Eritreans who are sent back to their country are threatened with ill-treatment. This is the third time in one year that Switzerland has been reprimanded for this by the UN. Now the parliament is reacting. 

Source: “Der Bund“, 13.06.2022

Author: Nina Fargahi 

Asylum seekers from Eritrea are often trapped in emergency centres: they cannot return, but are not allowed to stay either 

The situation is complicated. Eritrean nationals who are not granted asylum in Switzerland cannot be deported to their country. The necessary agreement is missing. At the same time, Eritrean refugees can neither work nor complete an education here. In 2020, 653 Eritrean nationals thus lived in emergency centres. 

The State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) hopes that they are going to leave voluntarily. But according to a new report by the UN Special Rapporteur, deserters are “at risk of torture and inhuman treatment as well as extrajudicial killings” if they return. The UN Special Rapporteur is currently in Switzerland. He presented his new report yesterday at the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

In addition, Switzerland has been reprimanded once more by the UN Commitee against Torture (CAT) at the end of May. In fact, it was the third time in one year. The reason: Switzerland wanted to deport a woman to Eritrea who, as a deserter, ran the risk of being tortured if she returned to her home country. 

Tarig Hassan, a Zurich-based lawyer who brought this case before the CAT, says: “The multiple reprimands show that Switzerland is misjudging the situation in Eritrea. It must change its practice and recognise asylum seekers from Eritrea as refugees.” The SEM contradicts this view writing that the asylum and expulsion practice will only be adjusted if there are new findings on the threat situation or if the Federal Administrative Court corrects a decision of the SEM in a general way. 

No individual cases, but a practice 

New findings? Sarah Frehner, a lawyer who has been working on Eritrea for many years, says: “It is contradictory: Switzerland has decided to tighten its practice without new and reliable findings that would allow the conclusion that the situation in Eritrea has changed, and is now waiting for new findings to possibly defuse the practice again.” 

The Federal Administrative Court admits in its reference judgements that obtaining information on the situation in Eritrea is problematic. “Nevertheless, the impossible is demanded of the persons concerned, namely to prove that a risk of a human rights violation in each individual case does really exist”, the lawyer explains. If the UN Anti-Torture Committee finds that the prohibition of torture has been violated three times in series, then it is not a case-by-case decision, but rather a fundamental questioning of the Swiss practice, says Frehner. 

“A humanitarian solution is needed”: National Councillor Aline Trede, member of the Green party. 

Swiss Parliament is also dealing with Eritrea these days. Three interpellations are pending. One of the interpellations has been submitted by National Councillor of the Green Party, Aline Trede. Her Eritrean trainee with two daughters had received a negative asylum decision. The parliamentarian states: “A humanitarian solution is needed.” The Eritreans in Switzerland are mainly refugees who entered under the old asylum law and have been here for years. “There are hardly any new asylum applications from Eritrea these days as the persecuted are trying to reach Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands.” 

In 2021, only 386 Eritrean nationals applied for asylum in Switzerland, while 1642 people were included in the asylum status due to births or family reunifications. 

Back in 2019, the Former State Secretary Mario Gattiker stated that of the approximately 2825 Eritrean asylum applications, only 492 concerned people who had initially fled to Switzerland. All the others were births and family reunifications. This means that they are not newly arrived Eritreans. 

Many women with children in emergency aid 

Jürg Schneider, an emeritus professor of economics who is involved in various organisations for asylum seekers, says: “The Swiss policy of deterring Eritreans has been extremely effective, but Switzerland has not only deterred those they had targeted, but also many who should be entitled to protection from persecution, torture and slavery in the Eritrean national service.” 

The proportion of rejected asylum seekers who end up in emergency assistance and receive emergency assistance for more than a year increases with each passing year. After the first quarter of 2018, 58 per cent of emergency assistance cases were long-term cases, but by the end of 2020, the figure has risen to 74 per cent, according to the 2020 emergency assistance monitoring report. Almost half of the people in emergency assistance are women, children and adolescents. Why? Firstly, living as clandestines is more difficult for women with children than for men. Secondly, those who receive emergency aid on a long-term basis have no other way out. 

She wants Eritreans with a temporary admission to be enabled to work more easily: National Councillor Yvonne Feri (Social democratic Party, SP). 

A motion by National Councillor Andrea Geissbühler of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) demands that Switzerland should start to renegotiate with Eritrea to make forced repatriations possible. Geissbühler says: “Eritrea’s president must grant that asylum seekers rejected by Switzerland will not be tortured if they return.” To obtain such a guarantee, however, the Federal Councillors would have to travel there in person, she adds. 

At the same time, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights does not consider such diplomatic assurances to be an efficient protection against torture and says: “If a government disregards the prohibition of torture, it cannot be assumed that it will abstain from it after having made such an agreement. 

The third proposal comes from SP National Councillor Yvonne Feri. She was in Eritrea in 2016 and says that the Eritrean citizens who are already here must be regularised so that they can integrate and work. “We have a shortage of skilled workers in Switzerland, and at the same time Eritrean refugees lack work permits.” 

What will the federal government do? Eritrea is not in the focus of Swiss politics because of the few new asylum applications. The reprimands of the Anti-Torture Commission, the parliamentary initiatives and the new report of the UN Special Rapporteur could now change this. 

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Martin Plaut posted: " A week ago President Isaias welcomed Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, generally referred to as Hemeti, to Asmara. Today Hemeti is Deputy Chairman of Sudan's Transitional Sovereignty Council and on the face of it this was just a meeting between two neighbouring " Martin Plaut


Martin Plaut

Mar 20

A week ago President Isaias welcomed Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, generally referred to as Hemeti, to Asmara.

Today Hemeti is Deputy Chairman of Sudan's Transitional Sovereignty Council and on the face of it this was just a meeting between two neighbouring leaders. But a great deal is at stake - including the potential use of Eritrean refugees living in Sudan by Hemeti.

