Last month we reported that Patrick Grady MP had tabled an Early Day Motion supporting the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea’s findings. The EDM gives the Report’s findings the endorsement of the House of Commons, and calls upon the UK government to do everything in its power to support the victims of the Eritrean regime as they seek justice.
As many of you will be aware, the report accuses the regime of systematic crimes against humanity and calls for these to be investigated by the International Criminal Court. The report details the use of murder, rape, torture, forced disappearance, indefinite conscription and the government’s shoot to kill policy at the border. The full report is available here.
At the time of writing last month’s newsletter, the EDM had attracted 14 signatures. Since then, the number of supporters has grown to 35. This is an impressive achievement in the current political climate, in which four parliamentary parties have triggered leadership elections and the result of the EU referendum threw parliament into chaos. Many of these new signatures are the result of our members directly lobbying their own MPs – an effort that we must continue. If your MP has yet to sign, please make contact and urge them to register their support.
The full text of Early Day Motion 211 is as follows:
That this House notes with concern the findings of the 2016 Report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, published on 8 June 2016; further notes that the Commission describes evidence of crimes against humanity by the Eritrean government, including the use of forced and indefinite military service which the report equates with enslavement; notes that the report details the regime’s widespread use of murder, forced disappearance, rape and torture which the regime uses to deter political opposition and instil fear in the population; condemns in the strongest possible terms the systematic human rights violations committed by the Eritrean government as detailed in the report; agrees with the Commission of Inquiry that any and all perpetrators of crimes against humanity should be tried by the International Criminal Court; supports the mandate of the court to investigate any such crimes; and calls on the Government to publicly denounce these gross violations of human rights, do everything in its power to ensure protection for Eritreans fleeing these appalling conditions and support victims of the regime as they seek justice.
Those who have put their name to this Motion represent a cross-party selection of MPs, demonstrating the widespread support for Eritreans across the political spectrum. As the APPG on Eritrea continues to attract support, and with an official endorsement of the Commission of Inquiry in the form of an Early Day Motion, it is clear that the Eritrean regime has no support in the UK Parliament.
Amid fresh border clashes, “refugees have continued to cross from Eritrea to Ethiopia at a rate of around 2,000-3,000 per month in 2016”.
After sixteen years of ceasefire at the border, Eritrea and Ethiopia clashed again on June 12th . The skirmishes have led to the deaths of 200 Ethiopians and an untold number of Eritreans. Following the recent violence, Mr Imran Hussain MP submitted the following parliamentary question:
To ask the Secretary of State for International Development, what assessment her Department has made of the effect of an escalation of border clashes between Eritrea and Ethiopia on refugees in that region.
The question was answered by Nick Hurd MP, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for International Development, who said:
We are concerned over recent reports of fighting between Ethiopian and Eritrean forces along the border near Tsorena. My colleague the Minister for Africa, Mr Duddridge, has called on both countries to exercise restraint and said that they should engage in meaningful political discourse to seek a resolution to the ongoing border issues.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has confirmed to DFID that the recent border clashes between Eritrea and Ethiopia have had no discernible impact on refugees in the border region. Services for refugees in the camps in Tigray region (which borders Eritrea) have not been disrupted by the clashes.
Refugees have continued to cross from Eritrea to Ethiopia at a rate of around 2,000-3,000 per month in 2016 and there has been no change to this pattern.
According to its global policy, UNHCR sites refugee camps ‘at a reasonable distance’ from international borders. The closest refugee camp to the Eritrean border is around 25 km away. Others are further away from the border”.
These numbers are particularly concerning, as it emerged this week that refugees are overwhelmingly resettled in the countries least able to support them. On 18 July the Guardian reported that the world’s six wealthiest countries host less than 9% of the world’s refugees, despite accounting for almost 60% of the global economy. More than half of the world’s refugees, about 12 million, live in Jordan, Turkey, Palestine, Pakistan, Lebanon and South Africa – a group of countries which make up less than 2% of the world’s economy.
