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FOCUS: A New Year’s message from the Chairman

 A New Year’s message from the Chairman Dear friends, While the terrible situation in Eritrea continues, 2016 saw some positive developments. The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eritrea was formed, meeting regularly to discuss ongoing problems and

 A New Year’s message from the Chairman

Dear friends,

While the terrible situation in Eritrea continues, 2016 saw some positive developments. The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eritrea was formed, meeting regularly to discuss ongoing problems and table solutions. Areas of discussion included human rights, refugees and the state of Eritrea’s economy.

Elsewhere, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea shed light on the systematic crimes against humanity committed by the Eritrean regime, and called for those responsible to face prosecution in the International Criminal Court.

Rights campaigners, many of whom, I am proud to say, are members of Eritrea Focus, continued to protest, write articles and ensure information found its way inside Eritrea, raising awareness of the people’s plight and providing help wherever possible.

Unfortunately, the suffering of Eritreans is ongoing, and governments around the world do not prioritise this as they should. At the end of 2016, the European Parliament hosted Eritrean officials, and money has been poured into the country in an effort to stem the flow of refugees heading for Europe.

Despite this, through the continued effort of us all, awareness of Isaias Afwerki’s crimes is growing. For my part, I promise that this organisation will continue to apply pressure on governments and drawn the public’s attention to these issues throughout 2017 and beyond.

I’m pleased to deliver this newsletter, rounding up stories from the final weeks of 2016 and the beginning of 2017.

Thank you all for your support.

Parliamentary activity

2017 has already seen some interesting Parliamentary Questions asked in relation to Eritrea, which are included for your information, below.

January 10 2017

Department of International Trade

Exports: Eritrea

Asked by Rebecca Long-Bailey


To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, what recent estimate his Department has made of the number of UK-based companies operating in Eritrea.


Mark Garnier: We are currently aware of two UK companies operating in Eritrea. The Government of Eritrea places restrictions on the number and type of international businesses that are allowed to operate in the country.

January 10 2017

Department of International Trade

Overseas Companies: Eritrea

Asked by Rebecca Long-Bailey


To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade, how many export licences to Eritrea the Government has issued to UK-based companies in each of the last three years.


Mark Garnier: The Government has granted the following numbers of strategic export (dual use) licences in the last 3 years:


2014: 1

2015: 1

2016: 3


January 13 2017

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Eritrea: British Nationals Abroad

Asked by Rebecca Long-Bailey


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what estimate he has made of the number of UK nationals who have visited Eritrea in the last five years.


Tobias Ellwood: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not hold records of the numbers of British nationals who visit Eritrea.


January 13 2017

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Eritrea: Human Rights

Asked by Rebecca Long-Bailey


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what recent assessment the Government has made of the human rights situation in Eritrea.


Tobias Ellwood: The Government continues to have concerns about human rights in Eritrea, in particular shortcomings in the rule of law, indefinite national service, freedom of expression and religion, and level of cooperation with international human rights bodies such as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea. Eritrea remains listed as a Human Rights Priority Country in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Annual Human Rights Report 2015.


The Government is clear in our engagement with Eritrea about the tangible improvements in its human rights record we want to see. We urge Eritrea to implement the recommendations from its 2014 Universal Periodic Review and welcome Eritrea’s recent agreement to work with the UN Development Programme to take forward these recommendations.


January 13 2017

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Eritrea: Diplomatic Relations

Asked by Patrick Grady


To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, on what dates (a) he, (b) ministers from his Department and (c) predecessors met the Eritrean Ambassador to the UK in each year since 2010; and when (i) he or (ii) Ministers from his Department plan to meet that Ambassador.


Tobias Ellwood: Neither I nor Ministers within my Department have held meetings with the Eritrean Ambassador to London. There is no record of any such meetings since 2010. Eritrea had limited engagement with the international community between 2011 and 2014. Since 2014, officials from Africa Directorate have met with the Eritrean Ambassador on a number of occasions to discuss areas of mutual interest.