It is important to understand just who Hemeti is and what he stands for. He was the leader of the notorious Janjaweed - the Arab militia who terrorised African tribes in Darfur. It was for the part he played in a series of massacred that he has been accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

As Eric Reeves, who covers Sudan for years, put it:

It is likely that over the past decade, Hemeti has accumulated more Sudanese blood on his hands in conflict in Darfur and South Kordofan—as well as in Khartoum and elsewhere—than any other man in the country. 

This is the man whom President Isaias warmly embraced.

Hemeti is currently in a fierce struggle with other Sudanese leaders. As Reuters reported on Sunday:

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo commands tens of thousands of fighters in the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and has amassed considerable mineral wealth. He is also deputy leader of Sudan's ruling council, which took power in a coup more than a year ago.

Recently however, Dagalo, widely known as Hemedti, has pulled away from military colleagues and found common ground with a civilian political alliance, in moves that could establish him as a major figure even after the democratic transition.

Central to Hemedti's disagreement with the military is his reluctance to set a clear deadline to integrate the RSF into the army, two military sources said, referring to a stipulation within the outline deal signed in December that paves the way for a two year civilian-led transition to elections.

The sources said the standoff led Hemedti to bring additional RSF forces in recent weeks to bases in Khartoum from Darfur, the western region where the group emerged from the so-called Janjaweed militias accused of atrocities during the early 2000s.

Concerned about his intentions, the army under ruling council leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan stationed more soldiers in the capital on a state of alert, the sources said.

Speaking to RSF troops earlier this month, Hemedti said his forces would never fight the army, but "our problem is with these people who are clinging to power" - an apparent reference to Islamist-leaning elements of the former regime that retain influence in the army and civil service.

The reasons for the troop movements have not been previously reported. Spokespeople for the military and RSF did not respond to requests for comment.

While tensions have since cooled, Hemedti's underlying differences with the army have not been resolved, and the risk remains of a confrontation that could tip Sudan, which sits in a volatile region between the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, into deepening instability.

Hemedti and other military men are unlikely to be able to stand for election in the short term. But in a country where power has long been held by the Khartoum elite, Hemedti, from a nomadic camel-herding background, is trying to become "a force to be reckoned with in the national power structure," said Suliman Baldo, head of the Sudan Transparency and Policy Tracker, an independent think-tank.

In a BBC interview last year, Hemedti said he would not stand by and watch the country fall apart, but denied having leadership ambitions. His office did not respond to questions submitted by Reuters.

A handover of power to civilians under the outline deal could restore billions in Western aid and restart an economic and democratic opening that was halted when, in October 2021, army and RSF officers deposed the fledgling civilian government that had followed the overthrow of former president Omar al-Bashir.

The main signatories to the outline agreement are Burhan's military and Hemedti's RSF on one side and the civilian Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition on the other. The two sides had shared power in the aborted transition between Bashir's overthrow and the coup.

Hemedti has increasingly aligned himself with the pro-democracy civilian movement in speeches. On the other hand, Burhan has delayed a final signing of the transition agreement by pushing to broaden it and bring in former rebel groups and pro-military civilian factions.

On March 11, the army said accusations it was reluctant to hand over power were "open attempts to gain political sympathy, and obstruct the process of transition". Later that day, Hemedti and Burhan met, according to a statement by the ruling council.

Under pressure from Western and Gulf powers, the process of finalising a framework for forming a new transitional government before elections has since shown renewed signs of momentum.

The sides are due to meet this month to thrash out details of military restructuring, but there has so far been no indication of when the RSF will be merged with the army, and what role Hemedti would play in the enlarged armed forces.

The army wants to see the RSF, which by some estimates has up to 100,000 fighters spread across one of Africa's largest countries, integrated under their control by the end of the new transitional period, the two military sources said.

The Isaias-Hemeti relationship

The two men have a good deal in common.

·        Both have established strong relations with the Russians. Isaias recently welcomed Russia's powerful Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, to Eritrea earlier this year.

·        According to the New York Times, Hemeti has linked up with another force: the Russian Wagner Group, run by a close ally of President Putin. The paper describes Hemeti has the Wagner Group’s “main military ally in Sudan.”

·        The report continues: “Two senior Western officials said that Wagner organized General Hamdan’s February visit to Moscow, where he arrived on the eve of the war in Ukraine. Although the trip was ostensibly to discuss an economic aid package, they said, General Hamdan arrived with gold bullion on his plane, and asked Russian officials for help in acquiring armed drones.”

What might the Isaias - Hemeti alliance lead to?

According to the UN Refugee Agency there are some 128,000 Eritrean refugees living in camps in Eastern Sudan, between Kassala and Gadaref. Others live in Khartoum and towns and villages across Sudan.

They are frequently targeted by the authorities, mostly to extract money from them. But now they could face a far greater threat.

President Isaias long resented the presence of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, some 100,000 of whom were housed in camps run by the United Nations. When the Tigray war erupted Eritrean forces attacked the camps.

Early in the conflict, Eritrean troops entered Ethiopia and destroyed Ethiopia’s northern Eritrean refugee camps of Hitsats and Shimelba. Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees were forced to flee further into the Tigrayan warzone.THE CONVERSATIONNOWHERE TO RUN: THE PLIGHT OF ERITREAN REFUGEES IN ETHIOPIA

Some Eritreans were forced to join the Eritrean army, others kidnapped and returned to Eritrea, from which they had fled.

Might Isaias now be planning to link up with Hemeti to deal with the Eritreans living in Sudan? It has long been speculated that the relationship between the two men might threaten the refugees.

It is even possible that Eritrean youngsters, many of whom have had military training, might be enlisted by Hemeti who could use them for his own ends. 

This could mean using Eritreans to fight on the streets of Sudan. Or it could result in Eritreans being taken into Chad or even Libya. As Al Jazeera pointed out:

A report by the UNSC Libya sanctions committee in November accused Sudan and the head of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, widely known as Hemeti, of violating UN sanctions by deploying 1,000 troops to Libya.

