The UK will offer safety to more unaccompanied refugee children, the Government has announced.

The UK has asked the UN's Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to identify Syrian unaccompanied children currently living in the Middle East and other conflict zones who could benefit from resettlement. It is unclear how many children will be offered safe haven, but this scheme will be in addition to the Government’s pledge to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

The Government has rejected calls to offer safe haven to 3,000 unaccompanied children who have made the perilous journey to Europe and who are living in dangerous situations across the continent.

However, the UK has promised to allow children in Europe with relatives here to finally realise their rights to be allowed to join them in the UK while their claims for asylum are examined.

While existing European rules in theory already allow this to happen, they are rarely implemented, leaving children desperate to join their loved ones with little option than to undertake a risky march of misery across the continent to try and reach them.

The Refugee Council has long called for these rules to be properly utilised to prevent refugees from being forced into such dangerous journeys and is now calling for their speedy implementation.

Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Dr Lisa Doyle welcomed the move, saying: "Children who are travelling alone in Europe are vulnerable to succumbing to freezing temperatures, abuse and exploitation. It’s vital the Government acts as quickly as possible to bring families together in order to prevent the unnecessary risk and hardship experienced by those currently forced to make treacherous journeys to reach their loved ones.”

Despite this step forward, the Refugee Council is concerned that the Government is still refusing to help share responsibility for protecting the men, women and children arriving on Europe’s shores – a deliberate failure to acknowledge the fact that these refugees are fleeing the same atrocities as those the Government is choosing to resettle and are also in dire need of protection.

The Refugee Council is calling for Britain to voluntarily step forward and show leadership in its approach to the refugee crisis by offering to help protect some of the refugees arriving in Europe, as well as by establishing alternative routes to safety for those fleeing for their lives.


Report: World Freedom in Decline for 10th Year

Thursday, 28 January 2016 19:22 Written by

VOA News

In another major report Wednesday on human-rights concerns, The Freedom House group said more aggressive tactics by authoritarian regimes, an upsurge in terrorist attacks and a global economic downturn have contributed to a disturbing decline in freedom worldwide.

The U.S.-based international human rights group said freedom worldwide declined in 2015, for the 10th consecutive year.

The annual report by Freedom House says 72 countries showed a decline in freedom for the year, the largest number since the downturn began.

The human rights group says of the 195 countries assessed, 50 were rated "Not Free" and 59 deemed "Partly Free." The report says Syria, the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, Somalia, North Korea, Uzbekistan and Eritrea were among the worst offenders.

Turkmenistan, Western Sahara, Central African Republic, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Saudi Arabia also made the list of the worst.

Among worst offenders

The Middle East and North Africa were listed as the worst regions in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.

The report indicates people in those places suffered significant setbacks, as authoritarian leaders cracked down on rights activists and other critics.

FILE - Migrants and refugees use their sleeping blankets to keep warm as they walk along snow covered fields after crossing the Macedonian border into Serbia, near the village of Miratovac, Jan. 18, 2016.
FILE - Migrants and refugees use their sleeping blankets to keep warm as they walk along snow covered fields after crossing the Macedonian border into Serbia, near the village of Miratovac, Jan. 18, 2016.

Freedom House said democratic countries, especially in Europe, also clamped down on civil liberties, as they came under pressure from terrorist attacks and the strain of unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers from Syria and other conflict zones. It said rising populism across the European Union cast doubt on the bloc’s ability to maintain high democratic standards among both current and aspiring member states.

According to Freedom House, the global economic downturn and fear of social unrest led authoritarian regimes in Russia, China and other countries to crack down harder on dissent.

Global economic downturn

In Russia, it said, President Vladimir Putin maintained his policies of repression, including persecution of LGBT activists and independent journalists, and he pursued military intervention abroad.  It also cited Putin for his continued support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, and the airstrikes in Syria aimed at shoring up the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

FILE - Lesbian and Gay Rights activists take part in a demonstration aimed to coincide with the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, against laws aimed at stifling Gay Rights in Russia, opposite Downing Street in London, Feb. 5, 2014.
FILE - Lesbian and Gay Rights activists take part in a demonstration aimed to coincide with the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, against laws aimed at stifling Gay Rights in Russia, opposite Downing Street in London, Feb. 5, 2014.

