Eritrea: Severe Diplomatic Alert and Travel Warnings

Asmara (HAN) September 15, 2014- Public diplomacy and regional security news. New US Department of State’s Press Release issued to Eritrean and US citizens  travel warnings.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Eritrea and strongly recommends U.S. citizens not travel to the country since there is increasing possibility U.S. citizens will not receive the requisite exit permit from Eritrean authorities.

Regional strategic plans between President Omar Al-Bashir and President Isaias Afwerki

The Eritrean government continues to restrict the travel of all foreign nationals.  These restrictions require all visitors and residents, including U.S. diplomats (who must apply 10 days in advance) for permission to travel 25 kilometers outside Asmara’s city limits.  Permission is usually granted to areas such as Massawa and Keren, which are known tourist destinations; however, requests to areas near the borders and regions not frequently traveled by diplomats are typically turned down.  As a result, the U.S. Embassy cannot guarantee its ability to provide consular assistance outside of Asmara.

Travelers should also be aware that travel permits are only valid for the approved final destination and do not allow for additional stops along the way to, or in the proximity of, the approved destination.  Travel to religious institutions, for example monasteries, requires separate travel permission even when such facilities are located in or near approved destination cities. Foreign travelers not adhering strictly to the terms of travel permits have reported being detained by law enforcement authorities, and their drivers have been jailed.

The Consular Section is aware that there have been incidents of Eritrean officials refusing to issue exit permits to U.S. passport holders even if they were born in the United States and entered Eritrea on visas issued by the Eritrea government.

Eritrean-U.S. dual citizens may be at risk of arrest in Eritrea. Once arrested, detainees may be held for extended periods without being charged with a crime.  Conditions are harsh – those incarcerated may be held in very small quarters without access to restrooms, bedding, food, or clean water.  The Eritrean government does not inform the U.S. Embassy when U.S. citizens, particularly dual nationals, have been arrested or detained.  Should the U.S. Embassy learn of the arrest of a U.S. citizen, the Eritrean government rarely allows consular access, regardless of the reason the U.S. citizen is being held.  U.S. citizens are cautioned to always carry appropriate documentation with them.  At times, armed persons may round up individuals who are not carrying documentation of their identity and military status.

Beginning in 2012, the Government of Eritrea began arming its citizens with automatic rifles to form citizen militias.  U.S. citizens are cautioned that these armed civilian militias patrol at night and are ordered to check individuals for documentation.  The U.S. Embassy warns U.S. citizens to use extreme caution when encountering armed citizens.

The Eritrean government-controlled media frequently broadcast anti-U.S. rhetoric, and have done so repeatedly since December 2009, when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) first imposed sanctions on Eritrea.  Although there have been no specific incidents of violence targeting U.S. citizens, U.S. citizens are urged to exercise caution, stay current with media coverage of local events, and be aware of their surroundings at all times.

U.S. citizens are strongly advised to avoid travel near the Eritrean-Ethiopian border and the Southern Red Sea region because of the presence of large numbers of Eritrean and Ethiopian troops along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border and the existing political and military tensions between the two countries.  In October 2013, riots broke out in Eritrean refugee camps close to the Eritrean-Ethiopian border during a memorial service dedicated to the victims of the October 3 Lampedusa boat sinking.  In March 2012, Ethiopian troops attacked three locations approximately 10 miles inside Eritrean territory, and in January and February 2010, skirmishes between Eritrean and Ethiopian troops resulted in military fatalities.  Although Eritrean forces have withdrawn from disputed territory at the border with Djibouti, tensions in this area remain high and Qatari troops are stationed along the border.

U.S. citizens on ships and sailing vessels are strongly advised not to sail off the Eritrean coast nor to attempt to dock in Eritrean ports or travel through Eritrean waters.  U.S. citizens are also urged to avoid remote Eritrean islands, some of which may be used for Eritrean military training and could therefore be unsafe.  The Eritrean government does not issue visas to persons arriving by marine vessel.  Additionally, fuel and provisions are often unavailable in Massawa and other parts of Eritrea, and are often scarce in the capital city of Asmara.

Piracy on the Red Sea continues to occur.  Recreational vessels are strongly encouraged to avoid the region entirely, and commercial vessels without explicit agreements with Eritrean authorities are urged to avoid Eritrean territorial waters.  There have been incidents involving the seizure of ships by the Eritrean government as recently as December 2013.  These seizures have resulted in lengthy detentions of international crew members, including U.S. nationals.  Though the incidents were ultimately resolved and both ships and crew released the concern that future seizures may occur has not abated.  U.S. citizens are cautioned that commercial/tourist ships are not allowed to dock at some Eritrean ports, even to refuel.