The BBC once described Hemeti as "the warlord who may control Sudan’s future." It would be a tragedy if he became the warlord who controlled the destiny of Eritrean refugees as well.


Eritrea’s forgotten Ethiopian refugees

Tuesday, 14 March 2023 20:38 Written by


Martin Plaut

Mar 12

Amid the attention on the plight of the Tigrayans, Amhara, Afar and others who were caught up in the war that was launched against Tigray in November 2020, it is easy to overlook what has happened to the Eritrean refugees who had been sheltering in camps in Tigray.

As early as December 2020 the BBC was carrying reports that the 100,000 Eritreans were running desperately short of food.

Thousands of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia's conflict-hit northern region of Tigray have run out of food, the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, has said.

It appealed for urgent access to the region to provide emergency assistance.

Communications and aid access have been blocked since the conflict between the federal army and fighters loyal to Tigray leadership began a month ago. Nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees are in Tigray. They fled political persecution and compulsory military service. A lot of focus has been on the tens of thousands who have fled to Sudan from Tigray during the fighting, but there is also concern about these Eritreans.

Their situation was terrible and deteriorated further. Refugees International carrying this report in March 2022.


Since the destruction of the northern camps of Hitsats and Shimelba that displaced 20,000 Eritrean refugees early in the conflict, and attacks on Eritrean refugees and the civilian population elsewhere in Tigray, thousands more Eritrean refugees have been repeatedly displaced. Some have moved multiple times in Tigray. Others have sought safety in Addis Ababa. In one instance in December 2020, Eritrean refugees who had reached Addis Ababa, were forcibly escorted back to Tigray. To date, aid groups are unclear of what has happened to many of the 20,000 Eritrean refugees who left Hitsats and Shimelba.

Refugees International

Those Eritreans who fled from the Tigrayan camps, but were unable to reach Addis, or forced to leave the capital, are now being housed in a "refugee settlement" at Alemwach. It is worth noting that the UNHCR is not calling it a camp.

Below is a summary of the UNHCR report from Alemwach now home to over 22,000 Eritreans.

The Tigrayan crisis led to difficult humanitarian conditions including limited access to basic social and life-saving services for refugees in the Mai Tsebri camps. Coupled with the security breakdown, many refugees opted to move from the Mai Ani and Adi Harush camps to Alemwach, Dabat in the Amhara region.

Prior to spontaneous movements, UNHCR had conducted an intention survey whereby, 90% of refugees concerned about their security situation indicated their willingness to be relocated elsewhere.

Over 15,000 refugees spontaneously relocated from the Tigray camps to Alemwach between February and July 2022, going through difficult transit. Following the cessation of hostilities in November 2022 with improved access to Mai Tseberi, UNHCR, RRS, and IOM relocated 7,080 refugees to Alemwach.

UNHCR’s response strategy in Alemwach is an integrated area-based approach with refugees and the host community sharing services such as WASH, education, and health.

UNHCR plans on strengthening existing facilities instead of building new ones.



Martin Plaut

Mar 10

The internal administration debate comes ahead of Blinken’s plans to visit Africa.

Source: Foreign Policy

By Robbie Gramer

MARCH 9, 2023, 5:37 PM

The Biden administration is weighing plans to lift restrictions on aid and financial assistance to war-battered Ethiopia in a move that has drawn backlash from human rights advocates and some factions within the administration. 

The plan, if confirmed, is expected to be announced by Secretary of State Antony Blinken during an upcoming visit to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa later this month, according to multiple current and former officials familiar with the matter. 

The debate playing out within the administration over its Ethiopia policy reflects a concern among top aid and human rights officials as well as lawmakers in Congress that U.S. President Joe Biden hasn’t done enough to acknowledge or hold Ethiopia accountable for atrocities, ethnic cleansing, and possible war crimes it committed during a devastating two-year war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group in the country’s northern Tigray region. That war cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destabilized Africa’s second-most-populous country. 

“The U.S. very likely knows the nature of the crimes and the extent to which the government of Ethiopia at the top levels ordered the violence on its own civilians,” said one former senior U.S. official familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal administration deliberations.

“Mass killing never stays buried. Everyone in the victim community and the atrocity-prevention community will remember which U.S. policymakers made this call to ignore its own information and move forward with these economic packages.”

This policy debate was described to Foreign Policy by five current and former officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal government deliberations. 

Some officials—including Biden’s top envoy for African affairs, Molly Phee, and Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs—are pushing for the administration to begin renormalizing ties with Ethiopia after a peace agreement was signed to end the war in November 2022.

Officials in the camp for reviving relations argue that the move is necessary for U.S. engagement across Africa, given Ethiopia’s outsized economic and political influence on the continent. They also argue that Ethiopia’s economy is teetering on the brink and only international assistance such as loans from the International Monetary Fund and debt restructuring can help repair the war-torn economy. Blocking the Ethiopian government from sorely needed economic relief after it signed a peace deal, these officials argue, could ultimately undermine the fragile peace and overall stability in the country.

Officials in the other camp, including U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power, have argued in internal policy debates that the administration needs to extract more commitments from the Ethiopian government on human rights and accountability for war crimes and other atrocities before agreeing to fully open access to economic and trade lifelines. 

“We should not trade our long-held values on human rights for perceived near-term stability in East Africa,” said Cameron Hudson, an expert on U.S. Africa policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The question is how much does this administration think they can achieve across the region without having Ethiopia as a strategic partner?”

The State Department declined to comment, and USAID did not respond to a request for comment. The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington also did not respond to a request for comment. 