Dutch Government acts to crack down on 2% tax

A report published in December 2016 investigating the Eritrean regime’s operations in the Netherlands has prompted the Dutch government to increase restrictions on the collection of the notorious 2% ‘Diaspora’ tax.

The 2% recovery and reconstruction (RRT) tax, levied on the earnings of Eritreans abroad, has been widely condemned by human rights groups. In December 2011, a UN Security Council resolution called on Eritrea to “cease using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals or other individuals of Eritrean descent”.

The Dutch report has revealed that the Eritrean government is using political activists from the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), Eritrea’s ruling party, to intimidate and threaten Eritrean refugees in the Netherlands. The report also reveals that the Young People’s Front for Democracy (YPFDJ) has been active in refugee reception centres in the Netherlands, forcing Eritrean refugees to pay the 2% tax.

To combat the influence of the Eritrean regime in the Netherlands, the Dutch government has agreed to tighten regulations designed to prevent those allied to the regime from accessing refugee reception centres. The Dutch organisation for the reception of asylum seekers (COA) has been told to be extra vigilant and to encourage those being threatened to come forward and report it to the police.

The report highlights the scale of fear and mistrust within the Eritrean community in the Netherlands, who feel isolated and susceptible to groups such as the YPFDJ. In response, the Dutch Government is working to build networks with Eritrean-Dutch citizens through local organisations.

The pressure on Eritreans to pay the ‘Diaspora tax’ is not isolated to the Netherlands. The regime’s influence extends to many refugee communities across the world. However, the Netherlands has taken a step towards restricting the capacity of its operatives from intimidating Eritrean refugees making use of its reception centres.

European Parliament hosts Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Grebremeskel

In November 2016, Irish MEP, Brian Hayes, hosted an Eritrean delegation for a meeting at the European Parliament. The meeting came amid protests from human rights campaigners who argued that the findings from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry were being ignored by the European Parliament.

Mr Hayes, Fine Gael representative for Dublin, visited Eritrea in May last year and reported that “Over the past five years Ireland has committed over a million euro to projects in Eritrea. Over 20,000 Eritrean families have been directly helped.” He argued that “Engagement is key” with aid in Eritrea.  However, the meeting caused substantial backlash as the European Parliament appeared to welcome a regime condemned by the UN of committing crimes against humanity.

Eritrean human rights campaigners argued the meeting failed to address Eritrea’s terrible human rights record and instead glossed over the injustices of the regime to focus on aid. The meeting raised questions over the EU’s cooperation with repressive African regimes in order to stem the flow of migrants. This year the EU has considered partnering with the Eritrean regime in order to create better conditions in refugees’ home countries under the “Better Migration Management” project. The proposal has been met with anger by many campaigners who accuse the EU of legitimising oppressive regimes by giving them international recognition.

Despite the UN stating  “particular individuals, including officials at the highest levels of State, the ruling party – the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice – and commanding officers bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations”, the EU is still prepared to work with Eritrean government officials. Campaigners are concerned that the EU is prepared to overlook human rights abuses in order to further its migration management agenda.


Atlantic Council brands Eritrea’s Prison State as ‘Not that Bad’

An article written last month by François Christophe has sought to expose the Atlantic Council (AC), a US think tank, over their claims that the human rights violations in Eritrea are over exaggerated.

François Christophe provides an in-depth analysis of articles written by Bronwyn Bruton, the AC’s Africa Center’s deputy Director, in which she and the AC consistently seek to undermine the credibility of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (UNCOI) on Human Rights in Eritrea.

Despite the Commission finding that torture in Eritrea is ‘systematic’, a ‘clear indicator of a deliberate policy’ to ‘instil fear among the population and silence opposition’, Bruton argues that the report is over exaggerated. In a New York Times article published in June titled “It’s Bad in Eritrea, but Not That Bad”, Bruton blames the UNCOI for relying on the testimony of hundreds of Eritrean exiles, whilst excluding PFDJ supporters in the Diaspora. The Atlantic Council Director fails to mention that the UNCOI investigation team was denied entry to Eritrea during the course of its investigation.

