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Eritrea: teenagers trying to flee the country killed by Eritrean military

Four male teenagers were caught and killed by Eritrean soldiers after their attempt to cross the border to Ethiopia illegally. This was reported by the Eritrean People's Party (EPP) on 11 February 2009.

The four teenagers were part of a group comprising six underages, who were caught as they tried to escape crossing the border to Ethiopia. Soldiers fired at them. One of them managed to escape to Ethiopia. The remaining teenagers went back and hid, but surrendered to the soldiers at last. They passed on their student papers and told that they were from neighbouring villages. Nevertheless soldiers opened fire and shot the remaining five teenagers. Goitom Solomon, Kiros Haile, Tesfai Debessai and Mengistu Gergis were killed. Tekeste Woldai was slightly wounded, could escape later and reported about the incident.

Eritrea is taking action heavily against runaways evading the draft or trying to desert. All men and women,too, from 18 years on, are liable to military service. Regularly military service will be prolonged indefinitely. Deserters and conscientious objectors are arrested unlimited and are being held in solitary confinement. Some Jehovah Witnesses have been in jail for about 15 years. There are estimations that only in the first two months this year some thousands left the country to ask for shelter in other countries.

"Political repression has increased extensively in recent years", the Eritrean Democratic Alliance wrote in their call for the demonstration and funeral march on 28 February 2009 in Frankfurt. "Many people opposing the regime and political opponents are arrested at secret places and isolated. Nobody was tried, charged or sentenced. A growing number of Eritreans only see the chance to escape."

In this context it is shocking that Switzerland now attempts to change the asylum law, in order to not grant Eritrean deserters and draft evaders asylum. The planned change of law is a reaction to a decision of the Swiss Asylum Appeal Commission, a specialised court in asylum cases which was replaced by the Federal Administrative Tribunal on 1 January 2007, from 20 December 2005. In this decision the Asylum Appeal Commission came to the conclusion that "due to political reasons the punishment for conscientious objection and desertion in Eritrea is unreasonably severe. Persons who have a well-founded fear of being subjected to such a punishment shall be granted refugee status." And: "Fear of punishment for conscientious objection or desertion is well-founded in cases where the person concerned has been in actual contact with the military authorities. Such a contact may generally be assumed in case of desertion from active military service. Furthermore, every contact with authorities revealing that the person concerned was to be recruited is relevant".

This does not seem convenient for the Swiss authorities, as the number of Eritrean asylum seekers increased within three years from 150 to 2850. The change of law would be in contradiction to the UNHCR handbook on determining refugee status.

Source: Connection e.V.: Eritrea: Teenagers shot dead - Eritrean opposition groups call for protest demonstration this Saturday, 25 February 2009; Swiss Asylum Appeal Commission: Auszug aus dem Urteil der ARK vom 20. Dezember 2005 i.S. L.H., Eritrea, 20 December 2005; Schweizer Asylverfahren soll verschärft werden, 14 January 2009