On Monday 27 March the APPG on Eritrea held its AGM in Parliament and was briefed by Sheila B Keetharuth, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea.

The Special Rapporteur reported that a number of crimes against humanity had been committed in Eritrea, including enslavement, torture and rape. The Special Rapporteur outlined that in June 2017 the Human Rights Council will determine whether to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Given that there is no evidence of improvement in the situation of human rights in Eritrea, this should be a priority of the international community.

The meeting was well attended with representatives from organisations including the Foreign Office, Amnesty International, UNHCR and the Eritrean Embassy.

Prior to the commencement of the briefing, the APPG on Eritrea held its Annual General Meeting, ensuring its work can continue for the next 12 months. With a quorum in attendance, Patrick Grady MP was elected Chair; Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead was elected Co-Chair; Ann Clwyd was elected Vice-Chair; and Jeremy Lefroy was elected Vice-Chair.


Eritrea Focus to release report on extractive sector

Eritrea Focus, in partnership with War on Want, has recently commissioned research into the extractive sector in Eritrea. To be published in the coming months, a summary briefing paper has been produced outlining key findings and recommendations.

Much of Eritrea’s foreign exchange income comes from foreign gold and copper mining company projects in which the Eritrean government holds a 40% stake. The state control of these revenues is enhanced by the complete lack of mining revenue transparency in the country, a fact that has been persistently documented in various UN reports.

All mining companies run the risk of being complicit in Eritrea’s forced labour system since the use of forced labour is prevalent throughout the economy. Mining companies conduct significant construction activity during their project development phase and in Eritrea state-affiliated firms have a monopoly in construction. There is considerable evidence that these firms use conscripted labour across their operations.

The research outlines a number of mining companies and groups with investments or financial interests in Eritrea that are connected to the UK. These include: Ortac Resources Ltd; London Africa Ltd; Halifax Share Dealing; and JP Morgan Asset Management (UK) Ltd.


UN Criticises Swiss asylum policy change for Eritreans

A United Nations human rights expert has criticized Switzerland for its tightening refugee policy. François Crépeau, a Canadian lawyer who serves as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants has condemned Switzerland’s recent decision to limit its asylum policy towards Eritreans.

At the beginning of February, the Federal Administrative Court of Switzerland declared that it would no longer accept Eritrean asylum seekers solely on the basis of having fled the country illegally. Despite evidence from the UN Commission of Inquiry stating that Eritreans who have fled face imprisonment if they return home, the court ruled Eritreans were not at risk.

Switzerland is the latest country to announce restrictions on Eritrean asylum seekers. This follows the lead of countries such as Norway, the UK and the Netherlands who have all sought to crack down on Eritrean asylum applications. It shows a worrying trend of European countries willing to ignore the advice of the UNCOI despite evidence of crimes against humanity being committed in Eritrea.


Appeals for aid in the Horn of Africa ignores plight of Eritreans

This month the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appealed for assistance for 16m people experiencing famine in East Africa. The DEC identified Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan as key countries in need of food aid. To highlight the dire need of the situation, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made an unexpected visit to Somalia where 360,000 children are reported to be severely malnourished. The Foreign Secretary statedthat the UK Government has pledged £110m to try to kick-start aid operations in the region following suit with many other countries.

The scale of the crisis is enormous with the UN warning that the world is facing the worst food crisis since 1945. However, it is vital that the international community does not overlook the plight of those in Eritrea who are also afflicted by famine.

The suffering of the Eritrean people is clearly outlined in a UNICEF report published in January this year, which states “malnutrition rates already exceeded emergency levels, with 22,700 children under five projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition in 2017. National data also indicates half of Eritrean children are stunted.”

Despite the famine in Eritrea, the regime continues to allow only a small number of aid agencies to operate under strict supervision. So although the DEC has raised over £17 million for East Africa, none of the aid will go directly to Eritrea.

President Isaias Afwerki’s regime has made it extremely difficult for aid agencies to operate as outlined in the Assessment Capacities Project:

“The Eritrean government severely restricts the access of humanitarian actors inside the country. Very little is known about humanitarian needs: UNICEF estimates that the total effected population is 1.5m.”

