AFRICA/ERITREA - Forced recruitment of soldiers for the conflict in Tigray is rampant

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Adigrat (Agenzia Fides) - "Thousands of people were forcibly recruited to fight in Tigray, men, women and children were kidnapped and sent to the front lines. The recruitment of children by the Eritrean forces worsened, with witnesses reporting roundups of children as young as 14". This was stated by the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, at the opening of the 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is taking place from June 13 to July 8, 2022 at the United Nations Office in Geneva. In the note sent to Agenzia Fides, the refugees who were taken from the Hitsats and Shimelba camps in Ethiopia at the end of 2020 were also detained, punished and recruited. According to an independent UN expert, over the past year many Eritrean families whose relatives were forced to fight in Tigray have received no official information about their fate or whereabouts and live in fear of never seeing them again. "Since I took office in November 2020, Babiker said, I have not received any evidence of progress in the human rights situation in Eritrea. Rather, I have observed deterioration in several areas and a continued violation of human rights". These abuses are linked to the indefinite national/military service system and have further aggravated the already dire human rights situation in Eritrea. Those who try to escape military service are imprisoned in "inhuman and degrading conditions for an indefinite period". Authorities also punish proxy defaulters, such as imprisoning a parent or spouse to force them to surrender. "I also received information on enlisted people who were killed while trying to flee Tigray or military training centers in Eritrea", the special rapporteur said.
According to the UN expert, Eritrean asylum seekers are still detained, rejected and do not have access to the asylum procedures in many countries. "They face countless violations and difficulties in their search for safety. The situation of unaccompanied minors is particularly alarming. The situation of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, where thousands of them are still in great danger, is also very concerning. I continue to receive reports of Eritrean refugees killed in attacks, deaths from preventable causes related to lack of access to food, water and medicine in Tigray," said Mr. Babiker. For the Special Rapporteur, this is an urgent issue that requires immediate action to protect refugees and other vulnerable populations. While commending the efforts of the Ethiopian Refugee and Repatriation Service and UNHCR to register and assist Eritrean refugees, he expressed concern at the difficulties faced by aid workers in operating in the Tigray region. "The role played by the Eritrean forces, which for several months has prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid to refugees and other people in need in Tigray, is very worrying" (see Fides, 17/3/2022), underlined the Special Rapporteur. The Eritrean government's method of enlisting involves what are known as 'giffa', or military conscription raids and, according to local sources, has escalated dramatically across the country, particularly in following the ongoing conflict in the Ethiopian region of Tigray since November 2020 (see Fides, 14/12/2020). Officially, military service is limited to 18 months. But the current power in Asmara considers that it must be able to count on its population in the event of war. (GF/AP) (Agenzia Fides, 21/6/2022)