The United States Department of State has issued its annual “Trafficking In Persons” country report where it classifies Eritrea as a “Tier 3″ nation, a dubious distinction Eritrea’s had for five consecutive years.
The State Department attributes this to the Eritrean government’s “strict exit control procedures and limited issuance of passports and exit visas” which have forced those who wish to travel “to do so clandestinely, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking.”
The report estimates that between 166 to 250 Eritreans leave the country every month and that “62,000 Eritreans, including 1,000 unaccompanied minors” live in refugee camps in Ethiopia with a smaller but unspecified number in Djibouti and Yemen.
With respect to abduction for ransom, the report states that international “smugglers and traffickers sought out vulnerable Eritreans in refugee camps, particularly in Sudan, sometimes extorting money from them or torturing them as they were transported through the Sinai Peninsula.”
Victims were chained together, whipped and beaten regularly, deprived of food, raped, and forced to do construction work at gunpoint at smugglers’ personal homes. Eritrean military officers sometimes colluded with Sudanese or Ethiopian military officers to exploit Eritrean migrants. Eritrean military officers sometimes operated within Sudan to abduct refugees from camps, particularly those who voiced criticism of the Eritrean government or were prominent political or military figures.
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The report accuses the Eritrean regime of not meeting “the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”
The State Department uses four categories–Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List, Tier 3–to determine a country’s human trafficking problem. Categorization in Tier 3 is, as the report explains, “based more on the extent of government action to combat trafficking than on the size of the problem.”
Last year, for the first time since the issue surfaced five years ago, the Eritrean regime seems to have grasped the tier system and decided to at least engage–with the president publicly acknowledging the problem (albeit blaming others for it) and the party’s “mass organizations” including in their literature human trafficking as a danger Eritreans face. Nonetheless, the country remains in Tier 3 because, as the State Department says, the regime has not acknowledged its role in human trafficking and that it “lacked understanding of human trafficking, conflating it with all forms of transnational migration from Eritrea.”
Tier 3 nations like Eritrea may be “subject to certain sanctions” including withdrawal of non humanitarian aid or any “funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs” as well as “international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”
Joining Eritrea in the Tier 3 classification are Algeria, Central African Republic, Congo, Cuba, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, North Korea, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Papau New Guinea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Uzbekistan.
To read the entire report, refer to Country Narratives: Countries A Through F