HRCE director, Elizabeth Chyrum, sends an open letter to Rt Hon. David Cameron MP expressing deep concern on the Home Office’s permission of the UKBA to use a completely discredited Danish report as the criteria for determining the outcome of applications filed by Eritrean asylum-seekers who have fled from the open-ended national service characterised by UN and human rights agencies as forced labour or as a modern form of slavery. Read the full letter below:
9 September 2015
Dear Prime Minister Cameron,
Re: The ‘New Home Office Guidelines; Country Information and Guidance Eritrea
As the director of Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE), and as a human being, I am deeply concerned by the Home Office permitting the UKBA to use a completely discredited Danish report as the criteria for determining the outcome of applications filed by Eritrean asylum-seekers who have fled from the open-ended national service characterised by UN and human rights agencies as forced labour or as a modern form of slavery.
I would like also to bring to your attention my disappointment with the recent ‘Home Office Guidelines; Country Information and Guidance Eritrea: National (incl. Military) Service’ (2015) and the ‘Country Information and Guidance Eritrea: Illegal Exit’ (2015), and subsequent decisions based on these documents which are based on the discredited Danish Immigration Service report on Eritrea.
I wish to join the analysts, experts, human rights and UN organisations that have rejected the report of Danish Immigration Service and the Home Office Guidance. I feel, as do many others, that both the Danish report and the Home Office Guidance represent a politically motivated attempt to stop Eritreans from securing asylum. Since the introduction of these flawed guidelines, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE) has published a meticulously documented report which clearly demonstrates that Eritrean asylum-seekers are driven by gross violations of human rights which include forced labour, torture and gruesome sexual violence. The UK government was among those who co-sponsored the Commission’s mandate.
Since the adoption of the new misguided guidelines, most applications for asylum by Eritrean asylum seekers have been rejected and as a result, many have fallen into destitution and deprivation even though such decision are not in line with objective evidence on Eritrea such as that documented by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE) in June 2015, a mandate co-sponsored by the UK government.
The UK in spite of its proud history of providing protection to Eritrean asylum-seekers, has changed its policy based on the discredited Danish Immigration Service report which has even been denounced by two of its authors. Why is the UK government deliberately using a discredited report to validate case workers’ decisions when earlier reports by the Home Office were reasonably accurate?.
- The Danish report is among other things informed by information provided by the Eritrean authorities. The question that arises is: Since the authors of the report have disowned it and resigned from their posts, does this not indicate that the report is unreliable?
- Phrases such as ‘general feeling’ ‘there is information to suggest’ are but two examples of the vagueness of this report, compared to the concrete and heavily documented, reliably sourced information presented in the Commission of Inquiry’s report, and umpteen other Human Rights organisations’ findings. Why would data provided by Eritrea, which denied access to the UN Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea be believed?
- None of the informants of the Danish Immigration Service report are named even though there is nothing to justify their anonymity. The only two named sources have dissociated themselves from the report. Who is the ‘well-known Eritrean intellectual’ mentioned in the Danish report? Why is his name not used? Because he, himself, also refutes what he is misquoted as saying. Presumably, his name, and other sources, are left out to avoid legal action, or simply because they do not exist. Legal action, for example, is just one of the hundreds of basic human liberties not existing in Eritrea. You cannot hire a lawyer to defend you against anything the government or its army does to you.
- Although the COIE was not allowed to visit Eritrea, they obtained first hand testimonies from 550 victims and received 160 written submissions related to 254 individual cases in diaspora. On the basis of the evidence gathered, the COIE found that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the government. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity. That is why its mandate has been extended by a year.
This month marked the fourteenth anniversary of the arbitrary arrest and detention of government critics and independent journalists. Their fate is unknown and they, along with thousands of their fellow citizens are languishing in harsh detention centres without due legal process.
