March 25, 2019 Ethiopia, News

A senior Ethiopian official has confirmed that the numbers of Eritreans seeking sanctuary in Ethiopia continues to remain high.

Hitsats Refugee Camp Ethiopia

As many as 300 are crossing every day and the refugee facilities are close to their capacity.

Many of the new arrivals are unaccompanied children and 20-25% are Eritrean soldiers escaping from indefinite National Service.

The Ethiopian refugee authorities are struggling to cope with the exodus.

Refugees are having to wait for about 2 days in collection centers before they are transported to the screening center.

They are then being sent to one of the four existing camps, but all are having to be expanded to cope with the influx.

March 24, 2019 News

Risks to Peace Between Ethiopia and Eritrea

Source: Stratfor 2019 Second Quarter Forecast

Normalization between Ethiopia and Eritrea will likely deepen in 2019, but key components of the relationship remain unsettled. Matters including trade, the use of ports and Ethiopia’s handing over of the border town Badme will need to be formalized to prevent backsliding in the months ahead. Furthermore, lingering distrust between Eritrea’s leadership and the Tigray region of Ethiopia will be a festering problem and important to watch. Poor relations between the two sides could risk flare-ups along the border between Eritrea and the Tigray region that cause ties between Addis Ababa and Asmara to deteriorate, an issue not only for the quarter but the year ahead. For more on the continuity of Ethiopia and Eritrea’s peace deal, read our latest assessment.

Will Ethiopia-Eritrea Peace Last?

History warns the relationship between these two countries could suddenly turn sour again.

When Eritrea won its independence in 1993 after a thirty-year struggle against Ethiopia, there was optimism that peace would hold. Long-time dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam resigned on May 21, 1991, and fled into exile in Zimbabwe. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and the new Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi had been comrades-in-arms against Mengistu’s regime. It looked like the two would lead their respective countries into a period of both peace and prosperity. In a book review for the Financial Times , British writer John Ryle recalled a 1995 celebration in the northern Ethiopian town of Mekelle:

“The two guerrilla movements had fought together to defeat the Derg, then – unprecedentedly – agreed to an amicable secession. In western diplomatic circles, Meles and Isaias were being touted as a new breed of African statesman. That evening on the outskirts of Mekelle, I watched as Meles, Isaias and other guests, serenaded by Mahmud Ahmed, a veteran Ethiopian pop star, danced together in the moonlight.”

Such episodes would not last. Just three years later, a series of skirmishes between Eritrea and Ethiopia over relatively minor border disputes would erupt into a full-scale conflict. The land they disputed had no real resources. It seemed so irrelevant that the conflict was often described as “two bald men fighting over a comb.”

Whereas Isaias and Meles once danced at Mekelle, soon Eritrean aircraft were bombing it . Sniper fire, artillery barrages, tank fire, air raids, and land grabs slowed into a stalemate and World War I-like trench warfare replete with human wave assaults. By the time both sides agreed to a ceasefire, at least one hundred thousand Ethiopians and Eritreans had died in combat. The peace was cold, however, and at times it appeared as if hostilities might again erupt.

Both countries used the crisis as an excuse to clamp down. Whereas once diplomats and analysts hoped Eritrea might become a democracy, it quickly descended into autocracy. In 1999, Freedom House lowered its rating to “not free.” Isaias used the conflict to institute near-indefinite conscription—lasting decades and often indistinguishable from slavery . Ethiopia, meanwhile, while never quite as extreme, also slipped back into repression .

That Eritrea and Ethiopia have been a hairs’ trigger away from renewed conflict made their sudden 2018 rapprochement all the more remarkable. Many observers credit the Ethiopian parliament’s appointment of Abiy Ahmed, a young former guerilla fighter and intelligence officer who had previously led Ethiopia’s equivalent of the National Security Agency. His political work—efforts to address both youth unemployment and the plight of the displaced as well as his ability to build cross-ethnic coalitions—shot him to prominence.

