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Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa

Eritrea update: Asmara protestors -including women and children – beaten and tortured during interrogation

Update from the Arbi Harnet (Freedom Friday) Network

(Akria 02-11-2017) Following the protests in Asmara on Tuesday, and particularly the pandemonium of the shootings by government soldiers, Akria was relatively calm today.

This afternoon some of the students,  and a few women,  who were taken to prison in connection with the uprising, have been released.

So far in Akria we have counted 5 students and 3 mothers who have been freed.

The condition of their release was that under no circumstances were they to talk about their experiences in prison, or the interrogations they faced.

However, people are refusing to obey these orders and are discussing their experiences.

In the area customarily known as Taseda Tsrgia a young student in the 10th grade told us that when he was detained they took him to the police station at Asmara Expo. He was interrogated and asked to name the organisers of the march.

He was doused in freezing water repeatedly and beaten up with belts.

Today the security officers quietly reopened the school, after realising that the matter had received international attention.

They removed the uniformed, armed, officers and have replaced them with two armed police officers outside the school.

However residents have noticed that there is a huge presence of armed under-cover security people swarming around the area.

The intelligence unit has adopted a cover tactic of quietly approaching people they want for questioning and asking them to report to the local administration office, instead of raiding houses and arresting people.

Having said this, those who did as they were instructed have been taken to undisclosed locations from the local administration offices.

This afternoon alone from a single neighbourhood, known as Riga Somal, two individuals, Mr AbdelKader Ahmed and Mr Negash Beyan were called in and have now disappeared.

In a related news we have also heard that General Philipos has ordered the arrest of high ranking officers, who were coordinating the government response on Tuesday, for not shooting directly at protestors, but instead shooting into the air.

Team Arbi Harnet in Asmara would like to take this opportunity to thank all those humane officers who chose not to shoot at us, their brothers and sisters.

Finally, we are aware that as always the government is trying to make this into a sectarian movement.

We notice that some are buying into that propaganda. This is unfortunate.

Our movement is against the unjust moves of the government, and against subjugation, and although it started in the school the entire district of Akria has joined in.

We are certain that our struggle for justice will succeed and so we call on all our people inside the country and in the diaspora to join us.

Project Arbi Harnet in Asmara

Eritrea protest update: defiance and calls for unity

Wednesday, 01 November 2017 21:38 Written by


I have received this from a contact working through the ‘Freedom Friday’ network.


Activists from yesterday’s protest are sending a call for national unity against PFDJ actions against religious schools.

In an impassioned appeal for unity across all faiths the activists stated:

“Unsurprisingly the regime is attempting to taint this as a religious move aimed at asserting Moslem dominance in the country.

However neither the actions of the government in closing religious schools not the actions yesterday were about one religious group.

There were Christians protestors on the streets yesterday and some are actually in prison alongside their Moslem brothers.

Yesterday at the mosque we made it clear that our issues are issues of freedom and liberty and not confined to religion or one religious group.

In fact what must be clear is that the schools shut include the Catholic school in at the Cathedral as well as the Orthodox school at Enda Mariam.

We are all victims of the same persecution and yesterday we stood up against them together.

We appeal to all our brothers and sisters to continue to stand in solidarity and reject any attempts to divide and paly us against each other.”

Arbi Harnet [Freedom Friday] commends the unity with which Eritreans across the globe have stood up to PFDJ yesterday and appeals for on-going unity as we stand in solidarity with our people  inside Eritrea.


Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa, United States


Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Protests in Asmara


The U.S. Embassy has received reports of gunfire at several locations in Asmara due to protests.  The Embassy advises U.S. citizens to avoid the downtown area where protests appear to be more prevalent.  Streets in the downtown area may be closed, and police continue to maintain a significant presence.

Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  Avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and exercise caution when in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.  Review personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, including at local events, and monitor local news for information.  Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.

