Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Eritrea 2013 Crime and Safety Report


Africa > Eritrea > Asmara

Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Asmara is rated “Critical” for crime. Though the Embassy receives reports of crime from different sources, the government of Eritrea does not share official statistics.

Throughout 2012, non-Eritrean teachers at the International School have been victims of verbal and physical harassment as well as from property crimes. Early in 2012, an American teacher was walking near the school when Eritreans began yelling anti-American statements at her. (At the time, it was speculated that the Eritreans were yelling at her because they were frustrated at having to wait in long lines for fuel.) They also threw stones at her. She was not physically injured. In August and in November, the Australian director of the school had stones thrown at him while he was walking his dog. He was not injured. Teachers were also the victims of property crime. One American teacher moved after having Eritreans repeatedly throw stones and other objects at her in her yard. Another teacher had his home broken into, and another had his vehicle stolen from in front of his house.

Other Westerners have experienced property crime as well. The security officer for the Israeli Embassy had his propane tank stolen from his yard. (He does not have a residential guard at his property.) Also this year, the British Ambassador’s residence was broken into. Her residential guards did not report seeing or hearing anything and only a camera was stolen. The diplomatic community speculates that this was a staged break-in, as the day before the Ambassador’s spouse was taking photos around Asmara.

Many residential break-ins reported to the Embassy are food-related. In an area that is frequently plagued by drought and famine, it is not uncommon for homes that have no security features (grilles on windows, alarms, etc.) or guards to be robbed of food. In 2010, the Eritrean police held meetings where they blamed citizens themselves for providing opportunities for robberies and other crimes going on in the city.

Though walking in Asmara is, for the most part, very safe, there is a notable population of Emotionally Disturbed Persons (EDPs). In the downtown area near embassies and churches especially, they can be quite aggressive. In the past year, the Embassy has not received any reports of physical assaults on American diplomats although they have happened in the past.

The Embassy has received infrequent reports of serious crimes occurring inside and outside of Asmara; however, it is impossible to confirm the reports. Our limited relationship with the government and travel restrictions placed upon the diplomatic community make information-gathering very difficult.

Overall Road Safety Situation
The most recent statistics by the World Health Organization, dated 2007, listed Eritrea as the deadliest country in the world for motor vehicle fatalities. There were 48.4 deaths per 100,000 motor vehicle accidents in Eritrea that year. This is compared with 13.9 per 100,000 in the United States.

Poor road conditions factor into road safety. The main roads are adequate, but secondary roads are filled with potholes and are not adequately repaired or maintained. Many secondary roads are not paved. Traveling outside of Asmara is especially risky. Asmara is in the highlands, and the roads to reach the lowlands are mountain roads with frequent switchbacks and steep embankments. There are few shoulders or guardrails. Many switchbacks have blind corners, and horrific traffic accidents occur quite frequently. Fog during the winter months reduces visibility, sometimes to nearly zero.

In Asmara, road rules are not uniformly enforced. Though traffic is fairly light (in part due to frequent fuel shortages), the roads are shared with many bicyclists, pedestrians, horse drawn carts, and wheelchairs. Bicyclists and pedestrians are prone to walking or biking in front of oncoming cars.

There is no subway system, but there are taxis. Taxis, which are relatively cheap, are numerous. The Embassy has not received any reports of anyone having problems taking taxis. The Embassy does recommend that riders negotiate the price of the taxi before beginning a trip and instruct the driver not to pick up other passengers. It is common in Asmara for multiple people to share a taxi.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The government does not generally informed the Embassy of security incidents. Instead, the Embassy relies on secondary sources to tell us what they hear. For example, the Embassy was told in early December 2012 of an explosion at a military training camp in the west that evidently occurred three months earlier.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The UN has issued sanctions against the government based on evidence of past support of organizations that have destabilized the Horn of Africa region. The government vehemently denies that it is involved with destabilizing organizations in neighboring states.

Civil Unrest

In previous years, the Embassy did not consider civil unrest a major factor impinging on government security, because the government could be counted on to respond harshly to any type of protest. The government monitors groups of more than seven and reacts immediately to any criticism.

In 2012, the government began arming large numbers of citizens with Kalashnikovs and mandating militia training. The Embassy is monitoring this new civilian militia because of the concern that this may lead to factional fighting or to violent unrest against the government. In the nine months since the program began, the Embassy has not witnessed any violence or unrest from the militia.

The Embassy does want Americans to be aware of instances of low key outbreaks of violence against Americans. Fuel is constantly in various states of shortage and when it does appear, lines wrap around blocks as citizens attempt to buy fuel for cars and kerosene to heat homes and cook. One such kerosene station is near the International School. American teachers going to lunch at a nearby café were accosted by a group waiting in line for kerosene. The individuals began yelling anti-American statements, specifically that the U.S. had imposed sanctions causing the fuel shortage. No American was hurt, but they were shaken up by the incident.

