NewsPosted by Admin Feb 05, 2017 21:08:48
Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya
• 22 January 2017
The 22 years in power of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh
came to an inglorious end.
Initially he surprised his critics by accepting defeat after 22 years in power, but then
backtracked by announcing he would contest the result, only to backtrack again and
leave the country.
Mr Jammeh departed on 21 January 2017 surrounded by cheering supporters and
accompanying ceremonial music. He walked down a long red carpet surrounded by
dignitaries before climbing the steps to the plane, waving to his admirers and saluting
them with a Koran.
While soldiers, supporters and dignitaries despaired at his departure, many others in
The Gambia are glad to see the end of what they considered a dictatorship, where
there was little respect for human rights or freedom of speech
How he was persuaded to leave it not yet known. But the threat of military intervention
from regional states was real enough.
He finally became the first president to peacefully hand over power in The Gambia
since independence from Britain in 1965.
Known for walking around with his trademark prayer beads and a stick, he was one of
the world's most eccentric and ruthless leaders.
Born in May 1965, he came to power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army lieutenant in a
country portrayed in tourist brochures as an idyllic holiday destination.
He became a portly president who portrayed himself as a devout Muslim with
miraculous powers, such as the power to cure people of Aids and infertility. He also
believed that homosexuality threatens human existence.
Mr Jammeh divorced his first wife Tuti Faal and subsequently married two other
women, though his official website referred only to Zineb Yahya Jammeh,
who held the title of First Lady.
According to The Gambia's privately owned Point newspaper, he married his second
wife, Alima Sallah, in 2010, but Mr Jammeh's office issued an instruction that she
should not be referred to as First Lady - in contrast to South Africa where all four wives
of President Jacob Zuma hold the title.
"She is not to be addressed as the First Lady because, according to protocol, there
can only be one First Lady and, in this case, that is Madam Zineb Yahya
Jammeh," the newspaper quoted the presidency as saying at the time.
Mr Jammeh won four multi-party elections before he was finally defeated.
Zineb Yahya Jammeh, one of the president's two wives, officially holds the First Lady title
After his 2011 victory, in a sign that his credibility among African leaders had
plummeted, the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States
(Ecowas), refused to endorse his victory, saying voters and the opposition had been
"cowed by repression and intimidation".
His decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth in 2013, which had been pushing for
reforms in the tiny West African state, was a further sign of Mr Jammeh's growing
'Rule for a billion years'
In an interview in 2011 with the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme, Mr Jammeh
said he did not fear a fate similar to Libya's killed leader Muammar Gaddafi or Egypt's
ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
"My fate is in the hands of almighty Allah," he told the BBC.
"I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion
years, I will, if Allah says so."
Mr Jammeh said he was not bothered by the criticism of human rights groups.
"I will not bow down before anybody, except the almighty Allah and if they don't like
that they can go to hell," he said.
Mr Jammeh was known for expressing bizarre views. In 2007, he claimed that he
could cure Aids with a herbal concoction - a view condemned by health experts.
Later, he also claimed that he could cure infertility among women.
Mr Jammeh was also known for his virulent opposition to gay rights, having once
threatened to behead gay people.
In a 2014 address to the UN General Assembly, Mr Jammeh lamented that Western
governments were pushing for homosexuality to be legalised.
"Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, anti-human
as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers," he said.
Yahya Jammeh is known for walking around with his trademark prayer beads and a stick
The Gambian government's treatment of journalists and opposition parties during his
tenure in power also caused huge concern among human rights groups.
Mr Jammeh's government was under intense pressure to solve the murder of the
editor of The Point newspaper, Deyda Hydara.
Gunned down in 2004, he has become a symbol of the campaign for press freedom in
The international media group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said there was
"absolute intolerance of any form of criticism" in The Gambia, with death threats,
surveillance and arbitrary night-time arrests of journalists "who do not sing the
In the BBC interview, Mr Jammeh denied his security agents had killed Mr Hydara.
"Other people have also died in this country. So why is Deyda Hydara so special?" he
Yahya Jammeh: At a glance
• Born in May 1965
• Seized power in a coup in 1994
• In 2013, he vowed to stay in power for "a billion years" if God wills
• He also ordered the execution of criminals and political opponents on death row
• Claimed in 2007 he could cure Aids and infertility with herbal concoctions
• Warned in 2008 that gay people would be beheaded
• Denied his security agents killed journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004
In August 2013, Mr Jammeh used a speech to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid to
announce that all prisoners on death row would be executed, effectively ending a
moratorium that had been in place for 27 years.
"There is no way my government will allow 99% of the population to be held to ransom
by criminals," Mr Jammeh said at the time.
Nine people were executed, including Alieu Bah, a former lieutenant in the army who
was arrested and jailed in 1997 for plotting to oust Mr Jammeh.
He agreed to halt further executions, following unprecedented pressure from the
African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU).
His defeat came as a huge surprise, given that he ran one of the most feared
intelligence agencies in Africa, with its tentacles spread across the country - so much
so that until the election, people in cities and villages feared speaking ill of the man
who was officially referred to as his "His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor
Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa".