Abiy called for peace upon his inauguration and wasted no time to pursue it. Even seasoned veterans in the region, however, were surprised by the speed with which Isaias reciprocated his efforts. In September 2018, the two leaders signed a peace agreement in Saudi Arabia. The rapprochement has been rapid , as Ethiopians and Eritreans reunite families and resume trade. There is widespread speculation that Abiy could win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Alas, while Abiy appears sincere, it is far from clear Ethiopia-Eritrea peace will last. Here’s the problem. The seventy-three-year-old Isaias sees himself less as an equal to the forty-two-year-old Abiy than as a father figure and guide. Even at the best of times, Isaias’ concept of diplomacy is dictating his position and then waiting for opponents to accept it without any compromise. When the adversary or partner is a generational younger, the chances that Isaias will compromise recede from miniscule to nonexistent. Bilateral issues will inevitably arise, and it is unclear whether ordinary Ethiopians—let alone a fictitious political coalition—will back repeated Abiy’s concessions. After all, from the Ethiopian perspective, they are now Africa’s second most populous country after Nigeria and, with more than 100 million, they dominate East Africa. Isaias sees Eritrea and Ethiopia as equal, but Ethiopians will never accept equality with a country whose population is just one-twentieth of their own.

So, when Isaias raises a complaint and Abiy has no room to maneuver, what Isaias do? In the past, Isaias has shown a willingness to subordinate regional security and his country’s economic health for the sake of his own twisted sense of personal honor. Just as Isaias and Meles went from comrades and friends to enemies within just a few months, so too could Isaias and Abiy. Add into the mix that Ethiopia is growing more democratic while Eritrea has become the North Korea of the African continent, and Isaias has personal reasons to put the brakes on or even reverse the peace. Isaias may temporarily welcome the economic infusion that peace brings his devastated and impoverished country, but he will not continue it at the expense of his own power.

Is peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea a good thing? Certainly. But optimism should not cloud diplomats and analysts to reality, nor do dictators like Isaias suddenly change their stripes or behaviors overnight. Realism dictates not only rightly celebrating progress, but also recognizing just how tenuous it may be and planning proactively for the chance that the rapprochement might be fleeting.



Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

March 26, 2019 Ethiopia, News

“Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel and Head of Office, stressed on the need to institutionalize the process of the normalization. “The move to normalize relations with Eritrea is commendable by itself, but it needs to be institutionalized to become sustainable. One way that could be achieved is by ironing out the agreement details,” she said.”

Country urged to pursue a multilateral approach in engagement with Eritrea

Home 2019 March 25 , Country urged to pursue a multilateral approach in engagement with Eritrea

Country urged to pursue a multilateral approach in engagement with Eritrea

Ethiopia should pursue a more multilateral approach to further amplify its voice in its relation and engagement with Eritrea and other neighbouring nations, an analyst says.

Speaking at the ‘Addis Wog’ forum held on 22 March in Sheraton Addis, Abdul Mohammed, the chair of InterAfrica Group, an Ethiopian civil society organisation, said that Ethiopia’s long-standing multilateral approach to deal with regional issues and neighbouring countries should be preserved in the evolving relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea and with its other nearest neighbours.

Commenting on Ethiopia’s foreign policy and position in Africa in the forum, organized by the Office of the Prime Minister, Abdul said the following course of action for the country should be to build on the positive momentum of normalization of relations that started with former rival Eritrea through a multilateral approach. “There would always be bilateral relation but multilateral approach is critical. Ethiopia has a greater responsibility than other countries. Its responsibility is not only for one country but for the stability of the whole region. Ethiopia should treat Eritrea the way it does other neighbouring countries,” he said.

The chair of InterAfrica Group talked of the significance of the normalization and reopening of the country’s border with Eritrea, saying it was a tremendous diplomatic triumph. “Bold diplomacy is usually needed to break through and settle long-standing conflicts. In this regard, the high-risk Dr. Abiy Ahmed has taken to normalize relations with Eritrea has wider significance and impact and it will be cited as an example of a peaceful resolution of the conflict in the continent for years to come. There would be a dearth of researches that would be conducted in the African Union,” he told the audience.

Abdul said in diplomacy, unilateralism could be crucial when negotiations do not advance or tend to get protracted. He said there has precedent in other countries, alluding to the example the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev’s move in taking unilateral decision to defuse a dangerous international situation and to democratize his country’s political system. “By taking unilateral action, leaders could create a new situation that rivals could not ignore, and achieve some objectives,” he said.

