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by Martin Plaut

This information has been received from Abri Harnet (Freedom Friday) members living in Asmar - clarifying the situation with regard to Abune Antonios. It supplements the news carried on Tuesday.


The ‘reconciliation process’ that was said to have culminated in last Sunday's service has been going on for the last six months. During this period members of the Patriarchate and the clergy from various parishes and some monks  (including  a certain Father Bereket from the parish of Adi Keyih) have been engaged in a reconciliation effort between those who supported Abune Antonios and those that backed the regime's critique of the Patriarch. Those  working for reconciliation had in fact produced a statement that was distributed widely, including on the internet.

However, according to people close to the process, the effort had also been tainted by the ongoing conspiracy to install a Patriarch who would submit himself to the needs and wishes of PFDJ, and the dictator at its helm.

The Patriarch had, during his deposition in 2007, excommunicated Abune Lucas, the priest who has been unofficially leading the Church in recent years, and several other senior clergy.  This effectively means if the Abune Antonios dies without lifting the excommunication, Abune Lucas can never officially take his position, under canonical law. The ‘reconciliation’ effort is thus believed, by many, as a means of putting pressure on Abune Antonios to lift the excommunication, and to prepare the grounds for the inauguration of Abune Lucas.

When the excommunication was pronounced Abune Antonios had officiated at the pronouncement, in accordance to church law and had communicated this to Alexandria. He had asked for the entire matter to be  communicated to the public as well. This request was rejected; instead the Patriarch was deposed and put under arrest.

Many years elapsed and following various attempts to get around the issue, it is reported that the Patriarch was told that the event of last Sunday would include a public apology from those member of the clergy who had sided with the government, as the culmination of the reconciliation effort.

However, no such apology was made. Instead the same letter that has been in circulation for many months was read out (by Father Bereket) with no additional provisions. At the same time the Patriarch’s request to address the congregation was rejected, as was his request to pray for the congregation that had gathered at the church.

Following this the priests strongly ordered people to leave the compound. When people were reluctant to go, plain clothed security officers, who had been in the crowd throughout the mass, started pushing people out of the compound and the Patriarch was returned to his place of incarceration.

The Abune is said not to be an outspoken man and he kept things to himself. But he is grieving that the church is so divided, and is not well.  Those close to him think that at this moment he would do almost anything to save his church.

We believe this is not the end of the matter and the situation is ongoing. We therefore ask every Eritrean to keep themselves informed about the situation and actively engaged in this matter.

Project Arbi Harnet

Martin Plaut | 19/07/2017 at 6:18 pm | Tags: Abune Antonios, Eritrea, Orthodox Church, PFDJ | Categories: Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa | URL:

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by Martin Plaut

Three hours of shelling are reported to have taken place across the Eritrea-Ethiopian border today (Wednesday).

The clash was apparently sparked off when Eritrean troops opened fire on about 40 refugees attempting to flee from Eritrea to Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian military retaliated, sparking off the fighting in the area of Erob, which is near the disputed town of Badme, over which the border war of 1998 - 2000 was fought. There are no reports yet of casualties.

Eritrean flee across the border into Ethiopia at a similar rate on an almost daily basis.


Radio Erena: a beacon of hope for Eritrea

Sunday, 16 July 2017 16:14 Written by


The Observer
Radio Erena: a beacon of hope for Eritrea
Dissent is brutally crushed in Eritrea’s militarised one-party state. But Radio Erena, broadcast from Paris by refugees, has become a symbolic lifeline to those back home who dare to listen

Biniam Simon (left), a former Eritrean state TV journalist, and Fathi Osman, a former diplomat, broadcast Radio Erena from two small rooms in a Paris backstreet: ‘You can’t imagine how important it is. It’s the only thing that gives anyone any hope,’ new arrivals from Eritrea tell them. Photograph: Ed Alcock for the Observer 

Rachel Cooke
Sunday 16 July 2017 09.00 BST
Last modified on Sunday 16 July 2017 10.27 BST

Ten years ago, Biniam Simon, a journalist at Eri-TV, Eritrea’s state television channel, was informed by his government overlords that he would, after all, be allowed to travel to Japan to attend a seminar on video production. This, to put it mildly, was surprising. Those who leave Eritrea, a single party state with one of the worst human rights records in the world, usually do so only by clandestine and extremely risky means. But if Simon was astonished, he was also realistic. “They only allowed me to go because they thought there was no way to escape from Japan,” he says. “Japan had agreed I would be returned to Eritrea.” Knowing this, he didn’t allow himself even to toy with the idea of defection. He made no plans. He dreamed no dreams. He hoped only to enjoy a few peaceful days outside the prison of his homeland.
Once he was in Japan, however, everything changed. “Something happened, in my section of Eri-TV,” he says. “A lot of people went to prison. Passwords and email addresses were asked for. Someone tipped me off, and I decided not to go back.” This wasn’t an easy decision. The parents and siblings he was leaving behind would, he knew, pay the price in the form of harassment, or worse, on the part of the government. But no sooner had he taken it than he understood its inevitability.

“At some point, you have to make it,” he says. “[In my job], I was reporting for the president’s office – the meetings of cabinet ministers, and so on – and the more high-profile you become in Eritrea, the more danger you’re in. Make even a technical mistake, and you will be punished. One way or another, I knew I would end up in prison eventually.” In Eritrea’s prisons, makeshift and overcrowded, detention periods are arbitrary; torture and judicial executions come pretty much as standard.

Japan duly refused Simon asylum. But with the help of the French NGO Reporters Without Borders, he made it to Paris, where he has lived ever since. His new life was difficult at first. He knew no one, and spoke not a word of French. He worried constantly about his family who, as predicted, were soon called to explain themselves to the administration. But he also had a plan, and this kept him going. He wanted to set up a radio station, one that would broadcast not only to the sizable Eritrean diaspora in Europe – some 5,000 people leave the country illegally every month – but also, more daringly, to the population of Eritrea itself.

Eritrean refugees arrive in Sicily last November after being rescued from a smugglers’ boat off the coast of LibyaEritrean refugees arrive in Sicily last November after being rescued from a smugglers’ boat off the coast of Libya. Photograph: Carolyn Cole/LA Times via Getty Images

“I started thinking about it immediately. You have to understand: Eritrea is completely closed. No information is available there at all, about the outside world or what is going on internally. So if you’re an Eritrean journalist, and you make it to a place where so much information is available, the first thing you think is: why not tell people all this? It was the obvious thing to do.”

Simon, who has the slightly distracted air of the true workaholic, took his idea to Reporters Without Borders, and with its support and some funding, he started trying to recruit his first collaborators, a process that was challenging even in Europe, where he began: of the 60 Eritrean journalists who had made it to the continent, most remained too afraid of the government and too worried for their families to work with him at first.

