Bookmark and Share

Eritreans residing in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 3 December 2016 organized a successful fund-raising social evening for the benefit of disabled compatriots in Kassala, Sudan. Their collection of US $2,300 is already sent to the beneficiaries. Of the total, $300 is allocated to the bereaved family of late Osman Ahmed, who was the director of the Kassala Center for Disabled Eritreans till he passed away suddently on 26 September 2016.


Attending the fund-raising event were members of the old and the young generations of Eritreans from Lausane and other Swiss cities. The event had added significance also because participants included persons of different political orientations. This exemplary event brought together participants belonging to civic and political opposition organizations and supporters of the government in Eritrea. One of the organizers was heard saying: "This is a non-partisan affair and we must be proud of it; we all have the obligation of supporting vulnerable Eritreans wherever they are and whatever their political or religious belief."


Microsoft Word glish.gif11


The organizing committee members said they were highly encouraged by the positive response of many Eritreans to help the most needy and that they may oganize similar events in the future. It was learned that a few compatriots residing in Lausanne have been sending for several years their small individual contributions for the centre through the address in France of Mr. Tesfai Teklezghi, the president of the Association of Disabled Eritreans (ADE).


Microsoft Word glish.gif12


The center for disabled persons in Kassala is assisted by individual Eritreans in many parts of the world who organize fund-raising events similar to the one held in Lausanne early this month. It is to be recalled that Eritrean women in Germany also organized a similar event on 3 December 2016 and were able to collect 1,400 Euros for the center.

Why is democracy such a problem for Africa?

Saturday, 24 December 2016 22:09 Written by


protests-kinshasaOne needs to look no further than the intransigence of the Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, who refused to accept election defeat or Joseph Kabila’s reluctance to leave office when his term expired to see the problem.

It is easy to tot up the African despots who have clung to power. Between them the three longest serving presidents (Cameroon’s Paul Biya, Equatorial Guinea’s Theodor Nguema and dos Santos of Angola) have held office for 115 years.

It is not that Africans don’t yearn for democracy. Look at the hundreds who died in Ethiopia, or the constant agitation in Zimbabwe.

Nor it is the case that Africa cannot hold free and fair elections – even when they are fiercely contested. Ghana is a case in point.

So what is the root of the problem?

I would look to these key issues, although I am sure there are others.

  1. At independence in the 1960’s there was little in the way of manufacturing. Even commerce was generally poorly developed. Money was made on farms and mining. As a result there was a very underdeveloped African business class. The men (and they were men) who took power in the first administrations had often been teachers or civil servants before going into politics. They had next to nothing to fall back on. If they lost power they lost everything. So they hung on.
  2. The colonial authorities had established unstable systems of government. The British, for example, tended to look to ‘martial tribes’ – often far from the capital, to supply the army. Civil servants were drawn from people who lived around the capital. When independence came it was the educated, ‘clever’ people from the cities who took power, leaving those ‘up-country’ with next to nothing. Take Uganda as an example. Soon the armies, realising their power, seized control. The era of coups had come to pass.
  3. Some came to power through protracted struggles, sometimes involving bitter warfare. Eritrea and Rwanda are examples of this. The current leadership learnt that power comes through the barrel of a gun. They are determined not to relinquish it at any cost.
  4. Systems of extended kinship networks were more important in Africa than they were in other parts of the world for a variety of reasons. They provided security when crops failed and support in times of war. So when a leader from a particular tribe or ethnic group took power, he was under constant pressure to provide for his family and his people. The idea that he might relinquish control and allow others ‘to eat’ was an anathema to everyone in his wide network of support. As a result he would be under intense pressure from his nearest and dearest not to leave office.
  5. The Cold War, which ended with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, divided Africa into competing blocs. The Angolan civil war, which so disfigured the whole of southern and central Africa, was a case in point, dragging in the USA, Soviet Union and the Cubans. The Cold War is long gone, but its reverberations are still being felt.
  6. Outside powers (whether from the West or from the East) saw Africa as a source of minerals and crops. Attempts to support democracy have been few and far between. The pressure to end apartheid was an honourable exception. There have been attempts to halt the rise of radical Islamist groups, but mainly because of the threat they pose to the rest of the world. In recent years Africa has – in the main – been left to deal with its own problems: suggestions that Robert Mugabe should be overthrown (for example) were never followed through.

Is change on the way?

I would argue that it is.

Africa now has a growing ‘middle class’ of young, able men and women who are now confident of making their way in the world. They are to be found in everything from business to law, from agriculture to the high-tech industries.

They are the future from which the continent’s political leaders are being drawn. Many are contemptuous of the old style despots who rule for no-one but themselves, their families and their cronies.

To their credit, African institutions have begun to stand up for the democratic principles enshrined in their constitutions. This is still a slow and hesitant process, but it has begun.

Africa is also a young continent. Half the population is under 29. They are not shackled by memories and values of the past. The factors I identified above, that go back to the colonial era, are gradually receding.

More than half live in urban areas and the number is rising. Their realities are very different from those of their parents or grandparents.

Look, for example, at the hundreds of thousands who are prepared to risk all to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean, in the hope of a better future in Europe, even if it costs them their lives.

This is not a complacent generation: the future is theirs and with rising levels of education, better health care and access to the internet they will shape their worlds in ways in which the leaders of the 1960’s could not even dream of.

So will Africa’s future be democratic? I am sure it will.


A new wave of refugees has settled in the Harbour City. 

A total of 40 government-assisted refugees from Syria and Eritrea have arrived in Nanaimo since mid-November, according to the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society. 

Kelly McBride, director of operations for the society, said the 40 individuals are from five families and that they are expecting more government-assisted refugees to arrive within the coming weeks.

"We are looking at 50 individuals by the end of December and early January," she said. "Another three families." 

Although the majority of refugees to arrive in Nanaimo have been from Syria, four privately sponsored refugees from the African nation of Eritrea landed in the city earlier this year.

McBride said they're expecting more government assisted refugees to come from nations such as Eritrea.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some 65.3 million people have been displaced around the world, with 21.3 million of them classified as refugees.

A 2016 report by the UNHCR estimates that there were 2.7 million refugees from Afghanistan;736,100 refugees from Ethiopia; 541,500 refugees from Democratic Republic of the Congo;451,800 refugees from Myanmar; and 321,300 refugees from the Ukraine at the end of 2015. 

Nanaimo could see more government-assisted refugees arriving beyond January. McBride said she has no idea about how many could be coming or when they are coming.