Religious or Ethnic Violence

In the highlands, which includes Asmara, the population is mainly Christian. In the lowlands, the majority practices Islam. There are a number of mosques in Asmara, many Orthodox churches, three Catholic churches, and several Lutheran churches. These four religions are recognized by the government. Other faiths are not permitted, despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. The government is known to persecute those of faiths other than the four permitted ones. Jehovah’s Witnesses recieve particularly severe abuses, including imprisonment, because their religion forbids them from bearing arms, now required of many citizens due to the militia and to mandatory national service.

The Embassy is aware of a case of an American citizen who entered Eritrea on a religious mission. He reported being in fear for his life because he was followed and questioned by individuals whom he suspected were members of the police. The government may have followed him to determine whether he was meeting with Eritrean citizens who belonged to a non-permitted religious group. Thus, his presence in the country put Eritreans at risk.  

The Embassy is unaware of any incidents of religious or ethnic violence in Asmara or in areas along the border with Ethiopia and Sudan.

Post-specific Concerns
Environmental Hazards

Eritrea lies on a fault line, but there have not been any earthquakes or tremors in recent history.

Industrial and Transportation Accidents

The Embassy is not aware of any recent industrial accidents, although it is possible that such accidents have occurred. Power is unreliable, and power plants are in poor repair. Parts are cannibalized from one plant to the other. Such practices leave plants open to accidents.

Many of the trucks used to transport fuel and possibly chemicals or other toxic substances are in a state of disrepair. Considering that these trucks also must travel the very hazardous roads outside of Asmara, Eritrea is vulnerable to the possible of a hazardous chemical spill.

Privacy Concerns

Westerners, especially Americans, are closely monitored. Official Americans have reported many incidents of being followed and being at restaurants where someone is sitting nearby taking notes on their conversations.

Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones

Landmines and unexploded ordinance litter the countryside and cause sporadic injuries and death. Although some de-mining efforts have taken place, areas that are not well traveled, especially in the north and west, are potentially dangerous.

The government maintains tight controls over some individuals who fly into Asmara, sending minders to the airport to track those who they are suspicious of. The government does not as a rule track land crossings of the Sudanese border, which is very porous. The Embassy remains in contact with the Regional Security Office in Khartoum. That office monitors Sudan’s eastern border as best it can and informs Embassy Asmara of incidents occurring there.

In 2006, the government issued a decree restricting the travel of Westerners outside of Asmara. Any diplomat wishing to travel beyond 25 km from the capital must receive permission from the government. Trips to Keren and Massawa are usually granted, as these are tourist destinations. In 2010 and 2011, the RSO requested to travel to other parts of Eritrea; every request was turned down, along with most requests by other diplomatic personnel. In 2012, all of the Chargé’s requests were granted, as were most requests on the part of others in the diplomatic community.

Individuals traveling to Eritrea must have visas. Those who arrive at the Asmara airport without visas are subject to arrest. In many cases, they are simply put back on the planes they arrived on and returned to their original destinations. Recently, a Sudanese citizen who is a Legal Permanent Resident of the U.S. was detained for close to five days after having arrived without a visa from the United States. Claiming there was no space on any flights out of Asmara, she was held at the airport until she was put on a flight to Khartoum.

Drug-related Crimes

Eritrea has very strict drug laws. The Embassy is unaware of any drug-related crimes.

Kidnapping Threats

Kidnappings are very rare.

Police Response
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

The current Travel Warning for Eritrea emphasizes the Embassy’s inability to assist in cases of arrest of American citizens, particularly dual nationals of Eritrean descent. In clear violation of the Vienna Convention, the government refuses to allow ACS or any official American to visit an American who has been detained. The government also fails to inform the Embassy if an American has been detained, in disregard of the Vienna Convention.

The Embassy recommends that if an American is harassed or detained, she/he call the Embassy main number at 291-1-120004 and report the circumstances of his/her arrest. If an American is harassed by the police, he/she should attempt to get names or badge numbers and provide that information to the Embassy. The police do not wear badges; obtaining names of officers might be difficult. RSO and local investigators stand ready to follow up with the police.

Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime

The police will respond if notified of a crime, but victims may have to pick them up at the police station and drive them to the scene. For example, in the case of the American teacher’s vehicle theft, he went to the nearest police station and picked up the police officers responsible for investigating. He was not given any type of report. He also described the incident to traffic police, who wrote the information down on a napkin. The RSO has sometimes had to provide pencil and paper to the police to take down a report.

If an American is the victim of a crime, report the incident to the Embassy because it is unlikely it will be relayed by the police.