They also struggled to understand the idea of independent journalism: “They thought that you either worked for the government, doing its propaganda, or that you worked for the opposition. They didn’t understand that we just wanted to give people the information, and what they would do with it afterwards would be up to them.”
Still, their reluctance was as nothing compared to the difficulties involved in getting stories out of a country that for almost a decade has sat in bottom place in the Index of World Press Freedom (now only North Korea ranks lower). How would it be done? In the capital, Asmara, the government’s network of informants is so extensive, many people are unwilling to talk politics even with members of their own family.

In the end, most of the diaspora journalists agreed either to use pseudonyms, or to have their stories recorded by someone else. Meanwhile, Simon slowly built up a network of contacts inside Eritrea. Eight years on, and the majority of Radio Erena’s sources in the country are, he says, ordinary people who report with their eyes and ears, sending out tiny but invaluable bits of information almost every day; the remainder work inside government ministries, or, more rarely, on the ground as journalists. In order to protect them, he and his colleagues in Paris – there are now five staff – never share the names of their contacts with one other, and they each use a different system to communicate with their sources: Simon, for instance, uses code to talk to his.

“I don’t know my colleagues’ sources, and they don’t know mine,” he says. This system also helps with the verification of stories: “A colleague can ask his source if he can confirm something my source has heard, and because they don’t know each other, we have a clearer idea of whether it’s likely to be true.” Stories must have three separate sources, no matter how long this might take: “Information can be 10 days old, depending on the electricity supply in Eritrea and the availability of internet. But it is better to wait, and be 100% sure that what you are broadcasting is correct, than to put out rumours. Because if you make a mistake, you may have fallen into a propaganda trap laid by the government.”

The station broadcasts a two-hour programme in Arabic and Tigrinya seven days a week, repeating it several times a day, giving listeners inside Eritrea multiple opportunities to listen (they may do so, in the privacy of their own homes with the shutters closed and the sound turned down, only when electricity is available – which it often isn’t). As well as news about what the regime may be up to, it provides a detailed picture of what is happening to the refugees who are travelling to Europe – when a boat carrying 360 Eritreans capsized off Lampedusa in 2013, a correspondent was immediately dispatched to Italy – as well as features about diaspora success stories, footballers and athletes among them.

It runs smoothly. There is always a lot to tell. Making sure it can be picked up in Eritrea, however, remains a constant struggle. In 2012, the government managed to block it – seemingly unbothered by the fact that in doing so, it also blocked its own television channel (both broadcast on one satellite frequency). It has also successfully jammed it on shortwave, and on at least one occasion has hacked into the Radio Erena website, destroying it completely. “It’s a nonstop challenge,” he says. “We’re constantly fighting them, and it’s getting harder and harder because they are now employing new experts from China and Indonesia.”

But if this is exhausting, it’s also hugely encouraging: “It means that what we’re doing is working. We know this because the government wants us to stop.” In the early days of Radio Erena, there were reports of listeners being sent to prison. The state made an example of people, to discourage others. Now, though, it seems to have accepted that if it wants to close Erena down, it needs to attack the station itself rather than its listeners. Quite simply, they have become too numerous. For obvious reasons, no official listening figures for Radio Erena are available. But when Simon and his colleagues ask new arrivals in Europe how many people back at home are tuning in, the reply is always the same. “You can’t imagine how important it is,” they’ll tell him. “It’s the only thing that gives anyone any hope.”

Biniam Simon, Radio ErenaBiniam Simon: ‘It’s a non-stop challenge.’ Photograph: Ed Alcock for the Observer

Radio Erena broadcasts from two small rooms on a sleepy Paris backstreet – downstairs is the office; upstairs is the studio, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom – the walls of which are decorated with old, sun-drenched posters that advertise, in happier times, the country’s delights for tourists. “Massawa: Pearl of the Red Sea” says one. Another shows off gleaming Asmara, whose well preserved modernist Italian architecture, built after Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, won the city its listing as a Unesco world heritage site earlier this month. Ask Simon and the others what Eritrea is like, and it’s to these images that they instinctively turn.

“Oh, it’s lovely,” says Fathi Osman, another Erena journalist. “Asmara is more than 2,000 metres above sea level, and the climate is temperate all year round.” He stretches an open palm in the direction of the relevant poster, a gesture that is at once both sweetly proud (come visit!) and unbearably sad (but you never will, and nor can I, for the time being).

Yes, but what’s it really like? They struggle to find the words. “I cannot explain it,” says Simon. “It’s a zombie place. You wake up, you go to the job to which you have been assigned, and then you go back home, and repeat. You cannot lead the life you want to. There are no breaks, no vacations, no social life. It’s really boring. Boredom and fear: a bad combination.”

The mostly young people who slip over the border into Ethiopia or Sudan are risking everything: from there, assuming they avoid being shot by border guards, they will either make the long and arduous journey overland to Libya, from where they hope to reach Europe by sea, or they will travel across the lawless Sinai desert to Israel, where more than 30,000 Eritreans currently reside. But still they do it. According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2014/2015 Eritreans represented the largest number of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean.
“They will say: at least you know when you are dead,” says Osman. “They think even that must be better than life in Eritrea, which is a kind of half-life, a living death.”

Like Simon, Osman, a former diplomat, first left Eritrea with official dispensation, having been posted to Saudi Arabia. His situation, however, was more complicated. His wife and children remained in Asmara: the Eritrean government, primed for defections, requires all diplomatic families to stay at home, seeing them as a kind of emotional collateral. But then his son fell seriously ill. Could his wife now join him in Saudi, so the child could be treated in hospital there? (In Eritrea, there is a severe shortage of doctors.) At first, permission was refused. Then it was given, but only for his wife and the sick boy. When he told the authorities the other children could not be left alone, he did so without any expectation that they would change their mind. To his amazement, though, they did. “My son’s illness was a blessing in disguise,” he says, quietly. This was his moment. In 2012, he left for France, leaving his family in hiding in Saudi Arabia. It was two years before he saw them again, their papers having finally been arranged.

Osman, a gentle-seeming, slow-moving man with a serious coffee habit, is the author of From the Dream of Liberation to the Nightmare of Dictatorship, a book (written in Arabic) in which he attempts to trace the roots of Eritrea’s descent into totalitarianism. “I wanted to answer the question: how did all our hope and inspiration end up here?” he says.

In his mind, Eritrea’s liberation from Ethiopia, the country from which it finally won independence in 1993, and its subsequent authoritarianism are inextricably linked. “Eritrea, a small country, achieved one of the most formidable victories in the history of the world,” he says. “We defeated Ethiopia, an African superpower. We crushed it! But in this very victory the seeds of dictatorship were planted. Now, there was a community of fighters who believed they could do anything, without help from any other country. We absorbed the mindset of the militarists entirely. We ended up fighting everyone. The gun has been everything ever since.”