"We are not necessarily given a whole lot of lead time on knowing," she said. "The information is fed from the government as they get the information through. It's a multi-layered system." 

As of Dec. 11, there have been a total of 37,402 refugees settled nationwide since November of 2015 according toImmigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.



Photo:The Observer

(file photo).

Kampala — A UPDF soldier at the rank of captain has been arrested in connection with the kidnap and murder of an Eritrean businessman with the intention of stealing 2 millon euros (Shs8 billion) from him.

Capt Hakim Mangeni and his alleged accomplices; Mr Ben Lumu and Rucy Katuramu were arrested by the police Flying Squad Unit (FSU) at the weekend over allegations of killing Deniel Weldo.

Mr Andrew Kaweesi, the police spokesperson said the trio duped Weldo, a former South Sudan businessman that they would help him to get a visa to German from where he could transact business.


The year just ending also happened to be a period in which a good number of publications were released for the wider public with the yet unfulfilled aim of making Eritrea and the situation of its people better understood by others. Among them were  the official submission to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council the final conclusions of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea along its earlier 483-page comprehensive report, and follow up reports of the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia. Another worthy addition to the long list of new research papers and recent publications on Eritrea was  Martin Plaut's Understanding Eritrea, a paperback published in October 2016 under the aptly chosen subtitle: 'Inside Africa's Most Repressive State'. 

Microsoft Word ComendableInputTowardsMakingSituationinEritreaUnderstood 1

Earlier this year, journalist/researcher Martin Plaut mentioned to me that he was writing a book on Eritrea, adding:  "it can prove to be difficult to  write on a subject with so many experts."  For sure he was kidding.  Himself one of the veteran Eritrea observers from his BBC days in the 1980s and till now; producer of authoritative publications on African affairs and current Horn of Africa and Southern Africa researcher for the Commonwealth Institute, Plaut has  again come out with a valuable reading material for all those interested to better understand Eritrea and its unending woes. (And no wonder that he one of those in the watch-list of the repressive regime in Asmara,  whose paid agents vainly try to silence him and his likes through 'threats' and name calling.)


The book makes a sweeping coverage of history - not actually to tell the country's history, but to give a sufficient picture as to why Eritrea's problems linger and why they are what they are. Also through a careful screening, he narrates and assesses events of critical importance in Eritrea's sad post-liberation decades. In addition to squeezing out every bit of indispensable facts from the voluminous UN Inquiry Commission and Monitoring Group reports - facts that might have been  overlooked even by our most avid readers in the opposition camp - Plaut also surprises many a reader by putting more light on information not fully known to the 'experts' on the subject. And all this in a small space of not more than 250 pages! 


Nowadays, if one mentions the name Eritrea, one can hardly avoid thinking of :

  • The thorny relations Eritrea has with its neighbours, especially with Ethiopia;
  • Eritrea's dangerous fall to the worst form of dictatorship in Africa;
  • The hemorrhage of its population;
  •  Their suffering in diaspora;
  • The fragmentation of the supposed forces of change, and
  • Prospects for the future.


The book does fairly adequately address these hot issues of importance to Eritrea and all concerned about the plight of its people. Plaut's findings on the regime's illicit economic activities and deals are also of particular importance. He does not mention  any production of unwanted items by the regime after liberation although, according to the book, the front that Isaias Afeworki led to victory is said to have cultivated marijuana in areas under its control.  


Closed and Secretive

In its early pages, the book prepares the reader to expect Eritreans to be an outcome of a difficult history carrying traces of so many rulers, and a complex identity of diverse groups speaking nine languages, belonging to two major religions, living in different environments and with co-ethnics separated by artificial colonial boundaries.  It also asserts that peoples of the region were culturally inclined  "to be closed and secretive" and that the left-wing ideologies of the 20th century did contribute in  hardening further these traits in their elites. The author finds leaderships in the region to be  "veiled and obscure" -  culturally and partly intentionally. Therefore, even genuine differences could not be resolved through open discussions because of the "cult of confidentiality" that existed in the liberation movements.


The new Eritrean regime thus remained obscure by keeping everything secret. Even Eritrea's population was wanted to remain an unknown figure. The last population census was made in 1931. According to Plaut, the population estimates for Eritrea today range from 3.2m to 6.5m, and the regime in Asmara can chose any figure when it wants to project fictitious percentiles on growth in education, health services, the economy etc.  


Quarrels with Neighbours

The Eritrean regime's numerous quarrels with neighbours, in particular the one with Ethiopia, are given sufficient space and insightful analysis. Regarding relations with Ethiopia, the author considers the question of the border to have been of critical importance although the Eritrean head of state, Isaias,  at first gave it little attention.


To his credit, Haile Mengerios, at that time regime representative in Addis Ababa, is said to have raised the border question early in 1992 but Isaias "rebuffed" him. The book also mentions that  even Yemane Ghebreab (monkey), then a novice in official diplomacy, blamed Haile Menkerios of being "obsessed with the border issue."


One clear omission regarding the border issue is the book's  failure to mention how much other Eritreans were very seriously concerned about that problem starting in the latter part of the 1970s when disagreements led to serious armed clashes between the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and the Tigrai People's Liberation Front (TPLF).


The author observes serious absence of checks and balances and unwillingness to compromise both in Eritrea and Ethiopia, and as such, when relationship between two individuals break down, there remain "no official structures to fall back upon."  He also hints at the ominous probability - that no one can be sure that "full-scale war will not resume" anytime in the future.


A Detrimental Email

There have been heated pro and con arguments about the failure of the concerned   states (especially Ethiopia) to accept the "final and binding" decision of the  arbitration Tribunal on the border problem with its epicenter at Badme. After reading this book, I am inclined to conclude that it was a misleading email by an OAU staff member and  observer at the Tribunal that hugely contributed in further complicating the possible acceptance of the arbitration decision.


The Tribunal gave only coordinates on the map without mentioning Badime and its location. When given the first copy of the decision, the OAU observer at the Tribunal wrongly interpreted the coordinates and emailed to his headquarters saying that Badime was given to Ethiopia.


The book informs that it was Martin Plaut of the BBC  himself who was the first to correctly read the map and to report that the OAU email was based on wrong interpretation. Plaut's interpretation was backed by experts reached by BBC. At that time, Ethiopia was already celebrating victory and its foreign minister said all what "a victor" is expected to say. When the BBC report was broadcast, Ethiopia sent to London its minister of Information to ask the BBC to withdraw  its report,  but to no avail.