In 2015, he added the title "Babili Mansa" - a Mandinka-language honorific which can
be translated as "chief bridge builder" or "conqueror of rivers"
NewsPosted by Admin Jul 16, 2016 12:50:24
Has Eritrea’s Self-Reliant Economy Run Out of Puff?
By Mary Harper | www.bbc.com | July 14, 2016
A “go it alone” culture has long been central to Eritrea, including its economy. It is slowly opening up to foreign investment, but recent policies, especially acurrency reform, mean many people are now struggling in what was already one of the poorest countries on earth.
In a dusty corner of the capital, Asmara, is a walled market. It assaults the senses as soon as you enter, for it deals in just two things: Chillies and metal.
Big chillies, medium-sized chillies and, fiercest of all, the tiny chillies, draw tears, itches and sneezes.
There is a deafening cacophony as old metal is bashed from rusty, useless scraps into shiny cutlery, hairpins, gates, gutters and religious artefacts.
“I am rewinding the metal,” says a man as he bangs out a large serving dish from an old oil drum.
The market is basically a giant recycling centre and represents the country’s fierce spirit of “self-reliance”, a phrase I hear often in Eritrea.
Eritrean metal worker:
"I am rewinding the metal."
This culture started during the 30-year war of independence from Ethiopia, when rebels produced almost everything they needed in underground factories, including clothes, shoes and medicine.
It endured after Eritrea won the war in 1991, with the country periodically expelling aid agencies, saying they promoted dependency.
Unlike most African countries, there is a lack of large UN and NGO land cruisers zooming around the place.
Although education up to tertiary level is free, young Eritreans are not free to pursue their own dream careers. They become locked into a system of obligatory national service, mainly in civilian roles, and have no idea when they will be released.
In the spice and metal market, a man proudly shows me a storage container he has made from broken bits of mirror and steel.
“I have been in national service for nine years. The pay is very low – less than $50 [£37]a month – so I supplement it by working here.”
Eritrea came third bottom in the United Nations Human Development Index for 2015. Time and again, I hear similar stories of people doing two or even three jobs to make ends meet.
On the plane to Asmara, I meet a man who imports mobile phones, televisions and satellite dishes from Dubai.
“I have been in national service for 12 years. But I sort of ‘dropped out’ to become a trader.”
National service has another economic effect, as it is one of the main reasons so many young Eritreans flee their country for Europe, draining the country of much of its productive workforce.
However, if they get there safely, instead of dying in the desert or drowning in the sea on the way, many end up as “useful” members of the diaspora, sending money home.
In 2005, remittances were estimated to account for about a third of Eritrea’s GDP.
“However, that figure is plunging. The diaspora is now spending the money on helping people leave Eritrea instead of supporting relatives at home,” says one official.
The Eritrean authorities used to be quite happy for disaffected youth to leave, says a diplomat.
A potential threat to stability was out of the way, and they were likely to end up sending remittances.
But, the diplomat says, the country now faces a serious capacity shortage and is doing more to encourage them to stay.
Hagos Ghebrehiwet, the economic adviser to the president, says the amount paid to those in national service is increasing from about $50 to $130-$300 a month, depending on education levels.
Government ministers tell me they earn about $200 a month, plus some allowances.
How 40% of the money disappeared
Most of the complaints I hear in Eritrea are about the skyrocketing cost of living, plus chronic shortages of electricity and water.
Depending on their size, families receive a certain quantity of basic foodstuffs, such as cereals, oil and sugar, at highly reduced prices. But other items cost a lot. For example, a litre of milk costs more than $2.
Business people, including taxi drivers, shopkeepers and hoteliers, say their incomes have halved since a new form of currency was introduced at the end of last year in an attempt to control smuggling, the parallel market and human trafficking.
They complain that restrictions on imports and tight limits on the amount of money they can withdraw from banks are strangling their businesses.
Finance Minister Berhane Habtemariam says people were given six weeks to swap their old notes for new ones, at par.
“We had no choice. The coffers of our banks were literally empty. When people came to exchange their notes, they had to explain how they had earned the money.
“As so much of it was illegal, only 40% of the old notes were handed in, leading to a 60% contraction in the money supply.”
The introduction of the new notes has had an impact on the parallel market. The fixed exchange rate has remained at 15 Eritrean nakfa for $1, but Eritreans say they now only receive about 18-20 nakfa for the dollar on the unofficial market, instead of nearly 60.
It is very difficult to work out what is going on in Eritrea’s economy because the government does not release figures for its GDP and other key indicators.
“We have not given out any information about our budget for seven years because our enemies will use it against us,” says the finance minister.
Mines and fashion
Despite this secretive behaviour and the allegations of human rights abuses in the labour force, there are signs of growing interest from foreign investors.
Some have been in Eritrea for years, such as the Italian-run Dolce Vitagarment factory in Asmara.
The mainly Eritrean workforce makes designer shirts for Giorgio Armani and Pierre Cardin, as well as uniforms for Italian scouts and jeans for the local market.
Another hope for the Eritrean economy is mining.
Canada’s Nevsun, in joint venture with the government, began producing gold at Bisha mine in 2011. The mine also exploits copper and zinc deposits.
Human rights groups criticised Bisha for using conscripts during the construction phase, but Nevsun and the government deny national service labour is used in commercial mining.
