New study confirms concerns over Eritrean diaspora tax in Europe

A new report, commissioned by the Dutch government, has been published on the 2% tax that is paid by Eritreans in the diaspora. The study covered seven European countries, researching the legality, modalities and perception of the diaspora tax, as well as the role of the Eritrean government in its collection. The report shows that the legal basis for the diaspora tax, as well as the goals and the collection process, are unclear and inconsistent. In addition, the tax collection is perceived as mandatory by many Eritreans, and non-compliance with payments can lead  to consequences such as denial of consular services, punishment of family members in Eritrea. The reported use of coercion and intimidation make the collection of the diaspora tax potentially illegal in its application. The Dutch government deems the ways in which the tax are collected ‘unacceptable’ and lists a range of steps it will take to challenge it.

The study was executed by research group DSP-groep, the Tilburg University and EEPA. The main purpose of the study was to investigate the 2% tax diaspora tax, also known as the ‘Recovery and Rehabilitation Tax’ at the European level. The research is based on interviews, with Eritrean diaspora members as well as experts, and extensive literature review. Earlier reports of the intimidation, coercion, threats and fear that accompany the collection of the diaspora tax are confirmed in the study. The Dutch government calls it unacceptable and states that the manner of diaspora tax collection adds to the integration difficulties and the inability to detach from Eritrea that is felt by the Eritrean diaspora in the Netherlands.

The study shows the active role that Eritrean embassies and consulates play in the collection of the diaspora tax, as well as intermediaries of the Eritrean regime. These embassies are often controlled by Eritrean government officials who are usually not diplomats. The Dutch government states that if it finds solid evidence of the role of the Eritrean embassy in The Hague in any coercion, threat or other unlawful action, it will not rule out that diplomatic measures could be taken.

The study states that the legal status of the diaspora tax is unclear, as the country has no valid constitution and the 1995 proclamation on the tax has no clear objective. In addition, the levying of the tax seems to be arbitrary in all aspects that were researched: who is taxable, what income is the tax levied over, how it is controlled, what are the goals  and what are the consequences of non-payment. Interviews show that these criteria are not clear to the Eritrean diaspora either. The taxation is non-transparent, and it can therefore not be established if the funds may be used for purposes which are in contravention of the UN Security Council resolutions 1907 and 2023. The way the tax is collected is therefore arbitrary and in violation of key legal principles: discrimination, favoritism, self-incrimination (through forcing refugees to sign so-called ‘regret forms’) and punishment by association.

The report states that the diaspora tax is part of a wider system of surveillance in the Eritrean diaspora.  The report states: “The 2% Tax is collected as a critical part of a system of surveillance, with specific references to coercion in view of mental and social pressure, extortion, intimidation, fraud and/or blackmail. The specific organisation and modalities relate specifically to the diaspora, but also involves family members by association” (p. 11).

Another important point explained by the report concerns methods of payment, of which there are several. One of the most common ways is to pay the tax directly to the Eritrean embassy on foreign soil, either the very same people in charge of the calculation of the tax itself or through a bank transfer. Governments such as Germany and the United Kingdom (from 2011), have forbidden any kind of payments for ‘external-diplomatic’ reasons. Under these circumstance according to the interviews, another common method to pay the tax is by handing over cash to an intermediary of the Eritrean government who will travel personally to Eritrea. In some cases, the sum is paid through local bank transaction to private accounts or even by making cash deposits in different accounts registered in Dubai.

The report shows that the collection of the diaspora tax is different in all of the seven countries studied (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom). The threats and the pressure exercised on people is directly proportional to the power and the influence of the Eritrean Government in the Eritrean community of that country. In other words in country such as Belgium or the Netherlands where the Eritrean Government influence is proportionally lower, the consequences of not paying the tax are most likely related to denial of official documentation from the embassy (like birth certificates, school diplomas, etc.). However in countries such as Germany, Italy or Sweden, where the Eritrean Government  has a stronger influence on their local community, the collection of tax may take the shape of more severe extortion. In those circumstances, not paying the tax can have serious consequences, which can vary from social exclusion to blackmail to serious punishments for the individual or the family in Eritrea.

The Dutch government stresses that it will keep putting pressure on Eritrea, through its own diplomatic relations as well as via the United Nations, and will discuss the results of the report with other member states in the European Union. The Netherlands has made clear via a ministerial decree in October 2016 that the diaspora tax is illegal collected through coercion, intimidation, threats or other illegal means; it therefore stresses that police reports are of utmost importance for further legal action.