The Dutch Parliament is debating how to respond to the latest evidence that the Eritrean government is continuing to lean on members of the Eritrean diaspora community living in the Netherlands.
On Saturday a programme by investigative journalists from Argos radio programme will be broadcast showing Eritrean refugees being forced to pay the notorious 2% tax to the Eritrean government – something the Dutch authorities have repeatedly insisted must end.
Portions of the programme have already been released.
The programme, using secretly filmed footage, quotes from a conversation with the head of the Embassy, Solomon Mehari.
In it, an Eritrean asylum seeker is forced to pay the so-called 2% tax and to express his “regret” for having fled from Eritrea.
If he refuses to sign he will not be issued with the government document he came to the Embassy to request.
From the transcripts of the conversation it appears that the asylum seeker is forced to sign a form in which he repents and accepts he will receive what is called the “correct sentence”.
“Every person that left the country must first sign this. There is no way around it. After that, we can give our services, ” he is told. [Full transcript below]
MPs call for Embassy closure
Anger and frustration was expressed by politicians at the behaviour of the Eritrean Embassy in three motions debated in the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday.
These ranged from calls for the Embassy to be closed, to investigations on whether the 2% tax could be made illegal.
MPs from across the political spectrum expressed their concerns that pressure and intimidation was continuing, despite government calls for the Eritrean embassy to cease acting in this way.
In September the Dutch government promised to act if this didn’t happen. “When firm evidence emerges of intimidation and unlawful coercion in relation to the collection of the Eritrean diaspora tax by the embassy in The Hague, diplomatic measures will not be ruled out,” the government promised in an official statement.
Responding to the debate, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Halbe Zijlstra, described closure of the Eritrean embassy as an extremely serious step, which would require proof.
He said that the Dutch government had called on Eritreans to report the matter to the police and that so far they had received 10 report, but these have yet to lead to a criminal investigation.
Mr Zijlstra offered to discuss possibility of undertaking a formal prosecution with the Prosecutor, and once more offered to discuss the matter with the Eritrean ambassador in Brussels.
Parliament will vote on the motions today [Thursday].
Transcript of the conversation recorded by Argos
Asylum seeker: It says here ‘I am prepared to receive the appropriate punishment for my mistakes and to sign my statement’. That is why I am asking you for more time to let this sink in. You understand what I mean, right?
Mehari: No, I have a different understanding. We think that the government wrote this for your own good.
Asylum seeker: I will think it over. Because it says: I am prepared to receive the appropriate punishment! What that punishment is is not even known. It could also sentence someone to death.
Mehari: Every person has a conscience and if a person made a mistake, he will not be able to deny it.
Asylum seeker: About the whole Eritrean population is fleeing. I have done nothing that others have not done. Can my document be worked on while I think about this?
Mehari: No, it can not. That is not my decision. I am telling you the general requirements. Every person that left the country must first sign this. There is no way around it. After that, we can give our services.
Asylum seeker: But I need my document.
Asylum seeker: It will be Christmas soon. I want to be with my children. Even if I pay everything, only not signing this apology statement…
Asylum seeker: So you will not give me a document?
Mehari: First you must sign and then we will ask other things of you.
Asylum seeker: Everyone that needs services must do this?
Mehari: And then you will receive a special card.
Asylum seeker: Do I actually have to pay the 2% in one go? I mean, I have worked for 4-5 years. And if you have no money in your account, it is difficult.
Mehari: Listen, it is your own fault that you delayed it for so long.
Asylum seeker: I heard that it was voluntary.
Mehari: It is voluntary! If there are 10,000 Eritreans here in Holland and if half pays, we will not visit the houses of the other half to take it. But if someone asks something of the country, then that person must do what must be done. Shall we close now?
Asylum seeker: Well, It could be payed in terms, could it not?
Mehari: Such a thing does not exist. It is Thursday now. Take the weekend and come to a decision.