letter integral handling of Eritrea and the influence of Eritrea in the Netherlands, 2016) recommended a central point of contact for the Eritrean community or social workers to report incidents and matters relating to the Eritrean community. The Ministries of Social Affairs and Employment and Security and Justice do not believe that such a point of contract is a meaningful or effective addition to existing options. Instead of a new initiative, there is a need to take steps to improve the willingness of Eritreans to file police reports and to increase the trust of the Eritrean community in the Dutch government. From now on, both the guidance and the activities of the ministry of Social Affairs and Employment can aim more concretely at increasing the awareness of existing means of filing a police report. It is already being made clear to the community that reporting any threats and intimidation to the police is required for action to be taken.

Measures in the justice department

The levying of diaspora tax by Eritrea and the collection of it in the Netherlands are not unlawful in principle. It only becomes illegal when the collection happens in combination with coercion or threats. The Dutch legal system offers sufficient means of prosecution in such cases. Through the Ministerial Decree mentioned earlier (Staatscourant 2016, nr. 58321) it is formally forbidden to collect diaspora tax through extortion, threat, deception or by use of other unlawful means, or in case the tax revenue is destined for any goals that are in contravention of the weapons embargo of Resolution 1907 (2009) by the Security Council of the United Nations and the Decision 2010/127/GBVB of the Council of the European Union of March 2010.

As mentioned in the letter of 15 December 2016, the police and the Public Prosecutor are generally already alert to the exertion of pressure, coercion or extortion, because these are illegal practices. Leads are required in order to prosecute individuals that are guilty of collecting the diaspora tax through unlawful coercion and intimidation. This is why it is of the utmost importance that the members of the Eritrean community file a police report when they experience coercion or threats, so that the Public Prosecutor and the police can follow up on this. The importance of early signalling and stimulation of the willingness to report among Eritreans will be highlighted again in the earlier mentioned guidance to municipalities, societal and welfare organisations.

Beside this, an action framework has been developed in order to further inform and alert police employees to the problems in the Eritrean community. This action framework has since led to a number of reports of facts related to the collection of diaspora tax. The follow-up of the reports depends, among other things, on the prospect of conviction in these cases. If the Public Prosecutor receives signals of these or other possible illegal activities, it will investigate leads for further criminal investigations and could proceed to convictions.

In conclusion:

In the letter 22831-128/2017D21219 of 10 July 2017 of the registry of the Second Chamber to the Minister of Foreign affairs, the minister is requested to inform the Chamber before Prince’s Day (3rd Tuesday of September each year) about the execution of the motion Azmani/Sjoerdsma (22831, nr. 109).  The Chamber has been informed about this motion in the Eritrea-letter of the Cabinet of 15 December 2016 (kst 22831-125).

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders

Minister of Security and Justice, Stef Blok

Minister of Social Affairs and Employment, L.F. Asscher

Attachments:

1) “The 2% Tax for Eritreans in the diaspora – Facts, figures and experiences in seven European countries”, DSP-groep Amsterdam, Tilburg School of Humanities, Department of Culture Studies.

2) “The 2% Tax for Eritreans in the diaspora” – Appendices

[1] “Diaspora tax” and “2% tax” refer to the “Recovery and Rehabilitation Tax” that Eritrea imposes and collects from Eritreans in the diaspora.

[2] The DSP-groep wrote the report “Nothing is what it seems”, which was discussed in the Eritrea-letter of the Cabinet sent on 15 December 2016 (Kst 22831-125) and which was added as an attachment tot his letter.

[3] Note: there is no Eritrean embassy in Norway.

[4] The EPLF is the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, which after independence transformed itself to the ruling single-party government party PFDJ, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice.

[5] This advice was included as an attachment to the Eritrea-letter of the Cabinet on 15 Dec. 2016 (ks22831-125)

[6] Page 86, DSP report. See also: SEMG 2015, paragraph 81.

[7] See for example SEMG 2015, paragraph 89.

[8] SEMG 2012, paragraph 93 and SEMG 2014, paragraph 107

[9] SEMG 2012, paragraphs 95,96, 97.

[10] SEMG 2013, paragraph 133

[11] SEMG 2015, paragraph 85.

