UN report backs Eritrean refugees' claims
(and below: a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs by Ghirmay Yebio and Debessay Asgodom)
By: Carol Sanders – Winnipeg Free Press - 01 August, 2012
ERITREAN refugees in Winnipeg who complained they were shaken down for money to send the government they fled now have a UN report backing them up.
"I feel vindicated, and it proves without a shade of doubt what the Eritrean consulate and its satellite communities -- like the one in Winnipeg -- have been up to so far, unchecked," said Winnipegger Ghirmay Yeibio.
In 2010, Canada adopted a UN Security Council resolution prohibiting anyone from providing money to Eritrea for military activities. It's funding extremist groups destabilizing the Horn of Africa region with a two per cent tax it levies on Eritreans in North America, Europe, east Africa and the Middle East.
"The monitoring group has confirmed that the collection of such taxes routinely involves threats, harassment and intimidation against the individual concerned or relatives in Eritrea," the report released this summer said.
In Canada, paying a two per cent income tax is a prerequisite for getting any kind of Eritrean government service, such as a visitor’s visa to see family back home, the report said. Family members in Eritrea may be denied services if the family member abroad hasn't paid the tax, it said.
Or worse, said Yeibio, whose relatives have been locked up by the regime for his criticism of the government. He's been asked for thousands of dollars to have them freed. Yeibio wants the Eritrean consulate in Canada shut down and its officials deported.
"No one can speak about what's going on in Eritrea," said Daniel Awshek, a public health nurse and community educator who works with refugees in Winnipeg. "People are scared because they have lots of connections back home."
Awshek, a refugee from Eritrea, which is one of the top source countries for refugees, remembers the first Eritrean Community of Winnipeg Inc. event he attended. It was at the University of Winnipeg and people were asked to donate $500 to a campaign called Popular Challenge for the Eritrean defense forces.
"I couldn't believe it," said Awshek. "We're refugees... What we need here is to have peace and for people to focus on their education." Instead, they were expected to donate to the regime they'd just fled, said Awshek.
Eritrean refugees in Canada are discovering a situation similar to the one they left behind, said Bereketab Mebrahtu, the vice-chairman of the Eritrean Canadian Human Rights Group.
They're offered a helping hand in exchange for loyalty and support, "otherwise they are outcast from the community," said the human rights activist.
"The government of Manitoba and the Canadian government need to look at the activities of the so-called community groups," said Mebrahtu.
The Eritrean Community of Winnipeg Inc. receives provincial funding for some of its community and after-school programs but has also organized Eritrean government fundraisers, he said.
Ironically, it's also a major sponsor of refugees fleeing the regime it supports.
The Eritrean Community of Winnipeg Inc. said the UN report's allegation it has been collecting taxes are "absurd," and their books are open to Canadian authorities. President Lambros Kyriakakos said in a prepared statement UN sanctions against Eritrea are "unjust and unfair." The report uses "not well-evidenced work" and defames Eritrean-Canadians, he said.
His organization staged a protest in front of the Free Press in January. It was one of many held in cities where newspapers reported on complaints about Eritrean government activities.
"I am happy at least the UN report has brought things to light," said Awshek.
"(That's what) the Eritrean regime and its operating agents are the most scared of."
This is a result of intensive and persistent campaign that took almost three years by the Community of Eritrean Canadians in Manitoba, Mr. Ghirmay Yeibio and also others like Hidmona Human rights organizations and individuals in Winnipeg. We feel Vindicated and very glad that the Canadian government has finally started to pay attention to what our Community has been trying to tell them for the last three years regarding the continuous and relentless harassment that Eritrean Canadians face and the demands we made for the closure of the Eritrean Consulate in Canada as the main perpetrator of the persecution on Canadians of Eritrean origin. The Community and Mr. Ghirmay Yeibio have diligently been writing letters and informing the Canadian government about the Human rights situation in Eritrea in general and the long arm of the Eritrean government who is trying to control, harass and intimidate Canadians of Eritrean extraction here in Winnipeg and elsewhere in Canada.