It was 71-year old Isaias Afwerki, the president since 1991, who led the country to victory against Ethiopia, after a war lasting 30 years. As the leader of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, he promised not only hope and autonomy, but elections, too. These never came. The EPLF was renamed the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, and it is now Eritrea’s only legal political party. All other political activity is banned; the country is estimated to have at least 10,000 political prisoners. Dissent is increasingly rare.

 Biniam Simon (left) and Fathi Osman of Radio Erena
 Photograph: Ed Alcock for the Observer

In 2001, a group of Afwerki’s closest associates, unsettled by the sparking of another border dispute with Ethiopia – relations between the two countries continue to be extremely tense – confronted the president, accusing him of mishandling the latest conflict; and in 2013, a group of soldiers took over the HQ of Eri-TV, calling for the release of political prisoners and the implementation of the constitution. But on both occasions, those involved were swiftly rounded up and imprisoned. The opposition is now restricted to an organisation known as Freedom Friday, which quietly puts up posters and scrawls political graffiti on banknotes. “It really takes the form of the 5,000 people who leave every month,” says Osman. “They’re the opposition.” Eritrea, which has a population of 6 million, is one of the fastest-emptying nations in the world. The diaspora is now half a million strong.

Afwerki’s oft-stated raison d’etre is the survival of his young country, which he regards as being eternally under threat – not at war, but never at peace either – and it is one that the people took at face value at first. “What makes him different from other dictators is that his lifestyle is not lavish,” says Simon. “He wants to look like one of the people, a working-class man, and in the beginning, we thought he and the others would make Eritrea great. People worked for free, including me: I did for two years. Everyone did, to build the country.” In this sense, the population’s eyes were wide open. “We saw what was happening. I can say that everyone did. But it was a new government, and those in power had no experience of civilian office, so when they made mistakes, we said: ‘OK, it’s not a big deal. They’re learning. Things will get better.’” By the time people were prepared to admit to themselves and each other that things were not getting better, it was too late to say so out loud.

Most asylum seekers cite conscription into the army as their primary reason for leaving Eritrea. In 2002, the statutory requirement of 18 months of military service for men and women – a period that begins when students are in the last year of their secondary education – was extended to become, in practice, indefinite, with the result that many people now serve well into their 50s. A UN commission has called the Eritrean army “an institution where slavery practices are routine”. The pay is minimal (around £30 a month), leave is rarely given, and conscripts remain away from home for years at a time.

Soldiers are also subject to torture, sexual torture, arbitrary detention and forced labour. The country’s mining industry is, for instance, serviced by military personnel. Conscripts also clean the streets. In effect, the entire country is a vast military camp.

In the face of such misery, how may the Eritrean people comfort themselves? Not by practising their religion, that’s for sure. The government is reported to persecute “suspect” Muslims – a term that may extend both to those it regards as extremists, and to non-Sunnis – and the Christian denominations it does not officially sanction. Some 3,000 Christians are currently imprisoned in the country (around 200 were reportedly arrested this month alone, including 20 children). The Eritrean Orthodox Church is recognised, but Abune Antonios, its 89-year-old patriarch, who was deposed by the government in 2007 after he demanded the release of imprisoned Christians, has been under house arrest for the past 10 years.

Even family life is less of a balm than it might be. People are reportedly not permitted to meet in groups larger than two, and travel permits are required to move around the country. Thanks to conscription, every family is always missing someone, and those left behind struggle to make ends meet, particularly in agricultural communities, where labour is so vital.

Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, pictured in Sudan last year
 Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, pictured in Sudan last year. Photograph: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

Above all, people are afraid to talk freely – and so it is that the bonds weaken, and sometimes break. Simon speaks to his mother only rarely. What is there to say? “You have to be so careful,” he tells me. “Sometimes, I can’t see the point of calling at all.

Do he and Osman have it in them to feel hopeful about Eritrea’s future?

“If you don’t have hope, you’re dead,” says Simon. “Nothing is for ever.” But he doesn’t look hopeful, and as he readily admits, even if the regime were to fall, worse could follow.

“There is no working parliament, no vice president and no organised opposition. When the president goes, there will be… chaos.” Is the current government susceptible to pressure from outside? Osman believes not: “He [Afwerki] regards the rest of the world with disdain.”

In 2009, when the president was asked by a Swedish TV channel about Dawit Isaak, the Swedish-Eritrean journalist who has been imprisoned without trial since 2001, his reply was chilling. “We will not have any trial and we will not free him,” he said. “We know how to handle his kind.” He added that he regarded the position of Sweden on this matter as “irrelevant”.

All they can do, then, is to continue their work at Radio Erena. In the beginning, the challenge was to get people to listen. Then it was to get them to discuss what they heard. Now, they would like to expand their coverage, by hiring journalists in other north African countries.

“If something happens to your neighbour, it will affect you,” says Simon. “Eritrea is already involved in the conflict in Yemen [where its forces are fighting on behalf of the Arab coalition].” To those who say journalism no longer matters, here it is, mattering very much indeed.

Are they homesick? Yes, though this isn’t a straightforward thing, particularly for Simon.

“I don’t live in France,” he says, with a low laugh. “Physically, I am here, of course. But I live in Eritrea. I wake up and I come here and I stay late, and then I go home and sleep. That’s all. All day long, I’m with Eritreans, talking about Eritrea.”

It is what he needs to do, but it doesn’t make him any happier. Life is lived in limbo nevertheless. “Sometimes, I feel sad. I want to see places, to take pictures with a camera. But the furthest I go is the coffee shop at the end of the street.”

The UK charity One World Media presented its 2017 special award to Radio Erena last month.



The ISIS terrorist group acknowledged on Tuesday the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi source in the Nineveh province told local media.

The details of his death were not disclosed.

He added that the group will “soon announce his successor.”

The organization had also called on its militants to keep on “standing their ground” in the regions they have seized.

The source said that ISIS released a “very brief” statement through is media center in the Talaafar area west of Mosul in Iraq. In it, it confirmed Baghdadi’s death.

The group urged its followers “against getting dragged into strife,” which indicates complex problems within the terrorist organization.

The Nineveh source said that the ISIS leader’s death announcement is similar to previous statements that were issued to announce the demise of other terrorist leaders from the group.

The brief statement has however raised questions, especially since Baghdadi is the terror group’s leader, added the source.

His death has sparked uproar among the group’s supporters, he revealed.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that it had “confirmed
information” that Baghdadi had been killed.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in June that it might have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of ISIS commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa, but Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials have been skeptical.

