Eritrea in War’s Aftermath

The following are excerpts from an August field visit by Brother Vincent Pelletier, F.S.C., CNEWA’s Regional Director for Ethiopia and Eritrea.

by Brother Vincent Pelletier, F.S.C.
photos by Sister Christian Molidor, R.S.M.

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Thursday, 24 August. I left Addis Ababa today around noon with the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, and headed for Eritrea. Because of border problems we flew from Addis to Sanaa, Yemen, then to Djibouti and Oman to re-fuel. Finally, at 3:00 A.M. on Friday morning, we arrived in the Eritrean capital of Asmara and were received at Holy Savior Inter-Eparchial Major Seminary by Abba [Father] Tekle Berhane, Rector.

Friday, 25 August. Before breakfast a friend who had been deported from Ethiopia came to see me about his son, who was detained in a camp in Ethiopia because he is of military age. During the week we would make a number of attempts to help. Although I sought the assistance of the Red Cross and the American embassies in Eritrea and Ethiopia, we were unable to help. The young man is still stuck in that detention camp.

Archbishop Tomasi and I ate breakfast with several priests from the seminary. We realized while speaking with them that the unresolved situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains the primary topic of conversation. Many people expect Ethiopia to attack Eritrea again, before peacekeeping forces can be deployed. We learned that there was a shortage of gasoline, which persisted until the following Friday. We also got a sense of the economy, which the people say is dead. Many Eritreans continue to live on the remittances received from relatives working abroad.

The World Bank has released a report stating that Eritrea had received approximately $400 million per year in hard currency remittances. Since Eritrea does not export enough goods to earn hard currency effectively, the remittances are a major source of income and hard currency for the government. Income taxes take out at least 40 percent of one’s annual salary in Eritrea and additional taxes are often added. Because of the large number of men currently serving in the military, many Eritrean households are without any breadwinners.

After lunch the Nuncio and I left with Abuna [Bishop] Luca Milesi, O.F.M., Cap., Eparch of Barentu. We stopped in Keren and met there with its eparch, Abuna Tesfamariam Bedgo. We then continued on to Barentu, arriving in the dark at 8:30.

Saturday, 26 August. After Mass and breakfast we took a short tour of the church compound in Barentu and visited the unfinished social services offices, which are under construction. Because of the war and consequent lack of workers, hardly any work had been completed on the building since my last visit in February. Before the Ethiopian troops arrived in Barentu the priest hid computers, motorcycles, clothing and a tractor in the basement. Although troops scoured the structure’s unfinished upper floors, they did not venture down to the basement. However, it should be noted that Ethiopian troops seized three four-wheel drive vehicles belonging to the eparchy.

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Tags: Ethiopia War Eritrea Brother Vincent Pelletier