Italian Police remove migrants in Ventimiglia, at the Italian-French border Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Police at Italy's Mediterranean border with France have forcibly removed some of the African migrants who have been camping out for days in hopes of continuing their journeys farther north. The migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, have been camped out for five days after French border police refused to let them cross. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP)Italian Police remove migrants in Ventimiglia, at the Italian-French border Tuesday, June 16, 2015. Police at Italy's Mediterranean border with France have forcibly removed some of the African migrants who have been camping out for days in hopes of continuing their journeys farther north. The migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, have been camped out for five days after French border police refused to let them cross. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP)The Associated Press

LUXEMBOURG (AP) — Italy urged reluctant European Union partners on Tuesday to sign up to a plan to share 40,000 refugees, as police forcibly removed migrants trying to cross their common border.

At a meeting of EU interior ministers, Italy's Angelino Alfano called for solidarity with front-line countries Italy and Greece as tens of thousands of migrants cross the Mediterranean in search of sanctuary in the EU.

"We are working to avoid the political bankruptcy of Europe," Alfano told reporters in Luxembourg.

The ministers were meeting to debate a plan for obligatory relocation of Syrian and Eritrean refugees to other European countries over the next two years. Only about 10 of the EU's 28 nations support the plan and even those that do disagree with the calculations for distributing the refugees.

Earlier Tuesday, police in Ventimiglia on Italy's border with France forcibly removed a few dozen African migrants who have been camping out for days in hopes of continuing their journeys farther north.

Some migrants held onto signposts and others tried to resist being loaded onto a Red Cross bus. Migrants on rocks jutting out into the sea were left alone, with police apparently unwilling to move into a more treacherous location.

Alfano said that the scene in Ventimiglia is "a punch in the eye for those who refuse to see."

His French counterpart, Bernard Cazaneuve, denied that France has closed its border there.

"When migrants cross borders and it is established that they arrived in Italy, then it is only normal that they return to Italy," Cazaneuve told reporters in Luxembourg.

"We have agreements and we are currently doing checks to ensure that those agreements are respected," he said.

Meanwhile in Greece, hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, including women and children, protested Monday on the eastern island of Lesvos, demanding better living conditions and faster processing of their registration.

They also want to be housed separately from Afghan arrivals after a fight broke out in one of the island's camps.


Nicole Winfield in Rome, and Elena Becatoros in Lesvos, Greece, contributed to this report.


The EU may be saving lives in the Mediterranean but it is turning a blind eye to the political repression in Africa’s worst dictatorship
President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea

President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, who ‘rules through fear’. Photograph: Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images

Europe’s response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean has rightly – if belatedly – focused on saving lives. Not a week goes by now without thousands of Africans, Asians and refugees from the Middle East being rescued off the coast of Italy by European ships. That is the welcome result of a humanitarian effort decided in late April, after a series of tragedies at sea had pushed EU leaders to act at last. But it would be dangerous to suppose that the deeper problem has been addressed. Europe deals only with the symptoms of migration, not its root causes. Eritrea is a striking case in point.

This east African nation of 6 million people is now one of the biggest sources of migrants who take the perilous journey into Sudan and then across Libya before finally setting out to sea towards Europe’s shores. There is no civil war in Eritrea, nor has there been an international military intervention. What Eritreans desperately try to escape is a dictatorship that sounds close to being Africa’s equivalent of North Korea. The UN’s inquiry on human rights in Eritrea, in a damning report published earlier this week, found what it called “a pervasive control system used in absolute arbitrariness to keep the population in a state of permanent anxiety”. It describes torture, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, indefinite military conscription, forced labour. It is a comprehensive description of how President Isaias Afwerki, in power for 23 years, rules through fear.

In the face of the systematic inhumanity of his regime, Europe has turned a blind eye. Even worse, the EU has in recent months decided on a new development aid package to Eritrea, worth over €300m. The argument is that financial support will help stem the flow of asylum seekers pouring out of the country. But it is not likely to work like that. Rather, the aid will first feed the cynicism of a dictatorial system only too happy to feel vindicated in its twisted assertion that Eritreans are migrating for predominantly economic reasons, not political ones. Second, such a policy does nothing to relieve those who so desperately need urgent help. Europe is not only compromising its own values by turning a blind eye to tyranny, it is rewarding a regime with aid instead of thinking strategically.