Crime Prevention Unit: 291-1-125-229
Investigations Unit: 291-1-115-402
Airport Security: 291-1-186-604
1st police station: 291-1-127-799
2nd police station: 291-1-116-219
3rd police station: 291-1-114-942
4th police station: 291-1-159-159
5th police station: 291-1-151-118
6th police station: 291-1-115-551
7th police station: 291-1-186-370

Various Police/Security Agencies

Eritrea has a police force, which investigates different types of crime. The police force has divisions for six zones. Maekel is the zone that encompasses Asmara. Each zone is divided into areas of responsibility given police stations. In Asmara, there are seven police stations. Most crime is handled by one of these stations; however, if a crime involves corruption or the diplomatic community, it is referred to headquarters for investigation. Any traffic accidents or other traffic violations are handled by the traffic police.

Besides the police, there is the military police (carabinieri). Military police are responsible for responding to protests, riots, or other civil disturbances. The Embassy is told that Eritrea has special riot police, but the military police or actual military units respond to anything resembling civil unrest.

Eritrea also has a Diplomatic police unit. At one time, this unit provided police protection at all diplomatic missions in Asmara. It does not protect the U.S. Embassy, which relies on local guards. Members of this unit protect some individual diplomats through bilateral arrangements. The unit is the primary contact in case of any crimes involving diplomatic property or personnel.

Eritrea also has municipal regulatory/administrative police managed by each municipality. These are unarmed police who do not have arrest power and are mainly responsible for administrative issues. They are responsible for visiting building sites to ensure the builder has a permit; verifying that businesses have first aid kits and fire extinguishers; and checking grocery stores to see if they are selling expired items.

There also is now the citizen militia, which performs night patrols. These are citizens who have undergone militia training and who are armed with Kalashnikovs. Per the government, the civilian militia is to patrol the streets and neighborhoods of Asmara to ensure the safety of its residents. When the Embassy was following up on the investigation into the stoning of the International School’s director, the police reported that the civilian militia would try to find the perpetrators during their nightly patrols.

Medical Emergencies
Medical facilities are inadequate by U.S. standards and are extremely limited. The Embassy went to an adult-only dependent policy in 2011. Travelers must bring their own medical supplies or prescription drugs and preventative medicines. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health care services.

Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics

In 2011, the government closed all private health clinics in Asmara.

Sembel Hospital: 291-1-150-175
Orota Hospital: 291-1-201-917 and 291-1-202-914

Recommended Air Ambulance Services

The policy of the Embassy continues to be to stabilize and evacuate. Evacuation options, though, are limited. A medical evacuation by private air ambulance requires an arrangement with off-shore companies and may take several days to arrange clearance through the Eritrean authorities. In 2010, the GSE refused to allow a medical evacuation of a foreign patient, although a successful air evacuation to Kenya for a foreign diplomat took place in 2012. Travelers are recommended to get adequate air ambulance evacuation insurance prior to arrival.

SOS USA: 1-800-523-6586
SOS London International: 00-44-20-8762-8133
SOS Geneva: 00-41-22-785-6464

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Malaria is prevalent in the coastal areas and western lowlands. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended when traveling to these areas. Travelers should check with the American Citizen Services section at the U.S. Embassy for the most current information and the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/eritrea.htm

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Crimes/Scams

The Embassy highly recommends that travelers use cash only. In 2012, departing official Americans used credit cards at a local business and found unauthorized purchases had been made after their departure. Credit card purchases may incur a surcharge.  

With that said, it is important that you do not display your cash or wear expensive jewelry. Americans are perceived as being wealthy and thus are targeted by beggars. At times, the beggars can be very aggressive and belligerent. Americans serving at the Embassy have observed that they are especially aggressive near and around local churches and mosques.

Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices

The Embassy recommends that anyone visiting Asmara be aware of their surroundings at all times. Though Asmara is a very walkable city, do not walk late at night. The downtown area and the Expo area have multiple bars where numerous robberies and assaults have occurred. Similarly, do not walk late at night because of the civilian militia patrols. These patrols are armed with AK-47s and are there to keep the peace; however, travelers should be aware of sporadic gunfire. Embassy Asmara does not recommend any Americans use public buses as they are packed and poorly maintained.

The Embassy recommends checking with local government and village officials before undertaking travel to remote areas or off the main roads, and travel permits from central authorities are necessary for all travel out of Asmara. Travelers should exercise extreme caution and avoid secondary roads due to mines. Additionally, travelers should ensure that other traffic has recently passed over unimproved roads before traversing them.

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information 
Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Embassy is located at 179 Alaa Street.
The hours of operation are Monday-Thursday 0800-1800 and Friday 0800-1200.

Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers

Regional Security Officer:  291-1-120-004, ext. 2778 or 124367
Embassy Operator:  291-1-120-004
Medical Unit:  291-1-120-004 ext 2156 or 124652
Consular Affairs:  291-1-120-004 ext 2415 or 120342
Political/Economic Section: 291-1-120-004 ext 2314
There is no MSG detachment.

We also recommend that any Americans travelling here register with the Embassy.

OSAC Country Council Information
The Embassy does not have an OSAC Country Council, as we discourage American citizen travel for any reason other than official business. Due to the anti-American sentiment of the government, the Embassy does not want to risk the security of Americans. 

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