Nevsun says Bisha contributed about $800m (£550m) to the Eritrean economy in its first five years of operation.
A Chinese mining company has recently started operations, and two more mines are expected to come online in the next few years.
But mining, although potentially lucrative, does not generate much employment.
The population is predominantly rural, working the harsh, dry land.
But Eritreans and foreign investors are looking towards the country’s 1,200km (745-mile) Red Sea coastline, with its hundreds of unspoiled islands, rich fish stocks and ports, all of which have significant economic potential.
Whether any of this will be realised will depend on two main factors. Eritrea’s willingness to adopt a more flexible attitude towards its economy, and foreign investors’ readiness to engage with a country that has recently been accused of crimes against humanity and has spent years in international isolation.
- Nation of between 3.5 million and 6 million (the figures are disputed) on Red Sea – one of Africa’s poorest countries
- One-party state – no functioning constitution or independent media
- Former Italian colony, later formed loose federation with Ethiopia
- 1962 – Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved Eritrean parliament, seized Eritrea
- Eritrean separatists – the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front – fought guerrilla war until 1991, when they captured capital Asmara
- Eritrea voted for independence in 1993
- May 1998 border dispute with Ethiopia led to two-year war costing 100,000 lives
- Still no peace settlement – thousands of troops face each other along 1,000km (620-mile) border
NewsPosted by Admin Jun 12, 2016 21:47:39
Eritreans still denied freedom 25 years after independence
Young people are fleeing at an alarming rate, preferring to face uncertainty in Europe rather than oppression at home,
The Conversation reports
Eritreans celebrate during the war with neighbouring Ethiopia in 1998.
Photograph: Sami Sallinen/AP
Valerie Frank for the Conversation, part of the Guardian Africa Network
Wednesday 25 May 201608.30
Twenty-five years ago the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front marched into
Asmara, sending the Ethiopian forces they had been fighting for 30 years
scrambling out of the city to safety.
People were elated. The underdogs had triumphed and the streets were
filled with war-wearied citizens, who were free at last.
But this excitement was short-lived. The liberation forces quickly morphed
into the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, a political party that has
ruled ever since. It turned Eritrea into one of the most isolated countries
and saddled it with the nickname: “Africa’s North Korea”.
Hundreds of young people are fleeing each week, from a country of just 5.1
million, and Eritreans now make up a significant number of those entering
Europe on dangerous crossings from Libya. What was once a relatively
unknown and underreported country is now at the forefront of the EU’s
mind, as it scrabbles for a way to “stem” the movement of people to Europe.
But how did it come to this?
Ex-fighters of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front depart from Asmara to the Ethiopian border in 1998.
Photograph: Sami Sallinen/AP
Optimism for Eritrea’s future was high in the 1990s. The Liberation Front’s
discipline and impressive achievements in undermining the Ethiopian
forces resulted in a strong belief that the new government could produce
But the outbreak of the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in
1998 fundamentally altered the nation’s course. It wreaked devastation
around the countries’ shared borders and entrenched Eritrea’s
To this day, senior members of the ruling party maintain that the border
conflict is still unresolved, and that Eritreans must remain in
indefinite national and military service in case of Ethiopian aggression.
Young people feel smothered by the lack of opportunities within the country
This sense of constant threat has been used to legitimise the government’s
restrictions on freedom of speech, association, movement and the press.
With tens of journalists in jail, many held in secret prisons for decades, the
country ranks among the worst in the world for press freedom.
More recently, the UN imposed sanctions on the country over its alleged
support for al-Shabaab and refusals to withdraw its troops from Djibouti
following an inter-state conflict. Though no recent evidence suggests Eritrea
backs the terrorist group, the UN appears reluctant to drop the sanctions
until the government permits observers to enter the country.
Restrictions on movement into and around Eritrea makes understanding its
conditions extremely difficult. More foreign journalists have visited in
recent years, but reports of what is going on inside are largely provided by
state-controlled sources, who closely follow the party line . Laudable
successes in reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and
combating infectious diseases must therefore be viewed with caution.
What we do know is that people are leaving Eritrea at an alarming rate: an
estimated 5,000 young people a month.
This is driven by harsh conditions, poor pay across civil and military
employment and disproportionate punishment associated with national
service, where individuals are condemned to a life of
debilitating servitude in the interests of “national security”.
Beyond this, young people feel smothered by the lack of opportunities in the
country. Obtaining exit visas to study elsewhere is notoriously difficult even
though further education within the country is under-resourced.
Young Eritrean refugees are the third-biggest group trying to reach Europe, after Afghans and Syrians.
Photograph: Vincent Defait/AFP/Getty Images
Given this rather grim picture of conditions in Eritrea, are there any silver
In the past few years, the Eritrean regime has suggested that it will reduce
the length of national service, pay conscripts more and draft a new
constitution. As yet there is no evidence of developments on any of these
Eritrea’s modernist capital city, Asmara, is edging closer to being
givenUnesco World Heritage status in recognition of its unique
architectural style. This would provide money for much-needed restoration
work and, perhaps, put Eritrea on the tourist map.
But the greatest success stories are arguably on the sporting front. Eritrean
middle- and long-distance runners are gaining podium placesin major
international races. The nation’s cyclists have also shot to global fame after
two riders – Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus – became the first
black Africans to race in the Tour de France last year.