Any reading of the UN report should tear down this convenient myth. The EU must base its action not on wishful thinking but on the report’s core conclusion, which is that crimes against humanity may be being committed in Eritrea. This means that European governments, including the UK’s, that have tried to cast Eritreans as economic migrants, must seriously consider changing course. If Eritreans are fleeing persecution, Europe’s obligation is to be open to them, not to retreat behind false representations. If aid is to be delivered, it must come with strict obligations attached. There may be no easy solution to Eritrea’s domestic situation, but the very least one should expect from Europe is to recognise the facts: it is a totalitarian state whose refugees are not, or not only, in search of work but who are fleeing a very real terror.


UN raises concerns that secret deals are being brokered with ‘Africa’s North Korea’ in an effort to stop migrants coming to Europe
Eritrean migrants in Calais

Eritrean migrants, pictured in Calais, are the second largest African group fleeing to Europe. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/REUTERS

Norwegian state secretary Jøran Kellmyr is under fire for travelling to Eritrea – often called “Africa’s North Korea” because of the repressive and murderous regime of President Isaias Afwerki – to forge a “return” agreement enabling Norway to send back Eritrean refugees.

Eritreans are the second largest group, behind the Syrians, of those migrating to Europe. About 200 leave each day and the money sent home by the diaspora is almost exclusively responsible for supporting those who remain.

A UN report last week issued a damning picture of a “culture of fear” within Eritrea, citing random arrests, torture and systematic rape, military service that equated to slave labour, political persecution and executions.

But Kallmyr stressed it had been written without access to the country, relying on accounts of Eritreans who have fled. Norway and the UK toughened their stance on asylum requests from Eritrea earlier this year, controversially citing a Danish report, Eritrea – Drivers and Root Causes of Emigration, which suggested many Eritreans were fleeing for economic reasons. The report caused outrage and was widely discredited; two of its authors resigned. Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch attacked it as “a political effort to stem migration”.

But the UK issued new guidance on Eritrea, citing the Danish report, and since then the refusal rate for asylum applications from Eritreans has risen from 13% in 2014 to 23% so far this year.

“Key European figures have been heading to Asmara and it’s clear there is a real political will to solve the migrant crisis by getting the borders shut from the Eritrean side – it’s a very dangerous tactic,” said one UN insider. There are fears the Eritreans could re-impose a shoot-to-kill border operation. At present, there is a UN and EU arms embargo on Eritrea, a travel ban and an asset freeze on listed individuals.

A Home Office spokesperson said there were no immediate plans to change policy towards Eritrea but added: “We will carefully consider the findings of the United Nations report.”


In one small East African country, the rule of law has been replaced by the rule of fear.

That was the conclusion of a yearlong investigation by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, which released its report this week. The report lays out in horrifying detail the mass surveillance, torture, enslavement and disappearances under Eritrea’s totalitarian regime since that country gained independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s. The U.N. investigators said systemic human rights abuses in Eritrea are on a scale rarely seen anywhere else in the world and may constitute crimes against humanity.

The U.N. panel, which was established in June 2014, was not able to enter Eritrea, so investigators based their 484-page report on 550 interviews and 160 written statements from people who had fled the country. Many witnesses were still terrified to provide information to the commission, fearing the reach of Eritrean surveillance and consequences for their families back home, the report said.

Among those willing to tell their stories was an Eritrean who sketched out some of the gruesome torture methods being used and provided the drawings to the commission. A human rights investigator for the commission who helped draft the report said the artist’s identity was being kept strictly confidential for his or her protection.

“The drawings were very useful to help us portray more vividly the suffering and humiliation described to us by many witnesses,” she told The WorldPost. “The 'tying methods' are common forms of torture inflicted on both detainees and conscripts in Eritrea,” she said.


On Monday, the United Nations released theresults of a year-long investigation into human rights in Eritrea. What it found was horrific. Detailing "systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations," the U.N. commission of inquiry argued that Eritrea was operating a totalitarian government with no accountability and no rule of law.

"The commission also finds that the violations in the areas of extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), national service and forced labor may constitute crimes against humanity," the report said.

