Community, Diaspora and Immigration
Number of Eritreans granted protection in UK plummets
The number of Eritreans granted protection in the UK has plummeted after the Home Office advised in March that they were no longer at risk of persecution if they returned home.
In the first quarter of 2015, 73% of decisions on Eritreans resulted in them being granted leave to remain. However, Home Office migration statistics released on Thursday for the second quarter of this year show the percentage has plummeted to 34%.
The Home Office updated advice on the east African nation in March, after assurances from the Eritrean government that those citizens who had left the country without permission would not face persecution if they signed a letter of apology and paid income taxes. The Home Office guidance also stated that the country’s indefinite national service programme had been shortened to between 18 months and four years.
The report suggested that conditions in Eritrea were becoming more humane. However, a report published by the UN in June found people returning to Eritrea are often arrested and detained for up to three years, during which time they are “systematically ill-treated to the point of torture”.
“We are shocked and utterly appalled that Britain is making life and death decisions based on a report that is discredited and information that has not been verified, meaning that people could return to their death,” said Dr Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council.
“We were worried about these guidelines when they were introduced. We anticipated a drop in grant rate, but we never anticipated it’d be such a huge drop. The fact it’s gone down to 34%, when there’s a general recognition across Europe that Eritreans need protection, granting protection to a third is worrying,” she said.
Aaron, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, came to the UK from Eritrea in December 2014. The 30-year-old said he fled the country in fear for his life. He had been doing continuous military service for 10 years, during which time he says he was imprisoned twice for taking leave without permission: once to see his dying father and once because his wife was in hospital.
While undertaking military service he said he was forced to “work like a slave”, while being paid £2 a month – if he was paid at all – and had to go without food on occasion. On one project, he was taken to an island where he was helping to build an airport. There he was fed one meal a day and was eventually hospitalised due to severe dehydration.
Aaron says his brother, who is a pentecostal Christian, disappeared five years ago when the military raided a house where he was praying with friends. “My brother has been gone for five years in prison and we don’t know where he is,” he said.
Aaron applied for asylum in the UK this year, but has just had his application rejected. He said his life would be in danger if he returned to Eritrea.
He said the British government had rejected his claim. “They said: we know the situation in Eritrea, but now your government promises to stop the military service and not to put you in jail. But if it had stopped, people wouldn’t still be leaving the country. I don’t know how the UK government can think about this. I can’t go back. It’s better to die here.”
Last year, more Eritreans applied for asylum than any other nationality. There were 3,233 applications, of which 2,155 were granted leave to remain in the UK, with 308 refused. The remainder are still pending.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of offering asylum to those who need it. Our country information and guidance is based on a careful and objective assessment of the situation in Eritrea using evidence taken from a range of sources including media outlets; local, national and international organisations, including human rights organisations; and information from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“This is being updated to take into account the United Nations’ report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea which was published in June. While this guidance helps inform decisions, every application for asylum is considered on its individual merits.”