Soft border

One of the vital elements of the rapprochement is the people-to-people ties, Abdul Mohammed stressed, noting that the hard border between the two nations is demolished, and what remains is the soft border. “The Ethio-Eritrea demarcations has been considered as one of the hard borders in Africa, disrupting trade and investment. We have to make concerted efforts so that the normalization does not slide back.”

Cautious neutralism

Ethiopia should not treat its relation with Eritrea any differently than it does with other Horn of Africa nations, the analyst stressed. “Treating Eritrea separately from other nation would present its own problem. As Ethiopia is the pivotal power of the horn of Africa and all the other countries want a better relationship with it, abiding by its policy of cautious neutralism would be of paramount importance.”

“The contribution of Ethiopia in the last two decades in the peacekeeping operations has been tremendous and the country has been the top troop contributing country to the UN. Ethiopia has long kept multilateralism tradition in the realm of diplomacy. Starting from the Emperor’s time, which continued through the Derg and the EPRDF’s leadership, sticking to multilateralism policy has been the consistent policy. That is why Ethiopia had been a founding member of the African Union and IGAD.”

Hiroute Guebre Sellassie

Another speaker Hiroute Guebre Sellassie, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Sahel and Head of Office, stressed on the need to institutionalize the process of the normalization.

“The move to normalize relations with Eritrea is commendable by itself, but it needs to be institutionalized to become sustainable. One way that could be achieved is by ironing out the agreement details,” she said. Hiroute said the tasks that are being overseen by the joint commissions have to be institutionalized and the two communities on the border area have to be an indispensable part of the peace process.

The two-day ‘Addis Wog’ forum held on 22 March and 23 March in Sheraton Addis covered many domestic issues: employment, wages, economic growth, job creation, social inclusivity, democratization, but also focused on Ethiopia’s foreign policy and position in Africa. It was attended by various prominent personalities and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.


Alganesh: finding hope in abyss

Tuesday, 26 March 2019 11:16 Written by

Lia Giovanazzi Beltrami and Marianna Beltrami’s film, Alganesh, follows four Eritrean refugee camps in Ethiopia, following years of deadly conflicts between the two countries. It is an hour-long Italian-Ethiopian documentary. Fleeing Eritreans faced increased hostility in several countries. For example, Sudan forcibly returned over 100 asylum seekers, including about 30 minors to Eritrea in 2017. …

Lia Giovanazzi Beltrami and Marianna Beltrami’s film, Alganesh, follows four Eritrean refugee camps in Ethiopia, following years of deadly conflicts between the two countries. It is an hour-long Italian-Ethiopian documentary.

Fleeing Eritreans faced increased hostility in several countries. For example, Sudan forcibly returned over 100 asylum seekers, including about 30 minors to Eritrea in 2017. The UNHCR criticised the expulsions as “a serious violation of international refugee law.” In 2016, Sudan had repatriated 400 Eritreans who were promptly arrested upon their return, according to a UN Commission of Inquiry report. Whether any of them have been released, is speculative because of the government’s secrecy and the absence of independent monitors.

The protagonist of the film is Alganesh Fessah, an Italian-Eritrean Ayurvedic doctor and co-founder of a charity group, who has been devoted to helping refugees. The film, which is named after Alganesh, documents her commitment and struggle in securing refugees’ rights, while trying to secure them the basic necessities of life such as water, as there was a lack in those necessities for refugees in Ethiopia.

Fessah also had her struggles with freeing refugees from prisons or captivity in Egypt’s North Sinai, as she says her group and the Ethiopian government were able to free about 8,500 people. In Sinai, they are subjected to brutal violence and inhumane treatment during attempts to extract ransom payments from their families. The significant majority of the victims are Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers, who make up the vast majority of the population of the Shagarab camps.

The film documents the torture, abuse, and rape that refugees go through whether by officials or by smugglers, when travelling from one country to another. The filmmaker does not force melodrama in the film, even though it is a film about refugees, as she films the daily colourful life of people, despite them being in a refugee camp. The close-up footage of food and coffee brings life into the flow of the documentary.