[12] These other contributions are described in the earlier DSP report “nothing is what it seems”; it concerns ‘voluntary’ contributions at parties and festivals, collections by the Church, collections for specific projects in Eritrea (that may turn out not to exist), etc.

[13] By signing these forms, Eritreans accept the responsibility for their illegal exit and for any other crime, if committed, before they left the country illegally, in order to restore their rights to consular services. State Secretary Dijkhoff from the ministry of Security and Justice labelled this practice reprehensible earlier this year, in answer to the parliamentary questions of parliament member Gesthuizen (SP) (ah-tk-20162017-1051).

Click here to read the full report
Click here to read an unofficial English translation of the accompanying letter by the Dutch government
Click here to view the report and the original letter on the website of the Dutch government
Click here to read more on the EEPA website

Source=https://martinplaut.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/dutch-government-promises-to-act-on-eritrean-intimidation-of-diaspora/

BBC launches services for Ethiopia and Eritrea

Monday, 18 September 2017 14:22 Written by

BBC journalists looking at the new websiteImage caption The new sites have already generated a lot of interest

The BBC World Service has launched three websites for Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea as part of its biggest expansion since the 1940s.

The sites would be a "source of truth" in a region with limited independent media, said BBC editor Will Ross.

The Amharic, Afaan Oromo and Tigrinya sites' launch will be followed in a few months by the launch of radio programmes in the three languages.

The UK government announced a funding boost for the World Service in 2015.

It paved the way for the expansion drive in Africa and Asia.

"We know that there is a great deal of hunger for audiences in Ethiopia and Eritrea to access a broad range of high quality content in Amharic, Afaan Oromo and Tigrinya," said Ross, head of the new services. 

Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year war.

Tensions with Ethiopia remain high across a closed and heavily fortified border.

An estimated 80,000 people died during a 1998-2000 border war between the two states.

Ross said he believed that the potential audience in the two countries - which have a combined population of more than 100 million - was huge, and social media would play a key role in helping to target a younger audience.

"There is also a significant diaspora, which retains strong links with 'home'. The political situation in both countries has triggered the development of a large vocal, activist presence in the diaspora," he said.

"The current news choice for many in Ethiopia is either a pro-government platform at home or a vehemently anti-government offer from the diaspora."

The new Facebook pages in the three languages have already generated a lot of interest. The Afaan Oromo site had more than 30,000 likes after just three days.

However, internet penetration is currently very low in both states, and the planned launch of radio programmes would be a vital part of the BBC's "rich mix of content" for Ethiopians and Eritreans, Ross said.

"A major aim of the output will be to help Ethiopians and Eritreans better understand their place in the world. The new language services will also provide the BBC's global audience with a far better perspective and understanding of the Horn of Africa," he added.

Map

African languages:

  • Afaan Oromo: Language of Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group
  • Amharic: Ethiopia's official language
  • Tigrinya: The main working language of Eritrea, along with Arabic. Also spoken in Ethiopia
  • Igbo: Spoken in south-eastern Nigeria, and also in Equatorial Guinea
  • Yoruba: Spoken in south-western Nigeria and some other parts of West Africa, especially Benin and Togo
  • Pidgin: A creole version of English widely spoken in southern Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea

Pidgin - West African lingua franca

Asian languages:

  • Gujarati: Native to the Indian state of Gujarat but found around the Indian subcontinent and the world
  • Marathi: From the Indian state of Maharashtra, including India's commercial capital Mumbai
  • Telugu: Huge numbers of speakers, like many Indian languages, primarily in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana
  • Punjabi: One of the world's most populous languages, it is widely-spoken in Pakistan and parts of India
  • Korean: Spoken in North and South though the dialects have diverged. Pop culture slang and foreign loan words are notably more common in the South

Source=http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-41270170?SThisFB

 

Over 100 Eritreans deported by Sudan, others jailed: U.N. deeply concerned

The United Nations refugee outfit (UNHCR) has expressed deep worry over recent deportations by Sudan of Eritrean nationals – who are either in its territory or on transit to Libya.

Media reports indicate that over 100 Eritreans have been deported in the last few weeks – some after serving jail terms and others immediately after court rulings.

The UNHCR’s point of concern according to a statement issued by a top official in Sudan was that the rights of these refugees were being violated under international laws.

