Meeting Notice from the APPG for Eritrea
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea invites you to its fourth meeting on Wednesday 16 November at 6pm, in Committee Room 2, Houses of Parliament, London, SW1A 0AA.
At the meeting, officials from the Foreign Office (TBC) will provide a briefing on the UK’s policy positions regarding Eritrea.
The meeting will take the form of a policy briefing on Eritrea given by Foreign Office Officials (TBC).
To find out more contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Protesters in London tape mouths shut in support of Eritrea’s disappeared
At 3pm on Friday 23 September, demonstrators gathered at King’s Cross station in a show of support for journalists, government opponents and leaders of the former liberation movement who remain incarcerated in Eritrea.
Protesters taped their mouths shut and held up the names of Eritrean prisoners as part of a wider campaign to raise awareness of their continued imprisonment.
Similar silent protests were held at several locations around the world to commemorate the 15 year anniversary of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s brutal crackdown on his critics, who disappeared along with their demands for democracy, rule of law and press freedom.
On 18, 19 and 21 September 2001, Eritrea’s former liberation movement leaders, known as the ‘G15’, and 11 editors and journalists were forcibly disappeared. Some have died, and others have remained imprisoned and incommunicado for 15 years. The crackdown marked the end of a once-vibrant free press in Eritrea, which has lacked any form of privately owned media since 2001. In 2016, Eritrea was ranked last in the world, behind North Korea, in the press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders.
The demonstration sought to promote the findings of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in Eritrea, which published its final report in June 2016. The Commission finds the regime guilty of crimes against humanity, including enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts.
The subject of Eritrea’s ‘disappeared’ has attracted further media attention since our last update, which highlighted Scotland’s National newspaper’s coverage of the International day of the Disappeared. Several national and international articles have continued to question the whereabouts of Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, who co-owned the Eritrean newspaper Setit, and was arrested in 2001 as the Eritrean government moved to silence the country’s independent press.
It is hoped that the protesters’ silence will increase the pressure on the Eritrean government to reveal the whereabouts of Dawit and his fellow journalists.
The future of German-Eritrean relations
Earlier this month, an official delegation from Eritrea visited Berlin to strengthen bilateral ties and economic cooperation with Germany. The visit was seen as controversial, owing to the African country’s flagrant violations of human rights.
At the meeting, the Eritrean government delegation held talks with Gerd Mueller, the German Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development. The Eritrean Ministry of Information reflected on the meeting with great optimism, suggesting the German delegation observed a very different Eritrea from the one portrayed in the media. Parliamentarians in Germany, however, have adopted a more cautious tone.
Despite the two nations signing a protocol for cooperation, German officials have remained reluctant to engage publicly with Eritrea. Christoph Straesser, a German MP and former Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for a parliamentary group of the Social Democrats (SPD) party, told the German news publication Deutsche Welle “We cannot give development assistance to any country, be it Eritrea or any other, without any guarantees that political and civil rights will be respected.”
Straesser also argued that the recent EU decision to award an additional 200 million aid package to Eritrea to stem the wave of refugees would not change anything unless the regime “diagnosed itself and was ready for treatment.”
Rhetorically, it seems the Eritrean government is not ready for treatment. Speaking before the two nations held meetings, Eritrean government official Yemane Gebreab rejected the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI), arguing that ‘there is no basis’ for the findings of the report. Gebreab also argued that Eritrea “should be commended” for its national service.
Speaking at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Eritrean Minister for Foreign Affairs, Omar Saleh, said that Eritrea was ‘routinely written off’ throughout its struggle for independence.
The Eritrean government’s refusal to accept its shortcomings with respect to human rights will remain a major hurdle in its efforts to foster more positive relations with international stakeholders, who will continue to treat Eritrea with extreme caution.
Amendment to the Immigration Act aims to safeguard child refugees
A legal amendment to the Immigration Act could see child refugees in Calais protected under British safeguarding rules. Labour MP Stella Creasy, a key figure in the debate over child refugees, says the amendment has received cross-party support and that she hopes it will be passed.
The proposed change would mean that the Home Office would have to treat unaccompanied child refugees in Calais as potential UK citizens, including the provision of safeguards according the UK’s child protection requirements.