It also cited Putin for his continued support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, and the airstrikes in Syria aimed at shoring up the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Freedom House said China's communist government in 2015 intensified its persecution of human rights lawyers, journalists and minority rights advocates, and singled out new targets for abuse, including labor activists, public health advocates and women’s rights defenders.  

It said modest reforms such as the institution of a two-child policy could not offset the abuses by the government.

Conflicts, disasters

As the world's attention was diverted to new conflicts and disasters, the report said, the dramatic setbacks for freedom in Thailand, Egypt, Crimea and South Sudan that marked 2014 continued to fester.

Leaders in several countries moved to extend their terms in office during 2015, Freedom House noted, most prominently in Burundi, Bolivia, Ecuador, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

The report did find that 61 nations recorded progress in efforts to establish greater freedoms, and it cited Latin America for praise.

It cited Iran and Myanmar among the countries to watch in 2016.

The report said once the newly elected legislature of Myanmar is seated and a government is formed, the National League for Democracy will be under pressure to deliver on its promises.

In Iran, moderate reformists are preparing for next month's critical elections to the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, the body that appoints the country's supreme leader.




Convened by Centre for Citizen Participation at African Union (CCPAU) the 6th African Citizens’ Conference was held between 21st to 23rd January 2016 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, under the theme African Year of Human Rights, in particular, with focus on the Rights of Women”. The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) facilitated the participation of Eritrean delegation composed of five activists.

The conference deliberated extensively on the current state of governance and human rights in Africa. The focus was on the achievements and challenges facing Africa in this respect. The conference underlined the normative and practical progress made so far by African Union in the areas off governance and human rights. Notable are the mechanisms put in place by the African Union, such as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, related protocol for the establishment and functioning of the AHPR Commission as well as the Protocol for the Establishment of African Court of Justice. With respect to governance the adoption of African Governance Architecture and related institutions and legal provisions, such as the Pan-African Parliament and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance, are recognized an significant progress made by the African Union. However, the implementation in the sense of adherence was identified as a major shortcoming. The Conference noted that non-compliance of member states with the commitments they made at African Union is not only indicative of the ambivalence of member state with the Africa project, but also a factor contributing for continued widespread impunity and mal-governance in the continent.

As cases in point, the Conference specifically discussed situation in countries, such as Eritrea and Burundi. Sponsored by EMDHR and the Southern African Civil Society Solidarity Team a parallel workshop was convened dedicated to human rights situation in Eritrea with the title “We are not heard, We are not heard from: Human Rights Situation in Eritrea”. Two presentations were made in this workshop. One was by Dr Bereket Berhane Woldeab wwho briefed the participants on general political situation and the wide spread and systematic human rights situation in Eritrea and its implication on the Eritrea, its people and the regional at large. By making reference to the findings of the UN Human Rights Commission of Inquiry, Dr Bereket expressed his observation about the absence of African solidarity on with the Eritrean people. The second presentation was by a young Eritrean woman refugee who recently fled from the country risking her life. The young woman narrated her personal experiences and ordeals at the hand of the dictatorial regime which touched the participants deeply. As a daughter of former top official of People’s Front for Democracy and Justice who is now in unknown prison, the young woman explained how the regime consistently and vengefully victimized the entire family, including herself, in terms of taking away all the family possessions to deny the family any livelihood means; how she was dismissed from a tertiary institute where she was studying for a degree.                                                       

In its final communique the 6th African Citizens’ Conference adopted a resolution in which the African civil society called upon the African Union to put human rights situation in Eritrea on its agenda and endorse the report of the UNHR-COI report as its own and up on the AHPR Commission to refer Eritrea to the African Union Summit. The conference also urged up on African Civil Society to lend their unwavering support and solidarity to Eritrean human rights activists in the continent.  Furthermore, participants of the conference made a number of recommendations that would be undertaken by a number of civil society organizations that is aimed at raising awareness of Africans on the situation in Eritrean and engage their respective national governments on the matter in collaboration with Eritrean civil society.