The two nations fought a bloody border war in 1998-2000, and Ethiopia occupies territory identified by an international boundary commission as Eritrean, including the town of Badme. President Isaias uses the “no-war, no-peace” situation with Ethiopia in order to continue his repressive domestic policies, including protracted national service. The national service conscription still often entails work going beyond military duties, with many conscripts assigned to a wide range of civilian roles, including agricultural work, construction, teaching, and civil service.

However, in 2018, Eritrea improved its relations with neighbouring Ethiopia, with a hope that the refugees’ crisis gets solved in a manner where displaced individuals can get a decent and a humane life. A predominant factor in asylum applications made by Eritreans is the indefinite conscription into the national service. This system, established by law in 1995, requires every adult Eritrean to undertake an 18-month period of national service. However, in practice, conscription has been extended indefinitely for a significant proportion of conscripts.

In the film, Alganesh says that she sees a lot of sad eyes and a lot of horrible scenes, but she also sees hope in these same eyes of refugees, who, despite the ill treatment, abuse, and violations which they are subjected to, are still hopeful to live, study, and reunite with their families, and even dream of going somewhere else where their humanity will be respected. Despite everything, there is hope at the end of the tunnel; or in this context, there is hope at the other side of the border where new opportunities and maybe new struggles are ahead.


March 22, 2019 News

Assena Satellite TV, produced by the seasoned and vibrant journalist Mr. Amanuel Eyasu, is the First Opposition Satellite TV to make a Breakthrough into the Eritrean Airspace, and the region. Mr. Eyasu, former fighter in the struggle for Independence of Eritrea himself, has an extensive journalistic experience. At some stage – before his exile to the UK – he was employed at the Only National Media in the country. Mr. Eyasu is known for expressing criticism of the Eritrean Government, such is the new Satellite TV – Assena – orientation. The TV is Donor Funded, ordinary Eritreans in diaspora are making it their mission to commit to a monthly fund, that would in turn enable them to communicate with their people inside their country.
Eritrean People have now an Alternate TV channel – the First for an Independent Eritrea. Even though the shows are short at the moment – hourly content – Eritrean people are tuning in, in masses. People discuss Assena episodes casually at caffe’s in the lively Harnet Avenue of Asmara.
Assena TV now airs everything but Government content. Coincided with the ongoing “Enough!” Campaign for reform by diaspora Eritreans, Assena TV found itself broadcasting the Campaign extensively. People inside Eritrea had a different perception of the Eritrean Opposition groups outside Eritrea. People have been deliberately misinformed to think the oppositions were comprised of old men of ‘grudges’. When Assena started broadcasting the “Enough!” Campaign videos and contents, that started changing the Eritrean people’s perception about the opposition. They could see their young sons and daughters, conveying a message for reform and solidarity with the people inside the country.
Sources told Eritrea Watch the Satellite Dish sales inside Eritrea have grown dramatically since the launch of Assena TV and anticipation of another Satellite TV, to be launched soon. Eritrea Watch’s attempt to get the estimated viewership has been futile, owing to the difficulty of gathering data and secretive nature of the Government in power.
Eritrea Watch wishes to compile another report when another Satellite TV launches its first broadcast. ERISAT, a new Satellite TV have issued a statement, that they are to start broadcasting to Eritrea on April the 1st, 2019. The channel did not explain the said ‘delay’ in launching the Satellite TV.
Viewers Sentiments
Assena TV coverage has grown rapidly and extensively, since its inception in January 2019. Eritrea Watch set on testing these claims, contacted people inside Eritrea – different parts of the country and different age groups.

Assena TV coverage has grown rapidly and extensively,

Of the general sentiment and opinion are Excitement and Joy at the idea of having a New Alternate TV channel. The Satetllite TV is now viewed by people from Tesenei and Barentu (West of the country), Mendefera and Segeneyti (in the south), Keren (in the North) and Asmara the capital city.
The National TV has dominated the Eritrean Airspace for the last 25 years, in a clear rejection to its content, people claim they would switch to Ethiopian Channels as soon as Assena shows finish.
Many contacted were unable to hide their excitement. Yohanes (not real name), 17 from Asmara, claims that “no one is really watching ERI-TV anymore. We are so exited we have another channel now, a better one (sic)”.
An exiled opposition member commends the idea of having another channel, and bemoans the opposition group’s failure to come up with the same idea years before.
“What we opposition groups failed to do, ordinary citizens are doing. The Eritrean government, for years, has denied people their right to Information. The National TV, is just a propaganda tool for the only Party in the country. People could now realize.” Asked what this would mean for the many opposition groups in exile, he explains “ The Eritrean Government declares to the world that it does not have any opposition groups – it has never recognised any. To the Eritrean people, it conveys a message the opposition groups are terrorists, killers and they would bring chaos and civil war, if in power. It has been spreading fear in the general public. The new channels would change all that perception.”