As we all know, it is now nearly 15 years since the boundary decision was passed  and the crucial matter left unaddressed by all concerned.


The 'Clever, Manipulative' Isaias

No present-day writer can spare Isaias the blame of being the topmost culprit in independent Eritrea's disastrous failure from becoming what it was expected to be at the end of that long-stretched struggle. Martin Plaut could not be an exception. He describes Isaias not only as "clever and manipulative" but also as one whose style of rule is "arbitrary, personal and ruthlessly repressive". This  "towering figure who led his people to independence" was not ashamed to become the  "dictator "who now holds them in servitude". Yet, to Plaut's judgment, "his colleagues in the EPLF leadership must [also] take their share for the responsibility for the country's predicament."


 Flight and its Consequences

After discussing the build up towards dictatorship and the economic failures in most sectors that rendered the country inhabitable, the book thoughtfully narrates the risks faced by those Eritreans, mostly young,  who take the fatal decision to  say bye-bye to home. To be appreciated most is Plaut's ability to select and provide most essential facts that can be kept at one's finger-tips about what happened and in what numbers to Eritrean victims of human traffickers in the Sinai, the Sudan, the Libyan desert, the Mediterranean Sea and others parts of the globe. The human traffickers included Eritrean top officials working collaboration with Sudanese counterparts in the dirty business.


The Diaspora

Also given adequate coverage are diaspora Eritreans - both the old and new caseloads, and how much they contributed to the coffers of the regime as they did in liberation struggle days.  However, the book reassures that "the days of [Eritrean diaspora's] unequivocal support for the regime are over".  However, the long-arm' of the regime is still reaching many of the diaspora communities, including those 200,000 Eritrean-Americans in today's Trumpland, who, by the way, were ordered to vote for this supposed new buddy of the dictatorial clique in Asmara. (And it is good to remember that Eritrea's population was estimated at little less than 200,000 - equal to those Eritreans presently in America - when it was named 'Italian colony of Eritrea' in January 1890).


Naturally, the book discusses the problems in the diaspora opposition and concludes that old rifts of the liberation struggle years are still "standing on the way" of the much needed wider unity.  In the concluding parts of the book, Martin Plaut opines a number of possible scenarios for change in Eritrea, the most optimistic of which is an internal take-over by the army.


(This piece of writing was  initially aimed to be a much shorter thank you note to the author for making the effort to make Eritrea and its current situation better understood by readers.)


Thank you, Martin Plaut. Shukren, Yekeniyelna!!

 With warm greetings of the Holiday Season.


Woldeyesus Ammar


Mugabe: Liberation hero turned despot

Saturday, 17 December 2016 22:32 Written by


Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe speaks at the party's annual conference on December 17, 2016 in Masvingo
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe speaks at the party's annual conference on December 17, 2016 in Masvingo (AFP Photo/Jekesai NJIKIZANA)
Harare (AFP) - Zimbabwe's veteran leader Robert Mugabe once quipped that he'd rule his country until he turned 100.
On Saturday, his ruling ZANU-PF party endorsed the 92-year-old leader as its candidate for the 2018 presidential election, bringing him closer to achieving his wish.

From crushing political dissent to ushering in disastrous land reforms that saw the economy crumble, many accuse Mugabe of turning the regional breadbasket into a food importer.

The leader who is currently Africa's oldest president, having clung to office for 36 years, has shown no sign of loosening his grip.

"His real obsession was not with personal wealth but with power," said biographer Martin Meredith.

"Year after year Mugabe sustained his rule through violence and repression -- crushing political opponents, violating the courts, trampling on property rights, suppressing the independent press and rigging elections," said Meredith.

The former political prisoner turned guerrilla leader swept to power in 1980 elections after a growing insurgency and economic sanctions forced the then Rhodesian government to the negotiating table.

He initially won international plaudits for his declared policy of racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority.

But his lustre faded quickly.

-Tainted leader-

Mugabe, whose party commands most of its support from the ethnic Shona majority, is tainted by the mass killing of the minority Ndebele people in a campaign in the early 1980s known as Gukurahundi, which killed an estimated 20,000 suspected dissidents.

The violence on the Ndebele was unleashed by his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade.

Yet it was the violent seizure of white-owned farms nearly two decades later that would complete Mugabe's transformation from darling of the West into international pariah -- even if his status as a liberation hero still resonates in most of Africa.

Aimed largely at placating angry war veterans who threatened to destabilise his rule, the land reform policy wrecked the crucial agricultural sector, caused foreign investors to flee and helped plunge the country into economic misery.

At the same time, critics say, Mugabe has clung to power through repression of human rights and by rigging elections.

-Early years-

Born on February 21, 1924, into a Catholic family at Kutama Mission northwest of Harare, Robert Gabriel Mugabe was described as a loner, and a studious child known to carry a book even while tending cattle in the bush.

After his carpenter father walked out on the family when he was 10, the young Mugabe concentrated on his studies, qualifying as a schoolteacher at the age of 17.

An intellectual who initially embraced Marxism, he enrolled at Fort Hare University in South Africa, meeting many of southern Africa's future black nationalist leaders.

After teaching in Ghana, where he was influenced by founder president Kwame Nkrumah, Mugabe returned to Rhodesia where he was detained for his nationalist activities in 1964 and spent the next 10 years in prison camps or jail.

During his incarceration he gained three degrees through correspondence, but the years in prison left their mark.

His four-year-old son by his first wife, Ghanaian-born Sally Francesca Hayfron, died while he was behind bars. Rhodesian leader Ian Smith denied him leave to attend the funeral.

-Health rumours-

In the recent years the aging Mugabe's health has been increasingly under the spotlight, particularly after he fell down a staircase after addressing supporters last year.

He also read a speech to parliament in September apparently unaware that he had delivered the same address a month earlier.

In September he laughed off rumours of his own death, as he returned home from Dubai.

Mugabe, who is banned from travelling to the European Union, regularly travels to Singapore for what is officially called a routine health check-up.




This report, commissioned by the Dutch government, describes the activities of the Eritrean regime inside the Netherlands.

It looks at the Eritrean community in the country, describes Eritrean organisations and their activities, and how the government in Asmara exercises control through them.

