Expert opinion: Why Eritrean diaspora finds it so difficult to get official documentation

Expert Opinion on the Possibilities of Obtaining Documents for Eritrean Refugees in the Context of Family Reunification

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Since the beginning of 2020, we have also been supporting family reunification from third countries outside the EU as part of a new project. We have focused on supporting families whose relatives are in East Africa or the Middle East. The project is carried out in close cooperation with our partner International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). Cases are mainly, but not exclusively, referred to us through the UNHCR Central Mediterranean Family Reunification Project. Within the framework of this project, we provide legal assistance, in particular to children and young people at risk who are in third countries outside the EU and wish to be reunited with their family members who have received international protection in Germany.


In the context of our work, the lack of official documents has quickly emerged as the central problem in family reunification procedures, especially in the East African region. Most of the families do not have the documents that are generally required in family reunification procedures in the European Union. Although other member states are more flexible regarding the submission of alternative proof, the lack of documents often leads to the rejection of family reunification applications, especially in cases concerning Germany. Families from Eritrea and Somalia are particularly affected by this. While it is generally accepted that Somalia does not have a functioning document system and therefore official documents cannot be presented, German authorities believe that Eritrea has a well-functioning document system and that it is therefore possible and reasonable for Eritrean refugees to present Eritrean documents. However, this differs fundamentally from the experiences of Eritrean families, according to which the subsequent procurement of official documents is often not possible and/or tied to unreasonable conditions.

It is therefore necessary to clarify which official documents can be obtained subsequently from Eritrean authorities and which conditions must be met in order to do so. Equal Rights, in cooperation with the international organization International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), has therefore commissioned an expert opinion to clarify these questions in more detail.

The report concludes that Eritrea does not have the well-functioning document system that is attributed to it. Rather, many life events (such as births or marriages) remain officially undocumented. The subsequent procurement of documents is tied to the payment of the so-called diaspora tax and the signing of a so-called declaration of repentance. Although this is already known, the report reveals that the collection of the diaspora tax is arbitrary and thus abusive. For example, contrary to Eritrean law, social welfare recipients are also required to pay the tax.

Another key finding of the report concerns the reports of Eritrean refugees from third countries in East Africa, such as Sudan or Kenya. According to these reports, Eritrean missions abroad in these states generally deny Eritrean refugees consular services if they cannot prove that they fled Eritrea before the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia in June 2018. Thus, it is simply impossible for these individuals to obtain documents.

In addition, the report sheds light on the special constellation of unaccompanied minors residing in third countries to pursue their family reunification procedures. German authorities assume that unaccompanied minor refugees can easily obtain official documents from Eritrean diplomatic missions abroad. However, the report shows that this is already not provided for in Eritrean law and, according to reports from Eritrean refugees, it is proving to be practically impossible as well.

These findings require urgent consideration in Eritrean family reunification procedures, both by the embassies of the EU member states responsible for these procedures and by the national courts.

The full report can be found here.

A publication of the report in German is already planned.

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