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The UK must recognise Eritreans as the refugees that they are – Amnesty International

We have all heard about the terrible situation in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq causing people to risk their lives and make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. However, what I have sadly come to realise

We have all heard about the terrible situation in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq causing people to risk their lives and make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. However, what I have sadly come to realise is that not so many of us have heard much about the Eritreans also making this crossing.

Since the beginning of last year, Eritreans have made up the fourth-largest nationality of people making the crossing into Europe. The country itself is often referred to as ‘the North Korea of Africa’. Not a flattering comparison.

The country has severe restrictions on free speech, with thousands of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners being held in arbitrary detention and often being subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments. One of the main reasons Eritreans are fleeing is compulsory military conscription. Usually National Service is for an initial 18-month period – however, this is often extended indefinitely, resulting in a system amounting to forced labour, with families torn apart. And if you don’t take part? Get ready for arbitrary detention and torture.

For me, even more shocking than the dreadful situation in Eritrea, is the UK government’s decision-making on Eritreans seeking asylum in the UK. Between 2014 and 2015, the largest number of asylum applications in the UK came from Eritrea(3,658), but changes in the Home Office’s criteria meant that the UK government refused many of them asylum. And yet up until 2014, the vast majority of Eritreans seeking asylum in the UK were successful in doing so.

So what changed? Did the situation in Eritrea drastically improve? Had torture and arbitrary detention become a thing of history. Nope.

In November 2014, the Danish Immigration Service published a report by a fact-finding mission Danish authorities had sent to Eritrea. The report claimed that there were significant improvements in human rights conditions, and suggested that asylum seekers registering claims relating to illegal exit and evading conscription should not be recognised as refugees. Instead, they should be returned to Eritrea.

As a result, the UK Home Office updated its country guidance on Eritrea – basing it heavily on the Danish report. It very quickly had a real impact: in the first three months of last year, the refusal rate for Eritrean asylum-seekers jumped from 14% to 66%. The Danish report has been criticised by many NGOs, including Amnesty, the UNHCR and Human Rights Watch. Even the Danish Immigration Service themselves don’t rely on it in their decision making.

In contrast to the Danish report, a UN report in June last year reported that Eritrean authorities were committing gross human rights violations, some amounting to crimes against humanity.

Three months later, the UK Home Office once again changed its country guidance on Eritrea, but it is still heavily reliant on the discredited Danish report – rather than the more recent and compelling UN report. It is still likely to result in a large number of Eritreans being refused their right to asylum.

Only yesterday I came across my family’s asylum application to the UK. In it I found an Amnesty International report on the situation in Afghanistan, which was used as evidence to support my family’s claim. This showed me how important it is to have reliable evidence like the Amnesty International report, as opposed to this discredited Danish report, given that it can be incredibly dangerous for the individuals involved.

Thankfully, various UK Parliamentarians are highlighting the situation in Eritrea and challenging the Home Office’s decision-making process on Eritrean claimants. Last October I attended a parliamentary event where I heard first-hand from Eritreans who had fled their home. As someone who works at Amnesty and also fled to the UK as a refugee from a war-torn country, I know all too well the shocking stories and so one would assume the testimonies would not come as a complete shock to me – but they did.

We heard from a doctor who worked in a hospital for prisoners. As he was speaking about the dreadful things he had seen, a woman in the audience could not stop crying – we later found out that she had just discovered that this doctor treated her parents, parents she had not seen or heard from in years. Now imagine the first time you hear a story about your parents after years of not knowing how they were, and the story is one of the horrific conditions and treatment of prisoners.

Last week, a parliamentary debate saw five MPs mention Eritrean refugees. The SNP’s Patrick Grady asked the Minister specifically about the Home Office’s treatment of refugees from Eritrea. Hugo Swire, the Minister responding, acknowledged all the countries mentioned in the debate – while barely touching on Eritrea.

However, it is worth noting that Foreign Office Ministers James Duddridge and David Lidington have both highlighted their department’s deep concern about the situation in Eritrea. They explained that Eritrea is a priority country in the department’s human rights report because of ‘allegations of widespread arbitrary detention, shortcomings in the rule of law, and a lack of respect for fundamental human freedoms’.

So why is the Home Office rejecting asylum claims of individuals from a country the Foreign Office itself is so concerned about?

Why is the Home Office clogging up the asylum appeals system with Eritrean cases going to tribunal and often succeeding there?