The report was covered by the main Dutch newspaper, the Telegraph, as: ‘Cabinet wants to put a stop to the long arm of Eritrea.’


eritreans-netherlandsUnofficial translation of the summary of the report “Niets is wat het lijkt: Eritrese organisaties en integratie”

by the DSP-Groep Amsterdam and Tilburg University

Translated by Klara Smits


Summary and conclusions

The Eritrean community in the Netherlands has grown quickly and significantly over the past years and it has a long history and great diversity.
This research addresses the question of how the Eritrean community in the Netherlands is organized and to what extent outside pressure is experienced within the Eritrean community, especially from Eritrea itself. The goal of the research is to gain insight into:

  • the network of Eritrean organisations in the Netherlands;
  • the extent and the nature of the (foreign) control of Eritrean organizations in the Netherlands by the Eritrean government and/or organisations allied to the Eritrean government;
  • the extent and the nature of the pressure that is experienced among Eritreans in the Netherlands, including the payment of financial contributions.

In this summary, the most important findings will be presented and conclusions will be drawn. The method in which the research questions have been examined can be read in chapter 1. The substantiation of the summary and conclusions can be found in chapters 2 to 5.

Reasons for this research

There are concerns over the integration of persons with an Eritrean background in the Netherlands. As  the Eritrean community in the Netherlands is rapidly growing and following the reports in the media about intimidation, the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) requested a letter to the parliament and a debate in which Eritrea and the influence of Eritrea in the Netherlands could be discussed. The letter was sent to the House of Representatives on June 30th, 2016, by government officials from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs and Employment and Security and Justice, after which the debate followed. During the parliamentary debate about ‘Eritrea and the influence of Eritrea in the Netherlands’, concerns emerged from the House of Representatives that among others related to the financial contribution of the Netherlands to Eritrea, the diaspora tax, the role of the Eritrean embassy in The Hague in exerting undue pressure, the representatives of the regime in the Netherlands and the lagging integration of Eritreans in the Netherlands.

During the debate of 30 June, the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment pledged to have a study carried out among Eritreans in the Netherlands. DSP-groep has executed this research between 21 September and 1 November 2016.
To answer the research questions that emerged from the goals described above, literature research and document research have been executed, four focus group sessions have taken place and a total of 110 interviews were held: 22 with international experts, 21 with Dutch key informants of policy, welfare and support organisations, 6 with lawyers specialised in migration law and who are involved in cases of Eritreans and 61 with people from the Eritrean community of which 20 (former) (board members) from Eritrean organisations. A broad range of people from the Eritrean community has been interviewed, with the goal of incorporating a wide diversity in the research, considering age, gender, religion, political opinion and the timing of emigration to the Netherlands. Both supporters and opponents of the Eritrean regime were interviewed and the ambassador as well as representatives of the embassy were interviewed.

The Eritrean community in the Netherlands

It is estimated that currently 20.000 people with an Eritrean background currently live in the Netherlands. The exact number is hard to pinpoint, because people that were born in Eritrea before its independence in 1993 were officially born in Ethiopia and are often registered as Ethiopian.

The refugees from Eritrea have come to the Netherlands in roughly three waves. In the table below, the characteristics of these migration waves are summarised.

Migration wave Migration context
First wave


Approx. 1.500 refugees

A: 1980-1991

Fleeing the independence war (members of the ELF and later of the EPLF; the predecessor of the PFDJ, the party of the current regime)

B. 1991-1998

Fleeing during the reconstruction of Eritrea due to various reasons

Second wave


Approx. 6000 refugees

Since the border conflict with Ethiopia

Fleeing the current regime

Third wave


Approx. 14.0000 refugees

Fleeing the current regime

THE Eritrean community does not exist. There are various religious groups, differences between the regions of origin (highlanders versus lowlanders, urban versus countryside) and different views on the current regime. The impression is kaleidoscopic, due the variety, but also because of the internal contradictions,  A respondent may emphasise opposing the regime in Eritrea and wanting to integrate in the Netherlands as quickly as possible, but another respondent may subsequently swear up and down that the respondent in question – or the organisation that they represent – are actually of an entirely different opinion. Or perhaps one discovers that the representative is in fact not representing the organisation at all. The closer you look, the more it seems that sometimes, nothing is what it seems.
What is clear is that the community is highly polarised: staying neutral or apolitical is difficult. A lot of mistrust exists among people. There is also a lot of fear. Fear and mistrust form a toxic combination that hampers interaction within and outside of the community.

The third wave of refugees that has recently come to the Netherlands is creating changes in the relations. A lot of movement can be seen within the community, partly as a result of the recent reports by the United Nations, the court cases in the Netherlands and the recent coverage of Eritrea.

The description that is given in this report is a snapshot and a principally Dutch snapshot at that, even while the Eritrean community is essentially a transnational community. Refugees from Eritrea have spread across the diasporas of Europe, America, Africa and the Middle-East in the last few decennia. Families are divided between the diaspora and Eritrea. At the same time, the world has quickly diminished in size in the past years. Social media play an important role in maintaining contacts, both in informal contacts as well as in political relations (for supporters and opposition alike). The situation in the Netherlands cannot be seen as separate from the other diasporas nor the situation in Eritrea.

Below, the three main questions and the corresponding sub-questions of the research are answered.

  1. What does the network of Eritrean organisations in the Netherlands look like on an institutional level?

The level of organisation within the Eritrean community is high. A minimum of approximately sixty organisations are active in the Netherlands, organised by and for members of the Eritrean community (see table 1 in the report). They can roughly be sorted into

  • Local organisations;
  • Sport or recreational organisations;
  • Political organisations or movements;
  • Religious organisations;
  • Organisations for specific (religious) groups in the community.

Many of the organisations are not registered at the chamber of commerce as foundation or organisation. Most of the organisations – with the exception of the political movements and organisations that are active in the entire diaspora – are aimed primarily at the local community. Besides these organisations, there are plenty of informal networks and initiatives for meetings and support. The creation and development of the organisations runs parallel to the three migration waves and the spread of the community across the Netherlands.

  1. Which goals do they have, which activities do they carry out, where are they active (in the geographical sense) and who are their members?

The first organisations – mainly local – have been founded by the first refugees and migrants in the large cities (Rotterdam, Amsterdam). They were especially aimed at the creation of connections and raising awareness of the struggle for independence in Eritrea. The focus was mainly on socio-cultural activities. This type of organisation has spread further across the Netherlands and followed the expansion of the community across the Netherlands in this. Later, these organisations started to focus on emancipation of their members, more specifically women. With the recent arrival of the large group of newcomers – refugees from the third migration wave – more initiatives and organisations have sprung up to support this new group of refugees. The activities are mainly aimed at providing information about the Netherlands, about bridging the cultural divide, and offering further support with Dutch language and communication, the building of networks in the Netherlands and the supplying of practical help. Some of these initiatives were taken by the older generations that have been here for a longer period of time and others were taken by the newcomers themselves – often in cooperation with Dutch volunteers.
Most of the organisations have members that pay a contribution and/or pay for taking part in activities. Many organisations receive local subsidies and/or organise fundraising. In addition, there are organisations – often more informal – that organise recreational activities and sports activities. They want to offer an opportunity for coming together through sports and recreation, in order to connect with the Dutch society.