Eritrea: UN expert urges world not to turn its back on people fleeing unending human rights abuses

GENEVA (27 October 2017) – The people of Eritrea are suffering unending brutal human rights violations, and thousands continue walking for days in a desperate bid to reach the borders with neighbouring countries, the UN General Assembly has heard.

Special Rapporteur Sheila B. Keetharuth listed multiple severe violations of people’s human rights, pleading with the international community to show compassion to those who risked death to cross the border, where shoot-to-kill orders were allegedly carried out by the military.

“I appeal to the international community not to turn their backs on Eritrean refugees for short-term political gain in response to populist electoral demands or promises, which can translate into actual restrictions, harassment and human rights violations,” she said, while updating the General Assembly on the country’s bleak human rights picture.

“At best, efforts to reduce the number of Eritrean refugees arriving will lead only to a temporary drop in numbers, but they will not stop people crossing deserts and seas in search of safe havens. No barrier will be insurmountable for someone fleeing human rights violations.”

The Special Rapporteur said that with no apparent changes in Eritrean policy at home, citizens were still dying in custody or enduring indefinite detention with no access to their families and lawyers.

The rights to freedom of expression and religion were also being violated, the Special Rapporteur said, citing reports that followers of both recognized and non-recognized religious denominations were still being detained in the capital, Asmara.

“Arrest and detention are used to punish, intimidate, create an atmosphere of fear, or to ‘disappear’ those who are deemed dangerous because they do not toe the line,” said Ms. Keetharuth, urging the Government of Eritrea to end its long-standing practice of arbitrary detentions and respect the rights of all prisoners.

“Eritrea still has no constitution to provide protection for fundamental human rights, no independent judiciary, no legislative assembly – in fact no institutions that could ensure checks and balances or protect against the misuse of power by the state,” she said.

Many arrests followed the same pattern, she said. Detainees were not told why they were being held, were not taken to court where they could challenge their detention, and were denied access to lawyers and visitors. Even close family members could only hand food and clean clothes to prison guards. Detainees were not told whether or when they would be freed, and no information was made public on specific cases.

Countless Eritreans were seeking to leave in search of a place where their rights would be respected, but even that was fraught with risks, the Special Rapporteur said.

Ms Keetharuth highlighted that Eritreans were still being forced into indefinite national service, despite a maximum of 18 months being set by the country’s laws.

Recent figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) show 20,000 people have crossed into a neighbouring country so far this year, nearly as many as in the whole of 2016, with 46 per cent of those transported by the IOM aged 18-24.  

The Special Rapporteur said that, rather than trying to reduce the number of Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees they were receiving, other countries should ensure their human rights were protected.

“The international community needs to restore the rights and dignity of Eritrean refugees by closing human rights protection gaps in national refugee policies,” she said.

Calls by the Commission of Inquiry to ensure accountability for past human rights violations and crimes against humanity had not resulted in any new measures, she added.

The Special Rapporteur, who has proposed a series of benchmarks to assess Eritrea’s progress, urged the Government to show its “genuine commitment and serious determination” to achieve progress by taking concrete steps to improve people’s lives.


Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth (Mauritius) was appointed as the  Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in October 2012. From 2014 to 2016, she also served as a member of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. Since May 2014, Ms. Keetharuth has been an expert member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Until 2012, Ms. Keetharuth was the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa in Banjul, The Gambia. She also worked with Amnesty International in Kampala, Uganda, and as a lawyer and broadcaster in Mauritius. In 2017, Ms. Keetharuth was awarded the Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award by the University of Leicester, in recognition of her human rights work.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights country page – Eritrea

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Birthe Ankenbrand (+41 22 928 9465 / ).

For media inquiries in New York please contact: Ravina Shamdasani  (+1 347 446 5294 / ) or Nenad Vasic ().