- There is no independent judicial system in Eritrea. An Eritrean can be arrested and imprisoned without charge or trial for decades. There are hundreds of political conventional prisons in underground dungeons, and metal shipping containers for no other crime other than housing innocent citizens whose crimes are to be critical of the government, to belonging to the “’wrong’ religious group”, or for refusing to comply with the indefinite National Service imposed on the entire nation.
- Torture in all its forms is the most defining characteristic of the prison system in Eritrea. Solitary confinement, brutal beatings, electric shocks, genital torture, rape and sex slavery are common. Privations of all kinds – sleep, food, water, clothes, medicine, company, and visitation – are used routinely, while all legal procedures are ignored.
- The only university in the country was closed down, and education is militarised. Any able-bodied young person, and some under age children are forced to enter the military for an indefinite national service. Forced labour of students and conscripts has been widely used under the pretext of development programmes. The conscripts are forced to work in government-owned projects, such as farming, dam building, housing and road construction. Many of those who joined National Service in 1994 are still there today paid . And now, with numerous mining projects being developed in cooperation with foreign investors, Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) has ample evidence to show that most of the manual labour in these projects is being provided by national service conscripts, forced conscripts, forced labour and exploitation of workers against their will and with little remuneration.
- Freedom of religion and belief are severely curtailed. Every religious grouping has effectively been outlawed with the exception of the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism and the mainstream Islam (Sunni). Members of the forbidden groups face indefinite detention without charge or trial in life-threatening conditions. Many, pending the denial of their faith. Several have died in prison after being tortured inhumanly. Even members of the “permitted” religious groups face repression. For example, following governmental machinations, the ordained Orthodox patriarch was illegally removed from office in 2006 and remains under stringent house arrest, while Muslim teachers who objected to the installation of a government-appointed leader have been imprisoned since the 1990s.
- Eritrea’s government has been conducting its domestic policy through sheer terror. No consultations, dialogues, petitions, elections or legal proceedings ever take place. If the government wants land, it grabs it without any compensation. If an enterprise suddenly becomes profitable, it monopolizes it either by bankrupting the owners or by blatantly taking it over. If it wants new recruits for its army, it conducts vicious roundups. If it wants workers in its mines, it uses slave labour. If it wants to stop the desertion of army conscripts, it takes their parents hostage.
- If it does not like a particular religion, it outlaws it and renders it illegal and throws its members into prison. Human rights defenders and media advocacy groups under the umbrella of human rights defenders are not permitted to operate in the country. The youth try to escape from Eritrea on a daily basis risking their lives, including by defying the “shoot to kill” policy at the border, in their desperation to leave a country that is effectively a giant prison in which they are enslaved, starved, tortured and oppressed.
Eritrea is only second to North Korea in terms of human rights abuses. Until recently, it has not had much media attention. The 484-page report by the COIE, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIEritrea/Pages/ReportCoIEritrea.aspx# of abuses in Eritrea is longer even than North Korea’s 372-page report, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/ReportoftheCommissionofInquiryDPRK.aspx
In view of all the above, how can the UK government justify the new Home Office’s Guidance which result in deporting asylum-seekers to the torture chambers in the country? This is inconsistent with the UK’s long-standing proud history of providing protection to victims of persecution and human rights violation.
I hope the British government will reconsider its position and provide protection to those who are fleeing from persecution and modern form of slavery. As a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, the UK government has a duty to comply with the spirit and letter of the Convention. not only the fact that it is systematically sending people back to be tortured and killed, but also that the information used to support the decision is spurious? Is it because the UK government wishes to whitewash relations with Eritrea in order to pursue its strategic, political or business interests such as its investments in mining in Eritrea? Business interests that are maintained by the use of Eritrean forced labour? Are we going back to the days of British colonialism?
 Ilegal exit:
 Human Rights Council: Twenty-ninth session agenda item 4Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention Report of the detailed findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, 5 June 2015. Available at http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoIEritrea/A_HRC_29_CRP-1.pdf