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Eritrea – a fact sheet

This fact sheet was kindly shared with City of Sanctuary as a useful resource for all groups to help build confidence to talk about Eritrea. The secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea is happy to hear from any groups with questions about the country, on [email protected].

Eritrea – bordering on the Red Sea – has an extraordinary history. Briefly controlled by Britain during the Second World War, it was united with Ethiopia in 1952. The Eritreans were promised autonomy, but Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie extinguished this. In 1961, the Eritrean people began fighting for their independence, which they finally achieved 30 years later, when their troops captured the capital, Asmara, to jubilation.

But the man who led the independence struggle, Isaias Afwerki, failed to deliver on some of the promises of independence. Since 1993, there have been no elections, no functioning Parliament, no legal opposition parties, no published budget or census, no independent courts or judges, and no freedom of speech, media, or religion.

However, in Eritrea’s brief independence the President has involved the country in wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Yemen, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Its people are forced into an indefinite system of conscription called ‘National Service’. This has been described as a form of slavery by the United Nations. Those who seek to flee abuses are sometimes held indefinitely and without charge in Eritrea’s substantial network of secret prisons, sometimes for decades.

Most recently, Eritrean troops have been fighting in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, in a conflict characterised by egregious human rights abuses including sexual violence and other potential war crimes, and which has plunged thousands into famine conditions. The United States has sanctioned Eritrean individuals and entities in relation to this conflict.

Many Eritreans come to Britain, including as asylum-seekers and refugees, forming a vibrant diaspora. According to the latest Home Office statistics, Eritrea was the third highest country of origin for asylum applications in the year to March 2022. While grant rates have historically been high, the rights of this group to sanctuary and integration will be impacted by the new Nationality and Borders Bill, as well as the policy of removal to Rwanda.

In addition, London is an important source of finance for investments in Eritrea. These need to be monitored and reported on.

  • What you can do
    Speak to Eritreans now living in the UK, either as asylum-seekers, refugees, or members of the wider engaged diaspora.
  • Ask your MP to table Parliamentary Questions and exert other forms of Parliamentary pressure, for instance writing a letter to the Minister for Africa, to help influence the approach taken by the UK government towards Eritrea.
  • Engage the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, to become a member or officer, and to receive regular updates on the country situation. The secretariat is available on [email protected]