The Eritrean delegation was made up of Mr Bashir Ishaq Abdalla, Dr Bereket Berhane Woldeab, Mr Nasreldin Ahmed Ali, Young Eritrean woman refugee, Ms Khadija Khalifa Mahmoud and Dr. Adane Ghebremeskel.


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

24th January 2016

Planning, Proceedings and Outcome of the National Consultative Conference (NCC)

                                Semere Tesfamicael Habtemariam


Date:     Saturday, January 30, 2016                                        

Time:    6:00 PM                                                                                               

Place:    The Eritrean American Civic Association                

                590 Shawmut Avenue,

Boston, MA 02118

Washington DC

Date:     Sunday, January 31, 2016

Time:    1:00 PM

Place:    416 Cedar St. NW

                Washington DC, 20012

Semere Tesfamicael Habtemariam is a member of the Forum for National Dialogue’s (FND aka Medrekh) Advocacy Team and member and secretary of the newly established NCC Ad hoc Organ Contact Organ.

Refugees say they were forced to wear bands at all times in accommodation provided by Home Office contractor


A coloured wristband on the arm of an asylum seeker, which indicates that they are entitled to meals at Lynx House. Photograph: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency


Diane Taylor

Sunday 24 January 2016 15.14 GMT Last modified on Monday 25 January 2016 00.50 GMT

Asylum seekers in Cardiff are being issued with brightly coloured wristbands that they must wear at all times, in a move which echoes the “red door” controversy in Middlesbrough and has resulted in their harassment and abuse by members of the public.

Newly arrived asylum seekers in the Welsh capital who are housed by Clearsprings Ready Homes, a private firm contracted by the Home Office, are being told that they must wear the wristbands all the time otherwise they will not be fed. The wristbands entitle the asylum seekers, who cannot work and are not given money, to three meals a day.

David Cameron considering calls by charities as Jeremy Corbyn, who on Saturday visited refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk, urges emergency steps

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It follows the news that asylum seekers in Middlesbrough had complained their houses were targeted after people realised all front doors were painted the same colour red by the private firm responsible for housing them, G4S.

Eric Ngalle, 36, spent a month in Lynx House in Cardiff, where initial accommodation is provided for asylum seekers, before he was granted refugee status in November 2015. He is now working as a writer and making a theatre production with the Arts Council of Wales.

He said: “My time in Lynx House was one of the most horrible experiences in my life. I hated wearing the wristbands and sometimes refused to wear them and was turned away from food.

“If we refused to wear the wristbands we were told we would be reported to the Home Office. Some staff implemented this policy in a more drastic way than others. I made a complaint about the wristbands to Clearsprings but nothing was done. We had to walk from accommodation about 10 minutes away to Lynx House to get food and sometimes when we were walking down the street with our wristbands showing.

“On the road we had to walk down there is often heavy traffic. Sometimes drivers would see our wristbands, start honking their horns and shout out of the window, ‘Go back to your country.’ Some people made terrible remarks to us.

“If you take off the wristband you can’t reseal it back onto your wrist so if you want to eat you have to wear it all the time. Labelling them on a daily basis with silver, red or blue tags only serves as a reminder that they are still wearing the garments of an outcast.”


Photograph: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency

Maher, 41, who recently stayed at Lynx House but has now been granted refugee status, said he was very angry about being forced to wear the wristband.


“When you walk down the street all the local people who see this brightly coloured band know who we are and where we live,” he said. “We feel we are not equal with this community. All the time I tried to hide the band so people could not see it.”

Asylum seekers in the UK are not allowed to work or claim mainstream benefits. Some receive a small amount of money or an Azure card to use in supermarkets.