“The forcible return of refugees to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law.

“They were deported on charges of illegal entry into Sudan, which is not supported under international refugee law… [These charges] are waived in the case of refugees,” deputy representative for Sudan Elizabeth Tan said.

The offence for which a number of them were jailed was for ‘illegally infiltrating Sudanese territory.’ The website of privately owned channel, Radio Dabanga said a total of 104 Eritreans were affected by the deportations of which there were 30 children involved.

Tensions have been high on border areas between the two neighbours. A recent United Kingdom travel advice asked Brits to avoid travel to areas on the borders with specific mention of Eritrean towns like Tesseney and Barentu all located in the country’s south-west

Source=http://www.africanews.com/2017/09/14/sudan-s-mass-deportation-of-eritreans-un-deeply-concerned/

 Eritrea journalists
Seyoum Tsehaye, who was imprisoned during a government crackdown in 2001. Photograph: Pen Eritrea

Abraham T Zere

Abraham T Zere is a journalist in exile and the executive director and co-founder of PEN Eritrea
Wednesday 19 August 2015 07.00 BST
Last modified on Wednesday 31 May 2017 17.18 BST

Eritrea has become one of the world’s worst offenders for human rights abuses over the last decade, imprisoning the third highest number journalists – after China and Iran.

Those writers who remain face stringent censorship in a media climate characterised by the monotonous recycling of official information put out by a paranoid government.

In response to these conditions, Eritrean journalists in exile set up PEN Eritrea, an organisation to connect this inaccessible country and the outside world, and to campaign on behalf of the country’s imprisoned journalists, many of whom have been jailed for more than a decade without contact with their families.

President of the organisation, Ghirmai Negash, describes it as: “a small contribution in the long road towards liberty and democracy.”

Co-founder Dessale Berekhet said: “We aim to empower, connect and if possible to serve as an umbrella for the ‘destitute’ writers and journalists of the country wherever they are scattered.”

But repression has not always been the norm for the country’s writers. In 1996, soon after independence from Ethiopia was finally won after a 30-year war,the number of independent newspapers boomed, many founded by students or graduates of the University of Asmara and catering for a wide range of views.

But as the political climate began to change, so too did the state’s attitude towards its critics. In a climate of mounting repression led by president Isaias Afwerki, 15 members of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice wrote an open letter denouncing Afwerki’s iron grip on power, calling his actions “illegal and unconstitutional”.

For this they were quickly jailed. Eleven of the men, who have become known as the G-15, remain incarcerated, incommunicado, without trial. On the same day, 18 September 2001, Afwerki cracked down on all dissent, banning private newspapers.

Eleven journalists were taken into custody that day, and remain in undisclosed locations. It is widely believed that at least four (and perhaps as many as nine) of the 11 journalists have since died, including Medhanie Haile and Fessahaye “Joshua” Yohannes, profiled below.

Fourteen years later the country remains in a state of anxiety: current estimates suggest there are at least 23 journalists in prison without due process. Only state owned media remains, and communication with outside world has become nearly impossible. Now, citizens must go to public spaces to share information amongst themselves, while young people are stuck watching European football, or dubbed Arabic-Turkish soap operas on TV.

Has Eritrea become Africa’s North Korea? Worse, perhaps: journalists routinely face arrest, intimidation, harassment and long-term detention without trial, their families unsure if they are still alive.


The following six writers have been held in undisclosed locations since September 2001, without trial.

Amanuel Asrat
Zemen editor-in-chief and award-winning poet

Amanuel Asrat

Amanuel Asrat, former editor-in-chief of the newspaper Zemen. Photograph: PEN Eritrea

Amanuel Asrat was editor-in-chief of the newspaper ዘመን (Zemen, meaning The Times), and the man largely credited for the Eritrean poetry resurgence of the early 2000s.

The paper was known amongst readers for its special interest in arts and literature, and Asrat – himself a leading poet as well as a songwriter – was the most popular art critic of his time.

But his role was not limited to critique: he played a leading role in creating writers’ clubs across the country. With two friends he set up a grassroots literary club called ቍርሲ ቀዳም ኣብ ጠዓሞት (Saturday’s Supper) in 2001. Soon after, similar clubs were established in all major Eritrean towns.

