Eritreans in Britain forced by embassy to pay 2% diaspora tax – incl Hidden camera footage

Martin Plaut - theguardian.com, Tuesday 11 February 2014 A 2011 UN resolution demanded Eritrea halts the tax on expats, but evidence shows embassy extortion continues The Eritrean diaspora tax was condemned by the UN security council in 2011 'because it

A 2011 UN resolution demanded Eritrea halts the tax on expats, but evidence shows embassy extortion continues

The Eritrean diaspora tax was condemned by the UN security council in 2011 ‘because it was being used to fund arms and related material’. Photograph: Alamy

On the morning of the 18 December last year Sam* walked up the narrow steps of a nondescript building in the back streets of Islington, north London. He was visiting the Eritrean embassy to inquire about his “clearance”. This is the process every Eritrean in the diaspora must undergo if they want to have any dealings with their home country.

However, being cleared entails paying a 2% tax on all UK earnings to the Eritrean authorities. Without clearance Sam could not have his passport renewed, apply for a business permit in his home country, or even send a parcel of secondhand clothes to his family.

The diaspora tax was banned by the UN security council in 2011 (pdf). Resolution 2023, supported by the UK, condemned the tax because it was being used to fund “arms and related material” for rebel groups across the Horn of Africa.

These included the Somali militant group al-Shabaab, an al-Qaida affiliate. Eritrea supported al-Shabaab as an indirect means of attacking Ethiopia, its long-standing enemy.

In May 2011 the Foreign Office notified the Eritrean authorities that “aspects of the collection of a tax levied by the Eritrean government on Eritreans living in the UK may be unlawful and in breach of the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations. The ambassador was told that until it was demonstrated otherwise the embassy should suspend, immediately and in full, all activities relating to the collection of the tax.”

Despite this warning, the Foreign Office is aware that pressure on British Eritreans to pay the tax has continued. Lady Warsi, the senior minister of state at the Foreign Office, confirmed in a written reply to Lady Kinnockthat the Eritrean ambassador had been warned he must comply with the resolution to desist from illicit means of collecting revenue from members of the Eritrean diaspora in the UK. “On 20 December 2012, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials raised these concerns with the Eritrean ambassador and reminded him of UN SCR 2023,” Warsi wrote.

Yet a year later, when Sam arrived at the embassy, he was informed he had no option but to pay the illegal tax. “If you have anything to do or there is any query,” an embassy staff member told him. “You will have to pay it all and get clearance. You will not be able to do anything without clearance.”

“We are aware of allegations over the use of harassment to collect revenue from members of the Eritrean diaspora in the UK,” Warsi wrote. “On 20 December 2012, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials raised these concerns with the Eritrean ambassador and reminded him of UN SCR 2023.”

The sums involved can be substantial. Tax is claimed when an Eritrean turns 18 – even students are expected to contribute £50 a year. Upon reaching adulthood, Sam was told he had to pay the full tax. “However, after [reaching 18] and until 2013 you need to bring a payslip, a P60 or anything that indicates your income. When you come with all these documents, then you can pay the 2% tax.”

Backpaying 17 years of taxes would have been a huge burden for Sam, who has a young family to support. “I need to get a mortgage to pay all this,” he joked with the embassy staff as he turned to leave. Having no intention of paying the tax, he had secretly recorded the entire exchange on video.

The allegation that staff continue to demand payment of the 2% is supported by receipts obtained from other Eritreans, dated after May 2011, when the practice was outlawed by the UN.

The taxation of the Eritrean diaspora, many of whom live just above the breadline, has been challenged by a group of Eritrean women. Team Eritrea, as they are known, are requesting that the British government ends its toleration of the illegal tax. “It is extortion from some of the poorest people in our community, who just want to help their families back home,” says Feruz Werede, who is leading the campaign.

But the campaigners want the Foreign Office to go further. They are calling on the British government to follow the Canadian example and expel the Eritrean ambassador. In May 2013, fed up with repeated – and false – assurances from the Eritrean authorities, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, expelled the Eritrean consul in Toronto, Semere Ghebremariam O Micael, declaring: “Today’s actions speak for themselves.”

The UK diaspora fears the extortion will continue unless decisive action is taken. Eritrea is among the most repressive countries in the world, and the funds sent from Britain through this tax assist the regime in maintaining its hold over the beleaguered population.

