Eritrea return agreement unlikely

An interview with Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers Secretary General Anne-Magrit Austenå after the Justice Ministry’s visit to the country

Photo: Temesgen Woldezion Eritrean female soldiers marching in a parade in 2006. One of the human rights issues in Eritrea is the nation’s compulsory, indefinite national service.

Photo: Temesgen Woldezion
Eritrean female soldiers marching in a parade in 2006. One of the human rights issues in Eritrea is the nation’s compulsory, indefinite national service.

Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

Michael Sandelson: What is your view regarding a return agreement with Eritrea?

Anne-Magrit Austenå: A return agreement with Eritrea is impossible. There will be strong political opposition to a return agreement with Eritrea as long as no international independent human rights-protecting institution or organization like the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea or the International Committee of Red Cross is allowed in to the country.

Neither will one be possible if they are not allowed to move freely around to visit prisons and detention centers and as long as people disappear or are subject to imprisonment and torture, as has happened to Eritreans being returned by force from countries like Israel and Egypt.

Moreover, senior government Party the Conservatives (H) would not want a return agreement with Eritrea, even if the Progress Party should wish for such an agreement.

MS: What are the political signals being given to Eritreans discouraging them from coming to Norway?

AMA: The only reason Ministry of Justice State Secretary (Deputy Minister) Jøran Kallmyr is visiting Asmara and giving interviews about signs of political changes in Eritrea—as well as the possibility of a return agreement between Norway and Eritrea and the possibility of cessation of the right to stay in Norway for Eritrean refugees—is to send the following message to the Eritrean refugees leaving their country by the hundreds every day: Do not come to Norway if you make it to Europe. We will return you to Eritrea by the first possible chance we see to proclaim evident political change and reduction of the national service to 18 months of military training.

MS: Are the several millions that Norway is giving Eritrea a form of bribery in order to obtain a return agreement?

AMA: In December 2014, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice signed a three-party “cost-sharing agreement” with the state-controlled youth movement the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students and the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) regarding youth employment and skills development for young Eritreans who voluntary returned from Norway.

This is a totally meaningless agreement.

But the Norwegian government is on good terms with the Eritrean regime and is giving the regime legitimacy internationally by making this agreement, supporting it with 5.1 million kroner during 2015.

Being on good terms with the regime meant that representatives of the Norwegian Country of Origin Information Centre (Landinfo), an independent body within Norway’s Immigration Authorities, was allowed entry in Eritrea, while the UN Special Rapporteur and the UN Special Commission on Eritrea both were denied entry.

In March and April, Landinfo published three reports on the situation in Eritrea, especially regarding national service. Landinfo concludes that there is no actual proof that Eritrean authorities will restrict this to 18 months of military service.

Moreover, the Norwegian government is speaking with two tongues when it comes to economic support to regimes actively violating human rights. On the one hand, the Ministry of Justice signed this agreement with the Eritrean regime, infamous for its grave violations of human rights. On the other, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented its white paper on human rights regarding foreign and development policies in December 2014. In this document, the government states that the recipient country’s will to rule the country in accordance with human rights, democracy, and rule of law is a condition for economic support. Eritrea does not comply with any of these three criteria.

MS: What is the situation in Eritrea?

AMA: There’s no solid proof of any political or other changes in Eritrea; on the contrary. On March 16, during the oral debate at the UN Committee on Human Rights in Geneva, regarding the interim findings of the Commission as to conditions in Eritrea, Chair Mike Smith pointed out that national service was still universal and of an indefinite duration. Mr. Smith reported that the Committee found clear patterns of grave violations of human rights. The report is due later in June.

There is no rule of law as long as the Eritrean Constitution of 1993 is still not in use and the Parliament still not seated, and arbitrary detention, torture, and disappearances still occur. NOAS sees no sign of any political improvements in Eritrea.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit

It also appeared in the June 12, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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