Concerned about the world we live in? Then STAND UP for someone’s rights today. #Standup4humanrights and visit the web page at http://www.standup4humanrights.or


Life in Asmara, Eritrea – 1935

Wednesday, 04 October 2017 19:32 Written by

Two images which I have purchased showing the life of ordinary men and women in the Italian colony of Eritrea, soon after the invasion of Ethiopia.

Each has a caption, which I have transcribed

Asnara - queuing for water 1935

“Italy’s war base in the North.

Asmara, chief port (sic) of the Italian African colony of Eritrea, has become one of the busiest cities in northern Africa.

Centre of the Italian campaign on the northern front, all supplies and ammunitions pass through the town, which is on the railway from Massawa, the Eritrean port on the Red Sea.

The above photo shows a line-up of empty gasoline cans at the village fountain, which was used for the domestic water supply.”

Date: 17/12/35

Asmara market 1935

“Italy’s war base in the North.

Asmara, chief port (sic) of the Italian African colony of Eritrea, has become one of the busiest cities in northern Africa.

Centre of the Italian campaign on the northern front, all supplies and ammunitions pass through the town, which is on the railway from Massawa, the Eritrean port on the Red Sea.

The above photo shows a general view of the native market in Asmara.”

Date: 17/12/35


Remembering the day the Eritrean press died

Friday, 29 September 2017 12:47 Written by


Eritrea's transformation into a police state started with a ban on independent media 16 years ago today.

18 Sep 2017 11:16 GMT |

Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker

By demolishing the independent media, ceaselessly recycling tired propaganda, and introducing pervasive censorship, Afwerki has created a grim state, writes Zere [Reuters]By demolishing the independent media, ceaselessly recycling tired propaganda, and introducing pervasive censorship, Afwerki has created a grim state, writes Zere [Reuters]



Abraham T Zere is the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile.

People who haven't experienced Eritrea's descent into totalitarianism first hand cannot truly understand what daily life looks like there. Even the infamous labels associated with the country - such as "most censored" country on Earth or the bottom-ranked nation on the Press Freedom Index for 10 consecutive years - do not help understand Eritrea's day-to-day reality.

So let me share my first-hand experience.

Exactly 16 years ago, on September 18, 2001, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and his clique banned seven independent newspapers and imprisoned 11 of the most senior government officials.

That "Black Tuesday" was the start of Eritrea's transformation into the police state that it is today. Before this happened, despite various challenges, Eritrean independent media briefly had created space for open discussion, even providing a forum for dissident political leaders.

Crushing dissent

The first official response to the promising signs of a vibrant press and open political forums in Eritrea came in early September 2001 when President Afwerki appointed Naizghi Kiflu as minister of information. Kiflu had acquired a bad reputation for being a brutal and merciless commander during the struggle for independence. He had served as chief of the infamous military prison then called the Revolutionary Guard. Never shy about his dark past, in his first meeting with the ministry's staff members and journalists, Kiflu reminded them that he had been "a cruel cadre and ex-chief of the Revolutionary Guard".

After banning private newspapers and ordering a swift wave of arrests, the minister circulated an order to Eritrea's printing houses to immediately cease printing any material, including wedding invitations and nightclub posters.

Thus, began the country's steady descent into the abyss.

OPINION: Eritrea - Anecdotes of indefinite anarchy

In a typically nerve-racking second meeting with the ministry staff, following the private newspaper ban and imprisonment of several independent journalists, Minister Kiflu referred to journalists as a "bunch of rodents," declaring that "it is not that difficult for the Eritrean government to get rid of rodents."

Though Kiflu's tenure was brief, it was long enough to create an atmosphere of fear in the ministry characterised by the constant feeling of insecurity, arbitrary arrests, and the introduction of a semi-military structure to the ministry.

After destroying the blossoming media scene of the young African nation to serve his own interests, President Afwerki now has a media apparatus that enables him to vent however he likes.