In 2015, more than 65 million people worldwide were forced to flee their homes – the highest number since records began. In the same year, the UK updated its Country Information and Guidance on Eritrea, ending a policy of guaranteed asylum for any Eritrean who arrives in Britain. In March of this year, the Court of Appeal ruled that failed asylum seekers in the UK can be deported back to war-torn Afghanistan. Worryingly, it seems that many wealthy countries, including the UK, are withdrawing their help for refugees at the time when it is needed most.
The continuing pressure on Ethiopia, which currently homes more than 700,000 refugees – 100,000 of whom are Eritreans – is symptomatic of this wider global trend. The richest countries must do more to protect the world’s most vulnerable people, and to alleviate the strain on countries like Ethiopia.
While it is reassuring to learn from UNHCR that, as of yet, violence at the border has not adversely impacted the lives of Eritrean refugees, concerns remain that any escalation may result in further disruption for those who have already been forced to flee their homes. Additional violence may also cause more to leave in fear of their lives, placing even greater strain on the world’s poorest countries. Eritrea Focus supports the UK government’s request for both countries to exercise restraint in the border region, but calls for more to be done to offer sanctuary to those fleeing violence.
VICE documentary brings Eritrean suffering to a new audience
VICE news has published a documentary as part of its Blackout series, entitled “Leaks from Eritrea, Africa’s North Korea. Several news organisations have republished the film, including a number of African sources. The Blackout series seeks to highlight threats to freedom of expression in countries around the world. Unsurprisingly the Eritrean regime is cast in a negative light, as its stark disregard for the freedoms its people are laid bare for all to see.
The film considers the situation inside Eritrea itself, and speaks to members of the Diaspora community in Europe who dedicate their lives trying to help those at home.
We hear extensively from Selam Kidane, UK coordinator of Freedom Friday and active member of Eritrea Focus. Freedom Friday seeks to expose human rights abuses in Eritrea by smuggling footage out, while also using technology to get information into the country. She explains how recorded phone messages are used to communicate with up to 10,000 people at a time, who would otherwise not have any access to information in a country with no free press. This achievement is all the more remarkable when we consider that “just 1% of the population have access to the internet, and only 6% have mobile phones” – a fact that shines a light on Eritrea’s deep isolation from the rest of the world.
Matthew Pennycook MP – Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea – is also featured in the film, giving a speech in the House of Commons during a debate on human rights in Eritrea. He says, “An estimated 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month and almost as many men, women and children left that country last year as fled from Syria. This human exodus is all the more staggering when we consider that it is from a country of just 6 million people that is not presently at war”.
At the time of writing, Leaks from Eritrea, Africa’s North Korea has been viewed well over 100,000 times, offering the potential to significantly raise the profile of Eritrean suffering. Eritrea Focus is looking to build on this momentum and is currently planning a screening of the documentary for our supporters. A panel discussion will follow, with opportunities for questions from the audience. We will be in touch soon with more information.
Home Office launches refugee community sponsorship scheme
This week, a community sponsorship scheme was launched with the aim of helping re-home and resettle refugees in the UK, of which the largest proportion are Eritreans. Launched by the Home secretary, Amber Rudd, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the Community Sponsorship Scheme will enable various community groups and individuals to support the resettlement of refugees.
The aim of the scheme is to enable community groups to sponsor refugees and support them through their resettlement.
‘Sponsors will provide housing for the refugee family, as well as helping them to integrate into life in the UK, access medical and social services, arranging English language tuition and supporting them towards employment and self-sufficiency’
The launch of a community sponsorship scheme may help Eritreans, who in 2015 represented the largest group of asylum applicants in the UK, totalling 3,729. Eritreans also make up the largest group of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK. With a population of just 6,000,000, and the number of Eritrean asylum seekers in the hundreds of thousands, there was a 12% decrease in the Eritrean population in 2015.
The cross-collaborative community based approach of the scheme may signpost a change in how the UK resettles refugees, offering a more sustainable and integrative approach. Communities’ secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “This is an historic opportunity for individuals, charities, faith groups, churches and businesses to support refugee families directly. “By bringing together the voluntary sector and local and central government, we can better support those fleeing conflict to fully integrate into life in the UK”
Eritrea Focus is an association of Non-Governmental Organisations(NGOs), human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the gross abuse of human rights in Eritrea.