But newly arrived asylum seekers placed in what is known as initial accommodation by the Home Office receive neither money or an Azure card. They are placed in hotel-style accommodation and given three basic meals a day.

Mogdad Abdeen, 24, a human rights activist from Sudan, spent three months in Lynx House at the end of last year. He has now been moved to different accommodation in Cardiff while he waits for a decision on his claim.

“This wristband is discrimination, clear and simple. No band, no food. We are made to feel that we are second-class humans. People in Lynx House are scared of meeting new people in case they see the wristband and give them problems.

Wristband3“Sometimes when we are standing outside Lynx House queueing for food people shout out of their car windows ‘refugee, refugee’. When we complain about the wristbands nobody listens to us.”

When some of the occupants of Lynx House were asked if they were willing to be identified, all refused saying they were scared that they might be punished for speaking out. Instead they agreed to have their hands photographed wearing the bands.

Chloe Marong, coordinator of the Trinity Centre in Cardiff, which supports asylum seekers and refugees, has expressed concern about the wristbands.

“We have raised concerns about these wristbands with the Home Office and Clearsprings but so far nothing has been done. These wristbands mark asylum seekers out and further stigmatises them in an already very hostile environment,” she said.

Adam Hundt of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors said: “Concerns about this practice have been raised with us and we have been looking at it. Asylum seekers are a very scared and vulnerable group and the last thing they want to do is stand out from the crowd.

Report says Home Office guidance that it was safe to send Eritreans home is based largely on discredited Danish report

Read more

“In some areas it can be dangerous for them to do so, so it is easy to understand how asylum seekers feel they are being branded with these brightly coloured wristbands which draw unwelcome attention to them and make them feel ashamed. It is particularly concerning that wearing the wristbands is linked to whether or not they get food or go hungry. It should be possible to come up with a system to ensure that people are fed without publicly humiliating them and undermining race relations.”


Photograph: Gareth Everett/Huw Evans Agency

The operations director of Clearsprings Ready Homes, said: “The UK has, over recent months, seen a larger population of asylum seekers. In turn volumes of people in initial accommodation sites, including Cardiff increased quickly.

“Clearsprings has taken steps, agreed with the Home Office to increase capacity in line with this demand in the form of additional self-catering accommodation.

“Those clients in the self-catering units receive a weekly allowance in the form of supermarket vouchers and those in full-board accommodation are issued with a coloured wristband that bears no other logo or text identifying its use or origin. Full-board clients are required to show their wristbands in order to receive meals in the restaurant.”

The company said it had been operating the system since May 2015 because of the increased numbers of asylum seekers.“As well as being subject to regular Home Office inspections we are contractually required to undertake stringent monthly inspections of the initial accommodation provision and rectify any defects within contractual timescales,” Clearsprings said.

The Home Office declined to comment.


Aid agencies call for collective European approach to migrant crisis

Some 700 migrants rescued by Italy and the EU are undergoing health and identity checks in Sicily.

Among them are 20 pregnant women and 29 unaccompanied children.

Read also Migrant crisis tops agenda of final EU summit of 2015

Most are said to be of African origin including from Eritrea, Nigeria and Somalia. Rescue crews say they will be passed on to Italy for processing.

Read also UN refugee chief calls for 'massive resettlement' of Syrians in Europe

Commander of the Norwegian Ship Siem Pilot, Lise Dunham"Yes, we always talk to the migrants we of course try to get some information out of them, from where they come and how the journey was, and everything. And then our task, we are a Frontex ship, is to get them safe ashore, to the Italian coast and then the Italian government first will do the rest of the work."

The mass arrival comes as aid agencies call for a collective European approach to the migrant crisis. Some leaders warn the huge influx of people means the EU's passport free Schengen zone is under threat.