His successor as de facto minister of information, Ali Abdu Ahmed, lifted the ban on printing and replaced it with ubiquitous and pervasive censorship. For over a decade, Eritrean artists and writers were beaten down by this medieval exercise of censorship. The ministry ordered that lyrics be changed in song stanzas and chapters be deleted or rewritten in books for no apparent reason. Frequently, these orders weren't based on political objections as much as the personal whims of government censors or in some cases, merely the censor's perverse desire to exercise power.

In time, the ministry's brutal crackdown on independent media and senseless censorship of any form of art caused Eritrean artists to avoid presenting sensitive artworks to the office for consideration. Naturally, as they ran out of content to censor, the censorship office devolved into an "advisory" unit, in which the personal suggestions and preferences of the censors became the de facto policy of the ministry. This had the effect of totally silencing all artists and writers, putting them into indefinite artistic hibernation.

Fear and centralisation

Ali Abdu - Afwerki's mentee - served for more than a decade as de facto minister of information until he finally fled the country in 2012. Following Kiflu's short tenure characterised by fear and intimidation, Abdu institutionalised mechanisms of control and turned the national media into a giant mirror of the president. Through Abdu, the ministry of information began resembling a cadet school. It also started running semi-military prison centres.

Abdu not only ruled by creating fear among his subordinates; he himself lived in perpetual anxiety, constantly currying favour and seeking approval from his boss, President Afwerki. Interestingly, although Abdu was commonly referred as a minister, especially by the international media, he has never been conferred as a minister, nor acting minister, even. His post was director of the national TV, Eri-TV and officially, he was addressed as "Ali Abdu from Ministry of Information." Knowing his ambition and constant seeking of approval, Afwerki certainly kept him in that ambiguous post to maintain his own interests and possibly keep him in check.

READ MORE: Escaping Eritrea's open prison

Fully devoted to only serve the president, at some point, Abdu began reading and approving every local news item before it could be printed or broadcast.

Deeply familiar with the unbending system and armed with sniffy threshold guardians from top to bottom, he hardly allowed any sensitive material to pass muster. Abdu was very fastidious about ensuring that no one in the president's disfavour would receive any media coverage. Only Abdu, and those like him who had mastered the labourious task of reading the emotions of the president, could head such a tattered media.

If his staff failed to live up to expectations, Abdu would take the task himself. One time, when the monitoring unit of the ministry failed to record a TV programme broadcast by an international network that criticised Eritrea, President Afwerki's office complained.

Abdu responded by taking up the matter himself. In order to personally monitor and record such programmes, he installed 16 mini-screens in his office that showed major news networks from around the world. These screens were kept on the whole day while he went about his routine.

The emperor's new clothes

After destroying the blossoming media scene of the young African nation to serve his own interests, President Afwerki now has a media apparatus that enables him to vent however he likes.

He frequently gives "short interviews" to the national TV that run for about two hours. The president approves all questions beforehand. The sole task of "journalists" is to help him transition from one topic to another and keep him talking on the overall subject.

READ MORE: Exiled Eritreans campaign for freedom of journalists

Typically, Afwerki takes about half an hour to respond to one question. No wonder that in one of these pre-recorded interviews, journalist Asmelash Abraha fell asleep in the middle of the president's long reply.

When not broadcasting these pseudo-interviews, the national TV reports on Afwerki's endless "tour of inspection" around the country, where he spends ample time observing development endeavours and supervising projects, such as the construction of dams.

Avoiding state TV

Afwerki may have the means to print and broadcast whatever he likes, but hardly anyone is left to listen to or read what he is saying. Eritrean citizens hardly ever watch the national television, Eri-TV, whose motto is "serving the truth" as it failed to report on major international events such as the Arab Spring and continues to stay silent about many other crucial regional developments. If Eritreans had to depend on their state media outlets, they wouldn't know, for example, that Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak had been removed from power.

Meanwhile, Eritrea's state newspaper has effectively devolved into an obituary news bulletin. Readers typically start with classified ads inserts or read from the back to the front starting with sports.

