Home Office weighs bleak UN report on rights abuses by Eritrea government

The UK is to “carefully consider” the findings of a UN inquiry that concluded the Eritrean government may be subjecting its citizens to crimes against humanity, contradicting British guidance that has deemed Eritrea safe for migrants to

The UK is to “carefully consider” the findings of a UN inquiry that concluded the Eritrean government may be subjecting its citizens to crimes against humanity, contradicting British guidance that has deemed Eritrea safe for migrants to return to after leaving illegally.

The Home Office updated its country guidance for Eritrea in March to advise that Eritreans are no longer at risk of persecution if they return home after leaving the country without official permission. This guidance is used by UK immigration officials to determine the legitimacy of asylum applications.

As long as Eritreans have paid income taxes and sign a letter of apology for leaving the country illegally, they will not face persecution or harm if they return, the guidance from the Home Office said. “Previous country guidance indicated that those who had left illegally were at risk on return to Eritrea. However, up-to-date information from inside Eritrea suggests this is no longer the case,” it said.

But the UN commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea painted a much bleaker picture for Eritrean returnees in a report published on Monday. It said that Eritreans who fled the country illegally are regarded as “traitors”. They are usually arrested when they return and are detained in harsh conditions. “Returnees who spoke to the commission were held in prison between eight months to three years,” the report said. “[They] are systematically ill-treated to the point of torture.”

The UN report also said the Eritrean government is carrying out extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, indefinite national service and forced labour “on a scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere”.

The Eritrean government dismissed the UN’s allegations as “unfounded and devoid of all merit”. Eritrea has said that huge numbers of Ethiopian asylum seekers, pretending to be Eritrean to increase their chances of gaining asylum, have distorted the actual number of Eritreans arriving in Europe.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We will carefully consider the findings of the UN report.” She did not specify whether the current Home Office guidance would be changed.

She added: “Our country information and guidance is based on a careful and objective assessment of the situation in Eritrea using evidence taken from a range of sources including media outlets, local, national and international organisations, including human rights organisations, and information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.”

European countries are struggling to deal with the arrival of record numbers of migrants and refugees, notably from Syria and Eritrea. Fleeing civil war, persecution and seeking better job prospects, thousands have braved dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean, in the hope of gaining asylum in Europe.

Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, reported that 36,925 Eritrean migrants applied for asylum in Europe last year, a 155% increase from 2013. The UK received 3,552 asylum applications from Eritreans in the year to March, more than from any other nationality, according to the Home Office.

Even more migrants are expected to arrive during the summer months, when the Mediterranean is calmer and crossings are less risky. Last month, the EU announced plans to take in 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean migrants, but this was met with opposition from some member states.

Denmark and Norway have also issued new asylum guidance in the past year, making it easier for immigration services to reject Eritrean applications. These moves have been condemned by human rights groups.

Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said: “In the absence of tangible human rights reforms by Eritrea’s government, host countries, particularly in the EU, should not close the door on Eritrean asylum seekers or send them back to almost certain abuse.”

The Home Office’s March guidance included dozens of citations from a heavily criticised report by the Danish Immigration Service (DIS) used to determine asylum applications to Denmark.

The Danish report, published in December, has been criticised as inaccurate and misleading by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Watch and a group of 23 academics, activists and journalists.

Jens Weise Olesen, a chief immigration adviser at DIS and co-author of the Danish report, has been suspended for speaking out about the production of the study.

Olesen said the report had been rushed out after a huge increase in the number of Eritreans applying for asylum in Denmark. He said the report has deterred Eritreans from seeking asylum in Denmark since it was published.

“Our head of office was very eager to publish the report extremely quickly,” he said. “You could see the number of Eritrean asylum applications to Denmark going down, because they knew the report was out there and it could be used to reject their application.”

A DIS spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying the matter had been closed.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are aware of, and have taken into account, criticism of parts of the Danish report, which is only used alongside a range of other sources to produce the guidance.”