Among the policy proposals administration officials are discussing are supporting plans for an International Monetary Fund loan to restructure the country’s debt, lifting restrictions on some U.S. aid that had been halted during the war, and eventually allowing Ethiopia to rejoin the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade pact with the United States. AGOA provides African countries with duty-free access to U.S. markets. The Biden administration cut Ethiopia out of AGOA in January 2022 for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights being perpetrated by the Government of Ethiopia and other parties amid the widening conflict in northern Ethiopia.” 

Between November 2020 and November 2022, the Ethiopian military and forces from neighboring Eritrea fought a war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region against the TPLF, a guerrilla force and former ruling political party in Ethiopia. The conflict was marked by widespread atrocities on all sides. Forces from Ethiopia and Eritrea were accused of war crimes including mass rape, sexual slavery, torture, and extrajudicial killings of civilians. The war may have killed as many as 600,000 people, as some peace mediators estimated, which would make it the deadliest conflict of the 21st century. 

The Ethiopian government and TPLF signed a peace deal, brokered by the African Union, in November 2022 to end the conflict. The peace accord brought immediate relief to the country but sidestepped critical issues to end the cycle of violence. Left unanswered were questions on when, if at all, Eritrean forces would leave Tigray and whether the Ethiopian government would completely lift its de facto blockade on Tigray that left millions without access to humanitarian aid. Many Western officials and aid workers are also worried about a spike in violence in Ethiopia’s Oromia region—separate from the settlement of the conflict in Tigray—that risks further destabilizing the country and kick-starting another cycle of violence. 

Some human rights advocates and U.S. lawmakers have criticized the Biden administration for not holding Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government to account for the human rights violations committed during the war and say Washington should use its economic and political levers of power more forcefully to cement and expand the peace deal. 

“Yes, the agreement brought some relief to a population that was suffering for too long. But let’s be clear that five months on, the suffering continues,” said Sarah Yager, the Washington director at Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

The administration set up new sanctions authorities in September 2021, specifically for the Ethiopia conflict, but it has so far only used that authority to sanction Eritrean officials for their role in the conflict. Human rights advocates have also criticized the administration for withholding a formal atrocities designation on Ethiopia. Blinken in March 2021 stated that acts of “ethnic cleansing” had been carried out in the conflict in Ethiopia. The State Department drafted a declaration in 2021 that the Ethiopian government’s atrocities in Tigray constituted a genocide, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the matter, but it never released the declaration. 

The State Department, these officials said, played an important role in facilitating the peace talks between Ethiopia and the TPLF and has brought up concerns on human rights violations in virtually every meeting with senior Ethiopian officials over the course of the conflict. But Yager said there’s more to be done.

“The reality is that any peace is tenuous at best without credible investigations and accountability for what’s been committed there, past and present,” Yager said. “We want to see U.S. officials take seriously how fragile Ethiopia is at this moment and why its people need to see justice. History has never looked kindly on the papering over of horrors of this magnitude.”

The Saudi-Eritrean Gold Mine

Wednesday, 08 March 2023 22:51 Written by


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Martin Plaut posted: " You may recall that Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki made a trip to Saudi Arabia earlier this month. He is said to have "held extensive discussions Riyadh with Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, and other senior Saudi officials." " Martin Plaut


Martin Plaut

Mar 8

You may recall that Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki made a trip to Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

He is said to have "held extensive discussions in Riyadh with Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, and other senior Saudi officials."

Of course - as is normal in Eritrea - nothing more was revealed and there are many issues that could have considered. But one could have been the prime gold mine that is a joint Saudi-Eritrean initiative: the Franco Mining Share Company.

The information below is from the Franco website, but it is quite revealing. What it does not explain is how Eritrea paid for its shares in the company, where any revenue will go, and how it might be spent.

One thing is highly likely, if previous Eritrean mining ventures are any guide to go by: the people of Eritrea will see few benefits in terms of improvements in their standards of living. Remember the Bisha gold mine?

Fanco Mining Share Company Is Share Company Formed Between Eritrean National Mining Corporation (Enamco) And Almutrf International Group (A Saudi Company). In May 2018, The Eritrean Government Granted An Exploration Licence To Fmsc In The Fanco Area. The Primary Target Of The Company Is To Explore And Define Economic Gold Resource And Commence Gold Production Within That License.


The Fanco, covers an area of 1,390 km2 , and is located in the western lowlands of Eritrea, in the Gash Barka Province in the sub-zones of Hykota, Tessenei, Guluj and Augaro. It is located ~220 km west of Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea, and its eastern boundary is ~20 km southeast of the Town of Tesseney. Figure 1 presents the location of the project within Eritrea and indicates the project’s proximity to surrounding communities.

President Isaias glances at the Fanco stand as he walks past during an exhibition in Asmara

Eritrea: Crackdown on Draft Evaders’ Families

Thursday, 09 February 2023 22:02 Written by

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Martin Plaut posted: " The government has intimidated and harassed people of all ages to pressure them into handing over missing relatives. Relatives of those affected by the expulsions said that the government has confiscated homes of the parents of suspected draft evaders. " Martin Plaut


Martin Plaut

Feb 9

The government has intimidated and harassed people of all ages to pressure them into handing over missing relatives. Relatives of those affected by the expulsions said that the government has confiscated homes of the parents of suspected draft evaders. This has left older people and women with children without a roof over their heads.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Collective Punishment Over Forced Conscription Campaign

(Nairobi) – The Eritrean government has in recent months punished relatives of thousands of alleged draft evaders as part of an intensive forced conscription campaign, Human Rights Watch said today.

Eritrean security forces have been heavily involved in operations in support of the Ethiopian government since the outbreak of conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in November 2020, and have carried out some of the conflict’s worst abuses. Eritrean authorities have conducted waves of roundups in Eritrea to identify people it considers draft evaders or deserters. Since September 2022, when Ethiopian and Eritrean forces carried out joint offensives in the Tigray region, the Eritrean government has inflicted further repression, punishing family members of those seeking to avoid conscription or recall, to enforce widespread forced mobilization, including of older men. Such punishment has included arbitrary detentions and home expulsions.

