Eritrean Government Demands Ransoms from Refugees for Detained Family Members

Sources have notified Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) that their family members are being held for ransom by the Eritrean authorities after attempting to cross the border to join their loved ones.

A number of desperate Eritreans in the diaspora have contacted HRCE, informing us that they are in an exceptionally difficult situation, unable to pay ransoms for their family members (including children) who were caught as they tried to cross the border. The Eritrean government is demanding that family members of the people caught attempting to flee from its grasp now pay to have them released from jail, but still kept within Eritrea. In one case, a man informed us he was asked to pay the equivalent of €4,000 for his wife and two children, including an infant, to be released. This is not the only case in which children as young as 6 months have been kept in jail with their mothers.

The ransom the Eritrean government is requesting seems to vary from one border crossing point to another; our sources say that the Eritrean authorities are demanding 20,000 Nakfa per family for those caught crossing through the Gash Barka region, mainly into Sudan, and 50,000 Nakfa per person for people caught crossing from the Southern (Debub) region into Ethiopia. The refugees who are being asked to pay these ransoms are desperately worried about the fate of their families, some of whom have been in detention for a year. The illegal jailing of their spouses and children puts them in the impossible position of not being able to pay the exorbitant demands, yet also having to negotiate with a regime they risked their lives to escape.

The heartless Eritrean regime has been making life impossible for the population inside the country, and for the refugees it creates by finding more and more ways of extorting money from them both when they are within their country as well as once they leave. The illicit ways in which the regime operates reach Eritrean refugees wherever they go, through unofficial extortion mechanisms such as these ransom payments, or by making people pay 2% taxes and other payments, and forcing them to sign a regret form for fleeing Eritrea illegally and deserting from the indefinite national service (national slavery) through its official embassies all over the world.

In the past, the Eritrean government had extorted ransom from Eritreans who fled the country by arresting their parents. Refugees and asylum seekers had to pay as much as 50,000 Nakfa per parent, whilst still having to deal with the difficulties of making a new life for themselves in another country. Many elderly parents have been jailed as a result of their children’s fleeing the country illegally, because their children were unable to pay the demanded ransom money by the Eritrean authorities. It is not clear whether this practice has stopped completely, after it continued for a number of years.

The Eritrean government has now adopted a different strategy. With no sign of the shoot-to-kill policy at the border having stopped, if people trying to cross are caught then the government is asking for money for their release. Their family members already having left, Eritreans within the country still attempt to leave the oppressive regime and join them. Since the older generation which fought for the independence has been abused and robbed of the future it fought for, many youths leave the country after having been made to serve as slaves under the indefinite forced labour system of National Service. Many of the younger generation who escape are men who have left their wives and children behind. As their families try to join their husbands and fathers in diaspora, many women and children get caught crossing the border and now find themselves detained in remote prisons, under harsh conditions.

Eritreans continue to leave their country in large numbers because the ruling regime has made life impossible for them. Eritreans who have their human rights violated on a regular basis and in every possible way are expected to live an increasingly miserable and deprived life, as the Isaias Afwerki’s government, which has been in power for nearly 27 years, loots the country of its resources and deprives the people of their life and liberty.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)