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OVERVIEW of Eritrea | Humanitarian crisis | Persecuted populations | Country of asylum | Cultural profiles | Multi-media

OVERVIEW of Eritrea

Capital: Asmara
Area: 121,320 km²
Population: 4,786,994 (2006 estimate)
Language(s): Afar, Arabic, Tigre and Kunama, Tigrinya, other Cushitic languages
Religion(s): Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Ethnic Group(s): Tigrinya – 50%, Tigre and Kunama – 40%, Afar – 4%, Saho – 3%, others 3%

See, [accessed March 15, 2018].

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Humanitarian crisis

Following Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) remained the sole political party in control. Ongoing border disputes with Ethiopia and Djibouti have been used by the Eritrean government to justify the limitations imposed on human rights and civil liberties. Systematic and rampant violations of human rights by security forces have carried on without government intervention.

Reports on Eritrea’s humanitarian condition reveal pervasive patterns of abuse. Humanitarian abuses in recent years include: unlawful killings by security forces; torture and beating of prisoners, at times resulting in death; abuse of national service evaders and their family members; arbitrary arrest and detention; life-threatening prison conditions; limitations on due process; limitations on citizens’ right to change their government; and infringement of privacy rights. The government also placed heavy-handed restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, movement, religion, assembly and association. Restrictions were also placed on activities of NGOs, humanitarian and development agencies.

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Persecuted populations

Military/National Service Evaders and Deserters

  • Draft Evaders and Deserters
  • Recruited Children
  • Conscientious Objectors
  • Family Members of Draft Evaders and Deserters
  • Victims of Sexual and Gender Based Violence

Members of Political Opposition Groups and Government Critics

Trade Unionists and Labor Rights Activists

Religious Minorities

  • Unregistered minority religious groups
  • Registered religious groups

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered persons

Women and Children with Specific Profiles

Victims of Harmful Traditional Practices

Members of Certain Minority Ethnic Groups

Victims of Trafficking

See, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Eritrea, April 2009, available at: [accessed 15 March 2018]

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Country of asylum


The current functional relationship between the Sudanese government and Asmara has served as a basis of pressure from Sudanese authorities on Eritreans to return to Eritrea. Some refugees returned to Eritrea from Egypt report having previously fled Sudan out of fear of being forcibly returned. Currently refugees entering Sudan either settle in camps in the east or pass through to a third country offering more safety and stability. Eritrean refugees in Sudan outside of camps are at high risk of abuse, extortion and forcible return. Eritreans also face hazards imposed by criminals and Sudanese police while trying to reach Sudan. Reports suggest refuges have been detained by police on arrival and forced to pay for their release. Those unable to pay may be deported back to Eritrea or may be left in a transit camp with overcrowded and poor conditions.


Egypt has developed a record of violating the rights of asylum seekers. This is due to the significant number of Eritrean refugees who have been returned to Eritrea despite high risk conditions for refugees who are involuntarily returned. Additionally, Egypt denied UNHCR access to Eritreans in detention. This hampered their ability to access information about asylum seekers needed to fulfill their mandate. Eritreans crossing the border from Egypt to enter Israel were reported to possibly face death and ill treatment by Egyptian border officials.


Eritrean refugees in camps in Ethiopia are at risk of being there for a protracted time, with some having been in camps for more than a decade. A disproportionate number of Eritrean refugees are young, educated single men fleeing political persecution or conscription. There are also significant numbers of unaccompanied children. The steady influx of vulnerable refugees has greatly surpassed the capacity of current facilities. Among issues faced by encamped refugees are: insufficient food rations; restrictions on movement; limited access to education and mental health services; sexual and gender based violence; and the presence of Eritrean opposition members. Although a large number of Eritrean refugees are able to reacquire citizenship as Ethiopians, some have experienced difficulties obtaining national identification cards.


Although there is no official policy stipulating encampment of refugees in Kenya, refugees have been required to reside in camps since the early 1990s. Refugees in Nairobi report frequent harassment and extortion by Kenyan police. Many indicate they have been victim to sexual, physical and verbal abuse in addition to being asked for bribes after unofficial detainment. Exposure to high levels of criminal violence also serves as a protection threat to refugees. Refugees of mixed Eritrean-Ethiopian ethnicity face increased risk of isolation and limited support.

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Cultural profiles [accessed March 15, 2018]

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UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR’s position on the status of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals defined as ‘infiltrators’ by Israel, November 2017, available at: [accessed 15 March 2018].

International Organization for Migration, IOM Provides Transport, Access to Aid for Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia, March 14, 2017. [accessed March 15, 2018].

Open Migration, 5 things everyone should about Eritrean refugees, [accessed March 15, 2018].

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