Radio Erena: 04 November 2020
Radio Argos, a Dutch local radio reported on October 28 that the Dutch Foreign Ministry summoned the Eritrean Ambassador to clarify the recent fund-raising campaign supervised and led by an embassy employee. The Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok informed the Ambassador that such acts on Dutch soil are not acceptable. The Dutch Foreign Minister’s move is a continuation of his country’s resolved standpoint on forced fund-raising systemically carried out by the Eritrean embassy in the Netherlands.
Two years earlier, the Netherlands expelled an Eritrean diplomat for the same reasons; and to avoid harsher consequences this time, the embassy entrusted a non-diplomat member of its staff to supervise money collection, which reached 155 thousand Euros according to Radio Argos.
The embassy collects the money under the pretext of 2% diaspora tax and for its anti-Covid-19 pandemic campaign. The coercion which accompanies the collection of money can’t be tolerated by the Dutch government, a matter which was forthrightly explained to the Eritrean diplomat.
In a dismayed tweet, Eritrean Minister of Information said Eritrea will summon the Dutch ambassador to protest Eritrea’s dismay at the repetitive and unacceptable conduct. He further considered the Dutch decision as a harassment to the Eritrean consulate. While labeling the suspension of such acts as harassment by the Dutch government, the Eritrean official ignores the coercion of thousands of Eritreans on foreign land constantly carried out by Eritrean embassies and pro-government supporters.
The laws in the Netherlands may protect Eritreans from the embassy harassment. Sadly, Eritreans in other countries stand without any political and legal protection against Intimidation and harassment.
From April to July this year, the Eritrean embassies and consulates in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Lebanon embarked on intense campaigns of forced donations for anti-Covid-19 plans in the country.
The donations were forced on Eritreans because they were directly linked to the badly needed consular services: those who don’t pay will not have the services. Because of the naked coercion, the amounts which were collected in these countries were much larger than the amounts collected in Europe.
In Riyadh, the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) was forced to pay in twofold manner: collectively and individually. Initially, the Union paid 19 thousand Riyals (5000 USD) as an institution, additionally, each member of the Union was forced to pay 100 Riyals. Other amounts of payments were also forced on the Eritrean Medical Professions Union, the Youth Union, the International Eritrean School with letters sent to the students’ parents for individual payments. The forced donations raised discontent among Eritreans who argued that if the Unions have already paid, the payment should have exempted the members from repaying, an argument which was squarely rejected by the Embassy and the Consulate.
By the end of July 2020, the total amount collected in Riyadh reached 731,000 RS (194,000 USD). The Consulate in Jeddah was ahead of its embassy in Riyadh, in a boastful fanfare it has declared the collection of 1,216,952 SR the equivalent of 324,520 USD only in May, with only two months remaining for the deadline. Eritrean domestic workers in Lebanon, mostly women toiling under unbearable conditions, which in many cases led to suicide, were not spared in the feverish campaign, in June they had paid 7,607 UDS. The small Gulf state of Bahrain with its small Eritrean community of domestic workers also paid 21,050 BD. Similarly, Eritreans in Kuwait, UAE were forced to pay for the ‘National anti-Covid-19 campaign’.
Despite the bold Dutch measures against the illicit practices of the Eritrean embassy, the situation remains grimmer in other countries.
Comparing the intimidation and harassment campaigns of Eritreans in the Gulf states, one hails the decision of the Dutch authorities. These campaigns involve outright abuse, and what makes matters worse is the fact that the Eritrean government does not use these funds in the support of its citizens in these hard times. Asmara and the main cities are all deprived of water, electricity and the means of transport because of lack of fuel. The essentials of life are scarce. The countryside is hit by a silent famine. Artisanal fishermen along the Eritrean coast and their families are facing famine after blocking fishing and the import of basic needs.
While the Eritreans in the Diaspora are harassed by the embassies, their families inside the country are facing protracted crisis. The government abhors the widespread question: “What kind of black hole in Eritrea etas up the money?”
By Fathi Osman