Stuck in such a grim and unperceptive media environment, Eritreans devised new forms of civil disobedience. To be able to evade the country's only state TV station, almost every household in Eritrea has installed a satellite-dish receiver.

Going astray

After free media was destroyed in Eritrea, it did not take long for the country to become fully militarised. The military soon took over schools, administrations and most civilian posts. In addition to the systematic dismantling of education, press, commerce and religion, the September 2001 crackdown brought open hostility towards the rule of law and accountability.

Military commanders started establishing underground prison facilities for extracting money from inmates' relatives. Today, there are more than 360 "correctional facilities" mostly run by the military commanders. Now that there is no independent press to keep it in check, the military, which gained the most power in Afwerki's regime, is ruling the country.

A Special Court has also endorsed and furthered this systematic obstruction of the rule of law. A military tribunal run by undertrained military commanders rules on most court cases. Civilian courts, including the Supreme Court, have been reduced to handling petty theft and family law cases. These civil courts are obliged to consult the military commanders before handing down verdicts on important issues. Naturally, the commanders request revisions until a verdict to their liking is reached.

By demolishing the independent media, ceaselessly recycling tired propaganda, and introducing pervasive censorship, Afwerki has created a grim state. As a result, Eritrea transformed into a monotone nation whose entire populace utter the same expressions that had been fed through the national media, literature and art production. Afweki's media is trying to project an image of Eritrea as an ideal state, but this image is only suspended in the national media and is exactly the opposite of the reality of present-day Eritrea.

Abraham T Zere is a US-based Eritrean writer and journalist who is serving as the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile. Among others, his articles - that mainly deal with Eritrea's gross human rights abuses and lack of freedom of expression - have appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and the Index on Censorship Magazine. 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


Refugees are back in Calais, nearly a year after the refugee camp known as The Jungle was dismantled -

Michael Debets/Pacific Press/ZUMA      


The French coastal city was home to the infamous makeshift village of migrants seeking to cross to the UK. The "Jungle" was dismantled less than a year ago, but immigrants are now back in town.

CALAIS — The French city of Calais wakes up slowly. All is peaceful. A few cars cross the Mollien bridge, which lies just a stone's throw away from the imposing red-brick city hall and its belfry that dominate this city. Under it, some 20 Eritreans have taken shelter for the night. They're trying to get a bit more sleep despite the late summer sunshine. At least, the sun helps dry their belongings, which had been soaked in a recent shower of rain.

There were three times as many people as the previous day, when police intervened to destroy their camp and push them away from the city center. Some allowed the police to take them to one of the two new reception centers created by Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, where migrants can be registered and receive guidance. But they have now decided to return to the bridge.

"I refused to get on their bus," says Oumar, a 20-year-old from the Central African Republic. "They would have sent me back directly to Italy where I had my fingerprints taken." Oumar has been "Dublined." It means that, under the so-called Dublin Regulation, he should be applying for asylum in Italy, the EU country where he was first registered. But despite his tired face, Oumar is determined not to go.

Migrants have returned to the city center in Calais, despite the unyielding posture of both the mayor and the interior ministry. A recent ruling from France’s top administrative court, the Conseil d'État, ordered authorities to provide migrants with drinking water and sanitary facilities but also acknowledged that they shouldn't return to the city, less than a year after the infamous "Jungle" was razed.

The lopsided court decision didn't please anybody. Not the town hall, which simply refused to abide by the ruling, and preferred to pay a daily 100-euro penalty. Not the government either, eager to avoid the nightmare of another "Jungle". Finally, the associations and NGOs that support the migrants are also unhappy and consider this minimal aid disgraceful for those who are still sleeping in horrific conditions.

The balance between firmness and humanity is difficult to strike. Between 450 and 700 migrants roam along the A16 highway, which leads to the Channel Tunnel. According to L'Auberge des migrants, an NGO that has researched the migrants, 97% are men, aged 21 on average, and mostly come from Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Somalia.