However, it appears the report failed to produce any mainstream outrage. Unlike similar U.N. reports onalleged crimes against humanity in North Korea, or online criticism of human rights abuses in places such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar, the horrific accusations against Eritrea didn't produce a viral outcry.

Why not? It certainly doesn't seem to be because of the severity of the accusations. Crimes against humanity are pretty much as serious as you can get, and it's hard to read the United Nations' full report and not be shocked.

It's hard to imagine now, but hopes were initially high for Eritrea in 1993 after it gained independence from Ethiopia after 30 years of civil war. Since then, however, President Isaias Afwerki has clamped down and allowed no room for an opposition. The U.N. report described a Stasi-like police state that leaves Eritreans in constant fear that they are being monitored.

“When I am in Eritrea, I feel that I cannot even think because I am afraid that people can read my thoughts and I am scared," one witness told the U.N. inquiry.

The system leads to arbitrary arrests and detention, with torture and even enforced disappearances a part of life in Eritrea, the U.N. probe found, and even those who commit no perceived crime often end up in arduous and indefinite national service that may amount to forced labor. Escape is not a realistic option for many: Those who attempt to flee the country are considered "traitors," and there is a shoot-to-kill policy on the border, the report said.

It's also worth noting the significant effort and risk put into creating the report: The Eritrean government refused to allow the United Nations access to the country to investigate, so the U.N. team interviewed more than 550 witnesses in third countries and accepted 160 written submissions. Many approached by the United Nations declined to give testimony, even anonymously, citing a justifiable fear of reprisal.

Still, experts don't seem too surprised at the lack of outrage generated by the report. "Clearly, Eritrea doesn't capture the imagination, or rouse the conscience of Americans, much in the way North Korea does," Jeffrey Smith, an advocacy officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, explained. "President Afwerki, while unquestionably a chronic human rights abuser and eccentric despot, isn't portrayed by the American media in the same way that Kim Jong Un is."

"North Korea also makes headlines for other reasons -- namely its nuclear ambitions and the ongoing threat it poses to regional stability in East Asia," he added. "Similarly, while Eritrea is certainly a police state similar to North Korea in many ways, it's largely kept out of the headlines because Africa in general doesn't feature highly on the agenda of policymakers here in the United States."

The fact is, while the scope and authority of the U.N. report lent its allegations an added weight, academics and human rights researchers had long written similar things about the Eritrean state without a significant mainstream response in America or Europe.

In 2014, for instance Human Rights Watch called Eritrea "among the most closed countries in the world" and pointed to "indefinite military service, torture, arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and religion." Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly rankedit as the worst country in the world for press freedom -- worse even than North Korea.

"The U.N. report? We knew it already," said Ismail Einashe, a Somali-British journalist who works with Eritrean migrants. "Too little, too late."

Despite this, some reports on the country ignore this and focus on another aspect of Eritrea: Its unlikely tourism sector. International isolation, a history as an Italian colony and reported Qatari investmentmay have made Eritrea a unique if distasteful vacation destination: Asone travel blogger put it last year, the capital of "Asmara felt much more like Naples than North Korea."

Sara Dorman, an expert in African politics at Edinburgh University, doesn't think much of either comparison.

"I don't think it's particularly helpful," she said of the country's reputation as the "North Korea of Africa." At the same time, she stressed that Eritrea really does deserve to be seen as a special case. "As somebody who studies authoritarian regimes elsewhere in Africa, the Eritrean regime's control over its population is qualitatively different than other African states," Dorman said, before pointing to features such as the scale of Eritrea's intelligence service and the practice of punishing entire families for the crimes of one member.

There are plenty ofhistorical argumentsfor why the world should pay more attention to what's happening in Eritrea. Former colonial rulers Italy and Britain have an obvious legacy there, and so does the United States, which allowed Ethiopia to incorporate Eritrea with the aim of keeping the U.S. Kagnew Station military base in the country. In addition, Eritrea has a difficult recent history with its East African neighbors: It's currently under U.N. sanctions for supporting al-Shabab, the Somali Islamist group, and others in the region.