“Struggling to fill its dwindling fighting ranks, Eritrea’s government has detained and expelled older people and women with young children from their homes in order to find people it considers draft evaders or deserters,” said Laetitia Bader, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Eritrea should immediately end its collective punishment of relatives of those who refuse to comply and instead focus on reforming its ruthless indefinite military service system.”

Eritrea has a policy of indefinite national service, including compulsory military conscription, which has been central to the government’s broader repression of its population since the 1998-2001 border war with Ethiopia, and its aftermath.

The statutory national service of 18 months was indefinitely extended to require all male and female adults under age 40 to be available to work at the direction of the state, either in a military or civilian capacity. In practice, adults older than 40 are also forced to serve. Despite the country’s 2018 peace deal with Ethiopia, the government has refused to reform this repressive system.

Once conscripted into the military, young men and women, some still minors, have very few options for discharge. As a result, they risk serious reprisals to escape what a United Nations Commission of Inquiry has characterized as “enslavement.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 people who had recently fled Eritrea, relatives of people affected by the forced conscriptions and reprisals, as well as 11 journalists and other analysts, two of whom were inside Eritrea as the campaign took place. Human Rights Watch did not interview anyone still inside Eritrea for security reasons. Human Rights Watch also reviewed satellite imagery that corroborated important aspects of the accounts of those interviewed through mid-January 2023. In February, Human Rights Watch received reports of the return of some military units that had been sent to fight in Tigray, and of some reservists who had been at the border inside Eritrea.

The latest conscription drive started mid-2022, with the authorities targeting people considered draft evaders, including students who have dropped out of school to evade military training, as well as army deserters, some of whom already had served for years. Then, in mid-September, the government mobilized reservists, primarily men aged 50 through to 60, many of whom had been officially discharged from active military duty but continue to hold arms and are required to conduct guard duties. On September 17, Eritrea’s information minister told the media that only “a tiny number” of reservists were being called updenying that the entire population was being called up.

During the latest mobilization drive, especially from September onward, the security forces have set up checkpoints throughout urban and rural areas. In addition, by working with the local officials, security forces have gone door to door, ostensibly to confirm eligibility for coupons that grant people access to subsidized goods, but in fact, to also identify draft evaders. They used the visits, people interviewed said, to identify discrepancies between the number of family members the coupon system said should be in a particular home and those of conscription age who were living there, often retaliating against family members who the authorities claimed had failed to track the missing people down.

Older parents as well as women with young children have been temporarily detained for days, some reportedly longer, and have been expelled from their homes during the government’s searches, Human Rights Watch found. A 71-year-old woman was evicted from her home in Asmara, the capital, because she was unable to confirm the whereabouts of one of her sons being sought by the authorities. Another son who lives abroad said:

My mother has some health issues, so the neighbors tried to plead with the authorities not to lock up the house after my first brother turned himself in. But when the second didn’t come, they shut up the house.

An Eritrean woman abroad whose relatives have also been evicted said: “The confiscation of homes, we’ve never seen this before. It’s an act of desperation.”

Despite a November cessation of hostilities agreement, signed between the Ethiopian federal government and Tigrayan authorities, Human Rights Watch continued to receive reports of ongoing roundups and reprisals through early 2023.

Many presumed draft evaders, rounded up near Asmara, were initially taken to the notorious, military-run Adi Abeito prison, northeast of the capital. Satellite imagery Human Rights Watch analyzed shows large crowds of people in the prison yard and surrounding areas of the prison from October 2022 through late January 2023. Relatives reported that many men were taken from the prison to their assigned military unit headquarters in this time period.

Satellite image recorded on January 23, 2023 offers a snapshot of the large crowds of people gathered in the compounds of Adi Abeito prison, located north of the capital of Asmara.

Satellite image recorded on January 23, 2023 offers a snapshot of the large crowds of people gathered in the compounds of Adi Abeito prison, located north of the capital of Asmara.  Satellite image © 2023 Maxar Technologies. Analysis and graphic © 2023 Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm where reservists were taken, but did receive reports that dozens of reservists called up in Asmara were taken toward Tsorona town, near the border with Ethiopia.

“Everyone has always lived with the dreadful feeling of the risk of being conscripted, but this is at a whole different level,” an Asmara resident said.

Some forms of conscription for military service are permitted under international human rights law. However, Eritrea uses violent methods including the threat of penalty and punishment for those who do not participate, and collective punishment of relatives. Officials also show a lack of respect for the right to conscientious objection and provide no opportunity to challenge arbitrary enforcement and the indefinite nature of conscription. These factors constitute abuse, Human Rights Watch said. International human rights law prohibits holding anyone criminally responsible for acts they are not responsible for.

International and regional officials should take concrete measures against Eritrea’s leadership for the ongoing repression. They should ensure ongoing scrutiny by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and UN experts.

They should adopt and maintain targeted sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for serious abuses inside Eritrea, as part of broader targeted sanctions for Eritrean and other armed forces responsible for serious abuses in northern Ethiopia, tied to clear human rights benchmarks, Human Rights Watch said. Eritrea’s regional partners, including Horn of Africa and Gulf states, should press Eritrea to ensure meaningful changes to the abusive national service system, which has continued to drive Eritreans into exile.

“Eritreans from all walks of life are bearing the brunt of the government’s repressive tactics,” Bader said. “Eritrea’s regional partners and international actors should take action to end rampant repression.”

Indefinite Forced Conscription and Eritrea’s Role in the Tigray War

Military training and national service are compulsory for all Eritreans, male and female, ages 18 to 40, and it is often indefinite despite provisions in Eritrean law limiting national service to 18 months. When the country’s 1998-2001 border war with Ethiopia broke out, former fighters and reservists who had been demobilized were forcibly conscripted and all national service recruits were retained under emergency directives. Conscription for many has continued to be extended indefinitely ever since, forcing many Eritreans, some under 18 and others above 40, into military service for years, some for decades.

