What is it like to visit Eritrea

Refugees from Eritrea: The long arm of the regime

Kessete Awet had to leave his homeland Eritrea in his childhood. 34 years ago he and his parents fled to Germany via Sudan. While the civil war was raging in Eritrea, today's social worker and his family have settled in Wuppertal.

But his origins are with him to this day: In addition to his normal job, Kessete Awet works as an interpreter for the Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees. There he witnesses the stories that are causing many of his compatriots to flee dangerously from their homeland in East Africa every day. Tens of thousands flee every year to apply for asylum in Germany, among other places. They are desperate and afraid of the dictatorial regime in Eritrea, says Kessete Awet.

Eritrea's President Isaias Afewerki signed a peace treaty with neighboring Ethiopia in 2018, but it has changed little for most Eritreans. It is particularly difficult for young people, says Kessete Awet. "You will be obliged to serve in the military for life. You have no future and therefore flee." Asylum seekers from Eritrea are not economic refugees, he emphasizes. "Nobody would undertake this ordeal for economic reasons." Again and again people on the run are shot or kidnapped, especially in the transit country Libya the human rights situation is catastrophic. "It's about: Either stay in Eritrea and die or catch a piece of life elsewhere," said Kessete Awet.

In relation to the number of inhabitants, hardly any other country has as many people fleeing as Eritrea

Military service is the main reason for fleeing

Human rights organizations confirm the plight: "Eritrea is one of the most repressive countries in the world. The hope for reforms after the peace agreement with Ethiopia has been shattered," says Laetitia Bader, Eritrea expert at the human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Rome. "Politically persecuted people end up in terrible prison camps, isolated from their families," said Bader. "The whole system is based on population control. Military service is the most effective means of oppression." In Eritrea, large parts of the population would be drafted into military and labor services - and for an indefinite period of time. For young people, this is the main reason for fleeing abroad.

But current media reports raise doubts about the motives for some Eritreans to flee. One case from Norway in particular recently caused a stir internationally. There images appeared showing members of the Eritrean community in Oslo at a ceremony with representatives of the Afewerki regime. Particularly spicy: The occasion of the celebration was the 25th anniversary of the conscription that many Eritreans give as the motivation for their flight. Reason enough for the Norwegian government to re-examine the positive asylum notices in 150 cases.

Fear of the regime

How can it be that Eritrean refugees attend a celebration of the Eritrean regime? "The government in Eritrea has a long arm of control, including abroad," said Bader of the incidents. For example, refugees may feel compelled to contact the Eritrean government for fear of retaliation against their families in their home country. Kessete Awet confirms that in Germany, too, many Eritreans live in fear of the regime. However, he has not yet heard of incidents like the one in Norway in this country. According to Awet, anyone who appears close to the regime, as in Norway, could also be "bought" by Eritrea for propaganda purposes. "But that is not a significant number of refugees and does not represent the majority," he says.

Isayas Afewerki has ruled Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in the world, since 1993

The Offenbach association "Connection", which campaigns for conscientious objectors and deserters from all over the world, sees another problem. "The practice of protection in Germany ensures that refugees are driven towards the Eritrean system," said the head of the association, Rudi Friedrich, in an interview with DW. Because the German authorities often grant asylum to Eritrean refugees for humanitarian, but not for political reasons, the Eritreans are dependent on cooperation with their government. "You do not receive a refugee passport and you have to get a passport from the Eritrean consulate in Germany," said Friedrich. In return, the refugees are often asked to express their repentance, and at the same time the consulate is demanding a two percent diaspora tax from Eritrean citizens abroad. "The refugees are practically put under pressure to behave well towards their regime and the regime retains access to its own citizens abroad."

Do the allegations from Norway have an impact on asylum practice in Germany? The BAMF writes in a statement to DW: "The decision-maker must determine whether a lecture is credible or not by means of targeted inquiries. The reasons for asylum presented by applicants during their hearing are not statistically recorded at the Federal Office. The presentations by the applicants are so complex that it is not possible to reduce them to a statistical component. " According to the latest statistics, Eritrea is in ninth place of the ten countries of origin with the highest access, Syria at the top. The total protection rate for asylum seekers from Eritrea 72.8%.