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Eritreans still tapped for tax, refugee says

Eritreans still tapped for tax, refugee says

By: Carol Sanders

Eritrea promised Ottawa it would stop, but Winnipeggers say they're still being shaken down to pay a two per cent tax to a regime they fled.

Last month, the Canadian government threatened to expel Eritrea's consul if the country continued to collect a two per cent tax on Eritreans living in Canada. Canada adopted United Nations sanctions to stop the flow of money to Eritrean defence forces linked to terrorist groups. Eritrea agreed to stop collecting the diaspora tax from Canadians.

But members of the Eritrean community in Winnipeg say they were told at a closed meeting recently they still have to pay it, just not through local channels.

One man said he attended the Sept. 23 meeting at the Ellice Cafe because he thought it was "to discuss Eritrean issues." When he got there, he realized the event hosted by the Eritrean Community in Winnipeg Inc. wasn't an open community gathering.

People had to sign in and write down their phone numbers, he said. Some who showed up were not allowed entry.

"Before me, two people were kicked out," said the man who arrived in Canada a few years ago and was afraid to have his name published.

"They said, 'You're not Eritrean -- you have to go!' "

The two per cent tax is still required but won't be collected by local agents or the consulate in Toronto, the crowd of about 50 people was told.

Newcomers are struggling to get settled in a new country and don't want to give money to the government they fled, said the refugee at the meeting.

"I don't believe in this two per cent tax," the man said.

He said Lambros Kyriakakos, the president of the Eritrean Community in Winnipeg Inc., spoke at the meeting. He is the president of the organization that sponsors Eritreans who fled the regime. He told the group he'd just visited Eritrea, the attendee said. He said the money Canadian Eritreans are sending to the regime is helping orphans and rebuilding the country. The man in the audience said they were told not to believe United Nations or media reports that their donations are funding military operations or terrorist groups.

He said Kyriakakos told them the Free Press and the Vancouver Province were directed by the National Post to fabricate such stories. The newspapers, they were told, are "mercenaries" funded by Eritrea's enemy, the government of Ethiopia, the man said.

The Free Press is neither owned nor operated by the National Post. Nor is it on Ethiopia's payroll.

Kyriakakos refused to comment.

The newcomers from Eritrea are being manipulated by the Eritrean Community in Winnipeg Inc., and coerced to keep sending money, says a Winnipeg human rights group.

"They incite hatred against Canadians so people will cling with them and feel safe," said Bereket Mebrahtu, with the Eritrean-Canadian Human Rights Group of Manitoba. The newcomers are receiving misinformation about the Free Press that makes them feel under attack as Eritrean community members, Mebrahtu said.

"This is how they deflect the substance of the issue and instigate fear of the people -- that the community is the only sanctuary."

If they don't pay the tax, they'll never get a visitor's visa to go there or their relatives in Eritrea will suffer as a result, say community members and a report to the UN.


(Source: Winnipeg Free Press)

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