According to the AC, the human rights abuses in Eritrea are caused by the citizens themselves, and are not linked to the regime. Bruton claims such abuse is being committed outside of the government’s control. She asks, ‘Are they the result of deliberate government policy or are they the result of poverty, the “no-peace-no-war”, bad behaviour by people outside of Asmara that the government has poor grip on’.  The audacity of Bruton to blame the people of Eritrea for their own suffering is an affront to decent journalism.

Some context helps to shed light on the AC’s disturbing position. Christophe exposes the Atlantic Council’s generous financial backing of the Canadian mining firm Nevsun, which operates exclusively in Eritrea. Nevsun, a company currently being taken to court by Eritrean workers who claim they were forced into slave labour at the company’s mine, have made no secret of their contribution to the Atlantic Council.

The article by François Christophe provides an insight into the far-reaching influence of the Eritrean regime’s PR campaign. President Isaias Afwerki’s government has sought to undermine the UNCOI’s findings through communications networks abroad. The article makes clear the importance of campaigning for human rights in Eritrea and supporting the work of the UNCOI in exposing the crimes committed by the Eritrean regime.

Read the article in full:


UN Security Council reaffirms arms embargo on Eritrea

In reaction to a report produced by the UN sanction monitors the UN Security Council has voted to reaffirm the arms embargo currently imposed on Eritrea.

At the end of last year, the United Nations sanctions monitors warned that possible foreign support for a new military base and seaport in Eritrea, as well as the presence of foreign weapons and equipment, were likely in violation of the existing arms embargo. There is particular concern over military investment in Eritrea from the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Matthew Rycroft, British Permanent Representative to the UN, stated that the lack of cooperation by Eritrean authorities had tied the international community’s hands. “We don’t welcome the progress because nothing has changed,” he declared, adding that the Council had engaged with regional stakeholders in order to balance views on the text.

The Security Council voted over whelming in favour of reaffirming the arms embargo with 10 in favour and none against, with 5 -abstentions (Angola, China, Egypt, Russian Federation, Venezuela).

The UN maintains that the embargo will remain in place until the Eritrean regime agrees to cooperate with the UN sanction monitors. The resolution also extends the mandate of the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring to December 2017.



UNICEF reports on the shocking scale of the Eritrean drought and malnutrition


UNICEF has published a report detailing the scale of the drought currently affecting Eritrea, causing rates of malnutrition to soar. 80% of the Eritrean population is vulnerable to recurrent drought, and El Niño has exacerbated this threat.

UNICEF highlights that Eritrea has been experiencing drought conditions since 2015, contributing to a cholera outbreak across three of the country’s six regions. Tragically, the drought and resulting malnutrition disproportionately affect children under five, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

The report quotes the Nutrition Sentinel Site Surveillance System, which says malnutrition rates have increased over the past three years in four out of the country’s six regions, where malnutrition rates already exceeded emergency levels, with 22,700 children under 5 projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in 2017. Nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices are sub-optimal, with less than half of the rural population accessing safe drinking water and only 11.3 per cent of the overall population accessing improved sanitation. Half of all children in Eritrea are stunted, 5 and as a result, these children are even more vulnerable to malnutrition and disease outbreaks”.

UNICEF is running a campaign designed to help those affected, and has so far admitted nearly 13,000 children under 5 into therapeutic feeding programmes. Full details of their work can be found on page 2 of the report.

Campaigners must work hard to raise international awareness of this issue, as the Eritrean regime has repeatedly denied that its people are suffering as a result of drought.

Review overview
  • eri January 18, 2017

    Most who flee to Europe in the name of eritrean are ethiopian mostly from tigray

    • k.tewolde January 19, 2017

      Don’t annoy yemane monkey,he doesn’t like his words to be repeated.For crying out loud! compare the meticulous detail of the report and the above comment that ensued by eri.What in the world did he do to them to be so irrational?