The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted all these rights. It often denied citizens passports and exit visas on the grounds they had not completed their military duties or arbitrarily for no given reason.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide protection and assistance in some areas, but it restricted UNHCR activities in others. The government defined refugee status differently than the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. It did not recognize Ethiopians or Sudanese as refugees, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits. It provided protection to Somali refugees on a prima facie basis. The government continued to permit UNHCR to screen and resettle Somali refugees. UNHCR staff had access to Umkulu Refugee Camp, where they served Somali refugees. They did not have access to border areas to monitor new arrivals.
In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities asked citizens to provide justification for travel at the few checkpoints in the country.
Travel restrictions on noncitizens remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, humanitarian workers, UN staff, and foreign tourists to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel more than 15.5 miles outside of Asmara. This waiting period was shortened considerably for diplomats who had resided in country for a long period. Authorities gave UNHCR staff a monthly permit to visit Umkulu Refugee Camp.
Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas to depart the country if they entered on an Eritrean passport or residency card. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children ages five and older. Some parents avoided seeking exit permits for children approaching the age of eligibility for national service due to concern they themselves would be denied permission to travel, although some adolescents were granted exit permits. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men under age 54, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30, unless they had children. The government did not generally grant exit permits to members of the citizen militia, although some whom authorities demobilized from national service or who had permission from their zone commanders were able to obtain them.
Exile: Many persons who fled the country remained in self-imposed exile due to their religious and political views and fears they would be conscripted into national service if they returned. Others reported there were no consequences for returning Eritreans who had been granted residency or citizenship in other countries.
Emigration and Repatriation: To prevent emigration the government generally did not grant exit visas to entire families or both parents of children simultaneously. Authorities arrested persons who tried to cross the border and leave without exit visas.
The COI found the government, largely the military and particularly the border surveillance division, had been implementing a shoot-to-kill policy for a “considerable period of time.” The COI found that, while persons had been shot at as recently as 2014, some testimonies indicated the policy might have been revised. In December Amnesty International reported on interviews with persons who crossed the border to Ethiopia during late 2014 and during the year, and who had been stationed on the border, who confirmed the shoot-to-kill policy was still in effect.
In general citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income to be eligible for some government services and documents, including exit permits, birth or marriage certificates, passport renewals, and real estate transactions. The government enforced this inconsistently. Persons known to have broken laws abroad, contracted serious contagious diseases, or been declared ineligible for political asylum by other governments had their visas and visa requests to enter the country considered with greater scrutiny than others.
Citizenship: In 1994 the government revoked the citizenship of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their refusal to take part in the referendum on independence or participate in the military portion of national service. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not perform military service were not able to obtain identification cards and thus were not eligible for jobs in the formal economy or for ration coupons to buy basic essentials at government-subsidized prices.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, although the government offered protection to some individuals from neighboring countries, predominantly Somali refugees. The government did not grant Ethiopians or Sudanese asylum, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits that enabled them to access government services. The government required Ethiopians to pay an annual fee of 600 nakfa ($40) for a residency card. The card demonstrated the holder was not indigent.
Employment: There did not appear to be discrimination based on nationality in terms of employment or entitlements with the exception of resident Ethiopians, some of whom the government viewed as potential security risks.
Access to Basic Services: Persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin living in the country sometimes claimed they received social entitlements commensurate with the perceived degree of their loyalty to the Eritrean government, including eligibility for ration coupons to buy basic essentials at government-subsidized prices. Most Somalis were restricted to Umkulu Refugee Camp.
Durable Solutions: According to UNHCR, the government made local integration available to some Ethiopian and Sudanese refugees. UNHCR, with the cooperation of the government, voluntarily repatriated 33 Somali refugees from Umkulu Refugee Camp back to Hargeisa, Somalia and resettled hundreds of other Somali refugees, mostly in Europe.