…Now I watch Assena TV every day hoping I catch the repeat..

Mrs. Makda (not real name) 27, from Senafe, claims to have seen her brother on one of Assena TV broadcasts. Her brother is a refugee in Germany, she saw him participating in the Peaceful Demonstration held in Geneva, Switzerland. She states, “ Joy ,Joyful, My brother left Eritrea seven years ago, I miss him! I could not believe my eyes when I saw him on TV! Now I watch Assena TV every day hoping I catch the repeat.”

We are very excited! We want more!

One Elderly gentleman from Asmara, seems to agree with the general sentiment. “We are very excited! We want more!” People inside the country are bemoaning the fact the shows are short, “ If only it has more content, and less of songs.” He adds. Seeing that Assena TV is only few months in operation, his criticism is meant to be constructive and valid at the same time

Eritrea & Freedom Of Expression

Eritrean Government has a blanket ban on All Independent Media inside the country. There are currently only two (2) Media outlets on Eritrea’s Airspace – the National Radio and Television programs, Government controlled and narrated.
When Eritreans started enjoying the First of their free Independent Newspapers in the late 1990’s – the First Ever for Post Independent Eritrea – the Government seemed to enjoy it less. The Government in 2001, would respond by Shutting down all the Newspapers and arresting ALL its journalists. Sadly, 18 years later, those journalists continue to languish in detentions – without A day in court, held Incommunicado. This despite the pleas and pressure from their families, the public and International Human Rights Organizations.
The Government in Eritrea is a One Party regime. It has never conducted an election, and Never allows any Opposition Party – or it’s media – inside the country. Eritrean opposition groups have been forced to dig deep – in creative ideas and financially – should they wish to broadcast to Eritrean people inside the country. Albeit, from Abroad.

Government Reaction

Anonymous sources, close to the Ministry of Information have explained that the Government in Eritrea seems to have panicked on the emergence of these new TV channels. In December, 2018, the Government set up a Task Team to specifically to deal with these issues. A Special meeting was held at the Ministry of Information offices, comprising many different security apparatus in the country. The sources claim to have knowledge of the participants and their resolution. Representatives from the President’s office, the National Security, seasoned journalists at the Ministry of Information were said to have attended the meeting. Among the resolutions reached were; to spread fear to public from watching the TV’s and Jamming the airwaves to disrupt the shows. Interestingly, they are said to have asked the Ethiopian Counter Intelligence Agency to assist in the matter.


Ethiopia, Eritrea to Sign EU-Sponsored Road Rebuilding Deal in Coming Months - Addis Ababa

Ethiopia and Eritrea will sign an agreement to rebuild the road infrastructure connecting the two countries as part of an EU-funded project in a few months, Mehreteab Mulugeta, the director general for European affairs at the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, told Sputnik in an interview

 MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 21st March, 2019) Ethiopia and Eritrea will sign an agreement to rebuild the road infrastructure connecting the two countries as part of an EU-funded project in a few months, Mehreteab Mulugeta, the director general for European affairs at the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, told Sputnik in an interview.

Back in February, the European Union earmarked 20 million Euros ($23 million) for a project to rebuild the road connection between the two countries. The announcement came several months after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed signed a peace deal that put an end to the two decade-long Ethiopian-Eritrean territorial conflict.

"The two sides are discussing now and as soon as the preparation of the agreements is ready, then, we will sign these project agreements between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Then, we will proceed and that I think will be soon, in the coming months, in a month or two," Mulugeta said.

He specified that work on revamping road infrastructure had not yet started, with both sides anticipating to restore traffic as well as free movement of people and goods.

"For the last 20 years, [roads] have been useless, so we have to repair them and make them ready or usable again. We are preparing our roads; they are doing their part in Eritrea.