But one important reason to pay attention has become an unavoidable reality for Europe. Eritreans make up a large share of the migrants crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats to seek asylum in Europe: More than 22 percent of those who made the journey in 2014 were from the country, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, second only to Syrians. They flee not because of a civil war like that in Syria, but because of the immense restrictions the Eritrean state puts on their lives. As oneescaped Eritreanput it, life there is a "psychological prison."

Despite this, a number of European nations have recently tightened the restrictions on Eritrean migrants, many citing a Danishimmigration reportfrom last November that prompted criticismfrom human rights groups. The European Union is also considering increasing the amount of aid it sends to Eritreavia the European Development Fund. Experts like Dorman hope that the U.N. report may lead some in Europe to reconsider.

"If organizations don't take note of this report, we really have to wonder about how they make these decisions," she said.

Still, even if they don't, the report does have one very vocal audience: The Eritrean government and pro-government media. In astatement published on Tuesday, Eritrea called the U.N. report a"cynical political travesty" that was an attack "not so much on the government, but on a civilized people and society who cherish human values and dignity."


Recent UK guidance that Eritrean asylum seekers can now safely go home comes under scrutiny as commission finds signs of crimes against humanity
Eritrean children look on, holding the barbed wires at Sudan's Shagarab refugee camp in Kassala. The camp receives about 2,000 asylum-seekers every month, largely from Eritrea where many have fled military service.

Eritrean children look on, holding the barbed wires at Sudan’s Shagarab refugee camp in Kassala. The camp receives about 2,000 asylum-seekers every month, largely from Eritrea where many have fled military service. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

The UK is to “carefully consider” the findings of a UN inquiry that concluded the Eritrean government may be subjecting its citizens to crimes against humanity, contradicting British guidance that has deemed Eritrea safe for migrants to return to after leaving illegally.

The Home Office updated its country guidance for Eritrea in March to advise that Eritreans are no longer at risk of persecution if they return home after leaving the country without official permission. This guidance is used by UK immigration officials to determine the legitimacy of asylum applications.

As long as Eritreans have paid income taxes and sign a letter of apology for leaving the country illegally, they will not face persecution or harm if they return, the guidance from the Home Office said. “Previous country guidance indicated that those who had left illegally were at risk on return to Eritrea. However, up-to-date information from inside Eritrea suggests this is no longer the case,” it said.

But the UN commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea painted a much bleaker picture for Eritrean returnees in a report published on Monday. It said that Eritreans who fled the country illegally are regarded as “traitors”. They are usually arrested when they return and are detained in harsh conditions. “Returnees who spoke to the commission were held in prison between eight months to three years,” the report said. “[They] are systematically ill-treated to the point of torture.”

The UN report also said the Eritrean government is carrying out extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, indefinite national service and forced labour “on a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere”.

The Eritrean government dismissed the UN’s allegations as “unfounded and devoid of all merit”. Eritrea has said that huge numbers of Ethiopian asylum seekers, pretending to be Eritrean to increase their chances of gaining asylum, have distorted the actual number of Eritreans arriving in Europe.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We will carefully consider the findings of the UN report.” She did not specify whether the current Home Office guidance would be changed.

She added: “Our country information and guidance is based on a careful and objective assessment of the situation in Eritrea using evidence taken from a range of sources including media outlets, local, national and international organisations, including human rights organisations, and information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

European countries are struggling to deal with the arrival of record numbers of migrants and refugees, notably from Syria and Eritrea. Fleeing civil war, persecution and seeking better job prospects, thousands have braved dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, in the hope of gaining asylum in Europe.

Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, reported that 36,925 Eritrean migrants applied for asylum in Europe last year, a 155% increase from 2013. The UK received 3,552 asylum applications from Eritreans in the year to March, more than from any other nationality, according to the Home Office.

Even more migrants are expected to arrive during the summer months, when the Mediterranean is calmer and crossings are less risky. Last month, the EU announced plans to take in 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean migrants, but this was met with opposition from some member states.

Denmark and Norway have also issued new asylum guidance in the past year, making it easier for immigration services to reject Eritrean applications. These moves have been condemned by human rights groups.

Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: “In the absence of tangible human rights reforms by Eritrea’s government, host countries, particularly in the EU, should not close the door on Eritrean asylum seekers or send them back to almost certain abuse.”