Eventually, Zemen became the leading literary newspaper in the country, run by a circle of critics who helped shape the cultural landscape of the country.

Above all, Asrat was a talented poet. In his writing, he explored subjects ranging from the daily life of the underprivileged, to war and peace. Unlike much popular Eritrean wartime poetry, he portrayed the ugly side of conflict. His award-winning poem ኣበሳ ኲናት (The Scourge of War) alluded to the then ongoing border dispute with neighbouring Ethiopia, describing the blood shed by two brothers:

"Where two brothers pass each other
Where two brothers meet each other
Where two brothers conjoin
In the piazza of life and death
In the gulf of calamity and cultivation
In the valley of fear and peace
Something resounded.

The ugliness of the thing of war
When its spring comes
When its ravaging echoes knock at your door
It is then that the scourge of war brews doom

But…

You serve it willy-nilly
Unwillingly you keep it company
Still, for it to mute how hard you pray!

Asrat was arrested at his home on the morning of 23 September 2001, when the editors of all the country’s private newspapers were rounded up. Prior to his arrest, he was preparing to go to South Africa to continue his higher education.

From the limited information available, Asrat is still detained in the maximum security prison, Eiraeiro, north of Asmara.

(Translation by Tedros Abraham)

Seyoum Tsehaye
Freelance journalist and former TV director

Seyoum Tsehaye

Seyoum Tsehaye. Photograph: PEN Eritrea


A former freedom fighter, the first director of the state-owned national TV channel, Eri-TV and a freelance photographer and journalist, Seyoum Tsehaye was arrested in his home after repeatedly publishing critical articles in the independent newspaper, Setit.

Tsehaye, still reportedly alive in Eiraeiro prison camp according to the latest limited information, was 49 at the time of his arrest.

After fighting as a foot soldier in the armed struggle, he was called back by the front to establish a department of photography for the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front party, archiving images and footage of the conflict that are still used by national TV today.

Former editor-in-chief of Setit, Aaron Berhane, describes him as “someone who always tried to have impact on Eritrean daily life”.

As many dreams for the country started to dissolve after independence, Tsehaye started to write regularly for Setit. According to Berhane, “his writings explored the challenges Eritrean former fighters faced in re-adjusting to civilian life and putting bread on the table.”

But as Tsehaye started to drift away from the preferred political line of the elites in power, he was targeted by the authorities.

Tsehaye always wanted to speak on behalf of the voiceless, Berhane recalls, who remembers that the journalists used to repeat the line: “If we don’t give them a voice, no one will.”

He is married with two daughters.

Medhanie Haile
Deputy editor of Keste-demena

 Medhanie Haile
Medhanie Haile. Photograph: PEN Eritrea

A former sports columnist, and a lawyer by profession, Haile was working at the Ministry of Justice at the time of his arrest. Today, Haile remains best known for his critical articles calling for the rule of law to be firmly established in the country post-independence.

As his friend, exiled lawyer and former Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights chairperson, Samuel Bizen, says, Haile: “was passionate about the rule of law and constitutional democracy. Most importantly he was concerned about the implementation of the new constitution ... and the free flow of information that empowers people and enables them to stand up for their rights.”

Haile often wrote editorials that addressed law and order. In one piece, he underlined the importance of a free press in building a vibrant and accountable society. Praising some of the steps taken towards opening up the press and democratisation, Haile called for a culture of tolerance.

Despite constant hostility from the government in the form of frequent arrests and intimidation, Haile was convinced that the rule of law would prevail. But this proved to be wishful thinking.

After all independent newspapers were banned in 2001, the editors joined together to write a letter to the Ministry of Information, asking for an explanation. Poet Saba Kidane, now in exile, was present at the meeting and recalls Haile’s reaction. On hearing how other editors were fleeing the country, Haile said: “We are in a country governed by the rule of law and we are asking for an explanation for these actions. We cannot flee in fear.”

Two days later, he was arrested at his home. Medhanie is reported to have died in detention, according to a former prison guard. His death was attributed to harsh conditions and a lack of medical attention. He leaves behind four brothers.