Kate Lyons

Friday 22 January 2016 14.04 GMT

Report says Home Office guidance that it was safe to send Eritreans home is based largely on discredited Danish report


Eritrean migrants in the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, France. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

The Home Office is using misleading and biased information to decide the fate of Eritrean asylum seekers, an independent report has found, as its author claims the government distorted evidence to make it easier to reject them.

The report, published on Friday, analysed two Country Information Guidance (CIG) documents issued by the Home Office last year. The advice says that it is now safe to return asylum seekers to the east African country.

But an inquiry by the Independent Advisory Group on Country of Origin Information, has concluded the policy recommendations made in the documents are “completely divorced from relevant objective evidence”. Its report adds that unless the CIG advice is completely rewritten, the Home Office unit responsible for producing them will be “viewed as totally lacking credibility”.

Dr John Campbell, the author of the report, said the findings were damning. He alleges the documents rely heavily on a discredited Danish report, misquote sources, blur policy and “facts”, and fail to acknowledge significant human rights issues in the country.

He said: “The Home Office report does not conform to the professional standards which country information reports are expected to meet. Instead it is based on a highly selective use of information and it deliberately distorts information to support its own conclusions, namely that it is now safe for the UK to return Eritrean asylum seekers to their home country.”

There remain significant international concerns over human rights breaches in Eritrea, including the forced conscription of children and elderly people into military service and the rape of female conscripts.

“An undergraduate would be failed for this sort of thing,” said Campbell, a reader in the anthropology of Africa and law at the University of London, who has been a country expert on asylum claims from Eritrea and Ethiopia since the mid-1990s.

The report concludes that “the only possible way forward for the Home Office is to completely rewrite both CIG reports”, including recommending that approximately 20% of one of the reports should be deleted.

Eritreans account for the largest group of people applying for asylum in the UK, with 3,726 Eritrean nationals applying in the year ending September 2015.

The Home Office advised it was not safe to return most asylum seekers to Eritrea until it controversially updated its country advice in March 2015, claiming that citizens who left Eritrea without permission – many of them to escape its infamous indefinite military service – would not face persecution if they returned. The advice resulted in the number of Eritreans granted protection in the UK plummeting from a 73% approval rate in the first quarter of 2015 to 34% in the second quarter.

The Home Office guidance also stated that Eritrea’s indefinite national service had been shortened to between 18 months and four years. However the independent report released on Friday is scathing of this claim, saying it is based upon assurances from the Eritrean government that have not been supported by any policy announcements or evidence.

Campbell’s report was critical of the Home Office for basing its guidance largely on a 2014 report commissioned for the Danish government, from which the researchers involved and the Danish government have since distanced themselves.

“The CIGs have a total over-reliance on one source [the Danish report] which bucked the trend of all objective evidence on human rights in Eritrea,” said Campbell.

“I’ve looked at each of the arguments [the Home Office] have made and the forms of evidence they used. Not only have they misquoted sources but they’ve disregarded a whole range of material that bears on the question of whether it’s safe to return, such as: are there independent courts in Eritrea?”

The report also says the Home Office guidance ignores well substantiated evidence from various sources that children are forced to participate in the country’s indefinite military service and have been sent to war as child soldiers.

“Making decisions about whether or not to grant refugee protection is often a matter of life or death, yet the government’s own statistics reveal it gets a staggering number of decisions on Eritrean cases wrong,” said Maurice Wren, the chief executive of the Refugee Council.

“The government should not let its obsession with controlling immigration override its legal and moral responsibility to protect refugees.”

Campbell said: “There are roughly 2,000 Eritreans a month who are leaving their country. We’re talking about a lot of human lives. A lot of human suffering is being caused by this policy.”

According to Campbell, unless the Home Office revises its guidance, it will be left with a “dead policy”, which the asylum claims tribunal will not be able to use.

“They will have to revise it, absolutely. Increasingly the evidence I use is going to be used by other immigration lawyers and the sector will have a dead policy because the tribunal will not be upholding the guidance,” he said.

The Home Office has not responded to requests for comment.