We at the community have written several letters on 18 June 2009 to Mr. Stephen Harper and 3rd of September, 2009 to the Honorable Mr. Lawrence Canon Foreign Affairs Minister and also on June 19, 2011 to Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For three whole years we have relentlessly campaigned and lobbied the government to put a stop to the harassment of Eritrean Canadians by the Eritrean consulate in Canada.
Recently, on January 24, 2012 we wrote a letter to The Honorable John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs, House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, members of the House Commons from Manitoba and Heads of all opposition parties detailing among other things how the Eritrean government uses,
“It’s embassies and consulates around the world to ensure that the Eritrean Diaspora remains loyal to the Eritrean government. Through its satellite so called community organizations it collects 2% tax payments and other funds to finance its operations both at home and internationally. Even people living on social assistance are not exempt from the 2% tax. Festivals and seminars are also organized by the satellite communities to raise funds to the government. If Eritrean expatriates do not pay the 2% tax and refuse to participate in the fund raising activities, the government punishes family members in Eritrea by detaining them, and denying them the right to do business by revoking licenses or confiscating farm land.”
Through its consular officers and representatives it conducts periodic seminars to inform of developments in Eritrea and to update them on the friends and enemy list of the ruling party. These consular officers, have little regard for the rules of the host country and actively encourage Eritrean groups to break them.”
And requested the Canadian government to, “Close the Eritrean diplomatic mission in Canada, as the Eritrean Consulate in Canada and its staff members are mainly engaged in spying-on, harassing and coercing Eritrean nationals and raising funds for their terrorist activities.”
We will continue to call on the Canadian government to close the Eritrean Consulate in Canada and expell all Eritrean consular officers from Canadian Soil.
Here is a copy of our letter of 24 January, 2012 to the Honorable John Baird Minister of Foreign Affairs Canada.
THE COMMUNITY OF ERITREAN CANADIANS IN MANITOBA
January 24, 2012
The Honorable John Baird,
Minister of Foreign Affairs
125 Sussex Drive
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0G2
Dear Mr. Baird,
Please accept our greetings from Winnipeg, Manitoba. We are writing to you today to inform you of the grave danger that members of our community and their families face due to the long arm of the Eritrean government and its operatives here in Canada and to request you to take action on the issue.
To introduce ourselves we are Canadian citizens of Eritrean origin residents of Winnipeg, MB. We are called “The Community of Eritrean Canadians in Manitoba”, an Ethno-cultural community formed in 1998 registered in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba and operating to assist Eritrean Canadians and contribute our share in the life of the city and province we live in.
We are sure that you are well aware of the horrendous human right abuse that is perpetrated by the Eritrean government on its own people and the destabilizing and spoiler role that it plays in the horn of Africa by arming, training and abetting terrorist individuals and organizations that have confirmed links with Al-Qaida.
Furthermore, the Eritrean government uses its embassies and consulates around the world to ensure that the Eritrean Diaspora remains loyal to the Eritrean government. Through its satellite so called community organizations it collects 2% tax payments and other funds to finance its operations both at home and internationally. Even people living on social assistance are not exempt from the 2% tax.
Festivals and seminars are also organized by the satellite communities to raise funds to the government. If Eritrean expatriates do not pay the 2% tax and refuse to participate in the fund raising activities, the government punishes family members in Eritrea by detaining them, and denying them the right to do business by revoking licenses or confiscating farm land. (see attachment 1 for the official form of 2% tax collection)
Through its consular officers and representatives it conducts periodic seminars to inform of developments in Eritrea and to update them on the friends and enemy list of the ruling party. These consular officers, have little regard for the rules of the host country and actively encourage Eritrean groups to break them.