But we need assistance because we need to build roads, expand roads to make them usable by big trucks. We need to build railways and other facilities so we can have smooth people-to-people movement. Goods should come and go out," Mulugeta explained.

The diplomat added that the "involvement of any partner, not only the European Union, including the Russian government is welcome."

According to Mulugeta, such projects will be "very useful" for strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries in the wake of the years-long conflict.

In early June, Ethiopia's ruling People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) decided to fully accept and implement the ceasefire deal concluded by the governments of the two countries in 2000. The Algiers Agreement, as it was called, recognized some disputed areas, including the town of Badme, as Eritrea's territories. As part of the agreement, Ethiopia had to withdraw its forces from the territories that the agreement considered as Eritrean, a process it began in late 2018.

Eritrea split from Ethiopia in the early 1990s, leaving the parent nation landlocked. This sparked a war between the two countries in 1998-2000, which killed around 80,000 people.


Oromo regional state security authorities link the gunmen to militant wing of Oromo Liberation Front (it is also called SHANE in the region) but no parties responsible for the attack is in police custody so far.

Nedjo _Ethiopia _ Oromo militantCredit : Google map

March 19,2019

Five people are killed on Tuesday morning, around 7 a.m. local time, near Nedjo -Wellega-, in Oromo region,Western Ethiopia when gunmen opened fire on a vehicle, Oromo regional state authorities confirmed.

Two of the victims are foreigners – Japanese and an Indian – according to a report by DW Amharic service which cited sources from the area.

And all the victims are employees of a company licensed; by the Federal government of Ethiopia, to undertake copper mining in the area, reported FanaBC citing Ministry of Petroleum and Mining. Some of them were management staff.

The vehicle carrying the deceased was traveling from Mendi to Tolla Waqo when the gunmen opened fire in Humna Waqeyo, about 5 kilometers from Nedjo town.

The vehicle was in a blaze after it was hit with grenade explosion following the death of the five people who were in it. When law enforcement unites arrive in area, and it is unclear as to when they arrived, they found about 56 bullets, according to a report by FanaBC.

On Tuesday, DW Amharic cited Nedjo town communication officer, Tolera Suki, to report that bodies are in Nedjo hospital. But they could not be identified for they are disfigured, according to the report.

Oromo regional state deputy police commissioner, Retta Belachew, told Ethiopian state broadcaster, EBC, that the gunmen were armed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) Shane group who refused to disarm through a negotiation process that involved traditional elders in the region known as Abba Geda.

A militant wing of OLF has been operating in the region for many months now. In January 2019, the group robbed 17 bank branches (both private and state banks) in a span of two days.

The Federal government deployed armed forces to the region and there were claims of improved security situation thereafter.

In May 2018, Dagonte Ethiopia cement general manager, Deep Kamra, was killed along with his secretary, among others, in Adaberga district, Oromo region, about 85 kilometers west of the capital Addis Ababa.

Prime Minister Abiy’s government has been criticized in connection with the way it handled the militant group.


Jean-Jacques Cornish
March 19, 2019


FlagDespite making peace with its neighbors and being elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Eritrean regime of Isaias Afwerki continues severely to repress his people.

Human Rights Watch lists violations that include enslavement of young people.

Isaias Afwerki used Eritrea’s  20 year war with Ethiopia to justify his oppression.

This includes indefinite conscription that amounts to the enforced labour of young people.

Parliament, political parties, an independent judiciary and a 1997 constitution are prohibited.

Government opponents are jailed without trial and held incommunicado.

Signing a peace deal with Ethiopia last year and re-establishing diplomatic relations with Djibouti have been hailed internationally.
But according to Human Rights Watch, they’ve not changed Afwerki’s  oppressive measures.

Tags: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch, Isaias Afwerki, slave labour


March 18, 2019 News

Last week a Dutch delegation led by Migration Minister Mark Harbers visited several camps in Libya. But his trip did not include Zintan, a detention centre with an atrocious conditions, seldom visited by international dignitaries. This information has been received from inside Zintan detention centre.

Migration Minister Mike Harbers

Over 700 refugees have been imprisoned in Zintan, of whom 165 refugees have been there since October 2017. The detention camp is 180 km from Tripoli. The refugees report that the situation is dire: there is little food; hygiene and their health is very poor.