Although aid is restricted there is hope that €200m pledge from the European Union for the country’s long-term development will go towards resolving famine in Eritrea. The international community must use every avenue available to get assistance to the Eritrean people. The need is urgent and imaginative solutions must be deployed to overcome the obstacles.

UK Government ends Dubs scheme

Last month the Government announced that number of children arriving under the scheme would be capped at 350, down from the 3,000 originally promised. The ending of the scheme prompted unrest within Parliament with Conservative MP, Heidi Allen, proposing an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill to keep the Dubs scheme alive.

Allen proposed that ministers would need to properly audit local council capacity to assess how many places were available for unaccompanied minors. However the amendment was quickly voted down after Conservative backbenchers failed to rebel against the government in significant numbers.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee who went to Calais and Dunkirk with Allen last month, said: “Despite the strong cross-party support in favour of continuing with the Dubs scheme, and the votes from all sides of the house, the government has whipped its backbenchers to vote against.”

The closing of the Dubs scheme has been met with fierce criticism from charities who argue that the government is abandoning vulnerable children who have the right to come to the UK and will cause more children to try and enter the UK illegally. Safe Passage’s Greece field manager, Natasha Tsangarides, stated: “Children will once again be forced to make the terrible choice between train tracks on the one hand and people traffickers on the other.

Despite the government’s refusal to compromise over the Dubs amendment, Yvette Cooper confirmed that the home affairs select committee would continue their inquiry into the situation facing child migrants.


Editorial, by Eritrea Focus

The need for Protest campaigns against the EU empowering the repressive regime in Eritrea.

On October 3, 2013, 369 Eritrean refugees were drowned off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy while crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Italy. The international community was shocked and the Pope expressed his sadness and called on European Governments to bolster rescue efforts on the Italian coast.

Since the Lampedusa tragedy the EU began to put pressure on the Eritrean Government to improve its human rights record.

In December 2014, the British Government sent a high-level delegation to Eritrea led by James Sharp, the Foreign Office’s director of migration, and Rob Jones, the Home Office’s head of asylum and family policy, and secured a promise from the Government that indefinite national service will be limited to 18 months. European policy towards Eritrea, and asylum conditions for Eritreans coming to the UK, were changed as a result.

However, the Eritrean government called their bluff by refusing to honour their commitment to end indefinite national service. This is to be expected as the policy serves as an effective means of control for the regime. Eritrea focus has pointed this out during discussions with the British Authorises in the past. Unfortunately, the EU and UK’s priority seems to be to reduce the number of asylum seekers reaching Europe, rather than to improve respect for human rights.

The EU entered an agreement with the Horn of Africa countries called the “Khartoum process”, including Eritrea. This will see the EU train and equip border control guards in participating countries, which in Eritrea operates a ‘shoot to kill’ policy against citizens attempting to flee the country, resulting in the deaths of men, women and children.

Not only does this cooperation empower Eritrea’s oppressive regime, it also serves to undermine the report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, which found that Eritrean officials have committed widespread crimes against humanity.

The UK’s decision, now reversed by the Upper Tribunal, to make it more difficult for Eritreans to claim asylum has encouraged other countries to do the same. Switzerland has tightened its asylum policy towards Eritreans and the government in Israel is starting to deport African refugees.

However, there are voices of protest against the EU’s actions.

Israeli Newspaper HAARETZ argues that “Israel Must Provide Asylum Seekers with a solution” that enables them to work and make a living to improve their situation. This was accompanied by continuous demonstrations by Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel.

International Organisations including Amnesty International, UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration, Doctors without Borders and any others have vocalised their opposition to EU policy putting refugees lives at risk.

Despite this, there is an incredible silence from Eritrean Civil Societies and justice seekers that claim to be the “voice of the voiceless” they are conspicuous in their absence in many demonstrations organised by refugee campaign groups. The diaspora must become more involved and take ownership of the issue.

But it is not too late. This year is a defining moment for Eritreans in the diaspora to stand up to the challenge presented to them by the Eritrean regime in collusion with the European Union. This case merits protest in the form of vigils, demonstrations, and political lobbying. This is the only practical way to stand up to the challenges and gain the attention of the world; truly becoming ‘the voice of the voiceless’.


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