Eritrea raised in British Parliament: from the plight of Afars to child refugees

Below are questions raised in the Houses of Parliament. They cover a wide range of subjects, but share a common theme: an abiding concern for the human rights and welfare of the Eritrean people.


 

Recent Parliamentary Questions from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Eritrea

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 13 July 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Eritrea about Dawit Isaak, jailed in Eritrea without trial since 2001; and what information they have sought about his well-being.

Answered by Baroness Sugg on 23 July 2020

 

We are aware of the case of dual Eritrean and Swedish national, Dawit Isaak. The UK Government is fully committed to promote media freedom and protect journalists wherever possible. We believe that media freedom is vital to functioning democracies and that journalists must be able to investigate and report without undue interference. The Head of East Africa Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office raised media freedom during his visit to Eritrea in November 2019.

Asked by John McDonnell on 15 July 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, if he will make representations to the Government of Eritrea on reforming its policies that breach the human rights of (a) prisoners who have never been charged nor presented to a court of law but kept imprisoned without due legal process and incommunicado for decades and (b) other citizens.

Answered by James Duddridge on 23 July 2020

The UK Government, along with partners in the international community, has taken every opportunity to voice our concern about arbitrary arrests and detentions in Eritrea, and has called for the release of those arrested and detained in this way. We have done so directly with the Government of Eritrea and publicly at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, most recently on 30 June at the 44th Session. Over the past year, our Ambassador in Asmara has raised the cases of journalists detained without trial, as well as members of non-registered religious groups. We do not have a regular dialogue but we will continue to seek opportunities to raise these cases in our engagements.

On 26 February, the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, delivered a statement during the 43rd Session of the HRC, expressing concern at continuing human rights abuses and said that the UK would continue to press for the release of arbitrarily detained individuals. Eritrea remains a priority country for the FCO under our annual human rights reporting, and we will continue to monitor the situation there.At the 41st session of the Human Rights Council in July 2019, the UK renewed calls for Eritrea to reform the national service system, recognising that sustainable reform of national service needs to happen in tandem with an improved economic situation and job creation. We also raise human rights in Eritrea, both directly with the Government, as the former Minister for Africa did with the Eritrean President’s senior adviser when she saw him in July 2019, and when the Head of East Africa Department, with our Ambassador in Asmara, saw the same advisor in November 2019.

Asked by John McDonnell on 15 July 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, if he will make representations to the UN Security Council on the Eritrean Government’s denial of access to the Red Sea for the Southern Red Sea people.

Answered by James Duddridge on 23 July 2020

The UK has not been able to verify reports that the Government of Eritrea is targeting the Southern Red Sea Afar people and denying them access to the Red Sea. The UK is informed by reporting from the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, who regularly monitors the human rights situation in the country, but she has not been allowed to visit herself. We note that her latest report refers to the reported marginalization of the Afar people. We will maintain contact with her office as we seek to establish the facts. The UK strongly supports the important work that she does in challenging the Government of Eritrea to improve its human rights record. This was reiterated by the UK in our statement at the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 30 June. Eritrea remains a priority country for the FCO under our annual human rights reporting, and we will continue to monitor the situation there.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 13 July 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Sugg on 10 June (HL6272) and following the UK Deputy Ambassador to Eritrea’s statement on 22 June that health and safety conditions on roadbuilding projects in that country would deteriorate if the UK and EU withdraws support, what assessment they have made of the working conditions of those projects; and what steps they are taking ensure that health and safety standards are maintained.

Answered by Baroness Sugg on 22 July 2020

The UK’s support for the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa projects in Eritrea on the main arterial roads was conditional on the EU working with the UN to monitor the treatment of workers implementing the project. We pressed the EU to ensure enhanced safeguards were in place and they have confirmed that the project implementer (UNOPS) will monitor whether workers are receiving an appropriate salary, and that basic health and safety standards are applied. This is alongside our continuing efforts to encourage reform of the Eritrean national service system.

Asked by John McDonnell on 14 July 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what representations he has made to the Government of Eritrea on abolishing indefinite servitude in the form of national service in line with the findings and recommendations of the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea.

Answered by James Duddridge on 21 July 2020

The UK continues to call for reform of Eritrea’s use of a system of indefinite national service. Whilst the Government of Eritrea has justified this service on grounds of the security threat posed by Ethiopia and has talked about the need for reform, we have yet to see any concrete proposal following the July 2018 peace agreement. At the 44th session of the Human Rights Council in July 2020, the UK renewed calls for Eritrea to reform the national service system. The Home Office International Director raised national service reform with Eritrean ministers during her visit in February 2020.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 30 June 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon on 18 February (HL1258), why they described those National Service workers employed by Segen engineering as “civilian”; whether those workers were recruited through national military conscription in Eritrea; and how they categories which workers are (1) civilians, and (2) part of the military.

