Monday, September 15, 2014

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Eritrea.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Eritrea and strongly recommends U.S. citizens not travel to the country since there is increasing possibility U.S. citizens will not receive the requisite exit permit from Eritrean authorities.

The Eritrean government continues to restrict the travel of all foreign nationals.  These restrictions require all visitors and residents, including U.S. diplomats (who must apply 10 days in advance) for permission to travel 25 kilometers outside Asmara’s city limits.  Permission is usually granted to areas such as Massawa and Keren, which are known tourist destinations; however, requests to areas near the borders and regions not frequently traveled by diplomats are typically turned down.  As a result, the U.S. Embassy cannot guarantee its ability to provide consular assistance outside of Asmara.

Travelers should also be aware that travel permits are only valid for the approved final destination and do not allow for additional stops along the way to, or in the proximity of, the approved destination.  Travel to religious institutions, for example monasteries, requires separate travel permission even when such facilities are located in or near approved destination cities. Foreign travelers not adhering strictly to the terms of travel permits have reported being detained by law enforcement authorities, and their drivers have been jailed.

The Consular Section is aware that there have been incidents of Eritrean officials refusing to issue exit permits to U.S. passport holders even if they were born in the United States and entered Eritrea on visas issued by the Eritrea government.

Eritrean-U.S. dual citizens may be at risk of arrest in Eritrea. Once arrested, detainees may be held for extended periods without being charged with a crime.  Conditions are harsh – those incarcerated may be held in very small quarters without access to restrooms, bedding, food, or clean water.  The Eritrean government does not inform the U.S. Embassy when U.S. citizens, particularly dual nationals, have been arrested or detained.  Should the U.S. Embassy learn of the arrest of a U.S. citizen, the Eritrean government rarely allows consular access, regardless of the reason the U.S. citizen is being held.  U.S. citizens are cautioned to always carry appropriate documentation with them.  At times, armed persons may round up individuals who are not carrying documentation of their identity and military status.

Beginning in 2012, the Government of Eritrea began arming its citizens with automatic rifles to form citizen militias.  U.S. citizens are cautioned that these armed civilian militias patrol at night and are ordered to check individuals for documentation.  The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens to use extreme caution when encountering armed citizens.

The Eritrean government-controlled media frequently broadcast anti-U.S. rhetoric, and have done so repeatedly since December 2009, when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) first imposed sanctions on Eritrea.  Although there have been no specific incidents of violence targeting U.S. citizens, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise caution, stay current with media coverage of local events, and be aware of their surroundings at all times.

U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid travel near the Eritrean-Ethiopian border and the Southern Red Sea region because of the presence of large numbers of Eritrean and Ethiopian troops along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border and the existing political and military tensions between the two countries.  In October 2013, riots broke out in Eritrean refugee camps close to the Eritrean-Ethiopian border during a memorial service dedicated to the victims of the October 3 Lampedusa boat sinking.  In March 2012, Ethiopian troops attacked three locations approximately 10 miles inside Eritrean territory, and in January and February 2010, skirmishes between Eritrean and Ethiopian troops resulted in military fatalities.  Although Eritrean forces have withdrawn from disputed territory at the border with Djibouti, tensions in this area remain high and Qatari troops are stationed along the border.

U.S. citizens on ships and sailing vessels are strongly advised not to sail off the Eritrean coast nor to attempt to dock in Eritrean ports or travel through Eritrean waters.  U.S. citizens are also urged to avoid remote Eritrean islands, some of which may be used for Eritrean military training and could therefore be unsafe.  The Eritrean government does not issue visas to persons arriving by marine vessel.  Additionally, fuel and provisions are often unavailable in Massawa and other parts of Eritrea, and are often scarce in the capital city of Asmara.

Piracy on the Red Sea continues to occur.  Recreational vessels are strongly encouraged to avoid the region entirely, and commercial vessels without explicit agreements with Eritrean authorities are urged to avoid Eritrean territorial waters.  There have been incidents involving the seizure of ships by the Eritrean government as recently as December 2013.  These seizures have resulted in lengthy detentions of international crew members, including U.S. nationals.  Though the incidents were ultimately resolved and both ships and crew released the concern that future seizures may occur has not abated.  U.S. citizens are cautioned that commercial/tourist ships are not allowed to dock at some Eritrean ports, even to refuel.
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