Enforced indefinite conscription for many Eritreans starts during their final year of high school. Past Human Rights Watch reporting has documented that the Eritrean government forcibly channels thousands of young people, each year into military training even before they finish their schooling. Some of the students are still children, in violation of international standards. From here, people are sent either directly into military service or later national service.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea found that “slavery-like” practices are routine within the national service system. Human Rights Watch has documented that during their prolonged conscription Eritreans, particularly those in the military, risk systematic abuse, including torture, harsh working conditions, and pay insufficient to support a family, which constitute illegal forced labor.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly documented that Eritreans who attempt to avoid conscription, including by dropping out of school, escaping from a military duty station, or fleeing the country risk punishment, notably arbitrary detention. In a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch documented that families of draft evaders were collectively punished usually by being jailed or forced to pay fines.

Conscientious objection is prohibited, and only rare exemptions are granted for people with a disability and, temporarily, on health grounds, although these exemptions are not systematically applied.

Since war broke out in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region in November 2020, the Eritrean government has conducted waves of roundups, which intensified parallel to events in Tigray.

Eritrean forces had remained in parts of Tigray throughout the Ethiopian federal government’s five-month humanitarian truce, including in Western Tigray, until fighting broke out again in August 2022. Media reported that Tigrayan authorities accused Eritrea of a massive offensive in late September.

Within Tigray, Eritrean forces have committed large-scale massacres, pillaging, and the worst forms of sexual violence and targeted civilian infrastructure. They also killed and raped Eritrean refugees and destroyed two Eritrean refugee camps in Tigray.

Following a cessation of hostilities agreement, signed in South Africa on November 2, 2022, between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigrayan authorities, the parties signed another declaration in Nairobi, Kenya, on November 12, stipulating that the Tigrayan forces’ handover of heavy weapons would be carried out in conjunction with the withdrawal of foreign and non-Ethiopian federal military forces from the region. In mid-January 2023, media reported on the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from key towns in central Tigray, notably the town of Shire. Yet reports of ongoing Eritrean force presence inside Tigray and ongoing abuses by Eritrean forces continue to emerge.

The European Union rolled out sanctions on Eritrea’s national security agency, headed by Maj. Gen. Abraha Kassa, for serious human rights abuses in Eritrea including killings, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture in March 2021. In September 2022, US President Joe Biden extended, sanctions for one year on Eritrean officials for serious human rights abuses in Tigray.

Collective Punishment of Families of Draft Evaders, Deserters

The government has intimidated and harassed people of all ages to pressure them into handing over missing relatives.

Relatives of those affected by the expulsions said that the government has confiscated homes of the parents of suspected draft evaders. This has left older people and women with children without a roof over their heads.

“My uncle was kicked out of his home,” said a woman whose uncle, about age 80, was evicted from his home in September by authorities looking for his daughter. “He’s now on the street. He’s homeless.”

A 71-year-old woman with chronic health issues was ejected from her home [in Asmara] in October when she was unable to locate one of her sons and was forced to seek shelter in an outdoor building with no lock.

The authorities have locked up the homes and put notices on the door.

Several people said that on occasion the local authorities threatened other people if they sheltered those evicted. “There is a standing order that no one can give shelter to those whose homes have been locked up,” said a man whose mother was ejected from her home. “This order was circulated by the local authorities.”

In early December, a 37-year-old woman was evicted from her home by local officials and military officers, following their search for her daughter who had refused to adhere to the call up. A relative said:

When she came to our home, they threatened her and my family. She wasn’t even able to stay one night. It was the local officials. They are watching. You can’t go to anyone’s house, it’s like a crime. She is living on the streets. Our relatives are sending her food there, but now authorities have told her she can’t stay on the streets. They threatened to send her to jail if she doesn’t send her daughter.

The authorities have also arbitrarily detained relatives of draft evaders in formal and informal facilities, including older people and people with health conditions.

In early September, a 78-year-old man was detained for three days in a village school because the authorities were looking for one of his sons. “My parents and nephew were given the option to lock up the house or for my father to be arrested,” said another son. “There was no warning.” None of the relatives were granted access to him during his detention.

There is no limit to how many members of a family can be conscripted. An 80-year-old man with diabetes was detained in early December for failing to bring forward the youngest of his six sons. His five older sons had already been conscripted.

Other Forms of Punishment

The authorities have also targeted people’s means of livelihood and income. Human Rights Watch received reports of government forces confiscating livestock in rural communities and preventing people from harvesting their crops to get people to hand themselves in, particularly in southern Eritrea in the first weeks of the campaign. Media reported that local administrations have also been withholding ration coupons from families whose members have not heeded the call. Two people said that their relatives’ shops were shut down to punish them for failing to hand over missing relatives.

Impact on Families

People described the significant toll of the collective punishment to Human Rights Watch.

“There is a lot of fear among the community, many people from all walks of life have gone into hiding,” said an Asmara resident.

“We don’t know if they [the authorities] are just doing this to terrorize people,” said a woman whose relatives have been targeted in the campaign. “They had left them [children and older people] in peace, but now they are trying anything to put pressure on them.”

A woman, whose relative was evicted from her home in Asmara, said:

People are afraid, you can’t help your relatives. That’s why people are giving up, they give their children, they give their husbands, as you can’t keep resisting.

Several other people said that they and their relatives are still willing to pay the price of protecting their loved ones. An older man, who was detained for three days after refusing to force his son to hand himself in, fell ill for several weeks after this detention, but the family remains resolute: “My brother is still in hiding, but we all support his decision,” said the brother who lives in exile.

Intensifying Forced Conscription Since Mid-2022

The government’s enforced conscription drives intensified during the summer. Human Rights Watch received reports of the drive starting in July 2022 in rural areas, notably in the country’s southern region around the town of Seghenyti, before intensifying in major towns including Asmara in mid-September through early 2023.