But if emigration from the country continues at the current pace, it is hard
to imagine where Eritrea will stand in the coming years. Those leaving may
provide vital remittances to their families back home, which in 2006 were
understood to constitute just under 40% of gross domestic product, but
their loss is depriving the country of its youth.
Tour de France rider Daniel Teklehaimanot has become an Eritrean success story against a backdrop of mass emigration. Photograph: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Agitation for political change from those who have left appears to have
achieved little, though some insurrection has been documented within the
The most notable were the events of Forto 2013, when the country’s
Ministry of Information was surrounded by disgruntled soldiers demanding
political reform, and the Freedom Friday Movement, which encourages
citizens to undermine the government through small, subversive acts.
For now, 25 years after it gained freedom, Eritrea’s political system remains
unchanged. It is unclear who or what will follow President Isaias Afewerki,
who is 70 years old and unlikely to stand down.
For many of those celebrating 25 years since independence there is thus a
heart-breaking truth being simultaneously acknowledged: that the
respected fighters who so valiantly won them their freedom after decades in
the trenches are so painfully and egregiously failing the next generation
Valerie Frank is a pseudonym to protect the identity of the author. A
version of this article first appeared on the Conversation
NewsPosted by Admin Jun 12, 2016 16:42:23
Eritrea has committed widespread crimes against humanity, says UN
Up to 400,000 people in Eritrea
enslaved by authoritarian government, UN inquiry finds. Eritreans are one of
the largest groups crossing the Mediterranean
The chair of the Eritrea
inquiry, Mike Smith, says the international community must ensure there is
accountability for the atrocities being committed. Photograph:
Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images
The Eritrean government has committed crimes against humanity in a
widespread and systematic manner, according to a UN inquiry that calls for
perpetrators to be tried by the international criminal court.
Officials in Eritrea,
the biggest source of African refugees in Europe
in recent years, have enslaved up to 400,000 people, the inquiry says. The
government used murder, forced disappearances, rape and torture “to instil fear
in, deter opposition from and ultimately to control the Eritrean civilian
population since Eritrean authorities took control of Eritrean territory [from
Ethiopia] in 1991”,
the UN Commission of Inquiry for Eritrea announced on Wednesday.
The report is an expanded version of a preliminary
investigation last year.
Mike Smith, the Australian diplomat who chaired the inquiry,
is an authoritarian state. There is no independent judiciary, no national
assembly and there are no other democratic institutions. This has created a
governance and rule of law vacuum, resulting in a climate of impunity for
crimes against humanity to be perpetrated over a quarter of a century. These
crimes are still occurring today.
“There is no genuine prospect of the Eritrean judicial system holding
perpetrators to account in a fair and transparent manner. The perpetrators of
these crimes must face justice and the victims’ voices must be heard. The
international community should now take steps, including using the
international criminal court, national courts and other available mechanisms,
to ensure there is accountability for the atrocities being committed in Eritrea.”
The government issued an immediate rebuttal, saying the inquiry lacked “the minimum standards of
rigour and professionalism”.
Yemane Gebreab, a spokesman for the government, said in a statement that the report “has no solid evidence or firm legal
basis to support its extreme and unfounded charges … The methodology the
[inquiry] followed in its work is so deeply flawed as to seriously compromise
its findings and render its conclusions null and void.”
Based on testimony from 833 Eritreans, the report alleges that the
president, Isaias Afwerki, and his aides have eradicated all forms of political
opposition and independent media, collapsed the judiciary and abandoned the
rule of law. Many described how Eritrea’s
unique system of lifelong military service amounts to modern-day slavery.
Some revealed how they
were tortured (pdf) inside
government detention centres. Speaking anonymously, one man claimed to have
been jailed after expressing dissent at a public meeting.
In prison, he said: “I was repeatedly beaten and tortured. Each time two
people held me down and two others beat me with stakes and rubbers. They
submerged my head in a deep container with dirty water. They beat me on my
testicles many times. I fainted each time they did this. I have no testicles
now, they disappeared.”
The situation has led hundreds of thousands to flee the country, and
some to seek asylum in Europe following hellish journeys across the Sahara and
the Mediterranean. Faced with this influx,
some western countries, including Britain, are increasingly unwilling to offer Eritreans
Hundreds of Eritreans demonstrate in
front of the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia, asking for
measures to be taken against Eritrea
in June 2015. Photograph: Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images
Diplomatic dispatches and western reports from affluent parts of the
have added to the perception that life is not as difficult as many Eritreans
But the inquiry accuses such reports of whitewashing reality.
“The facade of calm and normality that is apparent to the occasional
visitor to the country, and others confined to sections of the capital, belies
the consistent patterns of serious human rights violations,” the report reads.
“The types of gross human rights violations in Eritrea documented by the commission … are not committed on
the streets of Asmara,
but rather behind the walls of detention facilities and in military training
camps. Torture and rape are not normally perpetrated in the open.”
Following the report’s publication, the Refugee Council, a British
charity for refugees, said the Home Office should rethink its asylum policy for
The Refugee Council’s head of advocacy, Lisa Doyle, said: “This report should send shockwaves throughout Whitehall. It confirms
the ongoing gravity of the human rights situation in Eritrea; once again finding
evidence of crimes against humanity.