The duty of Eritrean Consulates and its staff around the world is not to enhance bilateral relationships between Eritrea and other nations or even protect the expatriate citizens who live in the host country. Their sole purpose is to ensure complete control of the Diaspora through harassment, intimidation and spying using satellite communities, and milk the Diaspora for funds that would eventually be used to strengthen the regime and finance terrorists. (see Attachment 2 for Winnipeg Free Press article on the issue)
In our city Winnipeg, these activities are spearheaded by an Eritrean community named “The Eritrean community of Winnipeg”, led by Mr. Lambros Kyriakakos. Mr. Kyriakakos’ community has devotedly organized seminars, festivals and speaking engagements for various high ranking Eritrean officials and Eritrean government operatives for decades. Some of the high ranking Eritrean officials which have conducted these so called seminars include:-
Mr. Yemane Gebreab, Mr. Girma Asmerom, Mr. Ahferom Berhane, Ms. Nura Mohammed Omer, Mr. Semere Russom, Mr. Ali Said Abdella, Mr. Tijani Khalid, all high ranking Eritrean officials and members of the diplomatic corps of the Eritrean government. Notable from them is Mr. Yemane Gebreab, political director of the ruling party in Eritrea, as well as special advisor to President Isayas Afeworki, who along with nine Somalis, is currently classified as an “extraordinary threat” to American national security by a presidential decree (Executive Order 13536) issued by President Obama in April 2010. These are just a few of the names. Some of them, particularly those based in the Eritrean Consular Office in Canada, have travelled to Winnipeg repeatedly.
Even after the UNSC sanction 1907 of Dec. 2009 and Canadian regulation SOR/2010-84 of April 2010 were imposed on Eritrea, Mr. Kyriakakos and his community have organized two events for Eritrean government officials and operatives.
1. On August 22, 2010 Mr. Kyriakakos sponsored and organized a public seminar at the University of Winnipeg for Mr. Semere Gebremariam, Head of Public Affairs in the Eritrean consulate in Toronto. The seminar dealt with 5 subjects 1) The Eritrean Economy, 2) The UNSC sanction, 3) Appeal for fund raising, 4) Bashing the USA, and the international community including Canada 5) How to deal with opposition to the government of Eritrea in the Diaspora and was chaired by the Eritrean Consul and co- chaired by Mr. Haileab Andom, the bag man of the Eritrean government who collects the 2% tax in Winnipeg. The meeting was nothing less or different than a party meeting of supporters.
In this seminar the Eritrean consul to Canada gave explicit instruction regarding anyone who opposes the government of Eritrea like human rights group, community organizations and individuals to be singled out, their activities closely monitored and to alienate them and ban them from all social life.
Thus the Eritrean diplomat transgressed his duties and responsibilities as a diplomat by giving instructions to the participants of the seminar to spy on Canadian Nationals of Eritrean origin, in contravention to accepted international norms and conventions regarding diplomatic and consular relations. This was facilitated by none other than Mr. Kyriakakos and his group.
2. In October, 2010 Mr. Kyriakakos and his group organized and facilitated another speaking engagement at the Masonic Temple for a US/Eritrean citizen named Mrs. Sophia Tesfamariam (an ardent advocate of the Eritrean government’s policies). Mrs. Tesfamariam at her speaking engagement portrayed Eritrea as a victim of conspiracy of powerful actors hell-bent to destabilize Eritrea for its policy of self-reliance and its opposition to US foreign policy. The main actor against Eritrea, according to her, is the USA, helped by other Western countries, and the western media, and human rights advocacy groups like Amnesty International in order to preserve the 'Jewish Israeli' interests in the region and warned the seminar participants not to be like the “evil Jews”. This eerie remark by her reminds the rhetoric of the Nazis who used similar words “evil Jews” to justify and carry out the holocaust. Present in the meeting were young Eritrean Canadians; and she was poising the minds of and deliberately radicalizing these teenagers with anti Jewish and Anti Western propaganda. The Seminar was co-chaired by Mr. Kyriakakos himself. (see attachment 3 for picture of Mr. Kyriakakos, Mr. Yohannes Mehari and Mrs. Tesfamariam during the speaking engagement)
On the 19th of May 2011 the B'nai Brith Canada, the Jewish community’s foremost human rights agency in its Press release called on the Government of Canada and the United Nations sanctions committee established under UN Security Council resolution 751 (the 751 Committee) to designate Sophia Tesfamariam as a person inciting to hatred and terrorism. (See attachment 4 for the press release).
