Danish Fact Finding Mission Finds Significant Human Rights Improvement in Eritrea
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Fact Finding Mission from Denmark Finds Significant Human Rights Improvement in Eritrea
After experiencing a spike in Eritrean asylum claims in the Summer of 2014, Danish Immigration Service (DIS) did what any sensible government would do: They sent a fact finding mission to investigate.
DIS says the mission to Eritrea was to reach two objectives. First, to gather information about Eritrea and daily life in the country in order to assist the DIS caseworkers in verifying the nationality of persons claiming to be from Eritrea. Second, to explore the topics of the National Service in Eritrea, the reasons why some Eritreans are leaving the country and the possibility for Eritreans to return if they have left the country illegally.
With open-ended National Service being the main excuse used by Eritrean migrants to claim asylum in Western countries, DIS investigated the length of military services in the country and whether or not Eritrean deserters would be imprisoned if returned.
The 79-page report finds that "indefinite" National Service in Eritrea wasn't as lengthy as some human rights agencies in the West have claimed. They found the average duration of service usually lasts between "three to five years." The report also states there are "rumors" that the Government is in talks to cap National Service to its legally sanctioned 18 months limit.
Moreover, DIS was informed by Western Embassy sources in the country that "the government’s attitude towards deserters and evaders in Eritrea has changed for the better. As such, evaders and deserters are not subjected to protracted imprisonment, not exposed to physical harm and finally, not considered as political opponents. The source further stated that this change has not yet been reflected in any of the available human rights reports on Eritrea."
An unnamed International organisation in Eritrea informed DIS that "Eritreans abroad, including those who have left the country illegally, are able to obtain Eritrean passports at Eritrean embassies if they sign an apology letter and pay the two percent income tax levied on all Eritreans living abroad."
The International organisation stated that there were no known examples of systematic prosecution of people that had left Eritrea illegally. This claim was corroborated by other sources, including a Western embassy in the country that stated, "presently, there are no reports on returning deserters being imprisoned or otherwise severely punished." Additionally, a UN-agency in Eritrea "doubted" that evaders or deserters were actually imprisoned.
Regarding the shoot-and-kill policy allegedly practiced at the border to Ethiopia it was stated that information on this might have been partly true in the past, but that people are no longer being shot at for crossing the border into Ethiopia, which do to its proximity, is used as a transit point by Eritrean migrants to get to their final destination of wealthy countries in the West.
The following were quotes taken from the report:
During the stay in Asmara, the delegation was able to watch CNN and BBC at the hotel and at restaurants. The delegation observed many people using smart phones. Internet was available at the delegations hotel, including in the lobby, where many non-residing guests seemed to be using it. It was possible to visit Western internet addresses, although occasional internet-black outs were experienced by the delegation.
The delegation observed many people at restaurants and cafés in Asmara, also in the evening.
Food and goods were available in the shops and markets that the delegation visited in Asmara, as well as shops on the route to Adi Kuala and Adi Keih. Page 6.
A Western embassy (D) in Eritrea stated that “most people who leave Eritrea do so for economic reasons and because of lack of livelihood opportunities and not because of political repression”. P. 7
A UN agency in Eritrea confirmed that hardly anyone leaves Eritrea for political reasons. P. 7
Furthermore, a UN agency in Eritrea and a Western embassy (D) in Eritrea stated that the alternative to the National Service for many Eritreans would be unemployment due to a poor economy, lack of investments and a limited private sector. P. 8
A regional NGO based in Asmara emphasised that “Sawa is not a military camp but is basically the final two years of high school. There are academic classes, some physical training, marching but no weapons training
as such.” P. 9
A Western embassy (C) in Eritrea stated that the National Service “is not really indefinite, but when it ends is arbitrary”. P. 10
One Western embassy (D) stated that “a broadly shared perception is that the government has eased its approach to National Service. Today it is easier to be released from service and for young people today, National Service seems to be limited to a couple of years.” P. 10
A regional NGO based in Asmara stated that “the information in human rights reports about ill-treatment in the National Service are more often than not exaggerated.” The same source stated that contrary to existing reports, “people in the National Service are not overworked or working under slave like conditions, not beaten, subjected to torture or suffering from malnutrition”. P. 10
Another Western embassy (C) stated that “it had heard of people in their forties who were still in the National Service, but in general, three to four years seemed to be the norm”. p. 11
Likewise, a Western embassy (B) stated that “there are indications that persons enrolled in the National Service serve for a shorter period of time than was the case some years ago”. p. 11
Finally, a well-known Eritrean intellectual in Eritrea stated that previously, the National Service could last for over ten years. However, currently the duration of service is usually between three to five years. p. 11
Several sources (a regional NGO based in Asmara; Western embassies C and E in Eritrea; Kibreab, London) stated that the monthly salary during the first 18 months of National Service is ranging from approximately 80 Nakfa up to 600 Nakfa. After 18 months it could increase to a maximum of 1500 Nakfa. p. 11.
A Western embassy (C) in Eritrea stated that in comparison, a gardener working at an embassy received 3,500 Nakfa per month. An employee at a private hotel would get 3,000 Nakfa per month and a Minister receives approximately 4,000 Nakfa per month. P. 11
A regional NGO based in Asmara stated that approximately “five or six years ago, there was a much stricter recruitment procedure to the National Service. At that time, people of the National Service age were being stopped in police ID checks in the streets or collected by soldiers if they did not show up when called in. However, during the last five to six years, there has been a relaxation in recruitment procedures and one does not see soldiers undertaking round-ups of people into National Service any longer“. p. 12
Several sources in Eritrea (a regional NGO based in Asmara; Western embassies A, B and D) stated that penalties for evading and/or deserting National Service were not systematic but would most likely include detention ranging from a few days to a maximum of six months.
