Date: January 23, 2020
In December 2019, Congressman Chris Smith released a statement in which he approves of the U.S. State Department's decision to include Eritrea--among others--as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) due to its "systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom." Such public classification marks a huge step in addressing the deplorable country conditions for Christians in Eritrea, a country repeatedly deemed 'the North Korea of Africa' due to its blatant and abhorrent human rights and religious freedom violations.
In Eritrea, only four religions are officially recognized by the government as legitimate: Sunni Islam, Roman Catholicism, Eritrean Orthodox, and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea. Despite their designation as legal religions, members of these groups continue to face increasing restrictions on their freedom to practice. Individuals who practice any faith outside of the four recognized religions are subject to detention without due process and are sent to prisons where they routinely face physical and sexual abuse. Eritrean Christians who converted from Islam face a disproportionately high level of persecution and discrimination from the nation, leaving many with no choice but to seek asylum in other nations.
In addition to unlawfully restricting citizens' freedoms of religion or belief, Eritrea has gained negative global attention for various human rights violations. All Eritreans are required to serve indefinitely for the Eritrean army, and according to Human Rights Watch, "national service is not the sole reason thousands, including unaccompanied children, flee Eritrea each month but it remains a primary factor." Serving in the Eritrean military offers no safety for citizens; however, as they are subject to torture and extremely low wages. Moreover, non-government-sponsored media is illegal and punishable, causing many journalists to be arrested every year. Any and all political dissenters are detained for lengthy periods of time, even individuals under the age of 18.
The peace deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia is false hope for those facing religious persecution in Eritrea
While the peace deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2018 marked a historic moment, the human rights situation on the ground in Eritrea remains dire:
• The open border between Eritrea and Ethiopia was closed and Eritreans continue to flee via Ethiopia and Sudan. Approximately 2500 Eritreans enter Ethiopia monthly according to the UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency).
• The indefinite military conscription remains even though the reason for conscription - war with Ethiopia - ceases to exist. To date no reforms have been made despite promises made earlier by the Eritrean government.
• The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in Eritrea has still not been invited to visit the country, which, as expressed by the former UN Special Rapporteur, is "symptomatic of a broader context of denial and rejection, suggesting that the situation of human rights in the country remains critical."
• Religious persecution is still ongoing. Government is still keeping Abune Antonios under house arrest and religious prisoners under arbitrary detention.
• In July 2019 the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea was extended indicating the seriousness of human rights violations in the country.
Despite the growing evidence of the increasingly dangerous human rights and religious freedoms conditions in Eritrea, in September 2017, the United States Department of Homeland Security expressed that it would be making swifter moves to meet the final removal orders of 700 Eritreans residing in the United States. We fear that immigration judges' lack of comprehensive knowledge on the truly devastating country conditions in Eritrea is the driving factor causing such individuals to be repatriated to their home country which is increasingly unsafe for them, looming with the threat of torture and detention for forcibly returned Eritreans.
In light of this situation, we feel it is important to share the evidence and stories of Eritrean struggle on a broader level so that immigration officials and policymakers in the United States can no longer ignore the implications and consequences repatriated Eritreans face upon return to their home country. The evidence is inarguable that Eritreans are in danger, and it is our duty to provide for them a safe haven for as long as necessary until a peaceful return is wholly possible. We humbly ask that you share this information to friends and colleagues, and to reach out to your representative with this information.