Analysis: This is Africa’s North Korea

Wednesday, 20 January 2016 12:51 Written by

 Oded Bailty

© Oded Balilty African migrants stand inside Holot detention centre. Eritrea is not at war, but its president, Isaias Afwerki, uses the threat of a bloody conflict to justify human rights abuses, among them indefinite national service. Eritrea is losing its youth through mass migration. But what is everyone fleeing, asks Mercedes Sayagues.

There is something odd in the camps hosting Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia and Sudan. Generally, refugee camps in Africa burst with women and children - but mostly young men cram the Eritrean camps.

Equally odd is that tiny Eritrea (population around 4.5 million) ranks, along with Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, among the world’s five top source countries of asylum-seekers. Some 5 000 young Eritreans flee every month, by UN estimates.

Up to 10 percent of the population has left. The majority of Eritrean migrants take the deadliest route to Europe, across Sudan, Egypt and Libya. Throughout their desperate journey, they may fall prey to vicious human trafficking.

In eastern Sudan, the Rashaida militias kidnap migrants until relatives pay ransom, then pass them along the trafficking chain. Sinai trafficking is especially cruel. Smugglers torture migrants by open cellphones so their relatives hear their screams. Over the years, it is estimated they have killed between 5 000 and 10 000 Eritreans. Closer to Europe, hundreds of Eritreans have drowned in the Mediterranean.

Yet Eritrea is not at war. What are the refugees fleeing?

“A totalitarian state bent on controlling Eritreans through a vast security apparatus to control, silence and isolate individuals, depriving them of their fundamental freedoms,” says a 2015 report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.

In 483 pages of grim reading, it describes a nation living in fear of forced labour, arbitrary imprisonment, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), inhumane jails, spies, arbitrary land expropriations, and restrictions on freedom of expression, conscience and movement - human rights violations on a scope and scale seldom seem elsewhere.

The 1997 constitution was never implemented and national budgets never tabled. A census is forever delayed. There are no independent NGOs or media. Internet is scarce and slow. Reporters Without Borders ranked Eritrea last among all countries in press freedom last year.

Only four religions are allowed: Eritrean Orthodox, Sunni Islam, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. Pentecostals and Jehovah Witnesses are persecuted and jailed unless they recant their faith.

UN researchers trying to document Eritrea’s success achieving some of the Millennium Development Goals have been denied entry.

So were members of the UN Commission of Enquiry, which had to rely on 550 interviews with Eritreans abroad.

Eritrea’s repression and isolation have earned it the nickname of Africa’s North Korea - a closed country where people need a pass to travel between towns and a hard-to-obtain exit visa to leave.

The worst is open-ended military conscription lasting up to a decade. Conscripts as young as 15 and as old as 50 work as indentured labourers in mining, infrastructure projects and farms, often owned by the military. They are poorly fed, abused, exploited and enslaved, says the report.

Those caught trying to escape or deported back to Eritrea are considered traitors, tortured and jailed.

For these reasons, Eritreans are automatically granted asylum in many European countries. The government argues that this is a pull factor. In any case, Eritrea is suffering “drastic depopulation”, warned the Catholic bishops in a rare letter of protest in 2015.

Migration levels are becoming “unsustainable”, says the International Crisis Group.

“Ending the exodus requires greater engagement with Eritrea - potentially ending a decade of isolation that has been both self-imposed and externally generated.”

Only Eritrea's latest betrayal

Constant betrayals. This phrase sums up Eritrea’s sad history.

Colonised by the Italians at the end of the 19th century, it was freed of Mussolini’s fascist rule by British troops in 1941. The Brits plundered port and factories, then handed the country over to the UN.

Disregarding Eritrea’s wish for independence, in 1950 the UN set up a federation with Ethiopia. The Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, promptly annexed Eritrea. The UN kept shamefully quiet, and in 1961, a 30-year-long liberation struggle began.

As the Cold War gripped the Horn of Africa in the 1980s, Americans and Soviets successively aided and dropped Eritrea, in a deadly game of shifting military alliances. Throughout these vagaries, Eritrea continued to fight pretty much alone.