In mid-September 2022, the government also started recalling reservists, over age 50. The security forces set up checkpoints to verify whether people were exempt from military conscription and alongside the local administration conducted door-to-door searches in neighborhoods.

Local authorities keep track of people through a family coupon system, which specifies how many people are a part of the household and requires all family members to be there or to justify an absence in order to renew a family’s coupon. This system has played a central role in identifying alleged draft evaders during house-to-house searches.

“This is happening in literally every neighborhood in Asmara,” a resident said. “Every household that has a member who could be conscripted has been visited.”

People have also been rounded up from religious facilities. Reliable sources reported that on September 4, security forces detained young people attending a mass in a Roman Catholic church in Akrur, in the southern region. Human Rights Watch analyzed images posted online starting in early September appearing to show uniformed men rounding up young men and women outside of the Medhane-Alem Roman Catholic Church near Akrur, southeast of Asmara. Researchers were able to verify the locations shown in the images.

In October, three Roman Catholic priests were detained in separate incidents, including the bishop of Segheneity, Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim, who had called for peace in Tigray. The three were unlawfully held until their release in December.

Media have also reported that the authorities called for those previously exempted from military service to undergo new medical tests. However, Human Rights Watch received accounts of people with chronic health issues and disabilities, including injuries sustained during the 1998-2000 border war, being rounded up in the recent drive and sent off to military postings.

The conscription campaign has continued through early 2023, nearly three months after the cessation of hostilities in Tigray was signed.

Detention Sites

Relatives and observers said that many of those rounded up in Asmara of considered to be of conscription age have initially been taken to the infamous Adi Abeito prison on the northeastern outskirts of the capital then sent on to various military headquarters and other camps. Rights groups and the media have previously documented inhumane and degrading conditions and treatment in Adi Abeito. In 2021, the US-based Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) released a documentary with leaked footage that they said was from the facility that showed prisoners lying on top of each other, unable to stretch out, inside a warehouse and reported regular torture inside the compound.

Human Rights Watch reviewed dozens of satellite images captured between September 2022 and January 2023 over the three different prison compounds identified in the PBS documentary. Human Rights Watch independently confirmed the locations of the compounds that appear in the videos.

Human Rights Watch identified a substantial increase in the number of people in one of the courtyards of the Adi Abeito prison compound beginning in the end of October 2022. This increase was still visible as of January 23, 2023. The courtyard appears significantly overcrowded. People congregated in organized groups within the prison compound are also visible on satellite imagery in the same period.

An increase in the number of people in the adjacent courtyard, identified by PBS as the compound of the women’s prison, is observable on satellite imagery from the beginning of January.

In another courtyard of the prison compound, which the PBS documentary had identified as the area where prisoners are ill-treated and tortured, Human Rights Watch observed on satellite imagery, since mid-November 2022, that some courtyard areas are covered by tarpaulins. Human Rights Watch was not able to identify whether the number of people in this area increased.

While it is difficult to confirm where those rounded up and those called up were taken, several people told Human Rights Watch that reservists from Asmara were taken toward the border with Ethiopia around Tsorona, while some of the people of conscription age were initially taken to their units.

A man said that one of his two brothers evading the draft handed himself in:

The call up paper came a month ago exactly. My first brother turned himself in 16 days ago [mid-October] at the local administration in his locality. He stayed in Adi Abeito prison for 10 days. After that he was taken to his military unit base.

Two interviewees said reservists sent in the first roundups to the border were asked to bring their own rations and found very little when they arrived.

The BBC reported that some reservists were sent to the front lines. Videos that appeared on Tigrayan regional media outlets allegedly showed detained prisoners of war in Tigray, described as Eritrean soldiers, many of whom were older men.

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Martin Plaut posted: " The 103-page ruling accepted the state’s position that desertion from the Eritrean army merits asylum only if it has an ideological dimension – “something more” that would indicate that the asylum seeker was genuinely being persecuted. Source: Haare" Martin Plaut


Martin Plaut

Feb 8

The 103-page ruling accepted the state’s position that desertion from the Eritrean army merits asylum only if it has an ideological dimension – “something more” that would indicate that the asylum seeker was genuinely being persecuted.

Source: Haaretz

The new ruling accepted the state’s position that desertion from the Eritrean army merits asylum only if it has an ideological dimension – ‘something more’ that would indicate that the asylum seeker was genuinely being persecuted.

People wait in line at the Population and Immigration Authority in Bnei Brak in December.

People wait in line at the Population and Immigration Authority in Bnei Brak in December.Credit: תומר אפלבאוםBar PelegGet email notification for articles from Bar PelegFollow

Feb 8, 2023 12:51 am IST

An appellate custody tribunal has ruled for the first time that the criteria Israel set in 2019 for approving Eritreans’ asylum requests complies with Israel’s interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

The ruling, issued last week, therefore rejected the applications of 34 asylum seekers who were jailed and tortured in Eritrea because they intended to desert the army. They fled to Israel in 2010.

The 103-page ruling accepted the state’s position that desertion from the Eritrean army merits asylum only if it has an ideological dimension – “something more” that would indicate that the asylum seeker was genuinely being persecuted.

Until early 2013, Eritreans couldn’t file asylum applications at all because Israel gave them collective protection, and the state therefore saw no point in examining individual requests. But even after it started considering such requests that May, it rejected most of them. In January 2022, Haaretz reported that 98.5 percent of Eritrean asylum requests were rejected after being examined in light of the new criteria.

The state has steadfastly insisted that desertion from the army, even if it carries a substantial penalty, isn’t grounds for asylum. In 2018, the Justice Ministry’s appellate custody tribunal rejected that position, saying that while desertion alone indeed isn’t grounds for asylum, it could be if deserting expressed a political opinion whose punishment could amount to persecution.

The state appealed that ruling, but as part of the subsequent legal proceedings, it drafted new asylum criteria that required it reexamine some 3,000 asylum applications.