In August 2011, three separate incidents of piracy were reported off the Eritrean coast near the Port of Assab.  High-speed skiffs with armed persons on board continue to attack merchant vessels.  If transit around the Horn of Africa is necessary, vessels should travel in convoys, maintain good communications contact at all times, and follow the guidance provided by the Maritime Security Center – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA).  U.S. citizens should consult the Maritime Administration’s Horn of Africa Piracy page for information on maritime advisories, self-protection measures, and naval forces in the region.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a serious problem throughout the country.  There are reports of accidents and incidents in which vehicles or people occasionally detonate mines.  Many detonations have occurred on relatively well-traveled roads in and near the Gash Barka region of western Eritrea; subsequent investigations indicated that several mines were recently laid.  In September 2011, press reported that a vehicle in Senafe, 60 miles south of Asmara, ran over a landmine, killing five people and injuring 34.  Vast areas of the country still have not been certified free of mines and unexploded ordnance following the 30-year war for independence and the subsequent 1998-2000 border conflict with Ethiopia.  Visitors should avoid walking alone and hiking in riverbeds or areas that local government officials have not certified as safe.

U.S. citizens choosing to travel to Eritrea despite this Travel Warning must obtain an Eritrean visa before their arrival.  Persons arriving in Eritrea without a visa are generally refused admission and returned on the next flight to their point of origin.  However, the Embassy is aware of persons being jailed for several months after arriving without visas.  The Embassy urges all U.S.-Eritrean dual citizens to obtain Eritrean visas in their U.S. passports before traveling to Eritrea and to enter the country as U.S. citizens.  The Embassy is aware of numerous cases where U.S. citizens entering Eritrea on passports of their other nationality have been detained and not permitted to leave the country.  U.S.-Eritrean dual citizens who enter Eritrea with an Eritrean ID card may find it difficult to obtain the required visa to exit the country legally.  Traveling to Eritrea even with a valid entry visa in a U.S. passport does not guarantee entry.  The Embassy cautions travelers not to stay beyond the period of time granted at the time of admission by Eritrean Immigration.

Crime in Asmara has increased as a result of deteriorating economic conditions accompanied by persistent food, water, and fuel shortages, and rapid price inflation.  The combination of forced, open-ended, low-paying, national service for many Eritreans and severe unemployment leads some Eritreans to commit crime to support their families.  Eritrean authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate crime or prosecute perpetrators.

Modern telecommunications options are limited in Eritrea and cannot be counted upon in an emergency.  International cell phone service plans do not work on Eritrean networks.  Local cellular phone service is tightly controlled by the Eritrean government and difficult to obtain.  When available, international cell phone calls are extremely expensive and only available using pre-paid minutes.  Internet cafés are widespread but often lack power.  Internet service is limited and slow, and generally does not support Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype.

The U.S. Embassy in Asmara strongly urges U.S. citizens who travel to or remain in Eritrea despite this Travel Warning to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) so you can receive the most up-to-date security information.  Please keep all of your information in STEP current.  It is important when enrolling or updating information to include multiple phone numbers and email addresses to facilitate communication in the event of an emergency.

The consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Asmara is open for all U.S. citizen services between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, or by appointment.  The U.S. Embassy in Asmara is located at 179 Alaa Street, P.O. Box 211, Asmara; telephone +291-1-12-00-04, available 24 hours in case of emergency; fax +291-1-124-255 and +291-1-127-584.


Photo:  Eritrean Diaspora and Tourists arriving at Asmara International Airport

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  1. 1) American please leaves us alone. The Eritrean government has done nothing wrong. America always has being hostile toward the Eritrean Government for long time. We believe in self-reliance. If that is what you don’t like, what else can we do to survive?

    2) American we are independent nation just in case if you don’t know. We Eritrean voted for independent 99.83% with our president Isaias Afwerki has our leader.

    3) American you are lying no issue in Eritrea. This is may happing in Ethiopia, but not in Eritrea.

    4) Now, I am afraid the US is up to something. This warning without any problem in the country tells me that the US is ready to come up new war, new hostile, against my Eritrean government. The US government is prepared to do something. American please leave us alone. Please. We don’t need American. American should worry about America.

    • Elk…. Get a life!

      As you wrote “American should worry about America.” That is exactly what US doing, worrying about its citizens.

      When is the last time your retarded PIA has done the same thing for Eritreans?

  2. Dear Elk; you can die in desert of Sahel in the name of self reliance. But you should be reminded that, you don’t have any enemy rather than PIA and his allies. you can carry him on your shoulders while, Eritreans are sinking in the Mediterranean. Besides, you can carry on living until you buy a loaf of bread for 1,000 naqfa. Please stop blaming US and Ethiopia for your own faults. By the way, you are known for blaming IGAD, AU member countries, UN, the Arab League, EU, and other individual world countries. You are always nice but the rest is bad. what a shameless individuals does Eritrea has. Sorry!!!

  3. Just got back from Adi, and think what you will , but my SIM card worked well (local calls are crystal clear), and I don’t think I can recall any media stating false news on the air. In fact, there’s a bit of a boom in construction and jobs are plenty. What I saw was people are tiered of constantly having to deal with lies from the outside. As for the diaspora divided into; I love or hate Eri and it’s president, go home and look before you agree just to agree. It’s a remarkable place, I did ask one question about my family member in prison, and this was met with a bit of hostility , but the answer is; he will wait for justice to be dealt to him. In the meantime, he’s safe, he’s fed and has access to family and friends at his convenience. I than proceeded to ask about executions etc… , and than to my surprise No executions, I googled and found that Amnesty International credits Eri is an abolitionist state of the death penalty, since 1989. Hum!