“(We have) confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank, in ISIS in the eastern countryside of Deir al-Zour,” the director of the British-based war monitoring group Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters.

Baghdadi’s death had been announced many times before but the Observatory has a track record of credible reporting on Syria’s war.

Abdulrahman said Observatory sources in Syria’s eastern town of Deir al-Zour had been told by ISIS sources that Baghdadi had died “but they did not specify when”.

Iraqi and Kurdish officials did not confirm his death. The United States has no information to corroborate reports that Baghdadi was dead, a Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday.

ISIS-affiliated websites and social media feeds have not carried any news regarding the leader’s possible death.


European Parliament

EU Parliament, Strasbourg: On Thursday, 6 July 2017, the European Parliament passed an important resolution on the EU’s relations with Eritrea.

It highlight – once again – the human rights abuses of the Eritrean government, including the detention of Abune Antonios and the journalist Dawit Isaak. But the resolution went further to make key demands on the EU. The resolution:

  1.  Reminds the Eritrean Government that many of its activities constitute crimes against humanity
  2. Condemns in the strongest terms Eritrea’s systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations
  3. Denounced the resumption of major EU aid to Eritrea and in particular the signing off of the NIP for Eritrea of EUR 200 million
  4. Demanded action to halt the 2% tax
  5. Urged an end to the forcible return of Eritreans – refoulment.
  6. Supported the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights
  7. Demanded that the Commission obtain guarantees from the Eritrean Government that it will implement democratic reforms and ensure respect for human rights
  8. Stresses that addressing the justice deficit in Eritrea democratic governance and restoration of the rule of law must be prioritised, by ending authoritarian rule by fear of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, of torture and of other human rights violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity;

..... Full text is printed below:

The European Parliament, Strasbourg, 6 July 2017

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on Eritrea, in particular that of 15 September 2011 on Eritrea: the case of Dawit Isaak(1) , and of 10 March 2016 on the situation in Eritrea(2) ,

–  having regard to the report of 23 June 2017 of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea,

–  having regard to the statement of 14 June 2017 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council,

–  having regard to the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, released on 8 June 2016,

–  having regard to UN Security Council resolutions 751 (1992), 1882 (2009), 1907 (2009), 2023 (2011), 2244 (2015), and 2317 (2016) which extended the arms embargo on Eritrea until 15 November 2017,

–  having regard to the Joint Communication of the Commission and of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to the European Parliament and the Council for a renewed impetus of the Africa-EU Partnership, of 4 May 2017,

–  having regard to the ACP-EU Partnership Agreement (the Cotonou Agreement), as revised in 2005 and 2010, to which Eritrea is a signatory,

–  having regard to Council Decision 2010/127/CFSP of 1 March 2010 concerning restrictive measures against Eritrea(3) , amended by Council Decision 2010/414/CFSP of 26 July 2010(4) and further amended by Council Decision 2012/632/CFSP of 15 October 2012(5) ,

–  having regard to Case 428/12 (2012) filed with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Dawit Isaak and other political prisoners,

–  having regard to the Final Declaration of the 60th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 22 May 2017,

–  having regard to the European External Action Service report of 2015 on the Eritrea-European Union Partnership,

–  having regard to the National Indicative Programme for Eritrea under the 11th European Development Fund, of 3 February 2016,

–  having regard to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,

–  having regard to the Constitution of Eritrea adopted in 1997, which guarantees civil liberties, including freedom of religion,

–  having regard to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 1981,

–  having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966,

–  having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,

–  having regard to Rules 135(5) and 123(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas Eritrea has one of the worst human rights records in the world, with routine human rights violations taking place every day and no improvement recorded in recent years; whereas the Government of Eritrea has undertaken a widespread campaign aimed at maintaining control over the population and restricting fundamental freedoms, under the pretext of defending the integrity of the State;

B.  whereas the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea has found that the violations in the areas of extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture and sexual slavery), national service as a form of slavery, forced labour and the shoot-to-kill policy at the border may constitute crimes against humanity;

C.  whereas in September 2001 the Eritrean authorities arrested dozens of citizens who had endorsed an open letter calling for democratic reforms; whereas those detained were not charged with a crime or placed on trial, and most of them remain incarcerated to this day; whereas despite widespread appeals from human rights groups and international observers, several of these people have reportedly died in jail; whereas on 20 June 2016, however, the Eritrean Foreign Minister, Osman Saleh, referred to the detainees as political prisoners, stating that ‘all of them are alive’ and that they will be tried ‘when the government decides’;

D.  whereas Dawit Isaak, a dual citizen of Eritrea and Sweden, was arrested on 23 September 2001, after the Eritrean Government outlawed privately owned media; whereas he was last heard from in 2005; whereas Dawit Isaak’s incarceration has become an international symbol for the struggle for freedom of the press in Eritrea, most recently acknowledged by an independent international jury of media professionals awarding him the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2017 in recognition of his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression;

E.  whereas Dawit Isaak’s family have faced unbearable distress and uncertainty since his disappearance, having little knowledge of their loved one’s well-being, whereabouts or future prospects;

F.  whereas in the September 2001 crackdown, 11 politicians – all former members of the Central Council of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), including former Foreign Minister Petros Solomon – were arrested after they published an open letter to the government and President Isaias Afwerki calling for reform and ‘democratic dialogue’; whereas 10 journalists, including Isaak, were arrested over the following week;

G.  whereas a huge number of Eritrean people are arrested for various unjustifiable reasons such as expressing independent views, or without any explicit justification, and thus for unspecified time periods; whereas detainees, including children, are held in extremely harsh conditions which in some cases amount to torture and denial of medical care; whereas international organisations have not been granted access to prison facilities, with the exception of one overground prison in Asmara;

H.  whereas only four religious faiths are authorised: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church and Islam; whereas all other religious faiths are prohibited and members of these faiths, and their family members, are arrested and imprisoned; whereas a resurgence in harassment of and violence against those practising religious faiths has been observed since 2016; whereas Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) estimates that, in May 2017 alone, 160 Christians were imprisoned in Eritrea;

I.  whereas Abune Antonios, the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the nation’s largest religious community, has been in detention since 2007, having refused to excommunicate 3 000 parishioners who opposed the government; whereas since then, he has been held in an unknown location where he has been denied medical care;

J.  whereas there is no independent judiciary and no national assembly in Eritrea; whereas the lack of democratic institutions in the country has resulted in a vacuum in good governance and the rule of law that has created an environment of impunity for crimes against humanity;

K.  whereas there is only one legal political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ); whereas other political parties are banned; whereas according to Freedom House, the PFDJ and the military are in practice the only institutions of political significance in Eritrea, and both entities are strictly subordinate to the President;