The organisations are often strongly divided along political and religious lines and there are hardly, if any, organisations were polarised groups overlap or meet. In the political sense, the members of the Eritrean community are divided between supporters and opponents of the regime and they are also strongly divided along religious and ethno-religious lines. Supporters of the Eritrean regime associate themselves with the Dutch branch of the PFDJ, the governing party of Eritrea, and with the Youth-PFDJ.
The opposition operates globally and is connected to internationally organised groups that have the goal of improving the situation in Eritrea. Their most important activities are the documentation of human rights violations, the organisation of the opposition, the sharing and spreading of information, the organisation of meetings and demonstrations and advocating their case in politics (from the UN to the chamber of representatives).
Most of the Eritreans in the Netherlands are members of the Eritrean Orthodox church. Additionally, some are members of Protestant, Reformed and Catholic churches and some are members of the Pentecostal church or Jehovah’s Witnesses and others are Muslims. In the last few years, new churches have been formed partly due to the (alleged) infiltration of the Orthodox church by the regime in Eritrea. These opposition churches or neutral churches often work together with for example Dutch churches or Ethiopian Orthodox churches. Characteristic of the third wave of migration is that some of the refugees are highly religious. The members of smaller religious communities have their own communities and/or join the Dutch churches. In the case of a separate Eritrean religious community, this community is usually also in contact with Dutch churches. The Eritrean Muslims mostly join local mosques for their profession of faith. There are, however, a number of organisations specifically aimed at Eritrean Muslims. They provide activities similar to the local organisations.

  1. What (financial) ties to Eritrea, including the Eritrean government, exist and what is the nature of these ties?

The PFDJ is the government party, the only political party that is allowed within Eritrea. The PFDJ is supported by a number of ‘mass organisations’, the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) and the National Union of Youth (NUEY) and Students (NUES/NUEYS). The Youth PFDJ or YPFDJ Holland is a part of the international youth movement that has been founded by the political leader of the PFDJ in Asmara. It is the most active ad visible organisation of the PFDJ. Eri-Blood is the strong-arm squad of the PFDJ.
All of these organisations are under the authority of the PFDJ. They have the explicit political goal to strengthen the PFDJ and to control what happens within the diaspora. The embassy, as official representation of Asmara, is under the control of the PFDJ.
The first local organisations were founded by refugees from the first migration wave that asked for support for the independence struggle. After independence, they have staid – especially in the beginning – loyal to the principles of the PFDJ (the current regime). The majority of local organisations officially claims to be neutral and apolitical, to be open to all Eritreans, to not mix in politics and not to have contacts with the embassy or the regime. Other respondents strongly doubt these claims.
There are strong indications that a large number of these organisations have been infiltrated or taken over by the PFDJ in the past years. Many board members or active members of these organisations profile themselves as active PFDJ or YPFDJ members and/or pursue the goals of the PFDJ openly. The embassy and the PFDJ, which operates from within the embassy, plays an important role in the monitoring or direct management of the organisations, according to many respondents. The embassy itself denies this and argues that it offers support.
Those that have developed new initiatives have all experienced, to a certain extent, warnings, threats, intimidation and attempts to infiltrate or take over. For some of these organisations, these attempts have succeeded, while others have stopped and others have stayed neutral. Some have actively jjoined the opposition and have broken all ties.

In Eritrea, the Orthodox church falls under the authority of the PFDJ and according to many respondents, this is equally the case in the Netherlands. Official churches are managed from within Eritrea and operated by priests that have been educated there. Among the churches that are part of the Eritrean Orthodox church under the authority of the PFDJ are the churches in Rotterdam, Amstelveen, Leiden, Utrecht, Alkmaar and Eindhoven. Besides these, there are other locations of which some are recent and still informal in character.

An important task of the PFDJ – and the organisations, movements and churches allied to the PFDJ – is the collection of finance in the form of taxes or other translations (the 2% diaspora tax, contributions, donations, etc.).
The collection is organised mainly through gatherings, large parties, festivals and concerts. Very large amounts are involved and the pressure to meet these large amounts is being increased substantially.
A former minister of Finance of Eritrea and former leaders of the YPFDJ in Europe and the Netherlands assert that the collection of finances is one of the most important goals of the organisations in the diaspora. The total amount of revenues includes, alongside the contribution of members, the subsidies that the organisations in question receive. The management of the finances of the YPFDJ is executed by the embassy, led by the head of the political department of the PFDJ in Eritrea.

  1. What are the relations among the organisations and movements; management, cooperation and influence, also from within Eritrea?

The various organisations do not cooperate substantially. The cooperation is being hampered by the strong mistrust within the community. People always bear in mind the possible affinity towards the regime and potential infiltration of supporters.
The supporters of the regime are well organised within the diaspora and try to exert influence over the local communities. YPFDJ plays an important role in this. The supporters of the regime respond quickly, explicitly and fiercely to any criticism and opposition.
The opposition is more fragmented in its organisation than the supporters of the regime. The various opposition movements do work together, for example in the organisation of demonstrations. Recently, the opposition in the Netherlands has started to form a collective organisation in order to form a platform and a point of contact. Beyond its political goals, this platform wants to form a meeting place for members of the opposition through socio-cultural activities (as a counterpart to the parties of the YPFDJ) and to support new arrivals.
Individuals that form initiatives specifically aimed at support and assistance to the third migration wave, without a political message, experience disruption by the strong politicisation.

  1. What is the influence of these ties on the community in the Netherlands?

The entire network of organisations is in constant motion. Refugees from the third migration wave found their own organisations, partly because they fear the influence of the regime within existing organisations. Within the Orthodox church, groups split off to found their own churches – independent from the regime. Other churches within the Netherlands are being reached out to. Many of our respondents are under the impression that the influence of the PFDJ and YPFDJ is somewhat reduced by the large number of newcomers that have come to the Netherlands recently, in the third migration wave. Nevertheless, the entire situation in the Eritrean community remains strongly politicised: neutral does not exist. According to the regime and its supporters, neutral means ‘against Eritrea’ and according to the opposition, neutral means ‘pro-PFDJ’. There is, however, a large silent group: they are afraid, keep their mouths shut and do not want to stand out. The refugees from the third migration wave often feel misunderstood by the refugees from the first wave. They often mistrust the first migration wave. A part of the third migration wave has the tendency, for various reasons, to withdraw within their own group. However, initiatives where Dutch volunteers and care workers cooperate with refugees and counsellors that have lived in the Netherlands for a longer period of time, such as cultural mediators, show positive developments.