“When a regime is on the verge of being referred to the international
criminal court for gross human rights violations, it is dangerous and absurd
that its citizens are being denied refuge in Britain.”
Guardian Africa Network
NewsPosted by Admin Apr 26, 2016 20:15:51
governments have been offered €1.8bn to help stem the flow of refugees to
Europe. Yet the migrants European leaders want to “send back” are in many cases
fleeing the governments the EU is now collaborating with.
could almost be satire. Amongst those present at the Malta summit in Valletta
were Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia – widely condemned for their disregard of
Sudan, for example, according to the High Commission for Refugees there are
currently 400,000 internally displaced people in Darfur, thanks to continued
conflict between rebel groups and government forces. A further 6.9 million
people are in need for humanitarian assistance. By the end of 2015, the UN
estimates there could be up to 460,000 refugees in Sudan alone.
many in Sudan, smuggling and trafficking has become a lucrative business.
Reliable sources in the country allege that many National Intelligence and
Security Service officers have been involved in human smuggling for financial
gain. The security force are also alleged to be involved in trafficking
operations in eastern Sudan and Darfur, transporting refugees up in to Libya.
International was quick to point out these contradictions, arguing that the EU
should not cooperate with those guilty of grave human rights abuses. “With the
EU seemingly intent on enlisting African nations as proxy gatekeepers, the
Valetta summit is likely to result in a one-sided border control contract
dressed up as a cooperation agreement. Refugees and migrants deserve and are
entitled to better,” said Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty
International’s European Institutions Office.
date, there has been no evidence that the EU’s previous financial incentives to
Omar al-Bashir’s government have made any positive impact on the crisis, so why
will they now?
November last year, the EU launched another controversial policy, known as the
Khartoum Process. Announced in Rome, it pledged to tackle human smuggling from
the Horn of Africa into Europe by providing countries in the region with
financial, technical and political incentives to manage and control migration.
part of this, the EU pledged to offer Sudan and Eritrea significant payments.
However, in the absence of monitoring mechanisms and transparency, these funds
will likely disappear without trace, swallowed by two governments who are
currently under international sanctions for human rights abuses.
in African Arguments, migration researchers Maimuna Mohamud and Cindy Horst
said the Khartoum Process represented a “worrying precedent”.
participants of the Khartoum Process ... have policies and political systems
that directly render them responsible for creating conditions that produce
refugees and migrants in the first place,” they argued.
month, Mike Smith, chair of the commission of inquiry on human rights in
Eritrea, emphasised the significant number of Eritreans arriving on the shores
of Europe: after Syrians and Afghans, they made up the third biggest group of
people attempting to enter in 2014.
EU leaders seem to be turning a blind eye to this, once again turning to cash
incentives as quick fixes.
a meaningful solution to the problem, the EU should be forcing the issue of
conflict in Darfur, or pressurising Isaias Afwerki’s government to end
indefinite military service in Eritrea. Only this way will the root of the
problem be addressed.
NewsPosted by Admin Apr 17, 2016 20:23:20
Calais: Eritrean refugees tell of torture
Danish report on Eritrea
human rights leaves refugees stranded on European route.
James Rippingale | 31 Mar 2016 15:02 |
Refugees stand among the remains of the Kurdish
and Eritrean areas of Calais'
'the Jungle' after French authorities bulldozed this part of the camp [James
Calais, France - Away from the forced
conscriptions, enforced disappearances, torture and religious repression of
their homeland, hundreds of Eritreans, mostly men, remain stuck in Calais' ever-shrinking
"Jungle" refugee camp. French authorities have bulldozed their
settlements in the camp's southern zone.
who have made it across the English Channel
face continual roadblocks from the UK Home Office in their requests for asylum.
Eritreans make up the largest group of people
applying for asylum in the UK,
with 3,729 applications in 2015. But in March
2015, the UK government
began dramatically slashing approvals for applicants from Eritrea, with
success rates plummeting to 48 percent in 2015
from 87 percent the previous year.
This shift in policy is based upon advice
issued by the Home Office from a now heavily discredited report by the Danish Immigration Services
Jens Weise Olesen and Jan Olsen, who travelled
as the report's principal researchers, have fiercely declaimed it as simplistic and distorted. After
its publication in November 2014, they both resigned from DIS.
10, the European Parliament spoke out on human rights abuses in Eritrea.
Last June, a UN human rights investigation found that the country's use of
torture, forced labour, extrajudicial executions and national service as a form
of slavery may constitute crimes against humanity.
Jazeera travelled to Calais to ask those fleeing Eritrea's dictatorship what
they thought about the publication's key assertions and the UK government's
decision to base its asylum policy on this report, which concludes that Eritrea
is "unique in the Horn of Africa region in that it is safe, with no crime
to speak of and no corruption - in clear difference from most other capitals in
"The government of England knows
exactly what's going on," says 21-year-old Aman, whose name has been
changed at his request out of concern for safety. He stands in the now
demolished Eritrean part of the camp, leafing through a printed copy of the
report given to him by Al Jazeera.
"If our country was at peace, why are we
forced to go on a dangerous trip through Sudan
and through Libya?
