[Note: This is google translated from Norwegian]
Norwegian Eritreans celebrated the Eritrean regime at a party in Oslo. Eritrea’s second most powerful man participated in the celebration of the military service that was introduced 25 years ago, which is the main reason many Norwegian Eritreans have been granted asylum in Norway.
On August 3 this year, Norwegian Eritreans celebrated the 25th anniversary of the introduction of National Service and the establishment of the Sawa training camp. National Service is a mandatory for all citizens, who must serve in military or civilian positions. It should last for 18 months, but for many it lasts for years.
This duty of service is the main reason why many Eritreans have fled the country. Experts estimate that up to 25 percent of the population has fled the country since 2001, Eritrea expert, Kjetil Tronvoll, told NRK.
More than 22,000 Eritreans have immigrated to Norway since 1990. Most of them came to Norway after the country’s dictator Isaias Afewerki took power in 2001 after a hard-fought liberation struggle.
The party was held at the Event Hall at Bryn in Oslo. Photos and videos from the party were shared on social media. Many of the participants wore military-style camouflage t-shirts.
From the stage there is a lineup on a long line, and several people stand with the Eritrean flag by their side.
From the stage it is said that “we will show you what we learned in Sawa, and military training must be done every day, it is easy to forget”.
Eritrea’s powerful adviser
From the photos and videos, it seems that one person is getting the most attention.
His name is Yemane Gebreab, and is the Eritrean president’s closest adviser. It is he who gets the attention, and he is the participant in the pictures and the video wants to take a selfie with.
“In practice, he is number two in the regime,” says Kjetil Tronvoll, one of Europe’s foremost Eritrean experts.
But who are the Norwegian Eritreans in the picture, and why are they there?
NRK sources in the Eritrean environment in Norway who oppose the regime say that several of these people have come to Norway in the last 10-15 years and have been granted asylum here in the country.
So does Tronvoll, who has good sources in the Norwegian-Eritrean community, know who they are?
– There is probably a slightly divided audience. Some are 2nd generation Eritreans, born in Norway by parents who came in the 80’s. But there are also people here who have fled themselves, and who are attending this party.
How do you know that?
– The Eritreans in this country recognize people in the pictures, they know when they came to Norway. And we know from several other European countries where there are similar parties, where there are newly arrived Eritreans who attend to celebrate the regime they have fled from.
That sounds weird?
– Yes, it’s paradoxical. Some are at this party because they want a community. Some join because they feel a social pressure to line up. And some people are complimenting the regime, because they are regime supporters, even though they have been granted asylum on the grounds of fleeing the regime, says Tronvoll.
NRK sources in the Eritrean environment in Norway who are against the regime say that several of these images have come to Norway in the last 10-15 years and have been granted asylum here in the country. So does Kjetil Tronvoll, who has good sources in the Norwegian-Eritrean environment, know who they are?
Got asylum and paid tribute to the regime
NRK has investigated the identity of a group standing in a picture next to Yemane Gebreab.
According to NRK’s Norwegian-Eritrean sources, most people in the picture have come to Norway after 2001. Some may also have come to family reunification to Norway. 5400 people from Eritrea have been living on this basis since 1990, according to Statistics Norway.
NRK has got hold of two of those in the picture. They both came to Norway in 2009, according to the National Register. They confirm that they have been granted asylum in Norway.
Both say they were at the party, but NRK got no answer as to why they were there.
Undermining the asylum system
Woldab Feshatzion has been fighting for a free Eritrea since the 1980s, and is the leader of the Eritrean Community Association in Norway.
He is very angry about the Norwegian Eritreans at the party.
– “Those in the pictures are supporters of the Eritrea regime. At the same time, many of them say they have fled from this regime. To me it shows that they are not real asylum seekers, they have been allowed to stay on a false basis,”says Feshatzion.
He believes this undermines the asylum system.
– “These people occupy the places that could have been taken by real asylum seekers. It is very sad, and it is also disappointing to see that the Norwegian authorities are not able to reveal that they are not real asylum seekers, but give them protection in Norway,”he says.
Feshatzion believes the regime is trying to show Eritreans in Norway that they are strong, and that it is useless to protest against the regime.
– “For me, this sends a signal that they can intimidate me here in Norway, just as they do to oppositionists in Eritrea. It’s almost as if the regime is here in my living room, he says.
– Not the celebration of Sawa
The event was organized by the immigrant organization The Eritrean Association in Oslo and the surrounding area. Chairman Samson Gebreamlak confirms that they are behind the event and that Yemane Gebraeb was present, but rejects accusations that it was to celebrate Sawa’s 25th anniversary.
But the announcement of the event on social media reveals that it was indeed designed to celebrate Sawa.
Landlord: – Wanted to cancel
The premises were rented out by the company Utleielokaler AS, and booking manager Andreas Gresvik told NRK that they do not support the Eritrean regime.
– “Had we had this information well in advance, we would have canceled the event. We received a warning in advance that this was an event in support of the regime, but the notice we received came so close to the event and we did not have enough evidence to cancel. We have to take into account the freedom of expression of the customers, but the Event Hall is not a haven for extreme attitudes,” says Gresvik.
He emphasizes that they should not consider the tenants’ political positions, but believes they are behind the lights.
– “In this case, the customer has withheld information about the agenda behind the event. We were told that it was an annual meeting with a party afterwards. In that sense, it is a breach of contract that we would have canceled if we had known this beforehand. We have previously denied other events where we have realized that there were hidden motives,” says Gresvik.
NRK has tried to get hold of the Eritrean interest office in Norway, which is located in Oslo, without success.
Extensive violation of human rights
Eritrea is described as one of the most repressed countries in the world. President Isaias Afwerki has ruled the country since its release in 1991, and no political opposition is allowed. The 1997 Constitution has not been implemented and the designated parliament has not been assembled in 18 years.
There is no free press, no independent civil society, and religious minorities are banned and imprisoned for their faith.
No one knows how many political prisoners there are in the country, but the estimates range from 10 to 25 thousand. People are being jailed without a sentence, widespread use of torture and sexual abuse in prison has been reported, as well as executions without law and sentence.
According to the legislation, the national service in Eritrea consists of both civil and military tasks. The aim of the service beyond national defense is to contribute to the reconstruction of the country and the development of a common Eritrean identity across ethnic and religious divisions. The service, which in principle will last for 18 months, has in practice proved to be possible for several years. This is because, according to the authorities, the border conflict with neighboring Ethiopia. Women from their mid-20s are likely to be discharged or dismissed from the service as a result of marriage, birth or religious reason. Warsay Yikealo is an extension of the national service, and it has helped many to serve for a number of years. Eritreans who evade national service are likely to risk out-of-court penalties from local military superiors, but the experience they have is limited, so it is difficult to draw firm conclusions. But many of the examples point to the fact that the punishment complies with the provisions of the law, that is, between three months and three years’ detention.
Source: Kjetil Tronvoll / Country info