Eritrea Situation Escalates Humanitarian Crisis

Aid Agency Notes Religious Persecution, Human Rights Abuses

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ASMARA, Eritrea, MARCH 26, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Thousands of Eritreans are fleeing starvation and persecution in their country, creating a humanitarian crisis across the Horn of Africa, an aid agency reported.

Aid to the Church in Need reported Wednesday that this country is “on the brink of famine” due to droughts and harvest failures.

This is complicated by another drop in the struggling economy, the agency reported, as well as “ever-tightening controls and human rights abuses against so-called dissidents, especially religious groups.”

The situation is creating problems across the Horn of Africa as refugees cross borders looking for food and shelter, yet in Eritrea the government is blocking access to food supplies.

A person who chose to remain anonymous for security reasons reported that “the authorities have blocked the transfer of food stuffs from one region of the country to another, banned open-air markets selling maze, barley and other grain, and even conducted house-to-house searches for ‘illegally-obtained’ produce.”

Another report to the aid agency noted that the government is refusing outside help, and that “this is turning out to be the destruction and complete isolation of the country.”

Nightmare

Aid to the Church in Need is currently serving 20,000 refugees who have risked their lives to cross into the neighboring country of Ethiopia.

A spokesman for the agency stated: “We can only begin to imagine the nightmare that is unfolding in Eritrea — it seems only history will be able to tell the full story of what the people have gone through. They urgently need our prayers and support.”

At the beginning of this month, the Eritrean president, Isaias Afewerki, hosted Omar al-Bashir, president of neighboring Sudan “in an act of defiance after the International Crimes’ Commission issued a warrant for the latter’s arrest on charges of war crimes,” affirmed the report.

It noted growing concern over human rights abuses, particularly against Christians, in Eritrea. The U.S. State Department, which currently has an alert out for worsening conditions in the country, reported last month that security forces there have used bondage, heat exposure and beatings to punish people arrested for their religious beliefs.

The agency noted that although the government has approved the presence of the Catholic Church, last year several priests and nuns were expelled from the country, and Church property was seized.

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