And finally, the Home Office haven’t themselves returned Eritreans back to the country, so why are they even rejecting asylum claims which would inevitably result in destitute Eritreans left alone in a foreign country?

One of the most welcome moves is the formation of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, set up last week with the help of Baroness Kinnock who has championed human rights in Eritrea for a long time. This, along with continuous pressure from other Parliamentarians, is a good start.

Pressure from MPs, Peers, NGOs and others is what is needed to ensure that the Home Office revise their country guidance on Eritrea and ensure that any decision made on the situation in Eritrea is not based on the discredited Danish report.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.

Review overview
  • Tsehaye February 2, 2016

    Dear commenters,

    I am puzzled by the photo of the people displayed in the above article. The same photo is also used in another article posted at the which is written by GEAN. GEAN is a new winter project which is initiated and dominated by Jeberti elites who reside in the USA. Are the people in the photo actually leaving Eritrea and asking for asylum in Britain and Europe, or it is a design to deceive the international community that Muslim Eritreans are the majority if not the only victims of the regime. The article at the and the above article are posted within a one-week time frame, and it could not be pure coincidence. It is meticulously planned by the Muslim elites who still see no difference between the ruthless PFDJ mafia and the Tigrigna speaking Christian Eritreans. Can someone in that part of the world (Britain) tell us the percentage of Highland Christian asylum seekers compared to other Eritrean ethnic groups? If we don’t challenge these notorious Muslim elites for their divisive politics now, it would be too late when they take us to that destructive religious and ethnic war that is akin to the current situation Iraq, Syria and Libya.

    • AHMED SALEH !!! February 3, 2016

      I can see you are obsessed with backward mentality based on religion
      and ethnicity to misinterpret the above picture negatively .
      Those Eritrean women probably from lowlands represent Eritrean society
      that we respect and love them dearly .
      Now why don’t take your dirty laundry where it belongs to haters spot .

      • Simon G. February 3, 2016

        Brother Ahmed,
        …and he pretends to be anti HGDF? Yeah right! He should go to meskerem. We have no religion problem and I don’t worry that we will have, after HGDF that is.

        • Tsehaye February 4, 2016


          Is there something wrong with meskerem? I see many of the opposition members airing their views through that channel. In addition, assenna is not your private domain if you have the maturity to figure it out. It is an Eritrean public website which provides time and space for all Eritreans to discuss issues that matter.

          Here is a question for you to answer: if Eritreans don’t have religion problem, why do we have several Eritrean opposition groups under Islamic names supposedly fighting for Eritrean Muslims? You cannot be that naive. Are you?

      • Tsehaye February 4, 2016

        I had a reply to your filthy comment yesterday, but sadly assenna has refused to post it. Can you show any hate in my comment if you have the gray matter instead of scribbling a few lines like first grader? You have been her for years, and you are still the same rock-head. What is the “dirty laundry” you are talking about?

          • Tsehaye February 4, 2016

            Thank you assenna. I fully agree, and I will heed your constructive advice.

  • umer salih February 3, 2016

    brother Tsehaye,

    we do not need awate to divide us ,you are doing a good job on your own.

  • keshi mars February 3, 2016

    Hello Tsehaye,

    the article didn’t mention religion or ethnicity. It is about human rights. Therefore stick to that and add up if you have to support it or come up with something to critisi it.

    ወዳሓንካ ተማጓቲ ትግሪኛ ትጉሽተተይ ተጣባቂ መሲሉ ክረዝደሊ ማለተይ ዩ።

    • Tsehaye February 3, 2016

      sheiK mercury,

      Thank you for your advice:)

  • Amanuel February 3, 2016

    What are the Eritrean regiem to prove? The problems in Eritrea is evident and clear.
    1. National service is indefinite, if the regiem claim national service is 18 month. What has happen people serving in national service more than 18 month
    2.regarding Political prisoners, they never brought to court and never had access to family visit. If the government claim political prisoner had brought to court and had access family visit, let the regime prove
    3. Freedom of religion , what happen to believers of Pentecostal and joahvah witness prisoner
    4. Free market economy, the regime control the country economy
    5. Accountability the Eritrean Ethiopian war. The regiem accepted the the commission decision. Eritrea started the war, therefore the regiem is accountable the lost of our brothers and sister who died in the war
    6. Why are Eritreans leaving the country?
    7. Human trafficking, the regiem requir to take accountability be
    8. Code of conduct on all governmental office ?