Eritrea’s indefinite national service, which requires men and women over 18 to serve in the military or work for the government, is cited as the most common reason that people flee the country. EU officials have said that Eritrea has committed to reducing its national service requirement to 18 months, but HRW said there is no sign this commitment has been made.

When the new guidance was issued in March, HRW said there was no evidence of any change of policy regarding illegal exits in Eritrea and it urged the Home Office to reconsider its conclusions.

TheGuardian

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6 COMMENTS
  • Rozina June 11, 2015

    Eritrea’s refugee saga is the social cost of tyranny. The Eritrean refugee crisis is man made. It is a failure of governance. Eritrea is not a one party state; it is a one man (mad man) state.

    DIA is the party, the government and the state. This is an extreme form of alienation of the people’s political rights. A good number of refugees are young people tired of constant military service and mobilization.

    Eritrea had more international support during its struggle for independence than after independence. The impoverished state needs strong international cooperation to alleviate the plight of its people. Yet DIA’s amateurish ego-driven political stance have alienated non-government organizations (NGOs) and international organizations, from the African Union to the United Nations.

  • Amanuel June 12, 2015

    Answer to your opinion Mr/Miss True lies, yes it is sad but not true. Yes revealing the truth can hurt a lot of people. We should all take our responsibility. If somebody’s life is built by lies let it fall apart. Why do we want to live a life which fake, full of deception and Hypocrisy. As to your political analysis I agree the big powers do not want to see a failed nation and security vacuum. But they also know it is inevitable as the Regime in Eritrea is dying slowly. As to what a coup de ta by a General can bring it depends. Things can change over night if the right people come to power. They do not need to lick the bottom of Ethiopia or any other powers to survive. Sort the Eritrean internal issues, we can live in peace in the region. The remote is in our hands, it all takes few brilliant and organised minds and little power from within.

    • true lies June 13, 2015

      Dear Amanuel ,

      I hope you are right because I like your look on the situation ,I guess I have seen many bulls**tters about Eritrea ,I am at a loss.By the way it is Mr. True Lies, thank you

  • hagerawi June 12, 2015

    ok Good but as long as these eritreans don’t dance and clap for the regime in their safe heaven all this new guide lines wouldn’t have been isued by the uk home office.eritreans are naive to think european nations have obligation to accept them as refugees butthen abused their asylem status by paying 2% and dance and dine with the regime officials spies and so called community centres.they are not showing any sign of resisteing and protesting at the regime apart from handfull of people.I Really want to see how many eritreans will turn up at the geneva demonstration and that will be enough for me to call eritreans incompetence coward society.Out of the so called 200,000 refugees only 700 were volunterd to be intervies at the UN human right commissions enquiry,what a shame.what happen to confidentially giving interview and build up the case for ICC.I think as a socety we are doomed and as a country we are failer in every way.sad sad sad

  • Zemzem June 12, 2015

    If Eritrea is safe and reliable under PFDJ, that is well and good, but and what have changed positive to make it safe and sound, what tangible guarantee and evidence do you have to proclaim that?
    Who ever is painting pfdj as reliable image, because unpractical, let them keep the ones inside Eritrea stay and satisfied before any plan of sending back to those who have left the country of oppression and police state governance.
    If you support Pfdj, love Pfdj, think Pfdj the best, no problem…. Go and stay we them, live with them, learn from them if they have any good. My friend when you find out the truth after a while don’t be shy to go back from where you shocked off!!! It is up to you, how many have returned back to the west after being in Eritrea for good? 90% if not 100%…….

  • true lies June 12, 2015

    Week in the Horn 12.6.2015
    MoFA 06-12-15
    …Norway’s State Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Jøran Kallemyr returned to Norway from a visit to Eritrea and said “… went there to obtain confirmation that it [Eritrea]intended to comply with the maximum limit of 18 months of national service, and ensure access for observers from Norway”. The State Secretary said Norway now had a green light to send experts and observers to assess the situation in Eritrea..”..

    Do we believe it ???

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