17 January 2018 – The Dutch Government has declared the head of the Eritrean embassy office in The Hague ‘persona non grata’ and has demanded his immediate departure. The decision followed a motion issued by the Dutch parliament to close the Eritrean embassy. The decision for dismissal was made after reports of the intimidation and coercion, especially connected to the collection of the 2% Eritrean diaspora tax, stirred political and societal unrest in the Netherlands. In addition, the Dutch government was shocked by evidence of coercion to pay the tax and to sign a ‘regret form’ recorded by Dutch radio programme Argos.
Although the Dutch government did not decide to close the embassy office outright, they state that declaring the head of the Eritrean embassy office in The Hauge persona non grata is an very strong diplomatic measure. This highly exceptional measure was taken in order to give “a signal to the Eritrean authorities”, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The Cabinet wants to make clear that the Netherlands does not accept these undesirable practices.”
The letter published by the Dutch government states that “[…] the Cabinet concludes that there is no understanding from the Eritrean side about the great political and societal resistance in the Netherlands towards the way in which the diaspora tax is collected, and also that there is no willingness on the Eritrean side to conform to this.”
The week before Christmas, the Dutch Parliament debated with the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs about the issue of the 2% diaspora tax that Eritreans have to pay. Members of the Dutch Parliament indicated that their patience regarding the continued reports of involvement by the Eritrean embassy had ran out. These reports included embassy involvement in the collection of the 2% tax in combination with coercion and threats. Two Parliament members, supported widely by other Parliamentarians, issued a motion to close the Eritrean embassy in response to the apparent lack of progress despite earlier measures such as summoning the Eritrean ambassador from Brussels – who serves the Netherlands as well as Belgium.
Adding to the political unrest, Dutch radio programme Argos published a conversation between the head of the Dutch embassy office and an Eritrean asylum seeker. In the conversation, the head of the Dutch embassy office can be heard telling the man that he cannot get consular services unless he signs a ‘regret form’ for his crimes, which includes an open-ended acceptance of any punishment, and pays the 2% diaspora tax over his income in the 4-5 years that he has lived outside of Eritrea. When the asylum seeker indicates that he does not want to do this, he is told that “anybody who wants anything from the country” has to comply.
Following the airing of the radio programme, the Eritrean ambassador was summoned to The Hague. It is to be understood from the letter than this conversation yielded insufficient results, upon which the head of the embassy office (chargé d’affaires) in the Netherlands was declared persona non grata.