Category: English

Why Eritreans in Canada are clashing at festivals

Opponents claim festivals are connected to repressive regime, Violence broke out at an Eritrean festival in Edmonton last weekend following a similar clash in Toronto earlier this month.At both events, protesters from the Eritrean diaspora opposed events that billed themselves as celebrations of Eritrean culture.

Protesters say the festivals are connected to the Eritrean government, distributing propaganda and raising money for the state. They view demonstrations as a chance to raise their voice in opposition to a repressive regime when those in their home country cannot.

Lambros Kyriakakos, chair of the national Coalition of Eritrean Canadian Communities and Organizations who co-organized the festivals in Edmonton and Toronto, disagrees with characterizing the celebrations as ideological or pro-government.

"This festival has been running for 40 years and has been always a gathering, celebration of friendship, culture, identity, pride of identity for the new generation, connection to homeland and connection to the wider community," he said in an interview Tuesday.;*,*&downsize=1130px:* 1130w,;*,*&downsize=880px:* 880w,;*,*&downsize=630px:* 630w,;*,*&downsize=510px:* 510w,;*,*&downsize=260px:* 260w" alt="" class="thumbnail" style="border: 0px; display: block; left: 0px; position: absolute; top: 0px; width: 720px;" loading="lazy" />

Violence breaks out at Eritrean festival in Toronto park

20 days ago
Nine people were taken to hospital after Toronto police said a fight broke out at Earlscourt Park. The violence happened after a group of protesters turned up at an Eritrean festival.

"We might be political because we want to respond to the unfairness of the injustice of the 150 years of occupation and colonization. In that sense, you can say, yes, we are politically patriotic."

Kyriakakos said fundraising is not the core purpose of the festivals but that any money raised goes toward helping victims of war and alleviating poverty.

He said such festivals date back to the 1970s, when the east African country first sought self-rule.

Eritreans fought a brutal war for independence against Ethiopia for decades before finally establishing the current state in 1993.

Isaias Afwerki has led the one-party authoritarian government, sometimes referred to as the North Korea of Africa, since independence, and has been criticized for human rights abuses.

Kyriakakos ascribes the recent opposition in Edmonton and Toronto as the result of changing geopolitics in the Horn of Africa but declined to elaborate, instead criticizing the violence that had erupted.

"We see the paradoxical message that they are passing in the name of human rights. They are saying that they have the right to harm their own people."

Tigray war

From 2020-2022, Eritrea allied itself with Ethiopia against a paramilitary group in the Tigray region. The two-year war counted victims in the hundreds of thousands.

Misghina Tewahso, one of the organizer's of Saturday's protest, said in an interview Monday that long-simmering anger among the diaspora reached a boiling point because of the conflict.

Many Eritreans died in the war but their fates remain unknown to loved ones.

"Because we keep contact to our loved ones back home. What they tell us is just pain."!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_460/misghina-tewahso.jpg 460w,!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_620/misghina-tewahso.jpg 620w,!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/misghina-tewahso.jpg 780w,!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_1180/misghina-tewahso.jpg 1180w" alt="Man in a blue shirt with some trees and grass behind him" style="border: 0px; display: block; object-fit: cover; width: 720px; aspect-ratio: 1.7765 / 1;" loading="lazy" />
Misghina Tewahso, one of the organizer’s of Saturday’s protest, said the demonstration's intention was peaceful. (Manuel Carrillos Avalos/CBC)

Tewahso has lived in Edmonton for 11 years after fleeing the country. He said many of the protesters have similar stories and that escaping the country is dangerous — many die making the effort.

"Even I'm here in Canada peacefully but I will never let these government supporters do funding for this government, collect money and do propaganda, advocate for this very cruel government.

"Because of my morals, I will never let this happen."

Tewahso said protesters wear light blue shirts in a nod to the Eritrean flag from 1952-59, before it was annexed by Ethiopia. 

Violence in Edmonton

According to the Edmonton Police Service, officers attended a demonstration for an Eritrean festival scheduled to take place in the city's west side. Following discussion with both parties and rising tensions, the police and the City of Edmonton withdrew the festival permit.

Around 11 a.m., police attended 132nd Avenue and 113A Street after reports the festival and demonstrators had moved to that location. Organizers had also planned a youth soccer tournament to take place there.

Fighting broke out in the field adjacent to Rosslyn School. 

