Eritreans and Somalis Face Some of World’s Harshest Conditions

Last year, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea published an extensive 484-page report documenting the human rights atrocities facing those in Eritrea. As corruption and perils persist today, many are fleeing as refugees to seek a place where they can live in safety and freedom. Below is an update on the conditions of Eritrea, including a link to a brand new website launched by the UN Refugee Agency to provide real-life stories from those who have fled from both Eritrea and Somalia.

The small East African countries of Eritrea and Somalia have produced thousands upon thousands of refugees who have fled to other African countries and Europe. The large masses of people who are fleeing these countries stems from a wide array of atrocities that make it too dangerous for them to stay. Reports have estimated that nearly 5,000 people flee Eritrea each month.

The Eritrean government treats its people so poorly that it has been compared to North Korea. However, Eritrea has gotten very little attention or compassion from the international community. The Eritrean government is extremely controlling of its people. The Committee to Protect Journalists stated Eritrea is “the most censored country in the world.” Only 1 percent of Eritreans can access the Internet, while 23 journalists remain in jail, the highest number in all of Africa. What’s more, as the Eritrean government is so strongly guarded against its citizens, any public gathering of seven or more requires a permit from the government.

Eritrea also has extreme restrictions placed on religious groups. Currently, only four religious denominations are officially recognized by the government of Eritrea: Sunni Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea, and the Roman Catholic Church. Any unregistered group found practicing their faith may be arrested and detained without charge or trial and can face torture or even death. In many cases, those belonging to recognized groups also face repression.

Thousands of mostly Evangelical Christians are thought to be detained indefinitely, some of which are held in metal shipping containers. Although some were initially released after pledging to renounce their faith, none have been formally charged or tried and all are held until they provide similar denials of faith. During the past 15 years, these deplorable detention conditions have been inflicted upon tens of thousands of Evangelical Christians caught during Bible studies in private homes or otherwise seeking to practice their faith outside of the registered denominations. Consequently, tens of thousands have fled and many of those suffered even more brutal conditions as refugees, including death.

There have also been accounts of forced labor in both government operations and private businesses backed by the Eritrean government. Elsa Chyrum, Director of Human Rights Concern- Eritrea, interviewed Eritrean refugees who claimed they had been forced to work for the military and at the Bisha mine. If they refused, they would be killed, tortured, or detained. The interviewees reported that they worked in extreme heat and often experienced malaria, diarrhea, and collapsing due to their circumstances.

Situations such as these have created the harsh conditions that require people to flee. Unfortunately, many flee based on false hopes and rumors they have heard that promise security and hope. Often times, their attempts to reach safer grounds bring much suffering as they face corrupt smugglers along the way and then unwelcoming countries once they arrive. Many times, receiving countries refuse to treat Eritreans as refugees and instead declare them to be migrants and send them back to Eritrea with no protection.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched a the purpose of getting more accurate information to Eritreans and Somalis to prevent them from embarking on their journeys as refugees uninformed. The website gives real-life stories from people who faced immense dangers as they traveled as refugees with the hope of finding safety. Please take a moment to browse this site and pray for Eritreans and Somalis who have fled their countries or who have stayed and continue to face injustice.

To see more on human rights abuses in Eritrean mining, please see the following broadcast: