19 June 2015

The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) has published a detailed report on the situation relating to Eritrea. It indicates that possibly there are difficulties in making decisions on applications by Eritreans, taking into account that, at the end of April 2015, over 30,000 Eritrean asylum seekers were still awaiting for a response to their asylum claim in EU Member States and in Norway and Switzerland. According to EASO, the most recurrent motives for Eritrean asylum applications relate to open-ended national (military) service, fear of persecution on the basis of religion, consequences of illegal departure in case of return and treatment during detention. On the basis of these findings, EU Member States could look to this information report when determining the international protection status of Eritrean refugees.

EASO documents concerns relating to the open-ended national service imposed by the government, including the increasingly frequent forced recruitments, giffa, of young people, that often involves children and women. There is evidence proving that torture and beatings are arbitrarily perpetrated during the national service for minor transgressions of military conduct, as well as for disobedience and attempts to escape. Furthermore, women are regularly victims of sexual abuses, perpetrated by military superiors. Reportedly, soldiers’ living conditions are harsh, including the lack of food and medicines.

The report emphasizes that members of several religious communities are persecuted and imprisoned, some for several years because the government refuses to recognise them. People belonging to these ‘unlawful’ religious minorities are frequently punished, namely if they refuse to participate in the national service, but also for the possession of religious texts and practices during their service.

According to the report, many Eritreans who try to escape indefinite national service, and leave the territory, are imprisoned and kept in incommunicado detention, without charges, proceedings or fixed sentence, for periods varying up to several years. This also occurs if Eritreans criticise the government or if they are members of religious minorities. The report highlights that deaths during imprisonment are a frequent occurrence, due to torture, mistreatments and forced labour; as well as sexual assaults and the rape of women. Furthermore, several studies confirm that Eritrean detainees are forced to live in overcrowded cells, sometimes located underground or in shipping containers. In general, in prisons, Eritreans face poor hygiene conditions, limited medical care, as well as lack of food and drinking water.

The report points out that the large number of Eritreans fleeing the country risks being killed by a shoot-to-kill policy at the borders; as well as kidnapping, sexual assault and forced labour. In addition, Eritreans repatriated from states where their asylum claim was rejected, might be caught at the airport after returning and subjected to extra-judicial and arbitrarily punishments, including torture and ill-treatment.

In 2014, 47,125 Eritrean sought asylum in the EU, Norway and Switzerland, more than doubling the number of applicants registered in 2013 (20,295).

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 19 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.