It is reported that in the last five months 17 refugees detained in Zintan have died, among them one young woman who was driven to commit suicide. Most are said to have died of TB; thirteen of them were Eritrean.

The refugees say that the issue most worrying the refugees is that they have no information about their fate.

One of the refugees, has appealed for international protection. He was imprisoned in Eritrea before fleeing the country and is in real danger. His name is being kept confidential for his safety.

47 refugees have been moved from Zintan to another camp – Gharyan where they are still imprisoned. The refugees there are locked-up and held incommunicado. Four people are reported to have died in Gharyan in the last five months from TB.

What action from UNHCR?

The UN refugee agency has been made aware of the circumstances in which the refugees are being held. The detainees say they have tried to contact UNHCR, but with little success. The refugees are asking why the UNHCR has not visited the Zintan camp.

The plight of the Eritreans was underlined by the findings of the UN Deputy Human Rights Commissioner, Kate Gilmore. Speaking in Geneva last week she that Eritrea’s human rights record has not changed for the better since the government signed a peace agreement with Ethiopia last year, formally ending a two decades-long border conflict. Ms Gilmore was participating in a U.N. Human Rights Council interactive dialogue on the current situation in Eritrea.

Kate Gilmore said Eritrea has missed a historic opportunity because the government has not implemented urgently needed judicial, constitutional and economic reforms. She explained that the continued use of indefinite national service remains a major human rights concern.

“Conscripts continue to confront open-ended duration of service, far beyond the 18 months stipulated in law and often under abusive conditions, which may include the use of torture, sexual violence and forced labor,” she said.


Un requérant d'asile montre un lieu sur une carte du monde
Thousands of failed asylum seekers cannot be sent back and refuse to return home voluntarily. Many continue to live in Switzerland with emergency assistance, with no prospect of a future. Young Eritreans share their stories.

Mewael* lives in Geneva on CHF10 (around $10) a day. He is not allowed to train or work. To occupy his days, he plays football, does small jobs at the reception centre where he lives or cooks at a local charity. He is among thousands of people who have not been granted asylum, but who cannot return home and find themselves trapped in Switzerland. In 2017, more than 8,000 people received emergency assistance, mostly in the form of shelter or food.

Mewael is in his twenties. He fled Eritrea and arrived in Switzerland almost three years ago. He filed his asylum application and learned French while waiting for the decision that came through only two years later. His application was rejected and Mewael had to leave the country. He has appealed the decision and is clinging to the slim hope of a positive answer. The young man aspired to an apprenticeship as an electrician or mechanic, but no longer sees the merit in that.

"Life is complicated in Switzerland," sighs his friend Samson. "It's not complicated, it's dead," interjects Mewael, tears in his eyes.

Removal ordered but not executed 

Eritreans are particularly vulnerable to such situations because the Swiss government has not signed a readmission agreement with Eritrea. It cannot therefore forcibly expel the unsuccessful applicants. "At the international level, Switzerland stands out by issuing removal decisions: no European State carries out expulsions to Eritrea," says a very detailed report by the Observatory of the rights of asylum and foreigners in French-speaking Switzerland (ODAE)
Observatory of the rights of asylum and foreigners in French-speaking Switzerland (ODAE)  on the pressures faced by the Eritrean community.
Rejections without provisional admission for Eritrean asylum seekers
Samson has already been in Switzerland for four years. The inability to work adds to his suffering.
 "I am stuck, I don't know what to do. It's very stressful," he tells

To get out of this situation, some have tried to apply for asylum in another country. Yonas went as far as Germany, but was sent back to Switzerland because of the Dublin agreement. He has also been in Switzerland for four years and dreams of becoming a mechanic, gardener or even a lawyer. "When I left home, I thought my problems were over, but in fact they followed me here," Yonas says.

All these young Eritreans speak French, but can no longer find the words when they talk about their life in Switzerland and their future prospects. "I feel bad, I have problems sleeping and concentrating," says Robel, who has been in Geneva for two years. "Here I thought I would find happiness, freedom, and I found nothing."