Answered by Baroness Sugg on 14 July 2020

The Eritrean Government has justified civilian and military national service on grounds of the security threat posed by Ethiopia, but we have yet to see concrete proposals for reform following the peace declaration. According to our information, every Eritrean young person completes their 12th and final year of school at the national service military training centre at Sawa where they do both military training as well as academic study. At the end, they take exams which leads to some going to college, some receiving vocational training, while others join government ministries or the military. All jobs in Eritrea in the public sector are done by Eritreans on national service, and these include the civil service, teachers, doctors, construction and the military. Sustainable reform of national service needs to happen in tandem with improvements to the economic situation and job creation. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool on 30 June 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Sugg on 24 June (HL5743), how they have verified reports that the government of Eritrea is targeting the Red Sea Afar people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Answered by Baroness Sugg on 10 July 2020

The UK has not been able to verify reports that the Government of Eritrea is targeting the Red Sea Afar people. The UK is informed by reporting from the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea who regularly monitors the human rights situation in the country. Her latest report noted the reported marginalization of the Afar people. The UK strongly supports the important work that she does in challenging the Government of Eritrea to improve its human rights record. This was reiterated by the UK in our statement at the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 30 June. The Government of Eritrea acknowledges that there are areas of human rights concerns where there is room for improvement but progress to date remains limited. Eritrea remains a priority country for the FCO under our annual human rights reporting, and we will continue to monitor the situation there.

Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool 30 June 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the Written Answer by Baroness Sugg on 24 June (HL5743), what response they have received from the government of Eritrea following their raising of “concerns about human rights in Eritrea with the Government at every opportunity”.

Asked by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 24 June 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the risk of starvation to the people of the Afar region of Eritrea due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and (2) whether that risk has been exacerbated by the actions of the government of Eritrea.

Answered by Baroness Sugg on 06 July 2020

We are concerned that the population of Eritrea, including the Red Sea Afar people, are facing food insecurity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 and the desert locust outbreak are compounding existing humanitarian need caused by residual effects of war and climate change. Humanitarian and development programmes in Eritrea are being adapted to address current food security challenges. DFID funds life-saving activity in Eritrea, including providing £4 million to UNICEF in 2019-20 to help treat malnutrition in under-fives and provide access to safe hygiene and sanitation services. This programme continues to deliver basic nutrition supplies in the Afar region during the pandemic.

Like most countries affected by COVID-19, the authorities have imposed an internal travel ban and lockdown across Eritrea. We will continue to urge for these measures to be necessary, proportionate, time-bound, transparent and regularly reviewed. We raise our concerns about human rights in Eritrea with the Government at every opportunity, and we will continue to monitor the situation and risks in country.

Asked by Baroness Anelay of St Johns on 24 June 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures are in place to ensure that Government-funded international development and aid programmes do not involve forced labour in Eritrea, with particular regard to indefinite military conscription.

Answered by Baroness Sugg on 03 July 2020

UK Aid funds life-saving activity in Eritrea, including providing £4 million to UNICEF in 2019-20 to help treat malnutrition in under-fives and provide access to safe hygiene and sanitation services. UNICEF work with the Ministry of Health and at all levels of the local community to build the capacity of the health service in Eritrea and encourage a long-term, sustainable response to undernutrition. No military personnel are employed in the delivery of the programme and enhanced safeguards are in place to prevent the use of forced labour.

The UK continues to call for reform of Eritrea’s use of a system of universal and compulsory national service directly with the Government of Eritrea. At the 41st session of the Human Rights Council in July 2019, the UK renewed calls for Eritrea to reform the national service system, recognising that sustainable reform of national service needs to happen in tandem with an improved economic situation and job creation.

Asked by Harriett Baldwin on 23 June 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment he has made of the (a) food security and (b) human rights situation in the Southern Red Sea Denkalya Region of Eritrea during the covid-19 pandemic.

Answered by James Duddridge on 01 July 2020

We remain concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, including the arrests of opposition leaders, journalists and religious figures. Since Aster Fissehatsion and others were detained in 2001, the UK Government, along with partners in the international community, have taken every opportunity to voice our concern about arbitrary arrests and detentions in Eritrea, and have called for their release. We have done so directly with the Government of Eritrea and publicly – through our annual reporting on human rights and at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.

On 26 February, the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, delivered a statement during the 43rd Session of the HRC expressing concern at continuing human rights abuses. Although welcoming Eritrean acceptance of Universal Periodic Review recommendations and offering UK assistance in support of their implementation, she said that the UK would continue to press for the release of arbitrarily detained individuals including journalists, as well as reform of the National Service and freedom of religion or belief for worshippers of unregistered religions.

