Eritrea “intimidates emigrants into paying tax”

Eritrean activists demonstrate at the Eritrean Embassy in Washington DC © Yonas Mehari/afrol News

afrol News, 26 May – The numerous refugees from Eritrea around the world are now mobilising to counter “blackmailing” and “surveillance” of them by “agents of the Eritrean regime.” The Eritrean Diaspora claims it is intimidated to pay an illegal “tax” to Eritrea.

The Information Ministry in the Eritrean capital Asmara regularly proudly sends out messages about Eritreans in Europe and North America participating in large demonstrations in support of the regime. But most of these demonstrators had themselves fled repression and human rights abuses by the same regime.

This apparent contradiction is easily explained, according to a rapidly expanding group of emigrated Eritreans seeking a second liberation from the Asmara regime. Eritrea, they hold, entertains a large network of agents thoroughly placed in the Diaspora, intimidating exiled Eritreans into participating in pro-regime rallies and even paying a “tax” to their old homeland. If not, their families back home are victimised.

In the US and Canada, hosting large numbers of Eritrean refugees, the Diaspora is becoming increasingly divided. So far, the dominant public voice of Eritreans in North America has been one of supporting the Asmara regime and participating in the largest pro-government rallies outside Eritrea.

But slowly, Eritreans are liberating them from the many agents in North America. Suddenly, some even dare to stand forward in the press with their full name, criticising torture, persecution of journalists and religious repression in Eritrea. Protests in front of Eritrean embassies are increasingly seen, with Eritrean immigrants participating. In the US, the human rights group Amnesty now has its own Eritrean Diaspora under-group.

Swiss targeting Eritrean agents
In Switzerland, protests are now targeting Eritrean agents. Here, an Eritrean immigrant presenting himself under the pseudonym “Dereje M” is seeking help from Swiss authorities to expel 28 named Eritrean men exposed by the Diaspora as agents from the Eritrean regime. “Dereje” himself has been “threatened” and “blackmailed” by Eritrean agents operating in Switzerland, using “mafia methods” to force immigrants to pay a 2 percent “income tax” to the Asmara regime.

Several Swiss cantons have now started investigations into what is widely accepted as a “network of Eritrean agents disguised as asylum seekers blackmailing political refugees.” Cantonal deputy Hans Egli says he has information that “refugees not paying the forced taxes of the [Eritrean] government are put on a ‘red list’, and their families at home are harassed or even killed.”

In addition to pay an “income tax”, Eritrean emigrants are forced to participate in political acts in support of the regime they fled from. On 22 February, some 3,000 persons demonstrated against the sanctions imposed by the UN against the Eritrean regime. According to research done by Mr Egli, a large part of the demonstrators had been “forced to participate.”

Protest marches in Norway
At a large demonstration in Oslo among Eritrean immigrants against human rights abuses in Eritrea, the leading banner said “Thank you Norway, EU, US and AU for the sanctions against the terrorist re

gime in Eritrea!”

The protesters claimed that Eritrean authorities were into “blackmailing” and “surveillance” of them in Norway. Eritreans abroad are forced to pay a 2 percent “tax” of their income to the regime back home. “Thousands of Eritrean agents” are spying on the Diaspora abroad, intimidating them into paying the tax.

If the tax is not paid, emigrated Eritreans are denied work, inheritance, entry to Eritrea and family members back home are given fines and are harassed by authorities, organisers of the Eritrean protest march told Norwegian media.

Kidane Mahari, one of the few 3,400 Eritreans living in Norway daring to present himself with his real name, told the Norwegian state broadcaster ‘NRK’ that he had refused to pay this illegal tax to the Eritrean regime. “But this means that I cannot travel and visit my family, I cannot inherit my parents and I cannot invest in the country,” he told ‘NRK’.

Mr Mahari added that he knew of fellow Eritrean migrants that had experienced tough sanctions against their families in Eritrea for not paying the “tax”. “We know of parents losing their licence to engage in trade because their son abroad had not paid the tax,” he told ‘NRK’.

Eritrean authorities confirm the existence of a 2 percent tax, but claim it is voluntary. Eritrean emigrants not paying the “tax” would still be able to travel to the country but were blocked from doing business or inheriting, an embassy spokesman however confirmed.

But most Eritrean emigrants are still living in fear. During the Oslo protest march, the Eritrean protesters were photographed and filmed, allegedly by agents from the Asmara regime. As several photographers were spotted by the crowd, they were attacked and their cameras confiscated by the protesters. Protesters claimed the photos would be used to identity the oppositional persons among the Diaspora, which could have fatal consequences for family member back in Eritrea.

Fear in Sweden
The Oslo protest, with hundreds of Eritrean immigrants daring to participate, however still is a rare event. In neighbouring Sweden, where the Stockholm government has taken a tough stance on Eritrea after the 2001 arrest of Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isak, the numerous Eritrean Diaspora still lives in fear of Eritrean agents.

Esayas Isak, a younger brother of journalist Dawit living in Sweden’s second city Gothenburg, is frustrated about this culture of fear. There are about 3,000 Eritreans in Gothenberg, but only 25-30 of them showed up for a protest recently organised in support for Mr Isak’s famous imprisoned brother.

“Most of the 3,000 knew Dawit but they will not support him,” Mr Isak says. He knows that the reason is that most “fear a reprisal against their family or business back in Eritrea.” He adds: “Eritreans I used to speak to avoid me now that I am involved in activism.” The power of government agents is still to be broken in the Swedish city.

By staff writers

© afrol News

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