Holed up since mid-1970 in a vast underground complex in the harsh, northern Sahel Mountains, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) eventually overran Mengistu Haile Miriam's army and achieved independence in 1993.

The EPLF was the Western media’s darling: an egalitarian, progressive, communal, frugal guerrilla force united over tribal, religious and gender fault lines. It was big on gender equality, for women’s education and against child marriage and genital mutilation. A third of its fighters were women.

Underground factories produced munitions as well as sanitary pads.

Twenty-three year later, the UN reports that Eritrean woman prisoners are not given sanitary pads, can't shower for months and are crowded in filthy cells without proper toilets.

This shift from liberation to oppression is the work of guerrilla leader-turned-president-for-life, Isaias Afwerki.

In 1998, Isaias provoked a two-year war with Ethiopia. Afterwards, Eritrea plunged into dictatorship.

Eritrean meddling in Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, supporting rebels and al-Shabaab, led the US to threaten to declare it a state sponsor of terrorism.

The UN imposed sanctions and began scrutinising its shadow economy. It found an illicit financial system based on money-laundering, arms trafficking and payouts from patrons like Libya, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Generals shared kidnapping ransoms with the Rashaida militia and exploited conscript forced labour.

The government exacts a 2 percent tax from Eritreans working overseas in exchange for consular services. The newest revenue is gold mining. In 2011, the Canadian company Nevsun, 40 percent owned by the state, started exporting gold. Another profitable asset is Eritrea’s location on the Red Sea. Its closeness to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt brings opportunities for funding and leverage with Saudis, Iranians, Houthis and Russians.

A small coterie of generals and advisers benefits from business and patronage but running the country is tightly controlled by Isaias.

“Eritrea is a personally owned political-business corporation which risks disintegrating when its founder-owner dies or is removed,” writes Alex de Waal in his book, The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa.

A heavy drinker, Isaias is in poor health and lacks a succession plan. Yet his absence might bring more turmoil.

Eritrea could become “an oligarchic system run by a cartel of generals and party fund managers, or a deregulated and violent political marketplace”, writes De Waal.

This would amount to yet another betrayal to Eritreans’ hopes for democracy.

Testimonies of brutality

A former prison guard recalled: “They cannot wash or shower. There is no health care. The men get to the point that their testicles are infected. They are screaming with pain. They are not allowed to wear shoes, their feet are swollen from the bruises.”

One detainee reported: “It is called the butchery because there is blood everywhere. I saw one pregnant girl lose her baby from the beating. She was caught trying to go to Sudan. I was in the queue after her to be punished. I could see her getting hit with a thin stick… all over her body by four men. She began bleeding.”

Mother of a toddler detained because her husband left the country: “I was handcuffed, very tight, an iron stick placed between my hands, a stick behind my knees and attached to my hands. Then, hung upside down, placing the stick between two tables, and beaten. I was beaten for 17 days with a stick or a whip, sometimes also slapped. They were bringing my baby in front of me and then they were beating me. When my child became sick, they asked me to bring 50 000 nakfa and I was released.”

A man jailed: “We were beaten every other day. My friend was beaten on the testicles with a stick. When he came back, everything was bloody. He could hardly walk, his testicles swelled to bigger than the size of a fist. He was in a lot of pain… He died shortly after.” - UN Commission of Enquiry

Eritrean refugees


36 000 registered by UN

Of these:

In Ethiopia: 130 000

In Sudan: 126 000

In Israel: 37 000

UNHCR 2015

Mercedes Sayagues is a Knight International Journalism Fellow

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Media.

Posted on January 14, 2016

Personal reflections on the refugee camps at Calais and Dunkirk

The sun shone last Friday. It was warm. For once it was not tipping down with rain. For the refugees it must have been a relief, yet it only underlined just how bleak the situation really is.


Late on Friday evening, I got off the Eurostar at St Pancras, made my way home, looked in on our young children (fast asleep in warm beds) and went to bed.