Fessahaye ‘Joshua’ Yohannes
Poet, playwright, journalist and co-owner of Setit

Fessahaye ‘Joshua’ Yohannes

Fessahaye ‘Joshua’ Yohannes Photograph: PEN Eritrea

The country’s first independent newspaper, Setit was founded by Aaron Berhane, Simret Seyoum and Habtom Mihreteab in August 1997. The team was soon strengthened when Dawit Issac – a Swedish-Eritrean journalist also detained incommunicado since 2001 – and Fessaheye Yohannes joined too.

Starting out as a bi-monthly publication with a circulation of 5,000, the print run was soon increased to twice a week with a circulation of 40,000, according to Aaron Berhane, the former editor-in-chief. By way of comparison, the government-owned ሓዳስ ኤርትራ (Hadas Er’tra) then had a circulation of just 10,000, despite being distributed free.
A published poet, circus performer (with the Shewit Children’s Theatre) and short story writer, Yohannes was known as friendly, reliable – “a dedicated journalist who never missed deadlines. He had a great ability working in a very tight schedule. He was also passionate about life,” recalls Berhane.

“You’d always see him joking around and laughing loudly.”

Along with the other editors of Eritrea’s other private newspapers, Yohannes was rounded up on the morning of 23 September 2001 at his home. He is thought to have died in 2006 or 2007, due to poor health and mistreatment in prison.


Idris Abu’Are
Author and freelance journalist

 Idris Abu’Are.
Idris Abu’Are. Photograph: PEN Eritrea

Idris Abu’Are was known for his critical thinking, his public readings and his seminars on the history of the Eritrean independence struggle, says his friend and fellow journalist Stefanos G Temelso.

After freedom from Ethiopia finally came in 1991, Abu’Are was assigned to the newly established Ministry of Foreign Affairs and alongside his duties regularly contributed to the government-run Arabic daily newspaper, Eritrea al-Haditha.
But over time, Abu’are became increasingly critical of the ministry – and publicly called them out. In a February 2001 issue, he wrote:

"The strange thing about the matter is that every time the discontent and contempt resurface, the stubbornness of the ministry grows"

Abu’Are later freelanced for the independent newspaper ጽጌናይ (Tsigenay), and published a collection of short stories in Arabic in 1992.

But the writer was soon blacklisted for his ideas by the increasingly nervous government, and was arrested at his home in October 2001 after openly denouncing the arrest of the G-15 group.

Aba’Are is married and has one daughter. He remains in prison.

Dawit Habtemichael
Assistant editor of Meqalh

Among his students at Asmara’s secondary school, Dawit Habtemichael was known as an energetic physics teacher, who organised a literary club and also served as a volleyball coach.

His former colleagues at the newspaper መቓልሕ (Echo) describe him as a jovial and talented editor, a critical reader and a hard worker who would spend hours working on the newspaper after his classes at the school.

 Dawit Habtemichael
Dawit Habtemichael. Photograph: PEN Eritrea

Meqalh was co-founded by Habtemichael in 1998. The newspaper started life in a tiny office, equipped with one desktop computer, an old printer and a telephone, which served as their base right up until the ban on independent media, according to fellow exiled journalist Yebio Ghebremedhin.

In addition to editing, Habtemichael also wrote critical articles: his regular column, ክምብል በለ’ምበር (Never too late) scrutinised key issues in society and government on which, he assumed, it was never too late to improve.

Dawit was not arrested in the first dawn round-up of journalists in 2001. However, wrongly assuming that they would probably arrest him and release him shortly afterwards – as was common practice at the time – he went to work as usual. However, security police arrived at the Asmara comprehensive secondary school the next day, and detained him.
There are conflicting reports about Habtemichael’s whereabouts today: according to Reporters Without Borders, he died in Eiraeiro prison camp in the second half of 2010, along with his colleague and editor Matios Habteab.

Abraham Tesfalul Zere is Eritrean writer and journalist who is currently serving as executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile

You can read more about PEN Eritrea here

Source=https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/19/eritrea-forgotten-journalists-jailed-pen-international-press-freedom

 

 

Canada, seeking to fill jobs, said to have taken in most of the more than 3,000 migrants who left

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

African asylum seekers are seen in their make-shift dwelling, as children play sports nearby, at the Levinski Park in south Tel-Aviv on April 11, 2013. (Roni Schutzer/ FLASH 90/File)
African asylum seekers are seen in their make-shift dwelling, as children play sports nearby, at the Levinski Park in south Tel-Aviv on April 11, 2013. (Roni Schutzer/ FLASH 90/File)

Thousands of African migrants have reportedly relocated from Israel to Western nations as part of a program under which they voluntarily leave the country.