Host countries in the EU should not close the door on Eritrean asylum seekers or send them back to almost certain abuse

Leslie Lefkow, Human Rights Watch

The Home Office’s March guidance included dozens of citations from a heavily criticised report by the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) used to determine asylum applications to Denmark.

The Danish report, published in December, has been criticised as inaccurate and misleading by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Watch and a group of 23 academics, activists and journalists.

Jens Weise Olesen, a chief immigration adviser at DIS and co-author of the Danish report, has been suspended for speaking out about the production of the study.

Olesen said the report had been rushed out after a huge increase in the number of Eritreans applying for asylum in Denmark. He said the report has deterred Eritreans from seeking asylum in Denmark since it was published.

“Our head of office was very eager to publish the report extremely quickly,” he said. “You could see the number of Eritrean asylum applications to Denmark going down, because they knew the report was out there and it could be used to reject their application.”

A DIS spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying the matter had been closed.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are aware of, and have taken into account, criticism of parts of the Danish report, which is only used alongside a range of other sources to produce the guidance.”

Eritrea’s indefinite national service, which requires men and women over 18 to serve in the military or work for the government, is cited as the most common reason that people flee the country. EU officials have said that Eritrea has committed to reducing its national service requirement to 18 months, but HRW said there is no sign this commitment has been made.

When the new guidance was issued in March, HRW said there was no evidence of any change of policy regarding illegal exits in Eritrea and it urged the Home Office to reconsider its conclusions.



You could by now have heard that Eritreans opposed to the repressive regime in Asmara are organizing a historic demonstration in front of the UN Office in Geneva on 26 June 2015.

If you have not yet decided to be part of that momentous demonstration in Geneva that day, you must do so now.

If your family members and close Eritrean and non-Eritrean friends have not yet heard about it, know that you, we all, have the moral and patriotic duty not only to tell them about the event of June 26 but also to help them through various means to be in Geneva that day.

We go to Geneva on 26 June for a number of noble objectives, including the following:

  1. 1.There is man-made humanitarian disaster in Eritrea. The UN Human Rights Commission and its inquiry organ have confirmed it. Therefore, we will ask for deeds and not only words: we will ask for concrete action by the UN Security Council and the international community to help end the prolonged agony of our nation under a modern-day Gestapo force.
  2. 2.June 26 will be the day in which we express our solidarity with suffering compatriots. It is a day to remember and pay respects to all languishing in prisons and those who perished in the deserts and the high seas. It is also the day we express our deepest commitment to revitalize the dreams of our people for a better tomorrow in peace, democracy and prosperity.
  3. 3.June 26 shall be the day on which we show to the world that it is a critical mass of us, Eritreans, who have rejected the one-man dictatorship in Eritrea.

We all know that in February 2010, the Eritrean authorities and their agents in Europe have forced so many Eritreans to come to Geneva and show that the one-man dictatorship has “a good number of supporters”. Yes, many came under duress: those compatriots who maintained some link with home were told either to show up in Geneva for the demonstration or pay a good amount of money to regime embassies in Europe. Many came, and those who did not come had to pay the ordered amount. A similar “show of force” was staged by the regime agents in New York in an event attended by the dictator himself.

As of that time, all UN agencies, permanent missions and other international organizations in Geneva and New York continued to wrongly believe that the regime still has “solid support” by Eritreans.

Of course this is not true anymore. Over 90% of Eritreans are opposed to the autocratic regime at home. But we have to expose the regime’s narrative of lies by our presence in Geneva. June 26 2015 is the day, the best opportunity we have to show the People Power - the real force of those of us struggling for justice and democratic change.

Organized social movements, leaders and members of political and civil society organizations and individuals committed to the struggle for democratic change in Eritrea are called upon to be part of the historic day.

We need to pay whatever that one-day mission costs. Come from all parts of Europe, and when possible to make it, even from any part of Africa, the Middle East and North America. June 26 deserves your presence in Geneva.

Come one, come all!!

We Shall Overcome.



The SADC Council of NGOs, on behalf of the Regional Solidarity Task Team is alarmed by escalating human rights violations in Eritrea as detailed in the just published report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COI). The COI was established for a period of one year by the Human Rights Council through its resolution 26/24 of 27 June 2014 on the “situation of human rights in Eritrea”.

