In an episode of Dutch investigative radio programme Argos, the matter of controversial country reports, which are used in asylum decisions, was raised. Anonymous sources, such as those used in reports on Afghanistan and Eritrea, have a large impact on the content of the important reports, determining (possible) return of asylum seekers. In 2017, The Netherlands made a country report on Eritrea, which received criticism for its tone, which was more positive than the 2016 report. Prof. Mirjam van Reisen explains this criticism on the Dutch radio programme Argos on NPO radio 1.
Radio programme Argos covered in its episode the question of ‘ambtsberichten’, country reports from the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs, which are mainly used as sources of information to assess asylum applications. The main matter covered in the programme was on Afghanistan. According to a country report of 2000, officers and sub-officers of de secret service KhAD/WAD during the communist regime are war criminals and need to leave the country. There has been a lot of criticism on this report. Dr. Joost Brouwer and Pieter Bogaers, a lawyer, explain why the claim in the report is not true and what the consequences of it are.
Also for Eritrea, the 2017 country report seems more positive in tone than the first.
Situation in Eritrea
‘The Human Rights situation in Eritrea is really bad,’ says Mirjam van Reisen. ‘The military service is mandatory and of undetermined length, people receive very little money for years, it is not allowed to travel freely, journalists and political activists are put in prison, family members are also arrested, …’
Mirjam van Reisen states that around 3000 Eritrean refugees requested asylum in The Netherland in 2016. In the beginning of 2017, there were 600 asylum requests. Since the situation in Eritrea is viewed as severe, most Eritrean asylum seekers are granted asylum in the Netherlands. In specific cases, such as doubt if the refugee is from Eritrea or Ethiopia, the asylum request can be refused.
Country report 2017 based on anonymous sources
Last year, in 2017, the Dutch government made a country report on Eritrea. Several Dutch lawyers criticised the content of this report. Van Reisen shares this criticism. Last year, when the report had just come out, she had put the old and the new country reports next to each other and had observed that the tone of the second report was different, more positive towards the situation in the country.
The controversial parts of the report of 2017 are based on anonymous sources who have two claims; first, they claim that refugees who deserted the army are treated better than before when they return to Eritrea; secondly they question important reports on human rights in Eritrea from the UN, which allege that crimes against humanity have been committed and continue to be committed in the country.
In the 2017 report, the 2% tax, the issue of coercive tax paid by Eritreans in the diaspora, had also been diminished when compared to 2016.
Van Reisen questions these anonymous sources and the transparency of the report. She does not know who these sources are and it is not mentioned in the report. However, it is very unlikely that the sources are Eritrean citizens because they cannot speak freely, especially not with outsiders. Van Reisen also questions why state officials would want to stay anonymous when following the official government line on such matters.
In 2014 there were similar country reports on Eritrea in Denmark and in the United Kingdom, which stirred controversy. The Danish report was withdrawn after the researchers revealed that their work was misrepresented. According to Mirjam van Reisen, the policy of European countries is to give money to countries of origin with a high number of refugees fleeing the country. In exchange, these countries should control the number of refugees fleeing. This creates a win-win for both countries: less refugees come to European countries and the countries of origin receive money.
New country report in 2018
According to the interviewer on the radio NPO radio 1, the Dutch government is going to make a new country report in 2018.
Van Reisen argues that a country report should be based on verifiable facts and not on anonymous sources who give an opinion – which seems to be the case for several statements in the 2017 report – as the future of people depends on the content.
‘Such a country report is a very important document and it is important that such a report is based on facts,’ Mirjam van Reisen concludes.