The Dutch Government controls collection of Eritrea's infamous Diaspora Tax….

The Dutch government has decided to strengthen control over the Eritrean government's continued efforts to collect the notorious 2% tax it imposes on all members of the Eritrean Diaspora who wish to use any Eritrean consular and other services. This follows an official report on the activities of the Eritrean government in the Netherlands, detailing the way the Eritrean government has been working through political activists of its single and ruling PFDJ to intimidate Eritrean refugees in the Netherlands. The report made it clear that it was unacceptable that people closely allied to the Eritrean regime, such as members of the Youth wing of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ), should be active in refugee reception centers in the Netherlands. In February, this year a Dutch Court dismissed an attempt by a member of YPFDJ to sue Mirjam van Reisen, Professor of International Relations, for libel over her concerns that the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service was using interpreters connected to the "centre of the Eritrean intelligence in the Netherlands". The judge accepted that the YPFDJ was the "eyes and ears" of the Eritrean regime, gathering intelligence for the government in Asmara and being responsible for attempts to intimidate UN personnel, journalists,  Professor van Reisen and Eritreans in the Diaspora.

The Dutch government has now made it clear it plans much stricter regulation to prevent YPFDJ activity and action to be taken by the Ministries of Social Affairs and Employment, and of Foreign Affairs to put a stop to the intimidation and pressure that has become prevalent against members of the Eritrean community in the Netherlands. In June this year, a parliamentary debate led to a number of parliamentary motions calling for action to deal with the "influence of Eritrea in the Netherlands." Following the debate, the DSP-Groep Amsterdam and Tilburg University produced a report that confirmed the concerns expressed in Parliament and detailed the way the Eritrean government tried to influence members of the community and the fear and mistrust it had induced in the community.

The report carried out extensive literature and document research as well as organizing focus group sessions and interviewing dozens of international experts, informants from policy, welfare and support organizations, lawyers specializing in migration law and with Eritrean cases and with people from the Eritrean community and various Eritrean organizations as well as the Eritrean Ambassador and representatives of the embassy. It identified some 20,000 people with an Eritrean background currently living in the Netherlands of whom some 14,000 had arrived in the last five or six years, fleeing from the current regime. It said the community was highly polarized with "a lot of mistrust and fear".

The report identified the Youth PFDJ or YPFDJ Holland as part of the international youth movement set up by the PFDJ in Asmara. It said it was the most active and visible organization of the PFDJ. Like other PFDJ organizations, the YPFDJ has explicit political goals to strengthen the PFDJ and to control what happens within the Diaspora. The embassy was also under PFDJ control. The report said there were strong indications that the PFDJ had either infiltrated or taken over many of the Eritrean organizations in the Netherlands, and the Embassy and the PFDJ, which operated from within the embassy, played an important role in the monitoring or direct managing these organizations, though the embassy itself merely claimed to offer support.

The YPFDJ has been described as a central element in Eritrea's "sinister international network of spies and thugs", carefully organized by the regime to spy on its own citizens in the Diaspora. Members, often wearing Tshirts with an "Eri-blood" logo, can be seen at almost any Eritrean opposition meeting, gathering information and harassing critics. They often break up meetings, and have been accused of systematic harassment of opposition members, hacking computers and phones and providing information leading to the arrests of members of families back in Eritrea. It is clear from the UN Commission of Enquiry's report earlier in the year that the Eritrean regime has, in fact, constructed a sophisticated Eritrean spy network around the world using it to control the Eritrean population in the various countries where they reside. Eritrean representatives in foreign countries recruit spies to conduct surveillance of Eritreans in the Diaspora, including any members of political organizations or religious entities, and more generally working to detect any "suspicious or undesirable policies perceived to be against the needs of the Government". Anyone who tries to develop independent initiatives or organizations in the Diaspora is liable to experience warnings, threats, intimidation and attempts to take control.

Referring specifically, to the collection of funds through the 2% diaspora tax, and other "voluntary" contributions and "donations", the report noted that "Very large amounts are involved and the pressure to meet these large amounts is being increased substantially." It emphasizes that collection is an important task of the YPFDJ and PFDJ members. The tax must be paid to use any consular services, in contravention of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The report concludes: "The diaspora tax and financial contributions seem to be part of a system of fear and intimidation." It also adds that because of the lack of public financial management in Eritrea, it is impossible to know how far such contributions are used for military activity in the region, and "in contravention to the weapons embargo placed on Eritrea by the UN Security Council." So the overall result of the activities of the YPFDJ is that a "lot of fear and mistrust exist within the community," and trust in the rule of law is being undermined by fear of reprisals. The report says that pressure and intimidation against members of the community by the YPFDJ must be considered to be "a proven and established fact."

Last week, the Dutch Cabinet issued an account of the progress in controlling Eritrean government activity and influence. It said it wasn't acceptable for foreign authorities to influence the freedom of citizens in the Netherlands. It emphasized that intimidation, force or extortion could not be allowed. Although the public prosecutor could not investigate Eritrean embassy involvement in criminal offenses, such as extortion and intimidation, it could and would investigate any concrete evidence that such offenses are taking place. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had investigated options for prohibiting collection of the Diaspora tax in the Netherlands. In October, the Ministry prohibited the collection of taxes if fraud, force, extortion or other criminal offenses were involved or if the tax revenue was being used for specific military goals, contravening the weapons' embargo of UN Resolution 2023. The Netherlands is the third country to limit such Eritrean activity, following Germany and Canada. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now commissioning further investigation into the methods used to collect the Diaspora tax in other European countries, and a report is expected by mid next year. In the meantime, the Organization for the Reception of Asylum-seekers is responding to the DSP-Groep Amsterdam and Tilburg University report, taking precautions to prevent the presence of people allied to the Eritrean regime in its reception centers. It will in future refuse access to members of the Youth PFDJ, described by the civil courts as "an extended arm of the dictatorial regime"; the Organization's volunteer coordinators will watch out for any political or religious activities that might disturb people in the centers.

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