By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife)– Four religious liberty groups urged the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch, Wednesday, April 1, “to ensure that aid money” allocated to Eritrea “reaches and benefits the people of that country,” amid concerns it may only reach “one of the most repressive” governments of Africa.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Open Doors International, Release Eritrea and the Church in Chains (Ireland), published a letter after reports that the European Commission may soon release 122 million euros ($161 million) through a fund “despite being aware of ongoing human rights abuses in the country,” the groups said.
The letter was sent to the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel, the European Parliament Committees on Development, and Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Human Rights, CSW told BosNewsLife.
“We are aware that by allocating this money the European Commission intends to strengthen administrative capacity building, infrastructure, and food aid among other things,” the groups wrote. “Please, be advised however, that all independent construction companies have been closed and conscripts are abused as cheap labor…it is by no means certain that the aid will be used in the manner envisaged by the Commission.”
In addition some 3000 Eritrean Christians “are currently detained in life threatening conditions solely because of their religious convictions,” CSW said. “Thousands of non – Christians are also detained without charge or trial. Military service is often indefinite with conscripts being used as forced labour in government development projects.”
It added that 75 percent of the Eritrean population are malnourished and the country is reported to be on the verge of starvation. “The government manipulates the distribution of food aid to strengthen its control of Eritrean society…The Government of Eritrea is one of the most repressive in Africa,” CSW said.
Eritrean officials have consistently denied human rights abuses. However CSW’s Advocacy Director, Alexa Papadouris said rights groups are “now extremely concerned that the European Commission’s generous allocation of aid to Eritrea does not simply provide a financial lifeline to the oppressive Eritrean leadership, but rather alleviates the incredible suffering of the Eritrean people.”
Papadouris said that CSW and others “call on the European Commissioner to ensure aid is only delivered once the means of closely monitoring its use are in place, and that the aid is firmly linked to a marked improvement in human rights”.