During visits to Eritrea, the FCO’s Head of East Africa Department, in November 2019, and the Home Office International Director, in February 2020, both raised human rights issues with senior members of the Eritrean Government, including Freedom of Expression and National Service. In April our Ambassador in Asmara raised the prospect of releasing prisoners given their increasing risk of infection from Covid-19 with the President’s chief political adviser, Yemane Gebreab. Eritrea remains a priority country for the FCO under our annual human rights reporting, and we will continue to monitor the situation there.

Asked by Sir George Howarth on 01 June 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what representations he has made to the UN Human Rights Council on the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Answered by James Duddridge on 04 June 2020

The UK is a strong supporter of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and the important work that she does in challenging the government of Eritrea to improve its human rights record. This was reiterated by the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights in her statement at the last session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 26 February. The HRC was suspended in March because of COVID-19, and arrangements to conclude the 43rd session and hold the 44th session have not yet been agreed. As the Minister of State responsible for Human Rights, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, told the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 20 May, the UK supports the safe resumption of the HRC in June. The UK believes that the Special Rapporteur’s work on Eritrea needs to continue, and we would support a resolution renewing her mandate.

Asked by Stephen Doughty on 18 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment his Department has made of the location of 20 people arrested by the Eritrean security forces in November 2019 in the Mendefera and Adi Quala areas in the Southern Zone of the State of Eritrea.

Answered by James Duddridge on 27 May 2020

We are aware of reports that at least 20 Muslim males, including local businessmen, religious teachers and community leaders, were arrested in Mendefera and Adi Quala on 28 November by Eritrean security forces. It is difficult for diplomatic staff to verify such reports given the lack of free media reporting in Eritrea and Eritrean Government restrictions on internal travel by diplomats.

Eritrea remains a priority country for the FCO in our annual human rights reporting, and we will continue to monitor the situation there. We regularly raise our concerns about human rights in Eritrea with their Government and in international fora. On 26 February, the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights delivered a statement during the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council expressing concern at continuing human rights abuses; she welcomed Eritrean acceptance of Universal Periodic Review recommendations with an offer to support their implementation, and called for the UN Special Rapporteur to be allowed to visit Eritrea.

During visits to Eritrea, the FCO’s Head of East Africa Department, in November 2019, and the Home Office International Director, in February 2020, both raised human rights issues with senior members of the Eritrean government, including Freedom of Expression and National Service. In April our Ambassador in Asmara raised the prospect of releasing prisoners given their increasing risk of infection from Covid-19 with the President’s chief political adviser, Yemane Gebreab.

Asked by Stephen Doughty on 18 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what representations he has made to his Ethiopian counterpart on that country’s change to its asylum policy in January 2020 towards Eritrean refugees.

Answered by James Duddridge on 27 May 2020

The UK Government is concerned about the recent changes in Ethiopia’s status determination procedures for asylum seekers. We have sought a dialogue with the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) on its changes so that we can discuss how they will be delivered and the implications for those fleeing from Eritrea and elsewhere. Through our £170 million refugee and migration programme in Ethiopia (2016-2023), the UK is a leading donor to the refugee response in Ethiopia and plays a proactive role in the coordination of the refugee response alongside UN agencies, other donors and the GoE.

Asked by Stephen Doughty on 18 May 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development, what assessment her Department has made of the humanitarian situation of (a) Eritrean asylum seekers and (b) unaccompanied children who are being turned away from the Ethiopian border.

Answered by James Duddridge on 27 May 2020

Recent changes in the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) asylum policies, alongside the impact of COVID-19, are affecting the ability of Eritreans to acquire refugee status in Ethiopia. The policy changes have seen a reduction in the numbers of Eritreans registering with the GoE and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Humanitarian agencies are now concerned that many Eritreans, including unaccompanied children, arrive in Ethiopia but do not complete the formal registration processes that facilitate access to lifesaving protection and other forms of assistance. This makes it challenging to assess their humanitarian needs.

We are not aware that unaccompanied children are being turned away at the Ethiopian border. However, in an effort to limit transmission of COVID-19 GoE asylum personnel are no longer deployed at border crossings, which complicates registration processes for newly arrived asylum seekers. Despite these complications we are encouraged that recent COVID-19 planning documents shared by the GoE stress Ethiopia’s commitment to uphold the right to asylum.

In Ethiopia, the UK has allocated £22.2 million to COVID-19 activities with urgent support now reaching refugees and other communities across the country. Ongoing UK funded programmes are also being adapted to meet COVID-19 needs, which refugees are also benefitting from.

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