L.  whereas there is no freedom of press, as independent media is forbidden in Eritrea, with the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranking Eritrea last out of the 170-180 evaluated countries for eight years in succession;

M.  whereas the Presidential and parliamentary elections planned for 1997 never took place and the Constitution ratified in the same year has never been implemented; whereas the country has held no national elections for 24 years, and has virtually no independent judiciary, no functioning national assembly and no civil society;

N.  whereas Eritrea is ranked 179th out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index for 2016, according to the UNDP Human Development Report of 2016;

O.  whereas in 2016, Eritreans fleeing their country accounted for the fourth-largest number of people risking the perilous journey to Europe (after Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans), who run the gauntlet of pitiless people-smugglers to make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing; whereas the situation in Eritrea therefore directly affects Europe, since if human rights were respected and upheld in the country and people could live there without fear, Eritreans would be able to return to their homeland;

P.  whereas, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 400 000 Eritreans, or 9 % of the total population, have fled; whereas the UNHCR estimates that some 5 000 Eritreans leave the country every month, this being explained to a large degree by the persistence of severe human rights violations; whereas in 2015 in 69 % of Eritrean asylum cases refugee status was granted in the EU, while an additional 27 % of applicants received subsidiary protection, illustrating the gravity of persecution in Eritrea;

Q.  whereas Eritrea is supportive of the Khartoum Process (an EU and African Union initiative launched on 28 November 2014 with the aim of addressing the issue of migration and human trafficking), which encompasses the implementation of concrete projects, including capacity-building for the judiciary and awareness-raising;

R.  whereas many young people have fled the country to escape the repressive government and mandatory military conscription, which often starts at a very young age, with most Eritreans serving indefinitely; whereas the majority of those in national service remain in a situation of slavery, in which any work, job applications and the possibility of having a family life are controlled; whereas an estimated 400 000 people are currently in unlimited forced national service and many of them are subjected to forced labour, with little or no pay; whereas women conscripts are forced to endure domestic servitude and sexual abuse;

S.  whereas discrimination and violence against women are present in all areas of Eritrean society; whereas women are not only at extreme risk of sexual violence within the military and in military training camps, but also in society at large; whereas an estimated 89 % of girls in Eritrea have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM); whereas in March 2007, however, the government issued a proclamation declaring FGM a crime, prohibiting its practice and sponsoring education programmes discouraging the practice over that year;

T.  whereas the regime extends its totalitarian grip to the diaspora community via a 2 % expat income tax, and by spying on the diaspora and targeting family members who remain in Eritrea;

U.  whereas since 2011 the Eritrean regime has denied that the country is at risk of famine; whereas this year a particularly severe drought is affecting the whole of East Africa and concern about the situation in Eritrea is increasing; whereas according to UNICEF, 1,5 million Eritreans were affected by food insecurity in January 2017, including 15 000 children who are suffering from malnutrition;

V.  whereas the EU is an important donor for Eritrea in terms of development assistance; whereas in January 2016, in spite of Parliament’s serious concerns and opposition, a new National Indicative Programme (NIP) was signed by the EU and Eritrea under the 11th EDF allocating EUR 200 million; whereas actions should focus on renewable energy, governance and public finance management in the energy sector in particular;

1.  Condemns in the strongest terms Eritrea’s systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations; calls on the Eritrean Government to put an end to detention of the opposition, journalists, religious leaders and innocent civilians; demands that all prisoners of conscience in Eritrea be immediately and unconditionally released, notably Dawit Isaak and the other journalists detained since September 2001, and Abune Antonios; demands that the Eritrean Government provide detailed information on the fate and whereabouts of all those deprived of physical liberty;

2.  Recalls the decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of May 2017, and demands that Eritrea immediately confirm the well-being of Dawit Isaak, release him, let him meet family and legal representatives and award him the necessary compensation for his years of imprisonment; further calls on Eritrea to lift the ban on independent media, as also ruled by the African Commission;

3.  Notes that in failing to respect the ruling of the African Commission, Eritrea continues to show flagrant disregard for international norms and fundamental rights, including the right to a fair trial, the ban on torture, freedom of expression, the right to one’s family, and that each country shall respect the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights;

4.  Calls on the Eritrean Government to release Abune Antonios, allow him to return to his position as Patriarch, and cease its interference in peaceful religious practices in the country; recalls that freedom of religion is a fundamental right, and strongly condemns any violence or discrimination on grounds of religion;

5.  Calls for fair trials for those accused, and the abolition of torture and other degrading treatment such as restrictions on food, water and medical care; reminds the Eritrean Government of its due diligence obligation to investigate extrajudicial killings;

6.  Reminds the Eritrean Government that many of its activities constitute crimes against humanity and that although Eritrea is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, many provisions of the Rome Statute reflect international customary law binding on Eritrea; underlines its support for the recommendation by the UN Commission of Inquiry, and for a thorough investigation into the allegations of serious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity committed by the Eritrean authorities, in order to make sure that all those found responsible are held accountable;

7.  Expresses its full support to the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; calls on the EU, in collaboration with the UN and the African Union, to closely monitor the overall situation in Eritrea and to report all cases of violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms;

8.  Demands that Eritrea fully respect and immediately enact the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and fully uphold its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both of which prohibit torture; notes with concern that public and private actors, including companies, are severely restricted by government control; recognises that the lack of any public finance management, including the absence of a national budget, makes budgetary control impossible;

9.  Calls on the Eritrean Government to allow the creation of other political parties as a primary tool of promoting democracy in the country and calls for human rights organisations to be allowed to freely operate within the country;

10.  Recalls that the EU’s partnership with Eritrea is governed by the Cotonou Agreement, and that all parties are bound to respect and implement the terms of that agreement, in particular respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law; calls, therefore, on the EU to ascertain conditionality of its aid, including that the Government of Eritrea should adhere to international obligations on human rights and that the political prisoners should be released before any further EU aid is given to Eritrea; calls, furthermore, on the EU to make use of all available instruments and tools to ensure that the Eritrean Government respects its obligations to protect and guarantee fundamental freedoms, including by considering the launch of consultations under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement; requests a detailed and comprehensive assessment of the funds allocated to Eritrea which are financed by the EU and its Member States;

11.  Denounces the resumption of major EU aid to Eritrea and in particular the signing off of the NIP for Eritrea of EUR 200 million; calls on the Commission to review its scrutiny arrangements with Parliament, to carefully consider the concerns and suggestions expressed by Parliament and to guarantee that they are communicated to the EDF Committee; believes that the EDF Committee should have taken into consideration Parliament’s previous recommendations not to adopt the NIP and to engage in further discussion;