  1. What is the vision of the organisations and movements regarding their role in socio-cultural and socio-economic integration of Eritreans in the Netherlands?
    1. What is the vision of these movements and organisations on the integration in Dutch society?

All organisations and respondents view education and learning the Dutch language as a precondition to integration. Additionally, the supports of the regime see maintaining of good ties with Eritrea as important. As a refugee, you are responsible for contributing to Eritrea. This also explains why the supports are not involved much with the newcomers. They are being seen as traitors to the country.
One the one hand, organisations of the opposition try to achieve political change in Eritrea and on the other hand, they want to help newcomers settle down in the Netherlands. They offer concrete help (building trust, mediation, language and communication, and information about the Netherlands (the civil rights according to participation policy). According to them, this is unrelated to their opposition activities. Members of the community that do not want to voice a political opinion – for example out of fear for the consequences to their family in Eritrea – often do not want to be associated with the opposition. Organisations that are neutral are aimed at activities that promote integration, as mentioned above. They do not want to associate this with politics.

  1. How do the organisations advance socio-cultural and socio-economic integration and participation?

This sub-question was partly covered above. Although the majority of local organisations indicated that they want to advance integration with their activities, we can ask ourselves whether, and in how far, the activities for mainly their own Eritrean community (bonding) contribute to integration (binding). However, we have also encountered several activities that are aimed more at the Dutch society. This mostly concerns activities such as learning the Dutch language, practical skills, support and concrete help that do promote integration.

  1. Which concerns exist with regard to integration and participation of the members and especially the integration and participation of the younger generation and how is this being handled?

With regard to the first migration wave, the responses of the respondents mainly point at concerns about women and the less educated. Their command of Dutch is often poor and they are often dependent on social welfare payments. This group is sensitive to pressure and intimidation, is afraid and stays silent due to fear and mistrust.
The children of this first wave of refugees – the second generation – often do well in the area of  integration. There is a group, however, that despite good education is experiencing problems on the job market and deal with racism and discrimination. This is the group that is receptive to recruitment by the YPFDJ.
The situation of the second migration wave is comparable to the first.
It is the third migration wave that is the main source of concern for everyone. These concerns relate to mistrust, the enormous cultural gap, the low level of education and the immense trauma: trauma sustained in Eritrea, trauma en route and trauma related to family left behind. Furthermore, a lot of pressure comes from financial burdens. This includes pressure from the Dutch society, for example to obtain the correct papers, but also financial pressure to somehow pay one’s own escape journey and/or those of others. This group has been confronted with human trafficking of near relatives, spouses and children, the extortions that follow and the insecurity that these situations cause.
Severe forms of trauma (including sexual trauma) form a serious obstacle for integration and participation. The symptoms of trauma can manifest in many different ways. Sometimes, this can lead to the use of extremely traditional religious customs that are often poorly understood and recognised in the Netherlands. The refugees have little faith in discussing trauma and rely upon traditional structures such as the Orthodox churches.
On the other hand, this group is also characterised by a strong motivation to learn the Dutch language and start working. This differs from the first migration wave in which most refugees invested little time in integration and participation early on, as they assumed that they would ‘be going back to Eritrea soon anyway’.

  1. What are the experiences and opinions of Eritreans about the pressure from the Eritrean community and the diaspora tax?
  1. Do they experience pressure (deliberately or otherwise) or do they feel intimidated and/or threatened in the Netherlands, and if yes, what is the nature (political, religious, etc.) and the extent of this pressure?

 We have already commented on it: a lot of fear and mistrust exist within the community. The majority of the community experiences pressure. The pressure that is experienced is a sliding scale, which varies from implicit and subtle to explicit and in the form of threats and violence. It resembles a pyramid-shape. On the lowest level, many members of the community experience some pressure and a small part of the community personally experiences the most severe forms of intimidation.
The pressure, however, is not only determined by personal experiences, but clearly also by the information circulating in the community about intimidation. The trust in the rule of law, as we know it in the Netherlands, is being undermined by fear for reprisals, even if one has not experienced such reprisals directly.
The majority of the respondents was dealing with the implicit and subtle forms of pressure.  People keep their mouths shut and/or pay taxes in order to prevent something happening to their family in Eritrea (‘what if…’). The reason this subtle pressure works depends on the more explicit forms of pressure. This is where pressure becomes intimidation. Again, this can range from lighter forms to more severe intimidations and threats. This report covers this pressure – from light to severe – extensively.

This research shows that despite the barriers caused by this fear, notifications and reports of crimes are being filed. Notifications and police reports are related to (1) assault; (2) rape; (3)  disappearances; (4) (reported) suicide; (5) extortion in relation to human smuggling and trafficking; (6) extortion n relation to payment of the diaspora tax and other ‘voluntary’ contributions, and (7) intimidation.
The pressure and intimidation is therefore considered by us as a proven and established fact. In combination with:

  • the normal migration and integration issues (different language, culture, climate, surroundings),
  • the enormous amounts of trauma with many – if not most – migrants from the third wave, and
  • the lack of understanding and mistrust between the migration waves and between generations

this pressure and intimidation leads to serious integration issues.

  1. What opinion do they have on the diaspora tax, how is it collected and what is the role of different bodies and organisations in this?

The embassy sees the tax as a voluntary contribution of 2% that is being sought without any pressure or coercion, in order to support the needs of the victims of the 30-year long struggle for independence (widows, orphans and war invalids).
However, we can raise question marks around the voluntary nature.

  • Firstly, the tax must be paid if one wants to make use of consular services.
  • Secondly, the payments must be made for a variety of affairs related to the situation and the family in Eritrea (for example a funeral of close relatives).
  • Thirdly, ‘voluntary’ is a fairly relative term within the context of a climate of fear, mistrust and intimidation.

