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Travel Warning: Eritrea

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Consular Affairs issued a Travel Warning for Eritrea On November 3.  It reads as follows:


November 04, 2011

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Eritrea and strongly recommends U.S. citizens defer all travel to the country.  This replaces the Travel Warning dated February 27, 2011, updates information on security incidents, including piracy, and reminds U.S. citizens of ongoing security concerns in Eritrea.

The Eritrean government continues to restrict the travel of all foreign nationals.  These restrictions require all visitors and residents, including U.S. diplomats, to apply 10 days in advance for permission to travel outside Asmara’s city limits.  Permission is rarely granted.  As a result, the U.S. Embassy is extremely limited in its ability to provide emergency consular assistance outside of Asmara. A number of Eritrean-U.S. dual citizens have been arrested without apparent cause.  Once arrested, detainees may be held for extended periods without being told the purpose of their incarceration.  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, including those who are not dual nationals, have been arrested or detained.  Similarly, 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.

The Eritrean government-controlled media frequently broadcasts anti-U.S. rhetoric, and has done so since December 2009, when the UN 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 and to avoid demonstrations.  Even peaceful demonstrations can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  U.S. citizens should 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, including the port of Assab, as there have been military tensions in these areas.

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.

In December 2010, a British ship attempting to refuel in Massawa was detained by Eritrean authorities, and its crew of four was held for six months without consular access before being released.  There are reports of additional vessels with nationals from other countries being detained for several months.  In nearly all cases, the Eritrean government has neither given a reason for detention, nor granted consular access.  The port of Assab is closed to private marine vessels.

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.

U.S. citizens are also urged to avoid remote Eritrean islands, some of which may be used for Eritrean military training and would therefore be unsafe.

U.S. citizens choosing to travel to Eritrea should obtain an Eritrean visa before their arrival in Eritrea.  Persons arriving by marine vessel likely will not be able to obtain an Eritrean visa.  Additionally, fuel and provisions are often unavailable in Massawa and other parts of Eritrea and are often scarce in Asmara.

U.S. citizens considering travel within Eritrea should be aware of the presence of large numbers of Eritrean and Ethiopian troops along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border, and acute political tensions between the two countries.  In March 2008, Eritrean restrictions on diesel fuel supplies caused the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea’s detachments to withdraw from the Temporary Security Zone, leaving no international observers monitoring the border.  Skirmishes between troops of both countries resulted in fatalities in January and February of 2010.

Although Eritrean forces withdrew from disputed territory at the border with Djibouti as part of a Qatari-led mediation effort, tensions in that area remain high.

In April 2010, a bomb blast just over the border with Ethiopia killed five persons and injured 20.  In May 2010, 13 people were injured when a bomb exploded on a bus just over the border with Ethiopia.  In July 2010, 78 people were killed in two suicide attacks in Kampala, Uganda, including Eritreans and a U.S. citizen.  Although we are not aware of specific threats against U.S. citizens in Eritrea, the Kampala bombings mark the first time that the Somalia-based, U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab, which has threatened U.S. citizens, has demonstrated a capacity to operate outside of its base in Somalia.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a serious problem throughout the country.  There are reports of accidents and incidents where vehicles or people occasionally detonate mines.  Many detonations 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; five people were killed and another 34 injured in the incident.  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 conflict with Ethiopia.  U.S. citizens should avoid walking alone and hiking in riverbeds or areas that local government officials have not certified as safe.

Crime in Asmara has increased as a result of deteriorating economic conditions along with 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.

U.S. citizens who travel to or reside in Eritrea are strongly advised to enroll through the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  U.S. citizens without Internet access may enroll directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By enrolling, you make it easier for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to contact you in case of emergency.

The consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Asmara, though closed for most visa services, is fully open for U.S. citizen services between the hours of 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm 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.

Current information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States or a regular toll line at-1-202-501-4444 for callers from other countries.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).  You can also stay up to date by bookmarking our Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Worldwide Caution.  Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook, and download our free Smart Traveler IPhone App to have travel information at your fingertips.


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