  • Musa Ali February 3, 2016

    Mr tsehaye,
    Eritrea has many ethnic groups. We are colorful together. We have no conflict or division of any kind. We may have few narrow backwarded individuals who hate certain group based on awraja or relgion. I have many friends who are jeberti and love them. I also have many asmarinos and son jorginos as friends. The only problem we have is lack of integrity and ignorance. Example, I have seen many sign a form that say there is no crime committed in eritrea. Most of them do not know throwing an eritrean into prison without charge for years is a crime until their turn comes. This not only makes me feel sad but lose hope and pride in Eritrea. Hope things are changing fast.

    • Tsehaye February 3, 2016

      selam Musa,

      Thank you for your excellent comment. The problem with many of the opposition groups, particularly with groups that are based on ethnicity and religion is that they have not been able to clearly identify the enemy of the Eritrean people. To many of them the regime is a “Tigrigna regime”, therefore, the enemy they say is the “Tigrigna people.” They come up with such flimsy and skewed data to prove that the Tigrigna people are recipient of all the benefits the regime is able to afford. Even the Jeberti elites in the diaspora whose communities are some of the most well off in Eritrea are telling Eritreans that the Tigrigna Christians are having it all. Just read the recent writing of GEAN at the What these religiously motivated elites are doing is extending the life of the regime in Asmara by stirring up resentment of Muslim Eritreans against the Tigrigna speaking Christians, which will lead us to an appalling religious and ethnic strife. To sum it up: the divisive Muslim Eritrean elites are basically playing with fire knowingly, and I am sure that they will regret it when the fire that they have played a role to ignite consumes everybody on its way. Let us have the courage to say “It is wrong when we see someone is wrong.” All those who come and go under the pretext of “marginalization” because of “Tigrigna domination” have one thing in common,and that is their common hatred against the Tigrigna speaking Christians. PFDJ is a one-man’s private enterprise which does not care about anybody else. Everyone in Eritrea regardless of his/her religion or ethnicity is a victim of this inhuman regime.

      • AHMED SALEH !!! February 4, 2016

        In assenna forum we try tolerate religious or regional different views
        for the sake of common understanding among ourselves .
        Now why you keep stressing to bring destructive arguments which doesn’t
        belong in this forum agenda ?
        In fact you are doing big favor for those groups who become nuisances to
        our political struggle for democratic reform . You are entitled to have
        different opinion but you can’t have both ways when you show double standard .
        By the way (XERFI NEWRI IYU) no need to disrespect yourself in public .

      • sidi abdu February 6, 2016

        if it quacks like a duck indeed it is a duck

  • Hagherawi February 3, 2016

    There are a number of individuals who pose as Eritreans, mainly Tigreyans born and raised in Eritrea, who hate Eritrea because of problems they went through when they left Eritrea in the wake of border war. Unfortunately, these people think, they can harm Eritrea when they instigate sectarian conflict that will ruin the country internally.
    Despite, all problems we are facing, a civil war is unthinkable. The only loser in Eritrea is the dictatorial regime. The only one to blame for the suffering of Eritreans is the regime that is brutalizing its citizens. Therefore, when someone like Tshaye (regardless who he is, he could be also a Higdefite) posts a hate message, there is nothing to worry about, we have lived long enough to know who is the enemy.

    • Musa Ali February 4, 2016

      Well said. We know our enemy. Iseyas and his group plus ignorance of those who are silent/ spectators.

    • Tsehaye February 4, 2016


      I am surprised it took you a long time to figure out that I “could be also a Higdefite”. I thought you were a smart guy:) Is he word “Higdefite” an English version of the Tigrigna word “ህግደፋዊ”. No wonder you’ve chosen to live in a world of anonymity. Cheers!

  • sidi abdu February 6, 2016

    Eritrea is like a step ladder that is going backward with end final leading to hell hole. The top step of the ladder was Haile Selasie days, the middle step was Mengustu era; and the final steps are comrade Issias is holding court for now while leading the people to hell hole. We have very few chance left for us to jump to the ground level away from the hell hole and save our country.If we don’t act now , we are going to be doomed to go under. Oh Eritreans rise up and demand justice,demand democracy where we can have a democratic non religious,non tribal and non sexist society.