The tribunal’s judge, Chanania Guggenheim, said that both the opinion drafted by the Population and Immigration Authority’s legal adviser in 2013 and the criteria drafted by an advisory committee in 2019 were legal, so there was no reason to intervene in them.

“The document includes two principles that, if one of them exists alongside desertion or draft-dodging, could establish grounds for asylum,” he wrote. “Moreover, it lists indicators and circumstances that could influence the examination of an application, both positively and negatively.”

“Even assuming someone who returned to Eritrea would be persecuted because of his desertion, this persecution isn’t happening due to one of the grounds in the convention, such as political views or belonging to a certain social group,” he added.

He also wrote that “there is no barrier to the Population Authority interpreting the Refugee Convention so as to wield its authorities legally; it is even obliged to do so.” This interpretation will be binding unless and until the courts rule otherwise, he added.

Guggenheim stressed that his ruling doesn’t eliminate the need to examine every application individually. But he said the criteria are based on “reliable, up-to-date information about the country of origin” and constitute “a suitable tool that could be of help in examining asylum requests from Eritrea.”

He also rejected one appellant’s request to publish the criteria in full, lest this undermine the credibility of asylum proceedings. But he said the criteria ease the burden of proof on asylum seekers.

Michal Pomerantz, who represented one appellant, said she plans to appeal the ruling.

The ruling also noted that not long ago, similar appeals were heard by three Supreme Court justices, yet now, they are heard by a single custody judge. This has drawbacks, Guggenheim wrote, but it also has an advantage – the tribunal’s decisions can be appealed to the regular courts.

Finally, he said the state should consider suitable solutions for asylum seekers who have been here for a long time due to the non-refoulement policy, which bars the deportation of asylum seekers from certain countries where conditions are particularly bad. Nevertheless, he added, this issue is not within the tribunal’s purview.


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Martin Plaut posted: " Source: Africa Ex-Press [Computer translation from Italian] Between 2017 and 2021, over 200,000 migrants were brought to Libya and reduced to a total state of slavery. This is supported by research conducted by Mirjam van Reisen , p" Martin Plaut


Martin Plaut

Feb 3

Source: Africa Ex-Press

[Computer translation from Italian]

Between 2017 and 2021, over 200,000 migrants were brought to Libya and reduced to a total state of slavery.

This is supported by research conducted by Mirjam van Reisen , professor of International Relations at the University of Tilburg (The Netherlands), in collaboration with Munyaradzi Mawere of the University of Unisa, South Africa, as well as holder of the chair of African Studies at the Great Zimbabwe University .

Also participating in the study were Klara Smits , a PhD candidate at Tilburg University, specializing in human trafficking routes from Eritrea to Libya, and Morgane Wirtzè, a PhD candidate at Tilburg University, where she researches human trafficking and sexual violence. in Libya.

In these days  the book  ENSLAVED has been published. Trapped and Trafficked in Digital Black Holes”: Human Trafficking Trajectoriories to Libya”, which includes the result of the scholars' research.

Many of the refugees who have landed in Libya are Eritreans , they in particular are trafficked and enslaved, subjected to torture, abuse of all kinds and even sexual violence to force family members to pay a ransom for their release.

If they manage to escape from the concentration camps and reach the Mediterranean, they risk being intercepted and sent back to Libya or dying at sea. These are the conclusions of the research, published in the book.

Using ingenious digital methods , such as a tag with an electronic code, human traffickers transport refugees through a series of "black holes", digital voids, as migrants often do not have access to the internet and most are even cut off their cellular.

Thanks to digital technologies , traffickers control the internet access of refugees fleeing their countries, especially from the Eritrean dictatorship.

Many die along the way . During the period of this study (2017-2021), it is estimated that at least 200,000 refugees – men, women and children – were victims of human trafficking for extortion in Libya. It is estimated that the turnover of the shady traffic is around one billion dollars.

In the publication, the researchers argue  that inequalities in access and control of digital and connection technologies have contributed to making trafficking possible, reducing hundreds of thousands of human beings into total slavery.

The policies of the European Union , Libya and other countries in the Horn of Africa have also ensured that this state of affairs has persisted over time, indeed according to the researchers it seems that they have even fueled it.

Without legal aid in accordance with international law, Eritreans especially remain trapped in a cycle of human trafficking from which it is difficult, if not impossible, to escape.

The research arose from on-the-spot contact with refugees , who managed to send secret recordings or communicate via social media. Most of the interviews with refugees who have managed to flee took place in countries bordering Libya, such as Niger, Sudan and Tunisia. Refugees who managed to reach Europe were also heard directly .

This detailed ethnographic study identifies the routes , modus operandi, organization and key actors involved in human trafficking for the purpose of ransom refugees and migrants.

The book is part of the GAIC research network (Tilburg University) and the African studies series published by Langaa RPCIG and provides an important contribution to the literature on human trafficking, migration studies, African populations, modern slavery, social protection and governance.

Earlier this year , Eritrean Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, one of the most vicious traffickers of human beings, was arrested in Sudan . His arrest was possible thanks to the contribution of the United Arab Emirates and Interpol.

The trafficker was placed on the Dutch Most Wanted list.

Thanks to its capillary network , which extended from Somalia to Libya, it organized the trafficking of thousands of Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali youths to Europe, through Libya. Kidane has put aspiring asylum seekers through hell with torture, violence, to extort money from family members.

Kidane was recognized on the streets of Addis Ababa by a migrant, tortured by himself. The criminal was then arrested for the first time in Ethiopia in 2020. Tried for human trafficking, a year later he managed to escape from the federal court in the Ethiopian capital. Thanks to the complicity of police officers, he changed in the courthouse toilets before leaving the building incognito. Months later, Ethiopia sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment.

In the last two years , before his new arrest in Sudan, he continued his shady dealings undisturbed. The Netherlands has asked Khartoum for his extradition for trafficking in human beings between Africa and Europe.

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