12.  Calls on the Commission to ensure that the funding allocated does not benefit the Eritrean Government but is strictly and transparently assigned to meeting the needs of the Eritrean people for development, democracy, human rights, good governance and security, and freedom of speech, press and assembly; urges the EU to ensure the conditionality of the recently agreed aid and also to ensure that the NIP supports Eritrea in operating an important shift in its energy policy in order to make energy accessible for all, especially in the rural areas which are currently still without electricity; believes, moreover, that the governance component of the NIP should strongly focus on implementing the recommendations of the UN-led Universal Periodic Review on human rights;

13.  Demands that the Commission obtain guarantees from the Eritrean Government that it will implement democratic reforms and ensure respect for human rights, including by implementing the recommendations made by the 18th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group, which it accepted on 7 February 2014;

14.  Calls on the Council to reassess the relationship between the EU and Eritrea as well as its development aid assistance to the country in response to the country’s poor human rights record, and to publish the tangible outcomes resulting from aid programmes over the last years; calls on the EU and the Member States to make use of all available measures, especially through the Cotonou Agreement, to ensure that the Eritrean authorities comply with their international commitments;

15.  Firmly underlines that Eritrea must allow international and regional human rights bodies, including special rapporteurs, unhindered access to the country to monitor any progress; asks the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to actively support the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; encourages the Eritrean Government to undertake urgent reforms such as the loosening of the one-party state and the resumption of the National Assembly and elections;

16.  Urges the EU Member States to take appropriate measures against the application of the diaspora tax to Eritrean nationals living on their territory, in accordance with UNSC resolution 2023 (2011); reminds the Eritrean Government that the right to leave one’s country is enshrined in international human rights law; calls on the government to allow freedom of movement and to stop collecting the diaspora tax from Eritreans living abroad; urges the government to end ‘guilt-by-association’ policies that target family members of those who evade national service, seek to flee Eritrea or do not pay the 2 % income tax the Eritrean Government imposes on Eritrean expats;

17.  Calls on the Eritrean Government to adhere to the period of service statute, to desist from using its citizens as forced labour, to stop allowing foreign companies to use such conscripts for a fee, to allow the possibility of conscientious objection to serving in the military and to ensure the protection of conscripts;

18.  Reminds Eritrea of its obligations under ILO conventions, with particular regard to the right of civil society organisations and trade unions to organise, peacefully demonstrate, participate in public affairs, and campaign for better workers’ rights; calls on the Eritrean Government to repeal the policy that bans NGOs that have less than USD 2 million in their bank accounts; is concerned about the endemic link between business, politics and corruption in Eritrea; condemns foreign companies who are complicit in using forced labour and asks all those who are operating in Eritrea for better accountability, due diligence and reporting systems;

19.  Notes the EU’s attempts to cooperate with Eritrea in the area of migration; highlights the very high rate of granting of asylum and subsidiary protection by EU Member States to Eritreans and consequently urges Member States not to return Eritreans seeking asylum in Europe, in accordance with the Geneva Convention; demands that the EU Member States adhere to the concept of non-refoulement, and reminds them that returning asylum-seekers are likely to be arbitrarily detained and tortured as a result of their attempts to flee;

20.  Encourages Eritrea to engage with the international community in the field of human rights; requests that the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) cooperate with Eritrea in capacity building in the judicial system by organising seminars and training for judges and lawyers as a constructive way forward; recognises that a delegation from the Office of the High Commissioner of the HRC will visit Eritrea in July 2017, and calls on this delegation to report on what they see and to attempt to gain access to all parts of the country, in particular prisons, where facilities can be surveyed and reported upon;

21.  Reiterates its deep concern about the current devastating climatic conditions in the Horn of Africa, including Eritrea, and the serious risk of food and humanitarian crisis that they entail; calls on the EU, together with its international partners, to scale up its support to the affected populations and to ensure that the necessary funding and assistance are provided;

22.  Condemns the Eritrean Government’s policy of arbitrarily revoking citizenship, and demands that all Eritrean citizens be treated fairly and equally before the law; stresses that addressing the justice deficit in Eritrea democratic governance and restoration of the rule of law must be prioritised, by ending authoritarian rule by fear of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, of torture and of other human rights violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity;

23.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of the African Union, the East African Community, the Secretary-General of the UN, the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and the Eritrean authorities.

Eritrea’s forgotten wars

Monday, 10 July 2017 06:54 Written by

Eritrea’s forgotten wars

by Martin Plaut

Eritrea is well known for the 30 year war of independence it fought against Ethiopia. It is also remembered for the tragic two-year border war of 1998 - 2000, once more with Ethiopia. But these are only the tip of the iceberg.

For a young country (only formally independent in 1993) Eritrea has been involved in an extraordinary number of conflicts. Here I will focus on some of the lesser know, before outlining those that are better understood.


Eritrea's forgotten wars

What is notable about both of these wars is that they were undertaken in alliance with the newly installed Ethiopian government.

It is often overlooked that after the fall of Asmara and Addis Ababa in 1991 to the rebel movements of Eritrea and Tigray - they worked closely together. Relations between newly independent Eritrea and the new government in Ethiopia were very good indeed.

The border war of 1998 negated this relationship, but this should not obscure the fact that Eritreans and Ethiopians (or, more accurately, Tigrayans and Oromo) had fought alongside each other to oust the Mengistu regime. The alliance held in the first few years after 1991. Indeed, an Eritrean battalion remained in Addis Ababa until at least 1995, guaranteeing the security of the government of President/Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

1. The war in Sudan. This conflict is admirably summarised in the Royal African Society's publication, African Arguments. Two articles by Ahmed Hassan, which can be found  here and here, show how Eritrea and Ethiopia worked with Sudanese opposition movements to try to outs the Sudanese government.  As Ahmed Hassan argues, it was an alliance Eritrea and Ethiopia forged with the Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF) that did the fighting. They were backed by Ugandan troops and American money, in the form of CIA subventions.

The allies were attempting to outs the National Islamic Front (NIF) that had come to power in Khartoum in June 1989. Eritrea broke relations with Sudan in December 1994, and Sudanese rebels of the SPLA/M moved to Asmara officially in 1995 and were based in the building that had served as the Sudanese Embassy just few months previously. Tension between Eritrea and Sudan stemmed primarily from traded accusations that both Sudan and Eritrea were supporting opposition groups of the other country, and Islamist expansionism in Khartoum.

As Ahmed Hassan argues: "Most importantly, Sudan was viewed at that time by Eritrea, Ethiopia, and the U.S. as a destabilizing factor within the region posing serious threats with its adoption of a political Islamic agenda and the subsequent support to Islamic militants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. That period also marked honeymoon of the relations between the U.S. and the 'new breed’ of African leaders represented by Isseyas Afewerki, Meles Zenawi and Yoweri Museveni." Hence the American support.