In its report the CIO states that:

"...systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea and that there is no accountability for them. The enjoyment of rights and freedoms are severely curtailed in an overall context of a total lack of rule of law. ..widespread extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), national service and forced labour that may constitute crimes against humanity...Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country... In desperation, they resort to deadly escape routes through deserts and neighbouring war-torn countries and across dangerous seas in search of safety. They risk capture, torture and death at the hands of ruthless human traffickers. Toascribe their decision to leave solely  to economic reasons is to ignore the dire situation of human rights in Eritrea and the very real suffering of its people. Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection. ”

The 10th Southern African Civil Society Forum (CSF) resolved to highlight and mobilise regional and continental solidarity with the people of Eritrea. The Eritrean Delegation, during the inaugural consultative meeting of the Regional Solidarity Task Team held Johannesburg, South Africa in December 2014 briefed the meeting in detail about the extent and manifestations of the gross human rights violations in Eritrea. Alarmed by the silence of the African Union on the plight and suffering of the Eritreans, the consultative meeting noted the ongoing gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Eritrean government and called on the African governments and African Union to urgently intervene on to the deteriorating political situation in the Horn of African country and adopt appropriate responses. Since then, the political situation in Eritrea is nearing catastrophic proportions, driving thousands of young people out of their country. Thousands of Eritreans are perishing on a daily basis in the Sahara desert and in the Mediterranean Sea as they flee the brutal regime in the country.

It is highly worrying that African leaders and the African Union have not taken any substantial measures to address and respond to the growing humanitarian crisis in the country, which has spilled over to neighbouring countries and beyond. The UNHRC COI has characterised the crisis in Eritrea constituting crimes against humanity, and that it is threating regional and international peace and security.

We once again call on the African Union to put the human rights situation in Eritrea on its agenda for the forthcoming Summit in South Africa. Let us learn from our recent experiences in Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and recently Mali and Burundi where violence and human rights abuses led to crises of unimaginable proportions.

African lives indeed matter!!

----------------------------------------------- end

Issued on the 10th of June 2015,

Gaborone, Botswana

For more information contact:

Mr. Boichoko Ditlhake, Executive Director Email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


[1]The Regional Solidarity Task Team is composed of representatives from regional CS apex organization, namely the Southern Africa Trade Union Co-ordination Council (SATUCC), Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and Southern African Development Community - Council of NGOs (SADC- CNGOs). The Task Team was established by the resolution of the 10th Southern African Civil Society Forum (CSF) convened between 27th and 31st July 2014, Harare, Zimbabwe.


Police examine claims that embassy in London uses threats and coercion to collect recovery and reconstruction tax that allegedly funds African militants

The Queen shakes hands with Estifanos Habtemariam the new ambassador of Eritrea, during a private audience at Buckingham Palace on 17 February 2015.

The Queen shakes hands with Estifanos Habtemariam, the new ambassador of Eritrea, during a private audience

at Buckingham Palace on 17 February 2015. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

The Metropolitan police are examining allegations that the Eritrean embassy in London is illegally using a controversial diaspora tax to “punish and control” Eritreans living in the UK, it has emerged.

The Eritrean government has been criticised repeatedly over its use of the 2% recovery and reconstruction (RRT) tax it levies on the earnings of Eritreans abroad.

In December 2011, a UN security council resolution (pdf) called on Eritrea to “cease using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals or other individuals of Eritrean descent”.

The same resolution accused Eritrea of using the tax to destabilise the Horn of Africa, saying some of the revenues were funding armed opposition groups in the region, including the militant group al-Shabaab.

Accusations that Eritrea was supporting the Somali group as a means of attacking its long-standing enemy, Ethiopia, had prompted the security council to impose an arms embargo on the country in 2009.

Concerns that the Eritrean embassy in London is using coercion or illicit means to collect the tax – such as refusing diaspora members basic consular services if they fail to pay it – have led the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to raise the matter with the Eritrean authorities on at least four occasions over the past four years.

In May 2011, the FCO notified the Eritrean ambassador that aspects of the diaspora tax may be unlawful and in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, adding: “The ambassador was told that, until it was demonstrated otherwise, the embassy should suspend, immediately and in full, all activities relating to the collection of the tax.”