Police said one person was assaulted with an object and taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Ten others later reported to hospital with minor injuries. One officer required stitches after being hit with a projectile thrown by a demonstrator.

No arrests have been made. Edmonton police read the Riot Act as part of their response, the first time since Canada Day in 1999.!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_460/eritrean-festival-protest.jpg 460w,!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_620/eritrean-festival-protest.jpg 620w,!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_780/eritrean-festival-protest.jpg 780w,!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/original_1180/eritrean-festival-protest.jpg 1180w" alt="Men in coordinate light blue shirts, some with flags, in a field." style="border: 0px; display: block; object-fit: cover; width: 720px; aspect-ratio: 1.87311 / 1;" loading="lazy" />
Hundreds protested an Eritrean festival they characterized as connected to the east African nation's government. (Submitted by Afewerki Mogos)

Both sides say the other started the violence.

Kyriakakos said festival attendees moved to the second location because protesters were not allowing participants to enter.

Tewahso said protest organizers made every effort to alert police and the city of their intentions, which were peaceful. 

"It's so unfortunate that things got out of control, then fight [broke out]. Luckily, the police arrived and made it safe."

Zeraslasie Shiker is a former Eritrean diplomat who came to the United Kingdom as an asylum seeker in 2008. He is now a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds studying diaspora political activism. 

He said although Eritrean cultural festivals have been happening worldwide for decades, many have been hijacked by the state to spread its message and raise funds.

Shiker said the government portrays opposition as non-Eritrean or as agents of the Tigray People's Liberation Front. Earlier this month, the country's information minister posted on social media about the disruptions.

"Complicity in attempts to disrupt decades-old Eritrean festivals using foreign thugs reflects abject failure of asylum scum," he said. He later criticized the "distorted portrayal" of the community's "joyous events."

Shiker views the protests that have been disrupting these events worldwide as a natural evolution of political opposition to the Eritrean state among the diaspora.

"These people are struggling to connect the struggle here in Eritrea by disrupting the transnational institutions of the totalitarian state.

"And that is how you really need to see the local to global connections of these movements."

Category: English

Eritrean diaspora vow to continue disrupting festivals that ‘promote dictatorship’

Police contain protesters after an Eritrean festival erupted into violence in Stockholm.After opponents of the Eritrean government stormed a festival in Stockholm that was allegedly promoting the east African country’s regime earlier this month, setting light to cars and throwing stones, the Swedish government tried to distance itself from it all. The justice minister, Gunnar Strömmer, said it was “not reasonable for Sweden to be drawn into other countries’ domestic conflicts”.

But in the sunlit cafeteria of a community space in Kista, a few miles from the festival site in Järvafältet, a wooded area north of the Swedish capital, Abdulkader Habib disagreed. Opposition to Eritrea’s dictator, Isaias Afwerki, was not an Eritrean problem: “this is a big international problem,” he said.


Eritrean festivals are held in several cities around the world, and billed as cultural events, but much of the country’s diaspora see them as a show of power by the regime to intimidate those who have fled the dictatorship.

Sweden has not been alone in seeing violence. Opposition to the events has descended into chaos in Canada, the US and Germany in recent weeks.

Habib, a 51-year-old volunteer and school founder, said: “The Swedish government should take moral responsibility.” Would it also allow Putin supporters to hold a festival in support of Russia’s war in Ukraine, he asked.

The festivals were formed entirely of people who support the government, he added. “It’s not a normal party where everyone is welcome.”

Activists say the festivals consist of hate speech against those who fled the country and military displays that include children in uniforms being encouraged to act out violent scenes.

Semhar Ghebreslassie, a Sweden-based member of global Eritrean activist group Yiakl, said activists in Sweden had written letters to the authorities urging them not to allow the festival, but had been ignored.

“These programmes are to promote the brutal dictatorship, to glorify war and whitewash the name of the dictator himself,” she said. “They try to portray Eritrea as a heaven on Earth, that it’s in good hands and that the west is evil. This is all done to brainwash and keep people under control, especially kids born and raised in the diaspora.”

While a multiparty democracy was promised when Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a bloody war, it was never delivered. The country has been ruled ever since as a one-party state under Afwerki, who led the fight for independence. At a summit in St Petersburgthe dictator recently met Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who promised Afwerki free grain supplies.

Human Rights Watch calls Eritrea a “one-man dictatorship” that enforces indefinite military conscription, forced labour and arbitrary detentions, and has reportedly targeted Eritreans abroad.