The war came close to succeeding - at one time threatening Khartoum's power supply from the Nile. But in the end the Sudanese opposition fragmented. Internal conflicts and a lack of success on the battlefield led to deep divisions. As Ahmed Hassan suggests: "By early 1998, SAF reached its limit as an effective movement due to the limited capacity and narrow agenda of its leadership. Serious internal conflicts between the military and the civilian components of the movement started to surface."

Then - out of the blue (apparently) - the May 1998 border war erupted between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Both nations moved to mend fences with the Khartoum government and their support for Sudanese rebel movements melted away. For Eritrea the war with Sudan was over: the border war with Ethiopia had just begun.

2. The war in Congo. Again, this was a joint Eritrean-Ethiopian operation, although it was Eritrea that did most of the fighting. It is a strange story, with many twists and turns.

This operation had its origins in 1994 and the Rwandan genocide. When the Hutu genocidaires established bases in the Congo to try to fight their way back into Rwanda, the newly installed Rwandan government of Paul Kagame decided to act. They looked around for a Congolese player whom they might use and came across Laurent Kabila. Until then Kabila had been a small-time hotel owner who dabbled in Congolese politics, and had once met the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

The Rwandans and Kabila's Congolese set out to overthrow the Mobutu government on the other side of the continent. This is how the BBC described these events: "

In October 1996, Kabila's "Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire" launched an offensive against the Zairean Government. With the help of ethnic Tutsis and the Rwandan army, Kabila's alliance took control of over half the country - larger in size than western Europe - within seven months. Laurent Kabila declared himself President of the Democratic Republic of Congo on 17 May 1997."

What is seldom reported is that Eritrean forces - a battalion strong - accompanied the Rwandans and Kabila's rebel army. Ugandan and Burundian forces were also involved. This alliance mirrored the alliance in Sudan.

As the journalist Patrick French observed: "Rwanda’s designs on eastern Congo were further helped by the Clinton administration’s interest in promoting a group of men it called the New African Leaders, including the heads of state of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, and Rwanda. As Clinton officials saw it, these New Leaders were sympathetic and businesslike, drawn together by such desirable goals as overthrowing Mobutu, by antagonism toward the Islamist government of Sudan, which shares a border with northeast Congo, and by talk of rethinking Africa’s hitherto sacrosanct borders, as a means of creating more viable states."

The Eritrean forces fought valiantly and many paid with their lives, arriving in Kinshasa exhausted and ill. They had to be evacuated home. But they also had been of considerable economic benefit to Eritrea. Where they took control of areas of the Congo they set about extracting what benefits they could from its rich mineral reserves. There are stories of gold and other minerals being shipped out, to help boost the Eritrean economy.

Laurent Kabila owed his presidency - at least in part - to the Eritrean-Ethiopian mission, which explains why he attempted to intervene in June 1998 to halt the border war that broke out between his two former allies.

Eritrea's better known conflicts

1.    Conflict with Yemen over the Hanish islands. This was brief - lasting from 15–17 December 1995, with Eritrean small boats capturing the island of Greater Hanish. Eritrea eventually agreed to have the conflict settled by arbitration, during which it lost most of the disputed territory, yet abided by the ruling.

2.    Support for al-Shabaab in Somalia. This followed the re-location of Somalia's Islamic Courts to Eritrea in 2007 after the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia. Eritrea subsequently sent advisers and military equipment to the Islamist group, al-Shabaab, which arose out of the Islamic Courts. As the UN Monitors put it in their 2011 report to the Security Council: "Asmara’s continuing relationship with Al-Shabaab, for example, appears designed to legitimize and embolden the group rather than to curb its extremist orientation or encourage its participation in a political process. Moreover, Eritrean involvement in Somalia reflects a broader pattern of intelligence and special operations activity, including training, financial and logistical support to armed opposition groups in Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Sudan and possibly Uganda in violation of Security Council resolution 1907 (2009)." Eritrea's operations in Somalia continued for several years, but now appears to have ended.

3.    Border clashes with Djibouti. This has spluttered on and off since 2008, leaving the two countries entrenched along their mutual border. In June 2017 Qatar pulled its peacekeeping troops out of the area, leading to fresh tension - which the African Union is attempting to resolve.

Civil war in Yemen. Eritrea has become involved in the Yemeni civil war that has pitted Houthi rebels against government forces supported by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE. President Isaias has allowed the Saudis and UAE to establish bases in Eritrea, at the port of Assab. Eritrean troop are also reported to be fighting in Yemen.


Addis Ababa, 9 July 2017- The Chairperson of the AUC announced on 3 July 2017, during the 29th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union that an AU High Level delegation led by the Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ambassador Smail Chergui will travel to Asmara, Eritrea to discuss with the authorities of Eritrea the developments in the region, and also exchange views on the AU’s initiative to develop a Horn of Africa Strategy.                   

At the request of the Eritrean authorities and due to a conflicting calendar, new dates will be agreed upon through consultations with the Eritrean government.

The Chairperson of the AU Commission reiterates his determination to spare no effort in promoting dialogue, peace and security in the Horn of Africa.



On Thursday, 6 July 2017, the European Parliament passed an important resolution on the EU’s relations with Eritrea.

It highlight – once again – the human rights abuses of the Eritrean government, including the detention of Abune Antonios and the journalist Dawit Isaak. But the resolution went further to make key demands on the EU. The resolution:

  1. Denounced the resumption of major EU aid to Eritrea and in particular the signing off of the NIP for Eritrea of EUR 200 million
  2. Demanded action to halt the 2% tax
  3. Urged an end to the forcible return of Eritreans – refoulment.
  4. Supported the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights
  5. Demanded that the Commission obtain guarantees from the Eritrean Government that it will implement democratic reforms and ensure respect for human rights

…and much more.

Full text below. Martin

Source: European Parliament

Wieder Demonstrationen gegen Eritrea 08.07.2017

GIESSEN - (ebp). "So lange die Diktatur nicht beendet ist, werden wir jedes Jahr demonstrieren" zeigt sich Klaus-Dieter Grothe kämpferisch. Wie auch in den vergangenen Jahren hatte der Grünen-Stadtverordnete eine Kundgebung angemeldet, um gegen das Eritrea-Festival in den Hessenhallen zu demonstrieren - und mehr als 100 Gleichgesinnte schlossen sich ihm an.