Israel has for several years been pressuring migrants to relocate to Uganda and Rwanda, through incarceration in detention facilities and the promise of financial incentives. However, of the more than 15,000 migrants who have left in recent years, 3,600 went to countries in the West, with two-thirds heading to Canada, Channel 2 news reported Monday.

Western countries mostly take migrants from Eritrea, with a preference for those with a profession, and also prioritize women, children, and the sick.

Recent agreements between the Foreign Ministry and Canada, which has a list of desirable professions, will see a number of Eritreans travel to the North American country to take part in a butchers course. Those who fail will return to Israel, the report said.

The migrants apply to the embassies of the various countries or via the UN. If they are accepted, Israel pays for their flight and gives them a $3,500 cash package. A large portion of those who went to Western countries did so independently or with the help of refugee aid organizations that find them sponsors and work.

Interior Minister and chairman of the Shas party, Aryeh Deri, at his office in the Interior Affairs Ministry, on May 24, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to the African Refugee Development Center, there are approximately 46,437 Africans in Israel who consider themselves asylum seekers, though Israel rarely grants them that status. The majority, 73 percent, are from Eritrea, and approximately 19% are from Sudan. Many say they fled persecution in their home countries.

Aside from the thousands who reached Canada since 2014, hundreds have gone to other countries including The Netherlands (381), Sweden (359), the United States (320), Switzerland (90), Norway (86) and Germany (63).

The program has the full support of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

“We have moved out 20,000 migrants voluntarily,but we still have a very large number of them,” Deri told Channel 2. “Therefore, I will make every effort with third world countries and Western countries. I hope that, with God’s help, we will be able to give back — to the residents of south Tel Aviv and other neighborhoods around Israel — the quiet, security, and peace that was taken from them.”

Some residents of south Tel Aviv have protested the presence of the migrants, who they claimhave overrun their neighborhoods and engage in crime.

Since the beginning of the year, some 5,000 migrants have voluntarily left Israel for a third country, the report said. However, aid groups claim that due to the enormous pressure put on asylum seekers, they are not really leaving of their own volition.

African illegal migrants carry their belongings following their release from the Holot Detention Center in Israel’s Negev desert, on August 25, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Deri is preparing legislation that will forbid employing anyone who is released from the Holot complex. Over 3,000 asylum seekers and migrants are usually incarcerated in the detention center in southern Israel, where inmates are required to check in during morning and evening hours, but are free to leave during the day. Those not held in Holot have found accommodation elsewhere, with many gravitating to south Tel Aviv, where they can find cheap living quarters in what are often dismal conditions.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Netanyahu announced the establishment of a ministerial committee to deal with the migrants in Israel— though few have crossed in recent years, since Israel built a formidable barrier on its border with Egypt — and vowed to “remove [the] illegal aliens who don’t belong here.”

The prime minister’s remarks come on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling that said the government could continue its controversial practice of voluntary departure to an unnamed third country, but also said it could no longer jail for more than 60 daysthose who refuse to leave.

The ruling — effectively hobbling the program — was met with outrage by right-wing lawmakers and some residents of south Tel Aviv.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this reports.

Source=https://www.timesofisrael.com/thousands-of-african-migrants-left-israel-for-west-report/

UN voices concern over refugee evictions in Rome

Friday, 25 August 2017 11:50 Written by

un voices

ROME - The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) on Sunday voiced “grave concern” over the eviction of 800 people from a Rome building squatted mainly by asylum seekers and refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The agency said 200 of those expelled from the building on Saturday had had to sleep on the streets, in a city already home to hundreds of homeless refugees from persecution and war, including many children.

“UNHCR hopes local and national authorities can find an immediate solution for the people currently sleeping under the stars and ensure adequate integration measures for those with a right to international protection,” the organisation’s Italy branch said in a statement. The building, located near Rome’s Termini main train station, had been occupied peacefully since 2013.

Commentators interpreted the unexpected eviction — carried out when Rome is virtually deserted at the height of the holiday season — as a sign of hardening attitudes in Italy towards asylum seekers.