More than 500,000 Eritreans are registered as refugees with the UN, but tens of thousands more leave every year – many to escape conscription – taking the perilous route across the Mediterranean.

Eritrean journalist Marymagdalene Asefaw, who is based in London, said that with their inflammatory music, military themes and the involvement of government officials, the festivals felt like a threat to Eritreans who had fled. “People are really sick and tired of this war propaganda,” she said. “All these young people who fled across the Sahara and through hardship thought they were finally safe, but they’re not safe any more. Every Eritrean in a European country has escaped hardship and trauma and now they’re using these festivals to amplify that.”

Critics also say the regime uses the festivals as fundraisers to finance repression in Eritrea. It has also sought to raise funds through a 2% “diaspora tax” which Eritreans abroad must pay to embassies in order to receive consular services, but British MPs last year called for it to be ended.

A protest in Toronto earlier this month when the permit for an Eritrean cultural festival was revoked following clashes.
A protest in Toronto earlier this month when the permit for an Eritrean cultural festival was revoked following clashes. Photograph: Canadian Press/Shutterstock

The Stockholm festival has been running since the 1990s, but Habib said its roots went back to a 1974 festival in Bologna, Italy. While before independence it was supported by the majority of Eritreans, feelings had changed as a result of its government connections, he said. He said older Eritreans were often more amenable to the festivals because they did not want to cut their ties with their homeland, while younger people who had grown up in democracies felt more empowered to speak out.

Betsy Reed, Editor Headshot for Guardian US Epic

Category: English

Eritrea summons British diplomat over Tigray remarks

Eritrea summons British diplomat over Tigray remarksNAIROBI: Eritrea’s information minister said Friday that his government had summoned a British diplomat to protest remarks by the UK ambassador to Ethiopia urging Asmara to withdraw from Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Eritrean troops supported Ethiopian forces during the federal government’s two-year war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and have been accused by the United States and rights groups of some of the conflict’s worst atrocities.
The war ended with a peace deal signed in November last year that called for the withdrawal of foreign forces, but Asmara was not a party to the agreement and its troops continue to be present in bordering areas of Tigray.
In an interview posted online on Wednesday, the British envoy to Ethiopia Darren Welch told the TPLF-linked broadcaster Tigrai TV that the UK government backed “calls for Eritrean forces to withdraw completely back to their own borders.”
Eritrea’s foreign ministry summoned the British charge d’affaires in Asmara on Thursday “to convey strong message to Whitehall on unwarranted remarks of (the) British Ambassador to Ethiopia... apparently endorsing TPLF’s irredentist claims,” Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said on X, formerly Twitter.
Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia in 1993 and fought a two-year border war with its neighbor — then ruled by the TPLF — which poisoned relations until a peace agreement in 2018, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in Addis Ababa.
Dubbed the “North Korea” of Africa, Eritrea was sanctioned by the United States in 2021 after sending troops into Tigray.
Its forces have been accused of murder, rape and looting, according to residents who say Eritrean soldiers still remain in Tigray, more than nine months after the war ended.
During a rare press conference in Kenya earlier this year, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki dismissed accusations of rights abuses by Eritrean troops in Tigray as “fantasy.”
Human Rights Watch in February called for fresh sanctions against Eritrea, accusing it of rounding up thousands of people, including minors, for mandatory military service, during the Tigray war.
The country sits near the bottom of global rankings for press freedom, as well as human rights, civil liberties and economic development.

Category: English

Clashes at Toronto Eritrean festival send 9 to hospital, shut local roads

Toronto Police hold back a line of protestors in Earlscourt Park in Toronto, on Saturday, August 5 2023.Violence erupted at a festival for Toronto's Eritrean community on Saturday as participants clashed with demonstrators in exchanges that sent at least nine people to hospital.Eight people have non-life-threatening injuries while one person has serious injuries after being stabbed, police said in a tweet. Police did not say how the eight people were injured.

City police ultimately deployed the riot squad to Earlscourt Park in the city's west end, where Festival Eritrea descended into chaos almost from the start. Skirmishes first broke out at around 10 a.m. and tensions continued throughout the day.

Protesters, Eritrean themselves, said they showed up to demonstrate against the festival, which they said supports the government of Eritrea.

But Yordanos Tesfamariam, Eritrea Festival organizer, disputed that claim.

"It's a lie, it's a fabricated lie," Tesfamariam told CBC News.