A UN-agency in Eritrea doubted that evaders or deserters were actually imprisoned. p. 13
A regional NGO based in Asmara stated that “there had been reports by international NGOs on relatives of National Service deserters or evaders having been forced to undertake National Service on behalf of their relatives”. The same source emphasized that “such incidents are not documented and that it is definitely not government policy to retaliate against relatives of National Service evaders or deserters. If such treatment occurred relatives would tell about it”. p. 14
A Western embassy (D) stated that in some cases, National Service evaders and deserters have restored their relationship to the authorities prior to their return to Eritrea by paying the two percent tax. P. 15
An International organisation (B) in Eritrea concurred that there is information to suggest that Eritreans abroad, including those who have left the country illegally, are able to obtain Eritrean passports at Eritrean embassies if they sign an apology letter and pay the two percent income tax levied on all Eritreans living abroad. P. 15
A Western embassy (D) stated that presently, there are no reports on returning deserters being imprisoned or otherwise severely punished. P. 16
An International organisation (B) in Eritrea stated that there were no known examples of systematic prosecution of people that had left Eritrea illegally. P. 16
A UN agency in Eritrea stated that while National Service evaders and deserters may be apprehended, the source doubted that they were actually imprisoned. P. 16
Several sources in Eritrea (A well-known Eritrean intellectual; Western embassies A, C and E) stated that once a person had restored his or their relationship by paying the tax and signing an apology letter, there would be no consequences upon return, regardless of evasion or desertion from National Service by leaving the country. A well-known Eritrean intellectual added that such a person would not be recruited or reenlisted in the National Service. P. 16
A UN agency and Western embassies (A) and (D) in Eritrea concurred and emphasised that the Eritrean government does not consider evaders and deserters as traitors or political opponents to the government.
A Western embassy based in Khartoum (met in Asmara) referred to a public statement made by the Head of the Political Office of the PFDJ, that those who have left Eritrea to avoid National Service are considered economic refugees and not political opponents.
A Western embassy (D) in Eritrea stated that a broadly shared perception is that the government has eased its approach to National Service and that it is now easier to be released from National Service, which today seems to be limited to a couple of years for most young people. P. 19
A Western embassy (A) in Eritrea emphasized that the government’s attitude towards deserters and evaders in Eritrea has changed for the better. As such, evaders and deserters are not subjected to protracted imprisonment, not exposed to physical harm and finally, not considered as political opponents. The source further stated that this change has not yet been reflected in any of the available human rights reports on Eritrea. P. 19
According to a Western embassy (B), 99.9% of all Eritrean asylum seekers in Europe are economic refugees. The extended families, which may comprise 50 persons, merge their savings in order for them to send a bright young relative, usually a man, to Europe. It is an investment and it is expected that the young man will send remittances back to his family in Eritrea. As long as the family knows that he will be granted asylum, they will not hesitate to send him off. But if the outcome was not given, the family would think twice before they send the young man to Europe. It was emphasized that the human rights situation in Eritrea is no worse than in most other African countries and poverty in Eritrea is not worse than in other African countries. There are no mass violations of human rights in Eritrea, and European countries do not grant protection to everyone from Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic or Egypt. In this respect, it could be argued that the Eritrean government has a point when it states that Eritrean asylum applicants received preferential treatment in Europe. P. 44
The embassy (B) emphasized that Eritrea has fallen victim to a massive propaganda campaign from other countries, especially Ethiopia and its allies, as well as from the Diaspora and Eritrean asylum seekers. Human rights reports from international NGOs either lack knowledge of Eritrea or they are part of the propaganda against the country. The human rights situation in Eritrea is not as bad as it has been described. It was added that reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are mostly based on sources outside of Eritrea, especially parts of the Diaspora including asylum seekers and refugees. It was reiterated by the Western embassy (B) that only very few Eritreans have genuine reasons for claiming political asylum abroad. If the Western European countries do not halt its policies of granting asylum automatically to more or less all Eritrean asylum seekers they will see a steady increase in the number of Eritreans coming to Europe. When Eritreans hear that their sisters and brothers are being granted asylum in Europe they will soon decide to go as well, and Europe will see a huge increase of Eritrean asylum seekers in the time to come. P. 42
Regarding reports that approximately 10,000 persons are imprisoned in Eritrea for various reasons the Western embassy (B) stated that this figure is grossly exaggerated. Eritrea is not worse than most other African countries. It is the same story everywhere, and no-one can tell what happens in any place and any country in Africa. Concerning the reports on the 10,000 prisoners in Eritrea, the Western embassy stated that all the international reports published by various international NGOs quote or copy each other and they are mainly based on statements from Eritrean refugees who are not the best sources of reliable information. P. 42
It is a fact that Eritrea has no capacity to take care of 10,000 prisoners irrespective of whether they are imprisoned for political or criminal reasons, not to mention draft evaders and deserters. Eritrea is victim of a huge propaganda war. P. 42
Related reading: http://www.madote.com/2014/11/999-of-eritreans-who-leave-their.html
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