    • Dear Biniam you should be glad you didn’t end up in jail like the rest of our brothers and sisters and you should be glad your passport didn’t get confiscated like the rest of our brothers and sisters. I am sure you are so glad you are back to the land of freedom and democracy, where you can read and write what ever you want and participate in the faith of your choice, and travel to any state or city you want at any time with out (menkasakesi) and restriction from the government. My brother sorry to hear about your family in jail, you see if we were not ruled by a dictator your family member and the rest of our brothers and sisters shouldn’t be in jail till they proven guilty by the law of the land. Everybody is INNOCENT till proven guilty by the law, NOT the other way around. Unfortunately in our beautiful Eritrea we don’t have rule of law but instead one man rule of tyranny. Don’t you wish the freedom you have in here could have it in Eritrea and the rest of our family and friends in Eritrea enjoy the same freedom ? I am sure you do, but unfortunately our freedom and democracy is chocked by ISAYAS and his gang members. Don’t forget we voted for independence but we didn’t elect this tyrant and he does not represent me, you or any Eritrean and our land.

      Awetn selamn nhzbi Eritrea.

  4. Eritrea is a big prison run by a megalomaniac . This real state ( not a country) should have never been turned over to bunch of autocrats presided by the new Idi Amin or bukasa. I hope Ethiopia should consider regime change and eventual inclusion into the federal Ethiopian states or kilils.

  5. Not too long after our decisive referendum vote the TEMPORARY government of Eritrea was making all the right moves and implementing all the right policies and majority of us Eritreans were rallying behind it. Not knowing the detail, we completely ignored the real hero’s and the geniuses behind all the right decisions but instead we celebrated a single individual (ISAYAS) as a hero and God and he believed it too (his head and ego got too big). He didn’t waste any time, one by one he jailed and killed most of our brightest and visionary brothers and sisters and as a result look what kind of mess we ended up with. The dictator is the department head of Education, health, finance, transportation, agriculture, urban development and of course information, As a result our Eritrea is in a fast down ward spiral.

    Awetn selamn nhzbi Eritrea and down fall to ISAYAS and his criminal junta.

  6. Alem – thank you for your input. You are correct in your opinion! The benefit is that we can agree to disagree! From my point of view, it’s not perfect, but it is a positive progression.
    You can point all of the problems, but again I see all the hope and her great future! The potential is real and it’s amazing to see it with the glass half full.
    As for the President, I can’t criticize him, because I don’t know what the truth is, there are three sides to each story, Your version, my version and the truth.
    The benefit of the doubt and being able to agree to disagree, is the conversation we should focus on. If we can have a dialogue, that’s progress; as progress as individuals becomes a collective than a desired change can occur!

    • Dear Biniam I totally agree with you that we don’t have to agree on everything, we don’t have to have the same ideology, we don’t have to follow the same faith, and we don’t have to support the same team but we have to learn to respect our differences and actually we should allow our difference to complement our growth as people. That is what is missing in our Eritrea. That is why thousands of our bright men and women are behind bars, NOT because they brake any laws or did any crime but for having different ideas and opinions than ISAYAS. Diversity of ideas and thinking should be encouraged and supported not penalized by jail and killing.
      We Eritreans are bright and hard working people if we had our constitution to govern us and if the foundation of democracy was laid down as intended our country would be marching in the right direction and the flow of migration would be in opposite direction. It is true Eritrea wouldn’t be a democratic country overnight but by now the root of a solid foundation would spread and our democracy would transform from crawling to walking and may be into running status.
      Nations all over the world going to the polls to elect their representative government, voting on issues that affect their life with out getting intimidated by others and making final decisions on matters that affects them. Whereas In our Eritrea we don’t have an elected government, no constitution, no human right, basically everything is at the mercy of Isayas.
      For some reason some us we believe we Eritreans deserve a bit of democracy, a bit of freedom and a bit of progress, that is why we romanticize the very small mediocre progress in the name of nation building.
      Democracy is a growing and evolving process it is not perfect, but there is no any other better alternative and we should press on for democracy and freedom.

  7. Thanks Alem for telling the truth. What said reminds of MOBUTU SESE SEKO WAZABANGA,jean Bedel Bukasa, Idi Amin, Hastings Banda of Malawi, Papa doc Duvalier of Haiti, and The Kmer of Cambodia, Keep educating the people about this curse called Afewerqi. He is the new anti christ who must make Eritrean people suffer inside the country and spread fear among the diaspora.

  8. The president recently stated the country will be drafting new constitution ,at this moment no body will be accountable based on the law of the country and my advise to all of you is hold him on his own words and work with the president. The only solution for future of the country and to be a lawful country

  9. these are lies. i was there for month at the end of 2013 and my aunt just got back a week ago after a 2 month stay. no problem recieving exit visa, they harldy check your luggage when you arive. report from frist hand account. I received an indefinite exit visa. things are not perfect but they are not as stated in this article or other article circluting on web by propaganda hungry west bent on destruction. I don’t agree with polices of my country gov but lets speak truth and stop all the lies