By Reinhardt Jacobsen and Klara Smits
AMSTERDAM | BRUSSELS (IDN) – Hundreds of Eritreans have been taking to the streets in various cities and refugee camps all over the world against the Eritrean regime to express solidarity with the unusual protests that took place in Asmara, the country’s capital, on October 31. The latest in the protest series was on December 22, 2017 in Brussels next to the European Commission headquarters.
Among the protesters’ demand is the closure of the Eritrean embassy in Brussels, which is responsible for the Netherlands, because people who have fled the country must fear the ‘long arm’ of the regime and a culture of fear perpetrated by Asmara, according to a Dutch research report. This has prompted a debate in the Netherlands about the Eritrean regime’s repressive activities in the country.
The protest in Asmara was in response to the Eritrean government’s restrictions on an Islamic school. After its board protested the restrictions, several people were arrested, among them the 90-year-old Hajj Musa Mohammed Nur. The arrest provoked protest demonstrations by about one hundred students and their supporters from the civil society.
After the protest, it was reported that people were arrested and mistreated. In an interview by telephone with a Dutch journalist, the Eritrean opposition group Freedom Friday asked the international community to investigate the violence executed by the Eritrean regime. The Eritrean diaspora communities in various cities all around the world organised demonstrations in support of protestors.
Solidarity protests acquired a critical dimension in view of debate that took place between Dutch parliamentarians and the Minister of Foreign Affairs on December 20 on the 2% tax that the Eritrean diaspora is constrained to pay to the Eritrean government.
In September, a new research explained the intimidation that went hand in hand with the collection of the 2% tax in Europe. This claim is further supported by a recording that was made by Dutch radio programme Argos, released ahead of the parliamentary debate.
In the recording, an asylum seeker is being told by the head of the Eritrean embassy that he has to sign a so-called ‘regret form’ in which he admits his guilt and that he has to pay 2% tax – over the past 4/5 years – before he can avail of consular service from the diplomatic mission. The full radio programme was scheduled to be aired on December 23.
“If this is the truth, it is a huge scandal,” said the Dutch parliamentarian Malik Azmani in his response to excerpts from the Argos radio recording during the debate. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Halbe Zijlstra, said such actions were perturbing. However, he wanted to await the full programme of Argos radio before taking further steps.
The Dutch government maintains that more ‘hard evidence’ is required in order to take necessary steps for closing the embassy. One such evidence, he said, are police reports about the Eritrean embassy’s coercive measures. The Eritrean diaspora maintains that such reports are being filed with the police, which are allegedly not taking any action.
This issue was broached in the debate on December 20 – and Foreign Affairs Minister Zijlstra reportedly responded that it was up to the Public Prosecutor to follow up on reports filed with the police. This state of affairs is far from assuring for the Eritrean community whose members feel that they are not secure in the Netherlands either, where they hoped for a safe haven after ‘fleeing’ from Eritrea.
The debate shows that the patience of the Dutch parliament is running out, as all the measures taken by the previous minister of Foreign Affairs have proven futile. Parliamentarian Sjoerd Sjoerdsma said: “Eritreans flee Eritrea solely due to the repression by the regime. Then they are being confronted with the fact that the Eritrean embassy in the Netherlands makes them pay diaspora tax, often under force and sometimes even through extortion. The parliament has raised its voice on this issue multiple times, but nothing changes about this situation, unfortunately.”
The motion is supported by all major Dutch parties in the parliament. Other motions asked the government to consider or impose a full ban on the collection of the diaspora tax. Currently, the tax is banned when it is collected under coercion or threat, but members of the parliament state that this measure is not enough.
Despite that fact that intimidation is still widespread in the Netherlands, the Dutch government is ahead of other European countries when it comes to measures against the Eritrean regime. Other European countries seem reluctant to take any preventive steps and prefer to strengthen engagement with the Eritrean regime in the hope of reducing the number of refugees from the country. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 December 2017]
Photo: Eritreans protest next to the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. Credit: Klara Smits.
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