Impossible to get back
When they inform unsuccessful applicants of their obligation to leave Switzerland, the authorities offer them return assistance, but none of the Eritreans spoke to have plans to return.

Eritrea is not a safe place for its citizens, according to the United Nations (UN).

"Eritrean officials have been attacking civilians in a persistent, widespread and systematic manner since 1991. Since then, they have consistently committed crimes of slavery, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture, as well as other inhuman acts, persecution, rape and murder."

"We don't come here for money, we're just looking for freedom.”

Hayat wants to tell us what happened to him. He explains that in his country, everyone must serve in the army for an indefinite period. The population is not free to train or work as they wish. And many people vanish into thin air, without families ever being informed of their imprisonment or death.

Hayat's father disappeared in this fashion. And Hayat found himself in prison when he was only 16-years-old. He was beaten, tied up and locked in a cage. During a transfer, the young man managed to escape and cross Sudan, Libya and finally the Mediterranean. Initially, they were a group of 25 people. Only three of them reached Italy.

"We don't come here for money, we're just looking for freedom," says Hayat, who has just received good news: his appeal has been successful, and he has been granted temporary admission. The young man will be able to continue his training with an electrician, something he would have had to give up overnight had the decision been negative. It is a bittersweet victory given that all his friends are still waiting for a court decision or have been definitively rejected.

More than 1,500 Eritreans demonstrated in the Swiss capital last May for a more humane asylum policy.
(© Keystone / Peter Schneider)
A "Kafkaesque" system

"It's complicated for them, because at first they find a haven of peace and then they are told they have to leave," says a volunteer who tries to help these young people but feels powerless in the face of a fragmented system. "There is no global vision of the person, everything is always divided: there is one person responsible for care, another for housing, etc. The responsibility is always shifted to another department and it becomes Kafkaesque."

Temporary admission would at least allow applicants with a negative asylum decision to receive training and work. However, it can only be issued if the removal is contrary to Switzerland's commitments to international law. In other words, if it puts the individual in danger, or if it is not physically feasible to carry out the decision.

 "Failed Eritrean asylum seekers who are subject to a removal decision are legally obliged to leave Switzerland," explains the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).” Forced removals are not currently possible, but voluntary returns are."

"Forced removals are indeed not possible, but voluntary returns are"

End of quote

The SEM therefore considers that it would be wrong to give provisional admission to individuals who refuse to leave the country, simply because Switzerland cannot make a forced return. "This would reward people who, from the outset, make it clear that they will not comply with their obligation to leave the country, even though they do not need Swiss protection and would be forced to leave."

Limited support

The SEM explains that an individual who decides to stay despite everything is no longer entitled to social assistance, but only to emergency assistance. The objective is "to ensure that the persons concerned voluntarily comply with their obligation to leave Switzerland by no longer providing material incentives to stay. "

The cantons are responsible for providing emergency assistance and managing these unsuccessful applicants. Cantons cannot do much for this population, which cannot work or receive training. "It's complicated to stay positive and keep these young people motivated," says a social worker in Geneva.

A conference on the issue of training rejected asylum seekers was held in early February in Lausanne. Apprentices, employers, asylum professionals and teachers called on the cantonal and federal authorities to allow young people to complete their training, even in the event of a negative asylum decision.

Signatures are also being collected in Geneva for an online petition that asks the canton not to exclude Eritrean asylum seekers from social assistance and to allow them to train and work.

More restrictive asylum policy

However, the trend towards a tightening of asylum policy at federal level in recent years does not seem to be coming to an end. In 2016, the SEM published a new report on the situation in Eritrea and carried out a review, confirmed by recent decisions of the Federal Administrative Court. Judges now consider that Eritrean asylum-seekers can be sent back to their country, even if they risk being recruited into the army upon their return. The SEM has undertaken a review of more than 3,000 files of Eritrean applicants with temporary admission to assess whether a removal is required.

Migrant advocacy groups and the Eritrean community are mobilising against this tougher stance. A demonstration of 1,500 people took place last May in front of the parliament in Bern and a petition with more than 12,000 signatures was submitted for asylum to be granted with immediate effect to anyone threatened with ill-treatment. But the Senate refused to act on this petition because it overwhelmingly supporters the harder line taken by SEM.
*Name chosen by journalist to preserve anonymity.