*Sam’s name has been withheld to protect his identity

Source: Theguardian 

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31 COMMENTS
  • Morroso February 12, 2014

    haben solomon
    you are just wuh’wuh as kelbi::

  • papayo February 12, 2014

    Haben, let me say this, there is nothing wrong with paying tax but who you pay to and why you pay is the big question here.
    I live in the US and I pay Federal and State tax, Why..because I get the service in return like protection from foreign enemies, terrorist attacks, police protection from domestic violence, ambulance service for emergencies, fire protection and so on.
    When it comes to paying tax to the Gov. of Eritrea I need some explanation as to why am I paying tax, I don’t even live in Eritrea. I do agree when I need service I should pay tax, I don’t mind if I pay higher tax than the locals, it is a fare game.
    There is nothing wrong with helping your country I am with you on that and I can do that in different ways, helping the needy, taking care of the orphans etc. but the irony of all this is you can’t even do that. let me tell you this story, one Eritrean medical professional wanted to send medical supplies which was donated by her employers, and she approached her local Eritrean office and after a gruesome interrogation she was finally asked if she has paid the 2%, well she didn’t and she was not planning to do so b’se she didn’t have no interest of living in Eritrea but a great deal of desire to help her people. I was asked to intervene and help her to persuade them to accept the donated medical supplies but to my surprise it never happen. I was so glad that I was not asked if I have paid the 2% for trying to help my fellow Eritrean. hah..
    So may question to you Haben, how on earth do you digest all this…?
    thx,

  • kk February 12, 2014

    I wonder about Eritreans, they fled the regime because human rights is not respected and ask asylum in countries where human rights reserved, once they settle in these countries they start supporting the same regime they scaped from. I think we deserve what is happening to us. Before we will be able to see things clearly Wright as Wright and wrong as wrong our misery will continue.

    • selamawit2 February 13, 2014

      kk, on one side you are, on one side you are verywrong:
      almost 10% of the eritrean population from inside the country escaped the regime in recent years.
      but only a few (hooligans) of them are supporting the regime. just as you know, hooligans are loud like barking dogs. if there are 100 people talking in a civilized way, you will always hear the barking dog instead, if you stay at the surface of your perception!

  • EYENSN February 12, 2014

    I think we shouldn’t even talk about 2% because nobody will force us to pay if we don’t want but if some one wants to pay then there is no way we can stop them from paying because they have million way to pay. No matter what any country does ,they have no way to stop anyone from paying 2% so I think we are just wasting out time talking about this none sense stuff

  • Abnet February 12, 2014

    let them pay becuase they will cry tomorrow for thier money.
    becuase they dont get a lesson from the previous payers.Issayas will swallow their money as a sponge and he will insult them for doing that.

  • Haben Solomon February 13, 2014

    Papayo,

    Where I work, there are American expats. They all pay tax to the American government. They get nothing in return. I don’t hear people talk about this. The Eritrean government is not forcing you to pay tax. However, if you need their service, then they have the right to demand that you contribute your due. There is no such thing as free lunch. The other option you have is to rescind your Eritrean citizenship and you will be treated as a foreigner. You can’t have your cake and eat it to. It is that simple. If you are an Eritrean citizen, you have to pay tax wherever you are unless the two repective governments have an agreement. I don’t know why people are making such a fuss over a clear and simple issue. As to the Eritrean embassies being too rigid when it comes to people wanting to help their people, I fully agree with you. It can be frustrating. It is obvious that they don’t know how to take advantage of the goodwill of the people. This is a case of incompetence and nothing else. However, we should not mix two unrelated issues.

  • Haben Solomon February 13, 2014

    Saba,

    With all due respect, you obviously have no clue about the tax rules in the UK. Yes, I pay 40% tax above a certain threshold. Being respectful even to your worst enemy is a sign of maturity. Hsur ma’ere nefsu yehsreka.

  • Amanuel February 13, 2014

    The issue paying TAX is a very complex issue. The TAX payer require to declare his weekly, monthly and yearly income. The receiver had to give receipt to the TAX payer and accountable for the money collected from the TAX payer. The receiver also require to declare all money collected from TAX payers in his yearly income budget and he should be accountable for any money lost. Will this system work in Eritrea?

  • M Russian February 16, 2014

    Taxes are obligations levied on citizens – if the choice is not to oblige, the easy solution is to rescend citizenship!

  • Haben February 18, 2014

    Get rid of the regime first. Stop sending money to Monistor Esays.

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