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Eritrea Travel Warning

Issued by US Department of State

Feb 27, 2011

The U.S. Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Eritrea and recommends that U.S. citizens defer all travel there. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated September 24, 2010, updates information on security incidents, 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 in advance for permission to travel outside the Asmara city limits. Recently, the Eritrean government has started to refuse all new diplomatic travel permit requests; this situation may continue indefinitely. As a result, the U.S. Embassy cannot 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.

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 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 has not been released. There are reports of additional vessels with nationals from other countries being detained for up to 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.

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 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 Somali-based, U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization al-Shabaab terrorist group, which has threatened U.S. citizens, has demonstrated a capacity to operate outside of its base in Somalia.

Deteriorating economic conditions (the lack of availability of household items on the common market; government rations of goods such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil; and rapid price inflation of those few items which may still be found in stores) within Eritrea have led to a noticeable increase in crime, particularly within Asmara. The combination of forced open-ended, low-paying national service for many Eritreans and severe unemployment leads some Eritreans to crime as the only means to support their families. Eritrean authorities have limited capacity to deter or investigate such acts or prosecute perpetrators.

The consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Asmara, though closed for most visa services, is fully open for U.S. citizen services. U.S. citizens currently living or traveling in Eritrea are strongly encouraged to enroll with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) websiteto obtain updated information on travel and security within Eritrea. By enrolling, U.S. citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of an emergency and provide updates on the security situation. 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.

For additional information, consult the Department of State's Country Specific Information sheet for Eritrea and the Worldwide Caution. Travelers may also obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada, or 1-202-501-4444 from overseas.

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