More than 600,000 people from Africa, Asia and the Middle East have arrived in the country since 2014.

 

 

Eritrea, Sierra Leone and Guinea face U.S. visa sanctions over deportees snub

Sierra Leone

Three African countries risk visa suspension by the United States due to their refusal to take back nationals who scheduled to be deported from the States.

West African neighbours, Guinea and Sierra Leone, are listed with East African nation Eritrea completing the list. A Sierra Leonean journalist reports that the three have been put on what the U.S. terms ‘recalcitrant nations’ list.

By implication, the U.S. could suspend the issuance of visas to its government officials as a punitive measure. The State Department, he added, is due to officially communicate the position to the respective governments.

In the case of Sierra Leone, the refusal to take back deportees was because the foreign ministry had contested their nationality status of the affected persons. A claim the State Department rejects insisting that all persons marked for deportation held valid Sierra Leonean passports.

There is a point of concern for the affected countries given that the 72nd United Nations General Assembly takes off in a little over two weeks in New York. Under the sanction regime, U.S. Homeland Security reserves the right to refuse entry to officials even on arrival in the country.

The U.S. have long threatened a number of African countries with mass deportation of their nationals. 7000 Ghanaians were threatened with deportation in April this year before 70 of them were sent back in June – all of them in handcuffs.

Source=http://www.africanews.com/2017/08/25/eritrea-sierra-leone-and-guinea-face-us-visa-sanctions-over-deportees-snub/

The Local

Eritrean priest denies Trapani charge of facilitating clandestine migration
Eritrean 2015 Nobel Peace Prize candidate, don Mossie Zerai. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
09:00 CEST+02:00
An Eritrean human rights activist is being investigated by the public prosecutor in Trapani for allegedly illegally sending information about boats and landings to NGO rescue ships.

Don Mossie Zerai, better known as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 than as a people smuggler, has been charged with facilitating clandestine immigration by the Trapani public prosecutor. 

Zerai is the founder of Habeshia, described as "lifejacket for migrants," a blog where he provides last-minute and life-saving information to his fellow countrymen trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Habeshia serves as a hotline and distress signal for many Eritreans and others stranded in open waters. 

Zerai released the following statement asserting his innocence on his website.

"I can confirm with all conscience that I have nothing to hide and that I have always acted i full legality. Apart from the Trapani initiative..., I have not been called to any other venue to justify or in any way respond to my work in favor of refugees and migrants."
Zerai, a priest, says he has sent sos signals to ships, but only through the right channels.  "I confirm that, in the context of this activity - which I have been working on for years with my collaborators - I have sent relief reports to UNHCR and NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders, Sea Watch, Moas and Watch the Med," says Zerai.
"Every time I informed the Italian Coast Guard operational center and the Maltese command. However, I have never had direct contact with the Jugend Rettet ship involved in the Trapani Prosecution investigation, nor have I ever been part of the alleged "secret chat" of which some newspapers have alluded to: my communications have always been forwarded through a normal cell phone. All the reports are the result of requests for assistance that I have been directed not from boats leaving Libya, or at the time of sailing, but from offshore vessels off the coast of Africa, outside Libyan territorial waters." 
According to UNHCR data, nearly 5,000 Eritreans have arrived in Europe illegally via the Mediterranean in 2017. A total of more than 117,000 'sea arrivals' have landed in Italy or Greece in 2017, according to the same data. 
"My goal is to save lives," Zerai is cited as saying in Il Fatto Quotidiano. The charge against Zerai is linked to an investigation opened by the Trapani prosecutor against German NGO Jugend Rettet, which is also accused of facilitating clandestine migration, through its Iuventa rescue ship. 
According to German online news site Zeit.de, the Iuventa has rescued 14,000 migrants so far in the Mediterranean. The German daily reports that staff of the Iuventa could face three years in prison for twice having "overstepped legal boundaries" during rescue missions in 2016 and 2017. 
 

By Afp

Eritrean priest Mussie Zerai poses in front of Saint Peter's basilica on October 4, 2015 in Vatican

 

An Eritrean priest once in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize for helping migrants is now under investigation in Italy on suspicion of abetting illegal immigration.

