The official country information watchdog, the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information, has criticised the Home Office’s use of country information on the situation in Eritrea. The Guardian has picked up on the story and the full IAGCI report can be found here. [UPDATE: Human Rights Watch has written to the the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration on the same subject].
The criticism in the IAGCI report is quite strong:
It is the view of the IAGCI that the two CIG reports are marred by serious methodological concerns. In particular, where they refer to illegal exit, conditions on return and national military service, the two CIG reports rely heavily on a Fact-Finding Mission report by the Danish Immigration Service (hereafter referred to as the Danish FFM report). The Danish FFM report has itself been widely criticized in terms of its methodology. As a result, statements cited in the Danish FFM report should be treated with appropriate care and should not be taken as undisputable facts relating to the current situation in Eritrea. In the view of the IAGCI, the two CIG reports on Eritrea attribute unwarranted weight to the Danish FFM report, while failing to provide additional independent and credible sources of information to corroborate the statements made by the sources quoted in the Danish FFM report. In light of these observations, the IAGCI recommends that the Home Office review the two recent CIG reports on Eritrea, specifically in terms of their reliance on the Danish FFM report; and that pending such review the two CIG reports be removed from the Home Office’s website. Furthermore, the IAGCI recommends that the Home Office make a statement to the effect that pending the review of the March 2015 CIG reports, these reports should not be used in deciding applications for international protection from Eritrean nationals.
At the time of writing, the reports are still up on the Home Office website and therefore still being used by asylum decision makers. I have myself seen refusal letters which rely on the Danish country information now questioned by the IAGCI. For example, one reads:
The Danish FFM Report also indicates that a person is able to return to Eritrea legally provided they pay the Diaspora tax and sign a “letter of apology”at an Eritrean embassy. This includes those who evaded or deserted National Service. Once this has been done, a passport application can be made…
Although use of the money raised through the Diaspora tax is subject to United Nations Security Resolutions, for states to levy a tax on its citizens overseas is not in itself persecutory, providing it is not at a punitive level or levied in a discriminatory way. Therefore, provided the request is made without threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means, payment of the levy is not considered to be persecutory.
In light of the above it is not considered that you would be on risk on return to Eritrea for leaving illegally.
The Metropolitan Police are less sanguine than the Home Office about the “diaspora tax” and the methods use to collect it and are investigating whether the Eritrean embassy in the UK is using it to “punish and control” Eritreans living in the UK. The UN expressed concern about this in 2011, with the Security Council passing a resolution demanding that Eritrea “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” and criticising the regime for funding terrorist activities, presumably in part using the funds collected through the diaspora tax the Home Office suggests asylum seekers should just get on and pay so they can return safely.
Could the use of dodgy country information by the Home Office be linked to the imperative to reduce asylum numbers and meet the net migration “aspiration”? In the year to March 2015, when the criticised Home Office country information reports were published, the asylum grant rate for Eritreans was 85% and Eritreans were the largest single national group claiming asylum. The number of asylum applications by Eritreans was 3,552, more than double the number of 1,578 the previous year (see official statistics).
However, the refusal rate for Eritreans has doubled since the new country guidance was introduced by the Home Office, according to IRIN.
Meanwhile, the Upper Tribunal seems to be in the process of examining the situation with a view to issuing a country guidance determination.