It's a huge life risk. On the ocean, so many people drown. In Libya, so many
people are slaughtered."
up and tortured for days
lays the report on a battered stool beside him, as he prepares a group meal of
spaghetti and tinned beef over an open fire.
from a small rural village outside the capital, Asmara,
Aman is one of an entire generation of young Eritreans whose forced
conscription into the army for national service is a primary reason for
escaping to Europe. The DIS report claims that
national service "is not really indefinite, but when it ends is
arbitrary." For many - this means a lifetime.
Human Rights Watch 2015 report on Eritrea condemned the country for
its "continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights,"
indefinite conscription, prolonged detention and use of torture.
stark contrast, the DIS report continuously emphasises how "people in the
National Service are not overworked or working under slave-like conditions, not
beaten, subjected to torture or suffering from malnutrition." And how
"it is definitely not government policy to retaliate against relatives of
National Service evaders or deserters." Reassuring the reader that,
"If such treatment occurred, relatives would tell about it."
"Once you are interned [in the army] the
situations are extreme," says Adam, 23, who did not want to reveal his
real name, as he reads from the report. His conversational English is
competent, though he frequently asks for clarification of words and meanings
He puts down the report and begins to speak
about life in the Eritrean military, turning his back to shield the fire from a
long, snaking gust of wind.
"You can't take it. You run away from the
military to your home and they send people to bring you back."
"I ran away from SAWA (Eritrea's
military training academy) when I was 16 because it was too hard," he
"They came to my village and imprisoned my
mother for not bringing me back. I didn't have an option. They blackmailed me
because I wanted my mother to be freed. When I returned, they strung me up for
days and tortured me.
do many things to you when they catch you," Adam continues.
tell you that it's OK, that you are not the first one, that you should accept
your mistake. They will try to trick you into admitting you were trying to
escape. If not, they will use a more forceful mechanism," he says, staring
down at the dust and rolling a stone under the blue plastic sole of one of his
may put you underground in a prison. You never see light, you never go out. Maybe
they will string you up for a long period of time so your veins will be cut off
from circulation. Some people lose hands like this or bleed to death.
put your legs up and hit you under the back of them or on the soles of your
feet - anything to pressure you into admitting you planned to escape… Some
people can't have children because they have reproductive difficulties after
the torture. Most people eventually confess simply because they can't take
'I ran away from SAWA when I was
16 because it was too hard ... when I returned, they strung me up for days
and tortured me,' Adam says [James Rippingale/Al Jazeera]
deserters: shoot-to-kill policy
wind picks up a little. A mass of torn plastic bags and detritus tumbles across
the demolition zone.
boys form a close huddle around the fire.
who only wanted to give his first name, a young man covered in crude,
hand-poked tattoos, shields his face
the camera, nervous that his published image could bring harm to his family
Eritreans in Calais
share the same fear and because of this, are unwilling to speak out
against the country's regime.
testimony goes against the DIS report's claim that there isn't a shoot-to-kill
policy for military deserters caught trying to escape via Eritrea's long, semi-porous land borders with Sudan and Ethiopia.
"I was 74th division - artillery on the
Ethiopian front during the 2000 war," he says, wiping cutlery with a
bright, white napkin.
"Near the border there were four
[Eritrean] soldiers trying to escape into Ethiopia. They were 61st ground
army, not our division. My superiors told me to gun them down, but I said, 'I
will not do that to my people'," he says, clenching his fists as he
recalls the memory.
"After rejecting a direct order from my
superiors I was hung up for two days with my arms in the air and my abdomen on
the ground. I was beaten on my backside.
"After 23 days they were trying to send me
to an underground prison, but I managed to escape," he says.
On his nightly trip to the outdoor toilet, a
group of four men had agreed among themselves to attempt an escape and run in
separate directions across the area's unfortified open ground to confuse the
lone guard accompanying them.
"I reached a city called Manda [in Ethiopia]. From
there, I paid an agent £1,220 ($1,760) to reach Khartoum
From there, Libya, Italy and then here: Calais."
The fact that all Eritrean sources (comprised
of Western embassies in Asmara, UN agencies, local NGOs and "a well-known
Eritrean intellectual") which contributed to the DIS report "required
varying degrees of anonymity" gives further cause for concern when trying
to validate its claims, which, according to Human Rights Watch shows
"no indication that the authors of the report interviewed victims or
witnesses of human rights violations in Eritrea."
The report's one named source, Professor Gaim
Kibreab, director of Refugee Studies at London's
South Bank University,
has also distanced himself from its findings. In an email to DIS which he made public,
Kibreab said: "The way you have chosen to quote me contradicts the
findings of the studies I have been conducting on the Eritrean National Service
and the full information I provided you in our oral communication and in the
edited version of the draft you sent to me for comments and approval."
He also told The Guardian: "They distorted what I said,
quoted me out of context.
"One example: they quoted me saying that I
knew people who had returned back to Eritrea without problems. What I
told them was I know of a few who returned who are connected to the government,
who are naturalised and have English passports and Danish passports - they
didn't mention that I was talking about a few who were connected. They left out
so many things. The way they did it, there was an unnamed anonymous source and
then they brought in my name to support their views."