The diaspora tax and financial contributions rather seem to be part of a system of fear and intimidation.
It is notable that the tax plays a lesser role for the third migration wave, because this group is not required to use the services of the embassy for their procedure. However, many problems do arise for situations of family reunion. An early detection of circumstances is of vital importance here.
The following is also of consideration for the diaspora tax and other contributions:

  • there is abuse of power by use of extortion, because the provision of consular services is being made contingent on payment for other purposes; this is in contravention to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations;
  • the purposes of the collection of finances – even if it is marked as a voluntary contribution at the parties – are not specific and the realisation of the goals is not knowable;
  • collection is aimed at specific services (one goal is for example building houses, but thus far, no houses have been built with the money that was collected), or the money is being used for completely different unknown goals.
  • there is no insight into the question to what extent the reconstruction of Eritrea is being reached through the use of the collected finances, due to the lack of public financial management (there is no budget, no treasury, no independent central bank).

For these same reasons, it cannot be known if and how these contributions can be used for possible military goals in the region, nor prevented can the use of contributions for military goals be prevented. This conclusion was recently drawn again by the UN Monitoring Group and it is in contravention to the weapons embargo that was placed on Eritrea by the UN Security Council.



Notice of death of on border Asmara, smuggled out by Freedom Friday

Notice of death of on border Asmara, smuggled out by Freedom Friday

Pasted on a wall in the capital, Asmara: an announcement every family fears – the death of a loved one.

But this invitation for friends and family to pay their respects does not carry the usual announcement of where and when the funeral will take place. There was none.

This evidence was smuggled out of Eritrea by the underground resistance.

The network: Arbi Harnet or Freedom Friday, risk their lives in this most closed society to get the story published.


Eritrea: Border Patrol officers shoot and kill young people fleeing to Sudan

(Asmara 12/12/2016)

On 22nd of October a light pickup truck left the city of Asmara carrying 7 young people and 3 children.

Each had paid $5,500 to be smuggled across the Eirtrea – Sudan border.

Seven of those aboard the truck were absconding national service recruits (5 women and 2 men).

The three children (accompanied by an uncle) were on their way to join their mother who had previously fled from the country.

At the town of Hykota, a short distance from the border, they were ambushed.

The truck was hit by a hail of bullets in a co-ordinated attack ordered by a senior divisional commander.

Many were killed outright; others fatally wounded.

Among the dead was a young woman, Yohana Kahsay. Just 26 years old, she had one of the three small children on her lap.

Yohana was a member of the 26th round of national service recruits who had been conscripted into the army. She had served with the 74th mechanised division for over two years.

Following the carnage the wounded were loaded back on a truck, while soldiers went to hunt down those who had fled for their lives.

No attempt was made to try to care for the wounded.

Residents of Hykota report that the soldiers even stopped at a local teashop on their way to the hospital, by which time everyone was pronounced dead.

Families of the victims were not informed and they were hurriedly buried.

It took each family weeks to piece together what had happened.

Without the bodies of their loved ones they were left to grieve without the comfort of a normal funeral and the associated rituals.

These killings have shaken the residents of Asmara where all the people were from, and where their fateful journey began.

This report was compiled by Freedom Friday () activists stationed in the vicinity of the incident.

They have a complete picture of the massacre including the name of the officer in charge of the operation.

This information will be passed to relevant authorities to hold them to account.


fromEuropean Commission
Published on15 Dec 2016 0px 0px no-repeat transparent;">View Original

European Commission - Press release

Brussels, 15 December 2016

The European Union invests €170 million to tackle instability and irregular migration in the Horn of Africa

The European Commission has today approved a package of 11 new actions under the EU Trust Fund for Africa to improve stability and address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement in the Horn of Africa region.

Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, said: "This new set of actions worth almost €170 million is yet another proof of our decisive action to tackle the root causes of instability and irregular migration. With activities on the ground up and running, we have already seen the real value of the EU Trust Fund's for the Horn of Africa. With these new actions, we are steaming ahead to provide sustainable support to the many refugees, displaced persons and host communities in the region. They will allow people to sustainably improve their lives in the region instead of risking their lives in the hands of traffickers and smugglers."

Fourth package of actions in the Horn of Africa under the EU Trust Fund The package of 11 actions for an amount of almost €170 million consists of: regional projects to build the capacities of countries of the Horn of Africa to manage migration, including to fight against human trafficking and smuggling of migrants and through the development of rights-based and sustainable return and reintegration policies (€30 million); a project in three cross-border areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan to address the drivers of instability and forced displacement, and support cross-border peaceful cooperation and sustainable economic growth (€63.5 million); support to refugees and host communities in northern Uganda, in response to the recent large-scale influx from South Sudan (€10 million); projects creating employment opportunities to address socio-economic grievances of young people in Kenya, Djibouti and Eritrea (totalling €25 million). For example, in Djibouti 3,000 people will be trained with relevant skills to access the job market; 75% are expected to have found employment within 6 months of the training; support to the people in Sudan, with three projects to address instability and forced displacement through resilience actions to improve access to, and quality of, primary education, benefitting 90,000 children and training 2,000 teachers country-wide (€22 million), strengthen livelihoods in Southern and Eastern regions (€9 million) and enhance nutrition of 400,000 women and children in North-Eastern Sudan (€8 million); a regional monitoring and learning system (€2 million) to complement the on-going Research and Evidence Facility which is expected to include (but not be limited to) information on the drivers of migration, dynamics of cross-border economies and centre/periphery relations, drivers of radicalism and violent extremism.

These actions will build on previous packages of actions worth €253 million, €117 million, and €66.5 million package committed under the EU Trust Fund in the last 12 months to tackle instability and the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement; all of which are part of an ongoing response to the commitments made by the EU and African partners at the Valletta migration summit of November 2015.


The European Commission launched an “Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa” at the Valletta migration summit in November 2015. The Fund is made up of over €2.4 billion from the EU budget and European Develop­ment Fund, combined with contributions from EU Member States and other donors.

For More Information FACTSHEET: Third package of measures approved to tackle the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement in the Horn of Africa

On the Trust Fund for Africa:

Website of Commissioner Neven Mimica:



Posted byACN Newson 14/12/2016, 8:59 am
Board Administrator

ACN News: Wednesday, 14th December 2016 – ERITREA

Giving hope to Eritrean Refugees in Hitsatse Camp in Ethiopia

By Magdalena Wolnik

We hear about them in the news, in reports about successive boats that have sunk in the Mediterranean Sea. They come from a country where there is no war, and yet considered one of the worst places in which to be born and to live. Many risk much to flee the country. For us they are anonymous numbers that have long ceased to awaken any great emotions. Fr Hagos Hadgu, a project partner with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), knows many of their names and faces.