The police constantly intervene to remove them and seize their camping equipment. Volunteers call it "roundups" (a clear reference to the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, which took place under Nazi German occupation), an appalling reference that twists a complex reality.

"I've never seen such thing, we can't even give them tents anymore because they are immediately destroyed," says Christian Salomé, president of l'Auberge des migrants. "We only give them ponchos and tarpaulins now, and that's how they sleep..." And yet, these living conditions don't deter migrants. Those who refuse help from the French Office for Immigration and Integration regroup in well-defined areas. Afghan migrants usually gather around the hospital, whereas Africans go further north, to the industrial park near the harbor.

Refugees trying to enter trucks on the road that leads to the port of Calais — Photo: Michael Debets/Pacific Press/ZUMA

This is where the association La Vie Active installs two water taps and portable toilets every morning. The showers haven't been set up as yet. The group describes it as a "mobile" system but that's misleading: The equipment is removed every evening and reinstalled the next day — in the same place. This is also where l'Auberge des migrants and the Refugee Community Kitchen give food to migrants three times a day, and where Help the Refugees gives them clothes.

"It's terrible, my commercial activity is pretty much non-existent. They rush by the dozens on any truck that stops here," says Patrick Carpentier, the manager of a nearby gas station. Earlier, a Polish truck driver witnessed this first hand. While he was nervously filling gas, a group of about 20 Eritreans surrounded his vehicle, testing the locks, the canvas, and the chassis, looking for a way to get on the truck. "I'm not mad at them and it pains me to see them like this, wandering outside," Patrick Carpentier says. "But the government doesn't realize the impact their presence has on us, here in Calais... And it looks like it doesn't care either."

The number of migrants intercepted in the harbor or inside the trucks is nothing compared to what it was before the demolition of the "Jungle". But it has gone up significantly since the spring. In August alone, 1,250 migrants were caught inside trucks, compared to 1,000 in July and just 190 in April. The police also fear that migrants may resume blocking the road with tree trunks. In June, a Polish driver died due to this.

As winter approaches, President Emmanuel Macron's goal to no longer have people sleep on the street will be hard to meet, at least in Calais. The interior ministry's emergency shelter solutions can work for the migrants who want to, and are able to, apply for asylum in France. But for those who want to reach Britain, whether it's the migrants who've been "Dublined" or for those whose asylum application in another EU country was rejected, Calais remains the only possibility in sight.

"From the moment migrants turn down what we offer them, we should draw the consequences and move on to harder procedures," says Gilles Debove of the police union SGP.

Out of the 22 migrants who agreed to get on a bus to be driven to a center one-hour's drive away, 15 of them returned by train to Calais the following day. When nine minors from Eritrea were handed over to the border police, they refused the shelter they were offered, and were later released.


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

The report concludes that:

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

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

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

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

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


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

 To: Chair of the second chamber of the Dutch Parliament

Date: 18 September 2017

Subject: Eritrean diaspora tax in Europe

Dear Chair,

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

The DSP-research, background and methodology

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

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

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

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

The findings of the DSP-report

The report covers the following aspects of the diaspora tax:

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

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

  1. The context of international law

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

  1. The organisation of the tax collection

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

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

  1. Differences between the countries that were studied

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

  1. Perception of the Eritrean tax payers and conclusion

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

The UN assessment of the diaspora tax

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

Societal consequences of the Eritrean diaspora tax in the Netherlands

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

Response of the Cabinet

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

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

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

Measures taken

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

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

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

Planned measures

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

Measures in the justice department

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

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

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

In conclusion:

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

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders

Minister of Security and Justice, Stef Blok

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] SEMG 2013, paragraph 133

[11] SEMG 2015, paragraph 85.

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

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

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


BBC launches services for Ethiopia and Eritrea

Monday, 18 September 2017 14:22 Written by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


African languages:

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

Pidgin - West African lingua franca

Asian languages:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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