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Bishops in Eritrea Write to Protest Ethiopian Cardinal-led Delegation’s Denied Entry

Berhaneyesus Cardinal Souraphel, Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia who was denied entry into Eritrea on February 22.

Following the incident that saw the Ethiopian Cardinal and his delegation denied entry into Eritrea, being forced to spend a night at Asmara airport, Catholic Bishops in the northeast African nation have, in a letter addressed to Eritrean government authorities, expressed disappointment over the “most unfortunate incident”.

“We, hereby, wish to express our deep regret for this most unfortunate incident, whose reasons we have, so far, no means of comprehending,” reads in part the letter of the Bishops in Eritrea.

Addressed to the National Office for Religious Affairs in Eritrea, the letter makes known the sentiments of the Bishops, namely, that they “remain in the dark as to the reasons of the facts that have sadly occurred on February 22 at the International Airport of Asmara.”

Recalling the “most unfortunate” unfolding of February 22, the Eritrean Church leaders confirm that the Cardinal-led delegation “had received the entry permit stamped in their passports, valid for one month.”

“This notwithstanding (and) most disconcerting for us, as Eritreans, they were made to wait at the airport of Asmara from Saturday, 22 February, 5.15 pm to Sunday 23 February 2020, 12.00 noon, to eventually return home right from the airport,” the Bishops recount in their collective letter signed by the Secretary General of the Eritrean Bishops Conference, Abba Tesfaghiorghis Kiflom. 

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A statement from the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat (ECS) availed to ACI Africa explained that after undergoing all the necessary immigration checks, the Ethiopian Cardinal and his entourage were blocked on orders from a “higher authority.”

“While they were expecting the final check out from the Airport to meet the official welcome organized by the Eritrean Church leaders and the faithful, the Airport Security Officials approached them and told them that Higher Authority forbade them the entrance to Eritrea,” the ECS statement reads.

The Cardinal-led delegation was “forced to pass the night in the airport and return home the next day,” further reads the statement signed by the Deputy Secretary General of ECS, Abba Gabriel Woldehanna, a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM. Cap).

Cardinal Berhaneyesus is said to have narrated his nightlong ordeal to the Catholic faithful at Kebenna Kidanemehret Parish Church in Addis Ababa the following day and asked the people of God in his country to pray “for both of our Churches and the two sister-countries.”

The Eritrean government has been hostile towards the 4.6 percent Catholic population since last year when Bishops in the country called for political reforms.

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In retaliation, the government ordered the closure of 22 Catholic-run health facilities, citing older regulations that prevented religious bodies from operating such institutions.

Since gaining independence from neighboring Ethiopia in 1993, the one-party state has never had a national election with President Isaias Afwerki’s rule being described as “repressive.”

Rights and freedoms enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights such as freedom of worship remain undermined in Eritrea, with Human Rights Watch 2019 report indicating that “the government refuses to recognize all but four religious groups: Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical (Lutheran) churches.”