The Eritrean embassy says it no longer collects the tax in London. But UK-based Eritreans claim the tax is still being raised illegally – though they say the London embassy now requires it to be paid on their behalf in the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

One Eritrean attempting to conclude his affairs in the country last year was told by the embassy that he needed to pay £350 in Eritrea, and that nothing would be settled without full payment of the fee, which included a £200 charge for the Eritrean military.

In March, a group of Eritreans reported the matter to the police and sent a dossier of allegations to the Met commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe.

Although Scotland Yard has not launched a formal investigation, officers from the Met’s parliamentary and diplomatic protection department are understood to be examining the dossier.

“The Metropolitan police service have been contacted by members of the Eritrean community regarding the alleged illegal extraction of taxes by their embassy,” said a Met spokesman. “Officers are assessing the information provided to them to establish whether any offence has been committed.”

The Foreign Office also said it was aware “of allegations over the use of harassment to collect revenue from members of the Eritrean diaspora in the UK”. A spokeswoman said that while the FCO did not believe the collection of taxes was illegal, “use of harassment and blackmail could be and we encouraged diaspora members with allegations of this kind to raise their concerns with the police”.

Noel Joseph, a UK-based Eritrean human rights activist, said the government in Asmara was using the tax to hold the diaspora to ransom.

“Basically, anything you need from the state – if you want to write a will or get a power-of-attorney for your family or to send parcels home or get a passport – you need a clearance document and you do not get the document without paying the 2% tax,” he said.

“It’s punishing people and exerting control. The message is: no matter how far you’ve gone, we will always find a way of affecting your life.”

It's punishing people … The message is: no matter how far you've gone, we will always find a way to affect your life

Noel Joseph

Joseph said the Eritrean government was now trying to head off international scrutiny of the tax by instructing members of the diaspora to pay it in Asmara.

Calling on the UK and the international community to show “will and determination” in investigating the allegations, he added: “What the Eritrean government is doing is illegal – and they’re clearly flouting it – so they need to take drastic action. Eritrea needs to learn its lesson; it cannot just behave as it is. It’s against the law.”

The Eritrean embassy described the allegations as “baseless, ongoing, deliberate and distorted” and said the Eritrean government had never used coercive methods or intimidation to collect the tax.


“Although Eritrean tax evaders residing in the country are legally charged and convicted for their failure to comply with the taxation law, Eritreans residing abroad are not legally bound by this regulation,” it said in a statement.

“Eritrean citizens that fail to pay the 2% RRT however, are subject to administrative measures such as the ‘denial of business licence, land entitlement and other services’. This does not include basic consular services. These measures are not considered ‘extortion, coercion or intimidation’ by international law.”

A UN report published this week suggested that the Eritrean government’s systematic use of extrajudicial killing, torture, rape, indefinite national service and forced labour may amount to crimes against humanity.

The 500-page investigation by the UN commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea catalogued a litany of human rights violations by the “totalitarian” regime of President Isaias Afwerki “on a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere”.

It also accused the government of using a programme of imprisonment, forced disappearance, surveillance and censorship to create a culture of permanent fear and crush all dissent.



GENEVA (8 June 2015) — The Government of Eritrea is responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labour and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country, according to a UN report released Monday. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.

Citing an array of human rights violations on a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere, the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea describes a totalitarian state bent on controlling Eritreans through a vast security apparatus that has penetrated all levels of society.

“Information gathered through the pervasive control system is used in absolute arbitrariness to keep the population in a state of permanent anxiety,” the 500-page report says. “It is not law that rules Eritreans – but fear.”

The release of the report comes as the international community, particularly governments in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, struggles to cope with a growing exodus of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants across the Mediterranean and along other irregular routes. Many of them are Eritreans, a significant proportion of whom fall victim to human traffickers while trying to reach Europe. The UN refugee agency placed the number of Eritreans under its concern outside the country at more than 357,400 in mid-2014.

The report strongly urges continued international protection for Eritrean refugees fleeing human rights violations, and warns against sending them back to danger in a country that punishes anyone who tries to leave without permission.

“Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country,” the report says. “In desperation, they resort to deadly escape routes through deserts and neighbouring war-torn countries and across dangerous seas in search of safety. They risk capture, torture and death at the hands of ruthless human traffickers. To ascribe their decision to leave solely to economic reasons is to ignore the dire situation of human rights in Eritrea and the very real suffering of its people. Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection.”

The commission of inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014 to conduct an investigation of all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea, including: extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances; arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and inhumane prison conditions; violations of freedom of expression and opinion; freedom of association and assembly; freedom of religion and belief; freedom of movement; and forced military conscription.

The three-member commission is chaired by Mr. Mike Smith (Australia), with Mr. Victor Dankwa (Ghana), and Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth (Mauritius), who also serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, as commissioners.

Announcing the release of the report Monday, Ms. Keetharuth urged renewed commitment from the international community to help end the climate of fear in Eritrea.

“With the end of the commission’s investigations and the publication of this report detailing our findings on human rights violations in Eritrea, I look forward to a renewed commitment by the international community to address the justice deficit and to support our call for a restoration of the rule of law,” she said. “Rule by fear – fear of indefinite conscription, of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, of torture and other human rights violations – must end.”

The commission is scheduled to formally present its report to the UN Human Rights Council on June 23 in Geneva.

Eritrean authorities ignored repeated requests by the commission for direct access to the country as well as for information. The commission travelled to eight other countries and carried out some 550 confidential interviews with Eritrean witnesses who had fled the Horn of Africa nation. In addition, it received some 160 written submissions.

The report says fear of reprisals, even among witnesses now in third countries, was a major challenge.

“Many potential witnesses residing outside Eritrea were afraid to testify, even on a confidential basis, because they assumed they were still being clandestinely monitored by the authorities and therefore feared for their safety and for family members back in Eritrea,” the report says.

The report notes that the initial promise of democracy and rule of law that came with Eritrea’s independence in 1991 has been extinguished by the Government under the pretext of national defence.

“The commission finds that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea and that there is no accountability for them,” it says. “The enjoyment of rights and freedoms are severely curtailed in an overall context of a total lack of rule of law. The commission also finds that the violations in the areas of extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), national service and forced labour may constitute crimes against humanity. The commission emphasizes that its present findings should not be interpreted as a conclusion that international crimes have not been committed in other areas.”

The report lists the main perpetrators of these violations as the Eritrean Defence Forces, in particular the Eritrean Army; the National Security Office; the Eritrean Police Forces; the Ministry of Information; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Defence; the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ); the Office of the President; and the President.

The report describes the repressive systems used by the Government to control, silence and isolate individuals, including a pervasive domestic surveillance network in which neighbours spy on neighbours and even family members mistrust each other.

“As a result of this mass surveillance, Eritreans live in constant fear that their conduct is or may be monitored by security agents and that information gathered may be used against them, leading to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, disappearance or death,” it says.

The judicial system in the country lacks independence and the administration of justice is “completely deficient,” the report says. Arbitrary detention is ubiquitous and conditions of detention in the country’s vast network of jails are extremely harsh. Holding prisoners incommunicado is a widespread practice, and many detainees simply disappear. In addition, many detainees have no idea why they are being held, nor of the length of their imprisonment.

“The commission finds that the use of torture is so widespread that it can only conclude it is a policy of the Government to encourage its use for the punishment of individuals perceived as opponents to its rule and for the extraction of confessions,” the report says. “Monitoring of detention centres is non-existent and perpetrators are never brought to justice.”

The report also describes how the Government, under the pretext of defending the integrity of the State and ensuring national self-sufficiency, has subjected much of the population to open-ended national service, either in the army or through the civil service. When they turn 18 or even before, all Eritreans are conscripted. While national service is supposed to last 18 months, in reality conscripts end up serving for an indefinite period, often for years in harsh and inhumane conditions.

Thousands of conscripts are subjected to forced labour that effectively abuses, exploits and enslaves them for years. Women conscripts are at extreme risk of sexual violence during national service.

Many others – detainees, students, members of the militia – are also subjected to forced labour: “The use of forced labour is so prevalent in Eritrea that all sectors of the economy rely on it and all Eritreans are likely to be subject to it at one point in their lives,” the report says.

“The commission concludes that forced labour in this context is a practice similar to slavery in its effects and, as such, is prohibited under international human rights law.”