Darunter auch Abraham Kiros, der nicht verstehen kann, wieso das Festival überhaupt genehmigt wird: "Wir haben in Deutschland die Freiheit bekommen, aber der Diktator verfolgt uns bis hierher". Das sieht auch Mussa Ibrahim so. Es sei eine "Unverschämtheit, dass das Festival ausgerechnet in Gießen stattfindet". Denn viele Menschen, die vor dem diktatorischen Regime geflohen seien, hätten auch in der Erstaufnahmeeinrichtung Zuflucht gefunden. In den Hessenhallen ist das umstrittene Festival derweil im vollen Gange. Es läuft Musik, Waffeln werden gebacken, mittendrin spielen ein paar Mädchen Volleyball. Auch eine Hüpfburg steht parat. Auf den ersten Blick wirkt es wie ein großes Familienfest - wären da nicht die vielen eritreischen Nationalflaggen und Plakate, die sich mit der Geschichte des Landes beschäftigen. Kritische Stimmen sucht man hier vergeblich. "Ein Vierteljahrhundert voller Stabilität und Entwicklung" steht auf Englisch auf einem Banner.

"Es gibt viele Dinge, die in Eritrea gut laufen", sagt Dirk Vogelsang von der Deutsch-Eritreischen Gesellschaft im Gespräch mit dem Anzeiger und verweist auf Zahlen, wonach 80 Prozent der Eritreer Zugang zu sauberem Trinkwasser haben. Man wolle die Probleme nicht verschweigen, könne jedoch nicht verstehen, "wieso an Eritrea Maßstäbe angelegt werden, wie an kein anderes afrikanisches Land". Während drinnen gefeiert wird, wird draußen weiter demonstriert. "Ihr tanzt auf den Leichen eurer Brüder und Schwestern", prangt auf einem Plakat. Andere Demonstranten halten blutige Bilder in die Höhe, auf denen Folgen der Misshandlungen durch die Regierung zu sehen sein sollen.

"In den Hessenhallen treffen sich Vertreter und Unterstützer einer der schlimmsten Diktaturen der Welt" klagt Klaus-Dieter Grothe, während die Demonstranten im Hintergrund "enough is enough" skandieren - zu Deutsch: genug ist genug. "In Eritrea existiert kein Rechtssystem. Menschen werden verhaftet und keiner weiß, wo sie landen" so der Grünen-Politiker.

EUROPEAN ministers today suggested they are now considering a radical shift in their migration strategy which would see EU vessels start turning migrant boats around and sending them back to North Africa.

By Nick Gutteridge, Brussels Correspondent
PUBLISHED: 13:29, Thu, Jul 6, 2017 | UPDATED: 14:06, Thu, Jul 6, 2017

A migrant boat in the MediterraneanGETTY

EU ministers are meeting to discuss migration to Italy today

Interior chiefs from Estonia, Belgium and the Netherlands all said Brussels needs to find ways of significantly upping the rate of deportations of economic migrants if it is to survive the latest spike in the continent’s migration crisis. 

Eurocrats are now set to draw up a code of conduct, at the behest of Italy, which will govern how NGOs operating search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean should coordinate their operations with EU member states in the future. 

A number of prominent Italian politicians have accused charities of acting as a taxi service for migrants and even communicating with people smuggling gangs to coordinate rescues - allegations aid workers furiously deny. 

But arriving at a meeting of EU interior ministers in Estonia this morning several heavy hitters from across the continent hinted that patience with the current situation is now wearing thin, with 10,000 people arriving at Italian ports every day. 

Rome has warned its reception facilities are close to collapsing under the strain and has threatened to start turning rescue vessels away from its shores, urging other member states to begin opening up their ports and sharing the burden instead. 
Today there was little appetite amongst the remaining EU countries for doing so, but there were suggestions the bloc could start turning migrant boats back to Libya as a way of alleviating the growing pressure on Italy. 
EU officials have said that the vast majority of those arriving in Italy from North Africa are not refugees, but "manifestly" economic migrants. French president Emmanuel Macron put the figure at "over 80 per cent" whilst the the UN has said it is around seven in 10. 

Dutch interior minister Stephanus BlokEbS

Dutch interior minister Stephanus Blok said African ports have a role to play

Belgian asylum minister Theo FranckenEbS

Belgian Theo Francken said the current chaos in Italy cannot go on

Dutch interior minister Stephanus Blok said: “We need to work out both a better entrance system but also a better system to bring back people who are not entitled to asylum. It cannot remain as it is now. 

“Just opening more ports will not solve the problem by itself. We should also discuss the role that African ports should play in this field. We should take the African ports also into account."

His Belgian counterpart, Theo Francken, also suggested a new approach may be necessary stating that the current procedure of “bringing everybody to Europe” cannot go on in light of the huge numbers being rescued. 

Asked if he agreed with a code of conduct for NGOs, he replied: "I'm absolutely pro. I think it’s very good that we have a code of conduct with the NGOs.

“We have to save people but the solution is not in bringing everybody to Europe. That is not the solution, that will only increase the problem.” 

And grilled on Italy’s suggestion that other member states open up their ports to migrant boats, he added: “I don’t think we’re going to open Belgian ports, no.”

Estonian interior minister Andrea Anvelt, whose country currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, said European countries need to send a “clear message” that economic migrants will be deported swiftly. 

He said: “If we will not send the clear messages that we can return, once more time return policy is the preventive and key word in immigration crises. 

“So if we send the people back this will be the first and most important preventive measure that there’s no reason to come here if you don’t have the right. 

“The key programme is the return policy. How the people who don’t have right to international protection can be quickly and efficiently sent back to third countries. 

“Those are the steps the EU has to take as quickly as possible. Legal migration is a possibility but illegal migration and also economic migration have to be stopped.” 

War torn Libya, which has two rival governments, is not considered a safe third country by the EU and there are question marks over whether turning boats back is legal under international law.

Refugees and migrants wait in a small rubber boat to be rescued off Lampedusa, Italy

But EU leaders do want to strike a deal with the internationally recognised administration in Tripoli similar to the one they have with Turkey in an attempt to stem the huge numbers of arrivals. 

And they could also try to reach agreements with other North African states, such as Tunisia and Egypt, which may be prepared to take on some of the migration burden in return for huge injections of aid cash. 

Under the terms of Brussels’ pact with Ankara all economic migrants are returned across the Aegean, with one genuine refugee from a Turkish camp being housed for every person sent back. 

NGOs and some politicians also fear that the EU’s proposed code of conduct, which will be directed by Italy, will effectively be designed to act as a break on their search and rescue operations. 

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos insisted Brussels was not turning against charities, saying it had “no problems” with their activities in the Mediterranean. 

He added: “The idea behind this proposal is how to make our relations more functional through a more coordinated way. NGOs are contributing in a complimentary way but in a very substantial way to better do our job on the ground.”