John fears being identified by the Eritrean
government [James Rippingale/Al Jazeera]
'Eritrea is one
The crux of Britain's decision to slash
Eritrean asylum approvals is the report's central claim that it is safe for
Eritreans and Eritrean military deserters who've exited illegally, to return
home after signing a formal letter of apology and paying a 2 percent tax fine.
When Al Jazeera presented this claim to the men
at the camp, they all let out a long chorus of squawks and whoops, throwing
their hands in the air.
"You know the reality," Adam says. "We
can be put in prison for life or shot for betrayal. I'd like more to get
crushed under a train or to drown in the ocean trying to reach freedom. I'd
prefer that to what the [Eritrean] government would do."
"It's worse for military," John says.
"When a person comes [back] to the country and he is a civilian, he may go
to prison for three, four, five years. But for example, a mechanised soldier in
the artillery, it's a lifetime. Or, they'll just take your life."
Internal travel without pre-approved
documentation in Eritrea
is also forbidden. The DIS report comments repeatedly on the "general
freedom of movement throughout Eritrea
for nationals" outside Asmara
with 'no real checkpoints in the country except for sensitive areas'. But the
reality as told by these young men paints a different picture.
"It's impossible," says Aman, as he
wedges another stick of kindling under the now boiling pot, warming his hands
next to the flames. "You will be caught and sent to prison. If you are
military they'll automatically assume you are trying to get out of the
"If you're moving, you need a paper from
your division. If you don't get that paper then [the government will suspect]
you are trying to escape. You'll be sent to the special intelligence service
and they will torture you and ask you cross questions for weeks, in case you
say contradicting things."
Aman says obtaining a passport to exit the
country legally is impossible.
"Only the children of the authorities are
allowed to get passports… They think that we will use them to get out of the
country. Everything is blocked. Eritrea is one big prison. Simple."
NewsPosted by Admin Apr 17, 2016 17:35:53Crushing repression of Eritrea's
citizens is driving them into migrant boats
To stem the tide of Eritrean asylum seekers heading for Italy,
policymakers need to ensure the country is really on a path from
dictatorship to nascent democracy.
spent six years completing her national service in one of Eritrea’s ministries, but when she
joined a banned Pentecostal church, she was arrested, interrogated, threatened,
released and then shadowed in a clumsy attempt to identify other congregants.
She arranged to be smuggled out of the country in 2013 and is now in a graduate
programme in human rights in Oslo.
Abinet, hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers are landing on the shores of Italy.
Eritreans are second only to Syrians in the number of boat arrivals, though the
country is a fraction of Syria’s
size and there’s no live civil war there.
Eritreans are feared to have drowned in Sunday’s shipwreck in the Mediterranean, from which the death toll could reach 950,
with more migrant vessels reported in distress on Monday – the weekend’s
incident has caused EU ministers to hold emergency talks on the growing
most Eritreans cite for leaving is conscription for national service of
indefinite duration, with pay so low their parents have to subsidise them.
other reasons I heard during the hundreds of interviews I conducted over the
past year with Eritrean refugees in North America, Europe, Israel, Africa and Central
cited unrelenting abuse and humiliation, constant threat of imprisonment or
torture for offending someone in authority, often without even realising how
they had done this, or for abetting someone else’s escape or practising a
banned religious faith.
The EU and
a number of its member states are responding to this crisis by offering aid to Eritrea with
the aim of reinvigorating its stagnant economy based on unofficial assurances
that national service will be scaled back in the future. But they are missing
an essential point: the crushing repression of Eritrea’s citizens, especially its
youth, is as much a driver of the outflow of people as the lack of economic
prospects. Nor are they separate, as the economy is almost completely dominated
by the state and ruling party. Money alone will not change this.
despite the country’s belligerent behaviour in the region and its egregious
human rights record, which have long left it isolated, there is an opportunity
for engagement given that prominent regime officials have indicated willingness
If the EU
simply throws money at Eritrea,
it risks entrenching the very practices that lie behind much of the exodus
But if the
EU and individual states jump too rashly and simply throw money at Eritrea, they
risk entrenching the very practices that lie behind much of the exodus, while
doing precious little to stem it.
Eritrea is dominated by its self-appointed
president, Isaias Afwerki. He has surrounded himself with weak institutions,
and there is no viable successor. Although the three branches of government –
cabinet, national assembly and high court – provide a facade of institutional
governance, real power is exercised through informal networks that shift and
change at the president’s discretion. The assembly has not met in a decade, and
there is no published national budget. Every important decision is made in
circumstances, taking private pledges of reform at face value is a risky
proposition. As a minimum, a date for an end to the practice of indefinite
national service should be announced, along with a plan for a rolling
demobilisation of those who have already served longer than the 18 months
designated when the programme was set up in the 1990s.
public would make it difficult – not impossible, but harder – for the
government to renege on a promise it is quietly making to visiting delegations
but not telling its own conscripts. Given President Afwerki’s unbending
resistance to such moves in the past, there is reason to be sceptical. Such an
announcement would be likely to slow the migration rate of those in military
service, and preparing to be called up for it, but more is needed to stem the
asked refugees, especially recent arrivals, what it would take to get them to
go back, there are two things they mention right away: the release of political
prisoners, including those jailed for their religious convictions, and the
implementation of the constitution, which was ratified in 1997 but has sat on a
shelf in the president’s office ever since. It is deeply flawed and needs
revision, but it would be a start.
