Sunday, June 28, 2015
Police in Geneva guard U.N. investigators into Eritrea's human rights after threats | Top News | Reuters
Thu Jun 25, 2015 7:13am GMT
By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) - Swiss police were guarding three U.N. investigators into Eritrea's human rights record in Geneva on Wednesday after a top official said they had received threats on the street and at their hotel.
The inquiry's report published earlier this month showed human rights violations in Eritrea that may amount to crimes against humanity, including extrajudicial killings, widespread torture and enforced labour.
As the investigators began testimony before the U.N. Human Rights Council, council president Joachim Ruecker told the session they had been subjected to "various threats and acts of intimidation in their hotel and in the streets since their arrival in Geneva".
He said security had been redoubled, the Swiss police had been contacted and security measures had been taken to ensure the council meeting could go on "with calm and dignity".
A Reuters witness saw Swiss police guarding the team even though the meeting was held within the United Nations compound in Geneva. A police spokesman said he could not immediately comment.
Mike Smith, who led the commission of inquiry into Eritrea, said the threats were related to a demonstration against the inquiry on Monday, when 6,000 people from Eritrea and around Europe protested outside the U.N., organisers said.
"Accidentally or not, members of the commission came into contact with some of the demonstrators. And there was a bit of a discussion that got a little bit more than that," Smith said.
There was also "stuff on the blogosphere" aimed at his fellow commissioner Sheila Keetharuth, which he said was "not very pleasant".
Keetharuth said the threats were "specific" but declined to give details.
Smith said the government was able to influence Eritrean communities abroad and was "very active" in promoting its interests abroad, while witnesses were scared to give evidence even though they were living securely outside the country.
Eritrea's government systematically spies on individuals and entities inside and outside Eritrea, the inquiry's report said.
Harsh conditions in the country have been widely blamed for an exodus of around 5,000 Eritreans fleeing to Europe across the Mediterranean each month.
The U.N. inquiry, constrained by its terms of reference, stopped short of declaring whether Eritrea's government was committing crimes against humanity but recommended this be examined further, so a decision could be taken about whether to refer the case to the ICC.
Eritrea's neighbours Djibouti and Somalia are backing a Human Rights Council resolution to extend the team's mandate for a year to enable it to say if crimes against humanity were committed and to ensure "full accountability".
"The government must understand that the system that they have set up is simply unacceptable in the modern world," Smith said.
Eritrea has not cooperated with the investigators nor let them into the country. It has tried to discredit the methodology and motives of the report but has not shown any contrary evidence, he said.
Its ambassador Tesfamicael Gerahtu was upbraided by Ruecker for telling the council that the commission was "ignorant", that it had "a sinister political agenda" and that their report - based on 550 interviews and 160 written statements - was "a travesty of justice".
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Why Is This Tiny African Country The Second-Biggest Source Of Migrants Crossing The Mediterranean - BuzzFeed News
Eritreans are the second-largest group of migrants crossing the Mediterranean so far this year and last year, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency.
Syrians account for a third of the 90,000 migrants who made the crossing during the first five months of this year — but Eritreans account for over a 10th. They also accounted for almost a fifth of those making the crossing last year.
In Italy, the most popular landing country for the migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Eritreans are the biggest group arriving, according to the International Organization for Migration. The number of Eritrean refugees arriving in the U.K. doubled last year to become the highest total from any single country, the BBC reported.
But, if there’s no big war going on in Eritrea, why does everyone want to leave?
The main reason Eritreans flee is because of the potentially endless military service that starts when people finish studying, human rights activists and Eritrean asylum-seekers told BuzzFeed News.
Robel, an 18-year-old asylum seeker who left Eritrea last year and is now in the British city of Bristol, told BuzzFeed News he fled as soon as he finished school to avoid the draft. “It’s too hard to live in Eritrea because there are a lot of things they can do to you,” he said in a phone interview last month. “You can be in the military service for unlimited years, or in prison, and you don’t have a chance to raise your voice, to change the president.”
Thomas, a 32-year-old Eritrean who fled in 2013 and now lives near Gothenburg, Sweden, told BuzzFeed News that he fled after spending 14 years in forced military service, during which he was forced to work as a border guard and paid just over $40 a month (this blog post from The Economist from last year put the typical monthly salary even lower, at $30 or less).
Both Thomas and Robel asked us not to use their full names as they still have relatives in Eritrea.
Eritrea says extended military service has been necessary because of threats from Ethiopia, the BBC has reported. The two neighbors fought another war in the late 1990s, and Ethiopia later rejected a border set by an international commission.