In 2015 about 50 thousand Eritreans reached Europe to become one of the largest national refugee groups, after the Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans in whose countries bloody wars are an everyday reality. Before they reach Europe, the USA or Canada, Eritreans pass through Ethiopia; one of Africa’s most hospitable countries, presently caring for about 800,000 refugees. Though some 10 million native people are starving here, they still continue to welcome those fleeing from neighbouring Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. About 120,000 Eritreans have sought refuge in four camps located in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Ethiopian Camps receive 300 people every day. Many of the refugees are young, educated men, fleeing the prospect of endless military service. Fr Hadgu Hagos, a Catholic priest of the Ethiopian Rite who, together with Fr Ghiday Alema, visits refugee camps in Shimelba, Mai-Aini and Hitsatse every week, warns that a good number of the refugees are often minors and even unaccompanied children.

(Fr Hadgu and Eritrean Catholics in the chapel at the Hitsatse Camp © Aid to the Church in Need)

Hitsatse camp, surrounded by a mountainous desert, situated more than 70km from the nearest town, with its hundreds of simple brick barracks and shabby UNHCR tents, is home to many large multigenerational families. Humanitarian organizations work here, focusing on providing access to drinking water and food, children’s education, support for people with disabilities and women suffering from abuse. There is also the spiritual dimension, which is why the camp has several chapels: Orthodox and Catholic, as well as a Muslim place of prayer. The camp numbers 25 thousand people, with a tiny Catholic community. The camp at Shimelba – 128 km from Shire town – has over five thousand Catholics and is better organised with youth groups and catechists. In the camps Fr Hagos and Fr Ghiday from the Adigrat Eparchy perform the sacraments, and together with catechists, prepare those who request it to be baptised, catechize, visit families, and play ball with the young.

(UNHCR tents at the Hitsatse camp © Aid to the Church in Nee

“People having suffered psychological deprivation, need consolation, reconciliation, you have to care for them, work with them. You have to tell them about God” - explains Fr Hagos, as he opens a modest chapel in the Hitsatse camp; accompanied by an old dried out man in oversized glasses, who explains that although he worked at the American Embassy in Asmara, he has been waiting for a visa for over three years. And yet he remains hopeful and confident, that he will soon be able to fly to the US with his wife. He adds that they could not have survived all this, without their faith. “We left everything behind, but we came here with our catholic faith. And thanks to the camp chapel we can continue to express it. There are no Catholics in the surrounding area, when people come here and see the chapel, they are filled with hope. We gather around this church, and thereby also express our gratitude to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), for building it.”

Eritrean Christians need to have strong faith. Fr Hagos explains that these persecutions and illegal border crossings leave people traumatised. They have to sell all they have to pay the soldiers at the checkpoints. When they reach the camps, they have almost nothing to survive on. A sense of hopelessness, frustration and depression is common, aggravated by separation from family, longing, idleness, and an uncertain future. The consequences are often drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.

“If they fail to earn money to pay the smugglers and leave, life in the camp ceases to have any sense for them. They begin to hate themselves. I saw a girl who set fire to herself in the camp”, recalls Fr Hagos. “They can’t stand the tension. But they rarely talk what they have experienced in the camp and on the road.”

The majority do not intend to stay in Ethiopia, faced with drought and famine, with no prospects for work and a normal life. The legal road involves waiting for a visa to Europe, the USA or Canada. Four families a week receive them. But the queue is long and the wait time ranges from 3 to 7 years. Older people, unable to face the challenge and hardships of the journey, have to wait to be relocated, and are more often than not left to their own devices. Young people on the other hand, impatient and not prepared to waste the best years of their lives, undertake the risky journey through desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Illegal routes to Europe lead through Sudan, Egypt, Libya and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

“The young move me”, declares Fr Hagos “they often wait, sometimes for years, without any certainty about their future. They dream of a better life. We try to convince them against choosing the illegal option, but if they are desperate they decide to go and risk it. Sometimes someone disappears, only for us to learn, several months later, that the boys with whom we played football, who served at the altar, had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. One day, we lost 16 such boys. Their relatives cried, and I cried with them. One of them was Tadese, a bright and capable young lad, a contentious student, who encouraged other young people to get involved with the Church. We liked to joke together… He drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last year. I can still see his face…”

Before ACN carried out the construction of the chapel to cover spiritual and psychosocial needs of the Catholic refugees living in Hitsatse camp, the community was celebrating Holy Mass under the trees. In 2015 the Catholic charity supported projects in Ethiopia with more than $3.2 million.

(The recently completed chapel at the Hitsatse camp © Aid to the Church in Need)


According to some sources 20% of Eritrea’s population of five million have fled the country since independence - 5,000 people every month. Even the national football team exploited an away match to flee. So far, almost all have sought, and have received political refugee status, though as a consequence of Europe’s refugee crisis, only a third presently succeed; the remainder risk being sent back to Asmara to face a military tribunal ready to sentence them for desertion.
Why do they flee? Eritrea, which gained independence in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war with Ethiopia, is considered to have one of the most repressive and ruthless regimes in the world. Authors of the 2015 UN Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea accuse the authorities of crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, rape and slavery. The country, inaccessible to outside observers, is reminiscent of a military barracks. There are no independent courts, newspapers or foreign correspondents, whilst the fictitious parliament deliberated for the last time in 2002. Every male between 17 and 70 years of age is required to enter military service, likewise all unmarried woman. Citizens are called to serve for indefinite periods of time, sometimes for a dozen or more years.
This young country, unceasingly at war with its neighbours, and despite the overwhelming poverty of its inhabitants, spends around 20 percent of its GDP on arms. The average wage is $30 a month, whilst the prices of basic goods can grow to absurd levels often overnight. From among 187 listed, the country is 182nd on the Human Development Index (HDI). Wojciech Jagielski, from the Polish Press Agency (PAP), notes that the West has no instruments with which to put pressure on Asmara. It cannot withhold loans, investments, or food aid, because it has granted Eritrea neither.

Human Rights Watch describes Eritrea as a “Big Prison for Christians”. America’s Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that over two thousand people are detained in labour camps because of their faith, including Patriarch Antonios, still recognised as leader of the country’s Orthodox Church, who has been imprisoned for over eight years. The few witnesses in the camps report that beatings and torture are aimed at inducing inmates to renounce their faith.

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.

For more information or to make a donation to help the work of Aid to the Church in Need, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills BC NSW 2153.

On Line donations can be made