"I received a letter from the Trapani public prosecutor's office on Monday informing me of the investigation," Mussie Zerai told AFP in Rome, insisting that he was innocent.

After fleeing Eritrea as a youngster and arriving in Italy alone aged 16, Zerai entered the seminary aged 45 and became a reference point for migrants in distress for a period of almost 15 years.

For a long time, his was the only telephone number many had to call for emergency assistance.

Don Mose would sometimes receive dozens of calls for help per day, mostly from migrants in distress calling from a satellite phone from their rickety vessels at sea.

He would transmit the coordinates of the stricken boats to the Italian coast guard but also sometimes to the privately-run rescue ships known to be in the vicinity.

That is likely the reason his name ended up in a probe Trapani prosecutors have opened into illegal immigration which focuses largely on the roles played in migrant rescues by the privately-funded NGOs.

The investigation lead to the seizure last week of a boat run by German NGO Jugend Rettet, which is accused of having had direct contact with traffickers off the coast of Libya.

"It's totally contradictory to attack the humanitarian organisations to fight illegal immigration. It's like protesting against diseases by taking it out on the doctors," Zerai said.

"Instead we should tackle the causes of the disease (illegal immigration), which make these people desperate enough to risk their lives at sea," he added.

He referred in particular to the plight of hundreds of thousands of people trapped in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Uganda, with barely enough food and water to survive and little hope of a better future.

"There is a famine going on in the Horn of Africa, the dictatorship, the war ... there will always be refugees, you cannot just tell them 'don't come, keep your suffering away from us'.

"Africans also have the right to live and have a future," he said.

Source=http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-4775892/Italy-police-probe-priest-hailed-Nobel-Peace-Prize.html

Eritrea: Dawit Mesfin’s secret

Thursday, 10 August 2017 20:15 Written by

Dawit Mesfin is well known in Eritrean circles as an author and political activist.

Dawit

He has just published a detailed and informative biography on the Woldeab Woldemariam – a teacher, journalist, trade unionist and politician who is often referred to as the father of Eritrea as an independent country. Published by Red Sea Press (where would we be without Kassahun Chekole and his colleagues?) it is an important addition to the growing historiography of Eritrea.

Dawit is also one of the group who laid the foundations of resistance against President Isaias Afwerki’s regime when they signed the document that is today known as the ‘Berlin Manifesto’. The men and women who came together on 3 October 2000 raised all the issues of human rights that Eritrea so sadly lacks.

In May 2001 a similar statement was signed by Eritreans known as the G15, many of whom were promptly arrested and have remained imprisoned in Eritrea without trail ever since.

Dawit’s role in all this is known and he remains active in Eritrean politics, continuing to call for the freedoms that his countrymen and women so badly need.

So what is his secret?

It is this: Dawit has an illustrious father. Indeed, his dad, Mesfen Tesfaye could be called the father of Eritrea’s favourite sport: cycling.

Mesfen competed in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne – representing Ethiopia, of which Eritrea was then a part. It was the first occasion on which Ethiopia participated in the Olympics and Mesfen competed in both the individual and team events. They were the first black African team ever to participate in the Olympic Games.

Melbourne

Mesfen came in in 36th place in the individual event – no mean feat for a first attempt. The hot Melbourne summer took its toll on the field, with only half the starters making it to the end. The team was composed of four individuals – one Ethiopian and three Eritreans (including Mesfen’s best friend, Zehaye Bahta.)

Mesfen participated in the team road race with Guremu Demboba and Zehaye Bahta — winning 99 points and taking the 9th place.

Ethiopia Olympics

Dawit remembers his father running a cycle shop near Kagnew station (the US base in Asmara.) His parents sadly separated, with Dawit’s mother living in Italy with her son. But Dawit does recall meeting his father in 1968, training the Ethiopian cycling team that participated in the Mexico Olympics of that year.

Later they met on the streets of Addis Ababa in 1975, as Mesfen was urging on Eritrean cyclists, who were competing to qualify for the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Mesfen had brought the Eritrean team to Addis.

Mesfen was an inspiration to young Eritreans, who so loved their sport. Among them – “Gigante” Tekeste Weldu and Salambini Carmelo – who remembered him well.

Source=https://martinplaut.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/eritrea-dawit-mesfins-secret/