Category: English

Protest by the Eritrean diaspora highlights the repression at home and dividing lines abroad

eritrean festivalThe ties that bind diaspora Eritreans to their homeland are resilient, even among the second and third generation who lack the direct connection of their parents to their ancestral homeland. However, these feelings of solidarity with the country sit alongside increasing estrangement from the extreme dictatorship of President of Isaias Afeworki.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Eritrea’s diaspora communities organized festivals in support of the fight for self-determination. They were cultural, political events and a way to connect with each other and fundraise to support the struggle. Festivals became rituals in various European cities, especially Bologna.

Despite misgivings about internal repression and purging by the then Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) leadership, the cause of independence became a defining one for Eritreans and had a unifying effect. After the battle was won, that began to change.

After independence, the EPLF morphed into the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). With the new name reality came a shift in its relationship with the diaspora. The government dashed the hopes of Eritreans and began devising creative ways of extracting resources and loyalty from communities abroad. It has created a two per cent diaspora tax and remittances have become a lifeline for the regime.

Most diaspora members have relatives still in the country they want to visit, and others want to be buried in Eritrea when they die. The government has weaponized access to the country to ensure that external dissent is kept under control. The dictatorship has used festivals to promote ideological configuration with the PFDJ, raise funds and to co-opt the Orthodox Church. Pro PFDJ festivals are often co-ordinated by embassies and loyalists to create positive publicity and enforce loyalty. In 2013, Canada did expel a PFDJ diplomat who was involved in the two per cent tax.

Recently, refugees from the Eritrean regime have begun to organize and protest the dictatorship in various Western cities and capitals targeting these festivals. The diaspora has become acutely polarized since mid-2022 with significant escalation during the summer of 2023. The protests are increasing awareness internationally, and helping some regime “supporters” overcome fear and realize that they are not serving themselves or Eritrea with their actions. There are nevertheless regime supporters who are hard-core either due to the worship of the dictator Isaias Afeworki or because they benefit as cronies. The irony is that even these supporters prefer to live as refugees than live in Eritrea under Afeworki.

The war in Tigray and Eritrea’s role in it have created a new dynamics and dividing lines amongst the diaspora. The differences in perception of the government, the divide between those born and raised in the diaspora and the newer arrivals who braved the Sahara and the Mediterranean to escape the repression are becoming increasingly apparent. Much of the fighting by Eritreans in Tigray has been done by those in the SAWA (enslavement under the guise of national service). These are often young men and women who are forcibly drafted. Once they are deployed, families are kept in the dark about their whereabouts.

The divide is splitting families apart. One young protester of the PFDJ festival at Earlscourt Park on Aug. 5 in Toronto, Yafet Mehari says that the paternal side of his family identify with PFDJ while his maternal side is anti-government. The wife and daughter of the famous Swedish Eritrean political prisoner and journalist Dawit Isaak and one brother are with the protesters while his other brother is in the PFDJ camp.

The government labels the protesting diaspora as terrorists, portraying them as traitors, Tigreans, or as instruments of foreign agents.

Nevertheless, the youth are having unprecedented impact with its campaign of protests. It remains to be seen if this might help internal resistance to emerge. Government control in Eritrea is very tight with no room for even mild criticism. Rare protests are quashed without mercy.

The Eritreans protesting are traumatized survivors either of war, or the perilous trek across the Sahara, the Mediterranean, or torture in Sinai. It is important that foreign governments like Israel understand the impossible situation of these diaspora Eritreans and support the struggle against the dictatorship or at least not become unwitting accomplices in repression.

Yohannes Woldemariam is a U.S.-based, Eritrean-born political science professor who writes about the Horn of Africa. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Category: English

Dozens are injured at an Eritrean event in Germany, including 26 police officers

A man is taken away by police officers in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, after clashes at a gathering of Eritrean groups. (Jason Tschepljakow/dpa via AP)BERLIN (AP) — German police said dozens of people, including at least 26 officers, were injured during unrest surrounding an Eritrean cultural festival in the southwestern city of Stuttgart.

Shortly before the event was set to begin Saturday afternoon, around 200 protesters gathered in the area outside and began throwing stones, bottles, and other items at police officers and participants of the event. Six of the 26 injured police officers were treated in a hospital for their injuries, police said. Four event participants and two protesters were also injured, according to police, although information wasn’t immediately available about the severity of their injuries.

Saturday’s protests were the latest in a string of unrest surrounding Eritrean cultural events in Germany and elsewhere. In July, a clash at an Eritrean festival in the western German city of Giessen left 22 police officers injured. A fight between Eritrean government supporters and opponents in Tel Aviv in early September led to one of the most violent street confrontations among African asylum seekers and migrants in the city’s recent memory.

The event Saturday was organized by several groups considered close to the government of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

Tens of thousands of people have fled Eritrea for Europe, many alleging they were mistreated by Isaias’ repressive government. The conflicts surrounding gatherings like Saturday’s highlight the deep divide among members of the Eritrean diaspora, those who remain close to the government and those who have fled to live in exile and strongly oppose Isaias.

On Saturday, Stuttgart police vice president Carsten Hoefler condemned the protesters’ actions and said in a statement that “neither the extent nor the intensity of the violence was apparent in advance.”

City officials said there had been no reason to ban the gathering in advance, but that they will take steps to prevent similar unrest in the future.

“We must take decisive action against the emergence of conflicts from other states on German soil,” said Stuttgart Mayor Frank Nopper, according to German news agency dpa.

Category: English

Eritrea accuses Mossad of stirring up Tel Aviv mob violence between expat groups

Eritrean migrants who oppose the regime in Eritrea and pro-regime activists clash with Israeli police in south Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Omer Fichman/Flash90)Days after battle royale between regime supporters and opponents on streets of Tel Aviv, Asmara says foreign plots with ulterior political motives behind unrest. Eritrea’s government has accused Israel’s Mossad spy agency of fomenting unrest among expat communities, days after clashes between Eritrean regime supporters and opponents and Israeli police turned the streets of southern Tel Aviv into a war zone.

In a series of statements, the Eritrean Information Ministry also accused Israeli officials and media of demonizing the country by blaming Eritreans for the mob violence, claiming that the regime-backers were peaceful and questioning whether the opponents were actually Eritrean at all.

According to Eritrea’s government, considered among the world’s most repressive, intra-communal clashes between diaspora groups at regime-backed events in Europe, Canada and Israel are being instigated or sponsored by governments abroad.