As a result of all these activities which are directed by the Eritrean consulate in Canada and implemented by its satellite so called communities our families back home in Eritrea have suffered immensely. Some have been imprisoned; some made to pay heavy fines to be released from detention. New immigrants who do not support the government are constantly harassed and even physically attacked by government of Eritrea supporters. This is not unique to Winnipeg or Canada, but is witnessed in all North American and European capitals wherever the Eritrean government has consular office. The directives emanate from these Eritrean consulates.
We Eritreans came to Canada in search of protection, but safety and protection has become illusive to us. Even though we live far away from the inferno called Eritrea, we nevertheless have not escaped persecution. Regrettably, by allowing the likes of Mrs. Tesfamariam to enter Canada and by allowing Eritrean Embassy staff and their satellite communities to operate freely, Canada has unknowingly failed to protect its own citizens of Eritrean origin, and exposed us and our families to intimidation, threat and imprisonment by the Eritrean government.
Allowing such a mafia government to open consulate in Canada and it’s operatives to function freely in the guise of communities has ironically enabled the Eritrean government to control and persecute Canadians undisturbed and unchecked under our very nose, beyond and far away from its borders. The engagement and appeasement approach by the west have so far proved to be impotent and have not produced results. It is blatantly obvious that the Eritrean regime does not listen to criticism and is non repentant.
After all diplomatic and engagement efforts failed to produce results, the UNSC imposed sanctions 1907 in December of 2009 and subsequently Canada also implemented regulation SOR/2010-84 with the intention of curbing the adventurist and destructive character of the Eritrean government. Regrettably, the Eritrean regime has persisted in its’ belligerent character.
Two years later in December 2011, the UNSC imposed additional sanctions 2023/2011 and requested member States to take appropriate measures to hold accountable, those individuals on their territory who are acting, officially or unofficially, on behalf of the Eritrean Government. Article 11 of UNSC resolution 2023/2011 states that,
“11. Decides that Eritrea shall cease using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals or other individuals of Eritrean descent, decides further that States shall undertake appropriate measures to hold accountable, consistent with international law, those individuals on their territory who are acting, officially or unofficially, on behalf of the Eritrean Government or the PFDJ contrary to the prohibitions imposed in this paragraph and the laws of the States concerned, and calls upon States to take such action as may be appropriate consistent with their domestic law and international relevant instruments, including the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to prevent such individuals from facilitating further violations.”
Therefore we most humbly ask you to,
1. Take all necessary measures to protect Eritrean Canadians from persecution by the Eritrean government and its stooges here in Canada.
2. Close the Diplomatic mission of Eritrea in Canada, due to the fact that it’s existence in Canada has no relevance except to control, harass, intimidate, coerce and spy on Canadian Citizens of Eritrean origin and raising funds for their terrorist activities.
3. Expel Mr. Semere Gebremariam, Head of Public Affairs in the Eritrean consulate in Toronto for his actions during the seminar of August 22, 2010 at the University of Winnipeg organized by Mr. Kyriakakos and his group.
4. Curtail and stop the activities of the so called Satellite Eritrean communities and ask them to cease and desist from organizing platforms to the repressive Eritrean regime officials and its operatives like Mrs. Sophia Tesfamariam.
Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to thank the people and government of Canada for their generosity and help for Eritrean refugees, and humbly request you to continue the good work until a comprehensive solution is found.
Hoping to hear from you in the affirmative, we remain,
For The Community of Eritrean Canadians in Manitoba
Ghirmay S. Yeibio