refugees talk about the need for basic freedoms in Eritrea, but the rule of law tops
talk about the need for basic freedoms – of press, of speech, of movement, of
religion – but the rule of law tops the list, as everyone wants to know what
the rules are and that those in power have to play by them, too. Without this,
few are likely to take promises of reform seriously.
policymakers in other countries inclined to re-engage with this regime and
offer aid need to use this opportunity to demand hard evidence that change is
coming and that it’s more than cosmetic.
more steps needed to ensure that Eritrea is really on a path from
dictatorship to some form of nascent democracy with increased transparency in
state affairs, reform of the deeply flawed judicial and penal system, and the
nurturing of a political culture in which stable political institutions can
Eritrea also needs a structured process of
truth and reconciliation to give people back their history and start a process
of healing on which this once promising new nation can build a future. And
there has to be movement toward normalising relations with its neighbours,
But one step at a time.
is certain: if the wrong steps are taken at the outset – or false hope is
raised and no steps taken – what little hope still flickers within the younger
generation inside Eritrea will be further dimmed, more will flee, and it will
be much, much harder to convince any of them to go back soon.
Connell is a visiting researcher at the Boston University African Studies
Centre, who has been writing about Eritrea for nearly 40 years
NewsPosted by Admin Apr 17, 2016 15:31:57How Eritrea is
turning to Dutch courts to silence its critics
Eight legal cases have been
launched in the Netherlands
against those who dare to oppose the regime
1 March 2016 12.56
A quiet but well orchestrated
campaign is under way in the Netherlands as individuals associated with the Eritrean
government try to use the Dutch courts to silence its critics.
Eight such court cases have
been launched against liberal newspapers, a radio station, a website, the Dutch
government and an academic who have criticised its authoritarian regime.
The cases have been
initiated by leaders of the youth wing of Eritrea’s ruling party, the Young
People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, but the campaign appears to be guided
by senior government officials, including some close to the president, Isaias
Last year Yemane Gebreab,
President Isaias’s closest adviser, told 550 young Eritreans attending the
party’s youth rally in Germany
that fighting the country’s “enemies” was their top priority.
“Enemies who don’t tire and
don’t sleep, who try to bring our downfall … Therefore, our first objective –
as YPFDJ and as Eritrean youth, and as community … is to conclusively defeat
this hostility hovering over of our nation. That remains the job,” he told the
The first to face the
courts in the Netherlands
was Mirjam van Reisen, a professor of international relations at the University of Tilburg. As an adviser to the European
Union and the UN, Van Reisen is a well-respected Eritrean expert.
In May 2015 the Dutch
website Oneworld.nl published an article claiming that some of the
interpreters working for the Dutch immigration service were linked to the
Eritreans make up the third largest group of people risking the journey across the Mediterranean
to Europe, with up to 5,000 leaving every
month to flee poverty, political repression and indefinite military
The translators were hired
to interpret sensitive conversations between officials and refugees seeking
asylum. The article claimed that, contrary to Dutch regulations, some
translators had ties to the regime that the asylum seekers were fleeing.
“Many Eritrean asylum
seekers are immensely traumatised,” Van Reisen was quoted as saying. “When they
discover that the interpreters are linked to the regime they fled from, this
undermines their trust in protection by the Dutch authorities.”
She said the situation was
potentially dangerous. “The interpreters get sensitive information about the
asylum seekers through the interviews that they translate. With this
information, they may threaten or extort these refugees. Relatives in Eritrea may also be threatened.”
The article identified the
brother and sister of the leader of the ruling party’s youth wing as being
among those employed as translators. “The interpreters are linked to the centre
of the intelligence in the Netherlands
and in Europe,” Van Reisen was quoted as saying.
In May 2015 the former
president of the youth wing, Meseret Bahlbi, filed a charge of libel and
slander over the article. He asked for an apology, a correction and
compensation of at least €25,000.
But when the case came to
court on 10 February the judge found that the youth wing had indeed received
instructions from the ruling party, that it supported the Eritrean regime, and
that its members’ goals were to “act as informants for [the embassies of] the
regime in Eritrea”. Bahlbi’s claim was rejected and Van Reisen’s right to freedom
of speech was upheld.
Perhaps at least as
damaging for the Eritrean government was an admission by Bahlbi in his submission to the court that the country “is a dictatorship
and that torture takes place”.
Bahlbi’s siblings brought
another case against the Dutch migration agency on 24 February, but once again
the court found against them.
Although these cases
backfired, at least six others are still being pursued. There are two cases
against the Volkskrant – the Netherlands’
equivalent of the Guardian. The paper was in court on 24 February and judgement
will be delivered on 11 March. And there are four other cases against media
organisation, including Oneworld and Radio Argos.
Critics of the regime have
also been the subject of vociferous attacks by users of social media. Van
Reisen has been physically threatened. She and I have both been have been
The United Nations has
reported that the Eritrean government has an extensive network of agents who
work for the regime around the world. It has also imposed sanctions against Eritrea for
sponsoring attacks on its opponents abroad.
In this context the Dutch
cases takes on a particularly sinister significance.