Asylum seeker to Israel: Probe claims Eritrean Embassy extorts refugees

By Isayas Teklebrhan

I traveled to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on September 3, 2012 in order to submit the following letter, designed to expose the Eritrean dictatorial regime. When I arrived at the building, I explained to the security guards, that I am an Eritrean asylum seeker wishing to submit an open letter to the minister of foreign affairs. After making a phone call to inquire about my case, I was told I could not deliver my letter. When I tried to negotiate, the guards called the police, who instructed me to leave the scene.

A United Nations report published in July reveals that the Eritrean consulate in Toronto uses intimidation to coerce Eritrean nationals in Canada to pay a 2 percent income tax, in violation of international agreements. This practice is common in Israel as well.

Eritrean asylum seekers without documentation are often instructed by Israeli immigration officers to go to the Eritrean Embassy in Tel Aviv to acquire ID cards (for which they must pay up to $800) or passports (which cost up to $3,200). In addition to these exorbitant fees, the asylum seekers are required  to pay a 2 percent income tax to the authorities. If they cannot pay the tax, their families in Eritrea are coerced into paying a heavy fine.

Dear Excellency

We, members of the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC) – a global movement for democratic change in Eritrea – would like to draw your attention towards the unlawful collection of funds by the Eritrean Consulate in Tel Aviv.

The Eritrean Government is using its consulates to force expatriates to pay taxes that help bankroll its military. Only last month, the United Nations released a new report confirming that Eritrean consulates are using coercive tactics to impose a two per cent income tax on its diasporic communities to help finance the military in Eritrea, a fundraising practice that violates an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations in 2009.

In 2011, governments in both the United Kingdom and Germany demanded that Eritrea stops collecting diasporic taxes on the grounds that the practice might contravene the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and that the use of coercive methods could be a criminal offense. Pressure to outlaw the tax is mounting elsewhere around the world: Both Canada and The Netherlands have now summoned the Eritrean consuls to explain themselves.

The Eritrean consulate in Tel Aviv plays an active role in the collection of revenue for Eritrea’s dictatorial regime using coercion, intimidation, threats, and propaganda towards Eritreans residing in Israel.

We call urgently to call upon your office to:

Demand an official explanation from the Eritrean Consulate in Tel Aviv about the claims and finding made against it by the UN.

To immediately investigate any potential criminal offenses committed by the Eritrean Consulate on Israeli soil, and to ensure that the Consulate adheres with international and Israeli law when offering consulate services to Eritrean citizens and Israeli residents of Eritrean origin.

To take swift action against the Eritrean Consulate, if your investigation finds that it has failed to adhere to international and Israeli laws and regulations.

EYSC and other Eritrean youth groups are currently running a worldwide government and media campaign to expose the dubious methods used by the Eritrean government and ruling party PFDJ to collect revenue abroad. We welcome any further question you may have regarding the above.
Thank you.
Isayas Teklebrhan
EYSC Israel

Isayas Teklebrhan is an Eritrean refugee who has been living in Israel since 2010. He has a degree in physics from the University of Asmara in Eritrea. He left Eritrea after spending seven years in prison for his pro-democracy advocacy. This letter was written with the help of a report in the Toronto Star.

Read +972′s special coverage on Seeking Asylum in Israel