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Eritrea's Church Leadership Fostering Human Rights Advocacy after Facility Seizures

Flag of Eritrea. Credit: Shutterstock

Following the confiscation of Catholic schools and clinics in Eritrea, Church officials in the country have turned their efforts to educating the people at the grassroots about their human rights. 

A Catholic Priest who spoke to ACI Africa Wednesday, December 1 on condition of anonymity for fear of victimization said educating the people about their rights is important in the country with an authoritarian system of government. 

The Priest added that speaking against human rights violations and teaching the Eritrean people has become one of the main activities of the Catholic Church since the government started nationalizing Church-owned institutions in the country in 2019.

"We are limited with the services we can offer to the people. But at the grassroot levels, we continue to create awareness about the rights of the people, the right way in which they should bring up their children and take care of the sick," the Priest said. 

In their advocacy work, which is limited to the Catholic faithful, the Priest said Church officials "make this awareness that people have to ask for their rights, for justice to prevail in the country."

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"We do not make our messages propaganda but when the Bishops write pastoral letters, the Muslims, politicians and most Eritreans want to read these letters. Deep down they see that this is the right thing. They are happy that at least there is a body speaking the truth in spite the fear because we should not speak anything against the government’s ideology," the Priest told ACI Africa December 1.  

In the interview, he described the situation in Eritrea as "very difficult" because of the authoritarian system of the government. 

"The difficulty is for everyone. In our country, one cannot go abroad, unless you are at least 40 years old for women and 50 years for men. Most of the youth go to military service," he shared.

As a result of the restrictions, the Priest said that many young people have resorted to leaving the Northeastern African country illegally. 

"People say they do not see a future in the country, so many of them want to go to Europe, America. This brings a problem with human trafficking to the highest levels," he said, and added that the migrants experience many problems “along the way”, including abductions and demands for ransom. 

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He said in reference to those leaving Eritrea illegally, "They have to cross to Sudan, Libya. They have many problems along the way. There are people who kidnap them and ask for ransom from their families. There are highly ranked people in Eritrea who take advantage of these migrants."

The Priest said the decision by most youths to join the military has increased the number of the physically handicapped Eritreans, explaining that there are many young men who spend their time in the military, hence the country has a large number of "fathers who are strangers to children."   

Despite the challenges in the Northeastern African nation, the Catholic Priest said, "it is not all bad for Eritrea." 

"Eritrea is a small country. Our security is strong. We do not have much crime. It is a peaceful country," he said, and continued, "It is only the system that is not good for the people."

The Priest added that the power to reform the country lies with the people. "The outside cannot do much for us. The hope for our country is the Eritrean themselves," he said. 

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He added, "People are tired and they can do anything to change. That is why we are doing these advocacy programs at the grassroot levels."

"The difficulty is for everyone, but the hand of God is there and because of this, we can't destroy the country. One day, we will all come to our senses and restart, respect the rights and freedom of everyone," the Eritrean Priest told ACI Africa December 1.  

Eritrea has been under the leadership of President Isaias Afwerki since May 1993; he serves as both head of state and head of government.