Eritrean ambassador summoned under toughening Eritrean-Dutch relations

The Eritrean ambassador to the Netherlands has been summoned by the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders, over evidence that the embassy was involved in extortion of Dutch-Eritreans. Dutch media has found evidence that the embassy was involved in pressuring Eritreans to pay €50 in contributions for a conference for the youth wing of Eritrea’s only party.

Last week, tensions grew in the Dutch-Eritrean community over the conference bringing together members of the youth wing of Eritrea’s only party, YPFDJ. Yemane Ghebreab, a close advisor of Eritrea’s president, was supposed to attend. The conference was stopped by the mayor of the municipality in which it was held because of the risk of disorder after protests by the opposition of the Eritrean regime outside the venue.

The YPFDJ conference was set to gather over 600 people from all over Europe for its annual conference. The involvement of the Eritrean embassy led to calls for government action from Dutch parliamentarians. On Wednesday evening, the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs assured politicians that he would summon the ambassador for a meeting on Friday to demand an explanation about the conference.

Evidence gathered by the Dutch media Argos and OneWorld shows that the Eritrean embassy was involved in pressuring Eritreans in the Netherlands to pay 50 euros in contributions to the conference. Martin Plaut reports that evidence shows that this gathering is partly funded by door-to-door collections of money from the Eritrean diaspora through intimidation. The embassy had previously denied involvement with the conference.

Dutch parliamentarians call the involvement of the embassy unacceptable. They want the Dutch government to take action and close the embassy if the Eritrean embassy does not stop such practices.

The unrest around the conference started last week. The announcement of Yemane Ghebreab’s presence raised many concerns in the Eritrean community. This top ranking official of the government was officially representing the government from which many Eritreans fled. Ghebreab has been accused with crimes against humanity. The holding of conference in the Netherlands was seen as an act of provocation by the Eritrean government with the intention of asserting its power over Eritrean community in the Netherlands,  Dutch media  reported.

On the first day of the conference, a group of opponents of the Eritrean regime gathered in a demonstration, outside the hotel hosting the event. Tensions rose and this resulted in minor clashes that led to 128 arrests among the protesters. They were released the next morning. As the mayor of Veldhoven, Jack Mikkers, and the Dutch police received indications that a larger protest was planned in the next days, they decided to ban the conference for security concerns.

The organisers of the conference took legal action to challenge the Mayor’s decision. The preliminary injunction was heard  the same day by the local court, the result of which was to uphold the mayor’s decision. The participants of the conference were required to leave the hotel immediately. A declaration was later posted by the organisation of the conference, defining the decision to ban the conference as “regrettable and politically motivated, and designed to halt the conference proceedings using false pretexts. The decision clearly violated the basic rights of assembly and freedom of expression of all the European-Eritrean citizens at the conference”.

The resulting situation seems to show a growing tension between the Netherlands and Eritrea in terms of diplomatic relations. Acts of  intrusion by the Eritrean government had already been criticised by the Tweede Kamer in June last year when they adopted a resolution calling for the closure of the Eritrean Embassy in the Netherlands if such practices continued.