But I could not sleep.

 I had just returned from Calais and Dunkirk where thousands of migrants have set up temporary homes.

The conditions in both camps, but particularly Dunkirk, are so bad that describing them (even with accompanying photographs) cannot capture the squalor.


You have to smell conditions like these, and feel the squelch of mud mixed with rain water, urine and much else through your boots to appreciate the true horror.

No one should have to live in such conditions and the fact that I saw children the same age as my own (and younger) settling down for yet another freezing, damp and hopeless night in a tent pitched in the muck kept playing on my mind.

Their lives so different to those of my family for no reason other than their place of birth.


What makes the conditions in Calais and Dunkirk so troubling is not just that the camps are just one hour by Train from central London; it is also that they don’t need to be so bad.

British volunteers are doing extraordinary work across these sites.

Joe Friday  - who helped set up A Home for Winter – has been constructing hundreds of wooden homes in Calais to provide a minimum level of warmth and comfort.


If the French authorities allowed volunteers to erect temporary shelters, toilets and water taps in Dunkirk, the situation could be improved within days.

But until very recently they have refused; for fear that to do so will encourage others to arrive.


 If our government put as much emphasis on humanity as it does on security in its joint working agreements with the French authorities, things would be better. But it doesn’t.

Within both camps are mums, dads and children who are entitled to reunify with their families in the UK if the processing system worked.

But it doesn’t. And in both camps there are unaccompanied minors  - children, without help or guidance.

I sat in Calais and listened as a mother, with her four children, explain why she had to flee from Afghanistan. I won’t name her, for her safety.


‘I have a brother and a nephew in the UK,’ she told me. She had applied for family re-unification under asylum rules accepted by the Home Office under the EU’s Dublin convention, but had heard nothing.

‘I have skills. I worked at the British Council in Kabul,’ she explained.  Her English is fluent and she would have little trouble in fitting in, if only she could cross the Channel.

‘I came by car, by truck and by walking. We are so tired. We are like a butterfly looking for somewhere to nest.’


The emphasis of the authorities – French and British – is symbolised by the high security fencing and the CRS riot police, who patrol the area day and night.

I returned to London and the warmth and security of my family and our community. But my thoughts were in Calais.

Any human being making the visit I made last Friday would come away, as I did, uneasy with themselves and clear that, on all fronts, more needs to be done; and fast.


Press Statement


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12 January 2016


The Ad Hoc Contact Organ established at the end of the National Consultative Conference of Eritrean Political organizations in Nairobi, Kenya between 27 and 29 November 2015, held its first meeting on December 22, 2015 that was followed by several successive meetings and has now laid out its plan of work on the basis of the tasks that were entrusted to it by the participating organizations. The tasks as stipulated in the Nairobi Declaration are to:


1. Draft a common vision and program of action, in close consultation with political organizations, for a smooth transition to a democratic order.

2. Prepare for the next all-inclusive meeting of opposition organizations to discuss ways and means to accelerate democratic transition.


The Ad Hoc Contact Organ has:


• Extensively deliberated on its action plan;

• Assigned tasks to its members;

• Decided on mechanisms that would enable it to effectively communicating with the political opposition organisations as well as the general public, implement its plan of action, increase awareness of the outcomes of the National Consultative Conference and publicise the efforts being made to convene the next all inclusive conference.


Towards this goal, the Ad hoc Contact Organ shall reach out to all political organizations that did not participate in the Consultative Conference, with the aim of explaining the outcomes of the conference so they can be a part of the upcoming all-inclusive conference and its due preparation.


The Ad Hoc Contact Organ


National Consultative Conference of Eritrean Opposition Organizations


Members of the Ad Hoc Contact Organ:


1. Mohamed Ahmed Safar

2. Bashir Eshaq

3. Tesfai Woldemichael (Degiga)

4. Negash Osman

5. Semere T. Habtemariam 6. Suleiman Hussein


Contact e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.