The proposed amendment could provide much needed legal protection to unaccompanied Eritrean children who remain at high risk of people trafficking and sexual abuse. In 2015, Eritreans represented the largest group of unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in the UK, and the fourth largest group of refugees within the European Union. It is therefore expected that the proposed change to the Immigration Act will benefit large numbers of Eritrean children.
The amendment seeks to address the UK’s current child refugee policy, which has so far failed to live up to David Cameron’s announcement in March that Britain would accept as many as 3,000 unaccompanied minors. Despite the passing of the Dubs Amendment, committing the government to relocate a number of lone child migrants to the UK, the scheme has not been progressed. Since then only 30 children have arrived in the UK. The slow response from the Home Office has prompted strong criticism from Stella Creasy, who said:
“There are kids there who have the right to be in the UK, but for want of a formal process for the voluntary organisations to plug into, they are stuck there,”
“We accepted responsibility for these kids back in March. When we accept responsibility for children Britain safeguards them so why are we not extending our same principles of safeguarding to how we manage children we’ve committed to helping?”
Calls for greater protection for child refugees comes just as the French Government announces it will be closing the Calais refugee camp, where up to 1,000 unaccompanied minors now live. It is estimated that a quarter of these are Eritrean. According to the Observer, The French authorities have made no plans to rehouse the children in hope that this will force Britain to honour its pledge to help child refugees.
The lack of action from the UK Government has led to children already deemed eligible to enter the UK risking their lives in order to illegally cross the border. This month a 14 year old Afghan boy who had the right to travel to the UK, as he had a brother living in the UK, died in a hit and run incident near Calais.
Karl Pike, Refugee and Asylum Policy Manager at the British Red Cross and former speaker at the APPG on Eritrea, stated that the current Immigration policy was not working.
“We have cases where we have vulnerable children who’ve been accepted by the UK but are expected to remain in a camp for three months until they’re allowed on the Eurostar, which is perverse.”
With continued pressure from the French Government and MPs there is hope that the amendment to the Immigration Act will be passed, ensuring the UK government lives up to its promises and takes responsibility for those most vulnerable. A change in policy could see hundreds of Eritrean children with the right to come to the UK transferred without further delays.
New hope for Eritrean Asylum seekers in Israel
This month, Israel witnessed a landmark ruling giving new hope to Eritrean asylum seekers. The Jerusalem appeals court ruled that Israel would have to give Eritreans fleeing national service refugee status.
Until now, the Interior Ministry has nearly universally rejected applications by Eritreans for refugee status. Under Israeli law, fleeing military service – a common reason given by Eritreans leaving the country – does not constitute fleeing persecution; a necessary prerequisite for attaining refugee status in Israel.
The court ruled that such a sweeping judgement could not be used to dismiss all Eritrean asylum applications, and must instead be considered on a case by case basis. The Supreme Court stated that Eritrean refugees were protected under the Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. The convention states that persons who cannot return to their country of origin because of threat of persecution must be granted refugee status.
The judge stated that “Limiting the protection given under the Refugee Convention by not applying it to people entitled to refugee status, just because there are many of them, doesn’t comply with the Refugee Convention or the rules of Israeli administrative law…We are talking about the personal, individual rationales of many people, not about a general group rationale.”
To date, Israel has approved fewer than 1% of asylum applications since it signed the UN Refugee Convention six decades ago. No sooner had the court ruled against the Interior Ministry than the State said it would be appealing the judgement. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri described the ruling as:
“A distortion of the state’s position, and the statement that Israel is not meeting its obligations to the Refugee Convention is serious and untrue.”
Despite the backlash from the Interior Ministry, Eritreans in Israel have been handed a lifeline. This comes after decisions in Norway and the UK that have seen Eritrean asylum seekers denied refugee status, on the grounds that it is safe for them to return to Eritrea. Since the ruling there have also been concerning reports that the Israeli government is deporting Eritrean refugees to Uganda in order to prevent them seeking asylum in Israel. There are hopes among the Eritrean refugee community that the ruling in Israel will stand, and add pressure the UK government to change its ruling accordingly.