The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government restricted all of these rights in practice. For example, citizens participating in national service were often denied internal travel permits, passports, and exit visas unless they received special privileges or paid bribes.
The government provided limited cooperation to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide protection and assistance to refugees recognized by the government. However, the government did not recognize refugees from Ethiopia or cooperate with the UNHCR on their behalf. The government’s Office of Refugee Affairs managed the refugee camps, providing clinics, schools, and other resources. The camps were primarily composed of persons from Somalia and Sudan. Refugees from Ethiopia generally lived in the capital.
In-country Movement: Citizens require government permission for most travel within the country and to change their places of residence. The government severely restricts travel to the border regions and even bans bus services to certain towns near the border with Ethiopia.
Military police periodically set up surprise checkpoints in Asmara and on roads between cities to find draft evaders and deserters. Police also stopped persons on the street and detained those who were unable to present identification documents or movement papers showing they had permission to be in that area.
Travel restrictions imposed in 2006 on noncitizens remained in effect. All diplomats, humanitarian organizations, UN staff, and foreign tourists were required to obtain advance permission from the government to leave Asmara. Travel restrictions were enforced at military checkpoints. Securing travel permission was not a transparent process. While some foreign nationals obtained permission to travel to certain locations, the government refused to issue travel permits to others traveling to the same place. The government often failed to respond to requests for travel authorization.
Prior to the closure of all international NGOs, the government prevented NGO travel by restricting fuel supplies and failing to respond to requests for travel permits.
Foreign Travel: The government severely restricted foreign travel and continually modified its requirements to obtain passports and exit visas, sometimes suspending passport or exit visa services without warning. The prohibitive cost of passports deters many citizens from foreign travel. It costs a citizen in national service the equivalent of 40 percent of his or her gross yearly salary to obtain a valid passport. Some persons previously issued passports were not allowed to renew them, nor were they granted exit visas.
Citizens and some foreign nationals were required to obtain exit visas to depart the country. Persons routinely denied exit visas included men under the age of 54, regardless of whether they had completed national service; women younger than 47; members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other unregistered religious groups; persons who had not completed national service; and other persons out of favor with, or seen as critical of, the government. While not consistently implemented, some relaxation of exit visa requirements took place during the year, allowing an unknown number of persons below the described age cutoffs to leave the country without imposing additional bribes or favors to officials. Some females married more than 10 years and some persons released from national service received exit visas.
In 2006 the government began refusing to issue exit visas to children 11 years old and older. Increasingly, children of any age were denied exit visas either on the grounds that they were approaching the age of eligibility for national service or because their foreign-based parents had not paid the 2 percent income tax required of all citizens residing abroad. The government did not in general grant exit visas to entire families or both parents of children simultaneously in order to prevent families from fleeing the country. Some citizens were given exit visas only after posting bonds of approximately 150,000 nakfa ($10,000) or more. Exit visa policies were frequently adjusted in nontransparent ways specifically to benefit the relatives of high-ranking government officials. For example, the government posted notices on current exit visa regulations in nondesignated, inconsistent, and inaccessible locations.
Emigration and Repatriation: In general citizens had the right to return. However, citizens residing abroad had to show proof that they paid the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income to be eligible for some government services, including exit visas for future departures from the country. If the applicant had broken a law abroad, contracted a serious contagious disease, or was declared ineligible for political asylum by other governments, his or her application to return to the country was considered on a case-by-case basis.
In 2009 the government halted its repatriation program with the ICRC, preventing the repatriation of thousands of Ethiopians.
Citizenship: The government does not recognize dual citizenship. It generally considered persons of Eritrean descent to be citizens. The government did not grant consular access to detained dual citizens. In 1994 the government revoked the citizenship of Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their refusal to take part in the referendum on independence or participate in national service. Younger Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not perform the compulsory military service were not able to obtain identification cards and thus were not eligible for any government sector jobs or for coupons to buy basic essentials (food and kerosene) at government-subsidized prices.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
While almost all IDPs from the conflict with Ethiopia were permanently resettled in previous years, hundreds of IDP families remained in the Gash Barka Region. The government allowed UN organizations and the ICRC to provide assistance to former IDPs.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. However, in practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The government did not grant Ethiopians asylum.
The government required noncitizens to pay an annual fee for a residency card; there was no discrimination regarding nationality in terms of protection of refugees, except for Ethiopians. The fee was 500 nakfa ($33); the card was used to demonstrate that a foreigner was not indigent. If foreigners could not pay the fee, they were first referred to the ICRC for repatriation. If they refused repatriation, they were incarcerated for 60 days, at which point the cycle began again.
Refugee Abuse: As in previous years the government systematically rounded up persons who had not performed military service and Ethiopians around the country’s Independence Day (May 24). The Ethiopians were held in a camp until authorities verified they were not indigent or they paid a fine.
Reports indicated that the government provided resources to Ethiopian refugees only if the refugees joined Ethiopian opposition groups. Ethiopian refugees who did not join opposition groups were harassed by government officials.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to 89 persons from Sudan, 3,865 persons from Somalia, and 77 persons from Ethiopia on a prima facie basis.