Yohanna Teklu, a spokesperson for the Eritrean embassy in London, told BuzzFeed News that the national service had been extended “for [a] much longer time than anticipated” because of Ethiopia’s actions, and was due to be returned to its originally planned length of 18 months this summer.
Teklu also said those leaving the country were not fleeing repression but simply hoped to find better-paid jobs in Europe, like economic migrants from many other parts of Africa.
Despite Eritrea’s isolation, many people there are switched on about how unusual their situation is due to a growing diaspora that keeps relatives back home informed, said Gaim Kibreab, an expert on forced migration in Eritrea at London South Bank University. This awareness makes people increasingly likely to flee, he said.
“It’s a literate population, and also everyone has a brother or sister or something overseas,” Kibreab told BuzzFeed News. “People know what’s going on.”
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Monday, June 15, 2015
Eritrean ambassador insists her compatriots’ claims of persecution are an invention - The Malta Independent
Eritrean ambassador insists her compatriots’ claims of persecution are an invention
John CordinaSunday, 14 June 2015, 07:30Last update: about 1 day ago
UN officials and human rights organisations are increasingly concerned at what they believe are secret deals being drawn up between Eritrea and European Unionnations, which may involve the regime being given money or having sanctions lifted in return for imposing tougher border controls.
Norwegian state secretary Jøran Kellmyr is under fire for travelling to Eritrea – often called “Africa’s North Korea” because of the repressive and murderous regime of President Isaias Afwerki – to forge a “return” agreement enabling Norway to send back Eritrean refugees.
It is believed Italian and British officials have been to the Eritrean capital Asmara on similar errands. The Home Office said it would not comment.
Eritreans are the second largest group, behind the Syrians, of those migrating to Europe. About 200 leave each day and the money sent home by the diaspora is almost exclusively responsible for supporting those who remain.
A UN report last week issued a damning picture of a “culture of fear” within Eritrea, citing random arrests, torture and systematic rape, military service that equated to slave labour, political persecution and executions.
But Kallmyr stressed it had been written without access to the country, relying on accounts of Eritreans who have fled. Norway and the UK toughened their stance on asylum requests from Eritrea earlier this year, controversially citing a Danish report, Eritrea – Drivers and Root Causes of Emigration, which suggested many Eritreans were fleeing for economic reasons. The report caused outrage and was widely discredited; two of its authors resigned. Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch attacked it as “a political effort to stem migration”.
But the UK issued new guidance on Eritrea, citing the Danish report, and since then the refusal rate for asylum applications from Eritreans has risen from 13% in 2014 to 23% so far this year.
“Key European figures have been heading to Asmara and it’s clear there is a real political will to solve the migrant crisis by getting the borders shut from the Eritrean side – it’s a very dangerous tactic,” said one UN insider. There are fears the Eritreans could re-impose a shoot-to-kill border operation. At present, there is a UN and EU arms embargo on Eritrea, a travel ban and an asset freeze on listed individuals.
A Home Office spokesperson said there were no immediate plans to change policy towards Eritrea but added: “We will carefully consider the findings of the United Nations report.”
Friday, June 12, 2015
As a Ugandan who has been voluntarily taxing myself every month and sending money to support my family back home since I came to the UK over 20 years ago, I was disappointed to read the report that police are examining claims that the “Eritrean embassy in London uses threats and coercion to collect recovery and reconstruction tax that allegedly funds African militants” (Report, 9 June, theguardian.com). The well-documented truth is that, employed or not, all Africans in the diaspora make it a point to send money to their families even before they pay their essential household bills.
According to the African Development Bank: “More than 30 million Africans (about 3% of Africa’s total population) are living outside their home countries. These remittance inflows have more than quadrupled since 1990, reaching $40bn in 2010. This represents about 3% of Africa’s total GDP. Remittances by African migrants provide many benefits to African households and governments. Evidence suggests that, all things considered, poor households receiving remittances tend to have better living conditions than their counterparts without access to this source of income. According to the World Bank, remittances by African migrants could support between 10 and 100 people, by boosting household income and spending on healthcare and education. Thus remittances play an important role in poverty reduction and improving human development.”
Based on this report, the police and other government agencies should seriously consider the wider implication of stopping Eritreans in the UK from sending money to their families.
Director, Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa (Dipra)
Director, Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa (Dipra)
• You say in your editorial on Eritreans fleeing their country (11 June) that “Europe’s obligation is to be open to them”. But surely the obligation falls upon the UN, not just the EU. If, for example, states much closer to Eritrea had an obligation to be open to the migrants and channel UN help to them, many hardships might be avoided and many lives saved.