Eritrea real clear politics's Weblog

April 2, 2009

Eritrea: Church Responds to Food Crisis Worsened by Misrule

Filed under: News — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 7:17 am

Eritrea is on the brink of famine and thousands of people are pouring across the borders to escape starvation and state persecution, a Catholic charity reports.

Aid to the Church in Need (CAN), which helps persecuted and other suffering Christians, has given nearly -25,000 (£23,100) in response to new evidence showing that the unfolding nightmare in the Horn African country is creating a humanitarian crisis across the region as Eritreans flee, desperate for food and shelter.

Reports of the crisis comes as reports from Western governments and human rights organisations point to an economic melt-down made worse by ever-tightening controls and human rights abuses against so-called dissidents, especially religious groups.

With the U.S. State Department recently issuing an emergency report on Eritrea, sources in the region describe the country as in the grip of a food crisis – with the government stopping people from accessing the most basic of supplies.

Reports – whose authors CAN could not revealed for security reasons – say the authorities have blocked the transfer of food stuffs from one region of the country to another, banned open-air markets selling maze, barley and other grain, and even conducted house-to-house searches for ‘illegally-obtained’ produce.

Underlining the severity of failed harvests caused by worsening droughts, one report received by ACN stated: “I would confidently say that Eritrea is on its knees in terms of food production.”

Accusing the government of refusing desperately-needed outside help, the report adds: “This is turning out to be the destruction and complete isolation of the country.”

As Eritrea’s southerly neighbour, Ethiopia, grapples with the influx of thousands of refugees who have risked death to escape, ACN has received urgent S.O.S. appeals for urgent assistance for people in urgent need of food, clothing and shelter.

Among those receiving ACN’s help are nearly 20,000 refugees spread across two camps in northern Ethiopia.

Key to the work is a pick-up truck needed to transfer supplies through mountainous terrain to the refugee camps.

An ACN spokesman said: “We can only begin to imagine the nightmare that is unfolding in Eritrea – it seems only history will be able to tell the full story of what the people have gone through. They urgently need our prayers and support.”

Aid to the Church in Need said it has grown increasingly concerned by human rights abuses in Eritrea – especially against Christians.

As described in the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 Eritrea human rights report, released late last month, security forces there have used bondage, heat exposure and beatings to punish people arrested for their religious beliefs.

They have been forced to sign statements denying their faith and have been held in secret – sometimes underground – metal containers.

Although the Catholic Church is one of four government-approved religious groups, last year up to a dozen priests and religious Sisters were expelled from Eritrea – in many cases without warning.

In June 2008, the government seized property belonging to the Catholic Church after ordering people to evacuate the building.

Human rights organisations and religious groups have increasingly spoken out against so-called crimes against humanity carried out by Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki’s regime.

Copyright © 2009 Catholic Information Service for Africa. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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