There are no signs of the improvements claimed by the Danish report and UK decisions
"Just deserters – why indefinite national service in Eritrea has created a generation of refugees"
During the refugee crisis of 2015, the third biggest group of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean were Eritreans – fleeing from a country in the Horn of Africa with no ongoing armed conflict. A large percentage were between 18 and 24 years old.
One factor in particular continues to drive Eritreans to flee – indefinite conscription into National Service.
In late 2014, members of the Eritrean government gave assurances that the indefinite extension of conscription would end. The new report from Amnesty details the recent experiences of conscripts in National Service. Amnesty International's research in 2015 found no discernible changes to National Service. Conscription continues to be indefinite for a high proportion of conscripts and sometimes lasts for decades. Deployment continues in a range civilian as well as military roles, including agricultural work, construction, teaching and the civil service. The system amounts to forced labour on a national scale.
Conscripts are unable to enjoy family life because they are often deployed far away from home. Leave is limited and arbitrarily granted. Conscripts do not earn enough in National Service to make ends meet. The system impacts ever-increasingly on children. Children are dropping out of school early to avoid conscription and assuming the economic burden of families. They rarely see their fathers and girls are married of earlier in the hope that this will render them ineligible for National Service.
But it is next to impossible to avoid conscription. Those attempting to evade or desert conscription are often caught in round-up, and subjected to months in arbitrary detention as punishment, before being sent for National Service. Those caught trying to leave Eritrea without authorisation face a similar fate. Conditions in detention are appalling.
Yet a number of countries where Eritreans are seeking asylum are refusing to recognise that those who flee National Service have valid grounds for claiming international protection.
The Eritrean government needs to bring an end to indefinite conscription into National Service. Countries hosting Eritrea asylum seekers need to offer them international protection, while advocating with the government of Eritrea to institute urgent reforms to National Service.
The report is addressing specifically the report from Danish Immigration Service from last year which concluded that there was no longer a risk for the majority of Eritreans on return. After massive criticism and disclosures, the Danish authorities decided not to use the conclusions and are in fact granting asylum to 100% of Eritrean asylum seekers. But United Kingdom is referring to the Danish report and now rejects 66% of Eritreans in the UK. Therefor Amnesty urges the Danish state to withdraw the report completely.
Download the full report here (64 pages).
International press release here.
(Photo: Michala C. Bendixen, Eritrean refugees in Stevns, Denmark)