According to most sources consulted for this report, deserters apprehended within Eritrea are usually returned to their military unit or civilian duty and punished. These punishments are imposed extrajudicially by their superiors. There is no possibility of appeal. However, the treatment of deserters appears to have become less harsh in recent years. Most sources report that first time offenders are now usually detained for several months. Punishment for deserters from the military part of national service is reportedly more severe than punishment imposed on those deployed in the civilian part. As deserters are not tracked down systematically, a number of them effectively go unpunished. Draft evaders are usually tracked down in round-ups (‘giffas’). Those apprehended are usually detained for some time before starting a military training, which often takes place in camps with hazardous and detention-like conditions. A part of the draft evaders, however, manages to avoid these round-ups in the long run. Sporadically, military units try to individually track down certain draft evaders, particularly those who have been called up already. According to almost all sources, individuals who leave Eritrea illegally are also subjected to extrajudicial punishment. It is unclear who is in charge of imposing penalties. No judgments are made public and there is no possibility of appeal. However, the policy currently applied by the authorities appears to allow for shorter prison sentences than those enshrined in the law. According to most reports, the detention period now commonly lasts a few months up to two years, depending on the circumstances. After being released, deserters have to resume their national service, while draft evaders are conscripted for military training. The alleged ‘shoot-to-kill order’ at the border is not followed strictly, according to most consulted sources. However, shootings may occur. For voluntary returnees from abroad who had previously evaded draft, deserted or left the country illegally, the draconian laws are reportedly not applied at the moment, provided they have regularised their relationship with the Eritrean authorities prior to their return. According to a new, unpublished directive, such returnees are exempt from punishment. It is understood that the majority of the individuals who have returned according to this directive have effectively not been persecuted. Nonetheless, concerns remain. There is no legal certainty, because the directive has never been made public. Furthermore prospective returnees are obliged to pay a diaspora tax (2 % tax) to an Eritrean representation abroad and to sign a ‘letter of regret’ in case they have not yet fulfilled their national service duty. It should also be noted that not all Eritreans are able to return this way. For example, persons who were critical of the Eritrean government during their time abroad are either denied return or would risk detention upon their return. So far, the majority of Eritreans who returned did so voluntarily and only temporarily. The long-term consequences of returns on a permanent base are still unknown. There is hardly any information available regarding the treatment of forcibly returned per-sons. In the last few years, only Sudan (and possibly Egypt) forcibly repatriated Eritreans. As opposed to voluntary returnees, those forcibly returned are not able to regularise their relation with the Eritrean authorities prior to returning. The few available reports indicate that the authorities treat them similarly as persons apprehended within Eritrea or while leaving illegally. For deserters and draft evaders, this means being sent back to national service after several months of detention. Regularisation is not necessary for persons who have not reached conscription age yet or who have fulfilled their national service duty already. Nevertheless, it cannot be excluded that adults are punished for nonpayment of the diaspora tax or for illegal exit. Over the last few years, the Eritrean authorities have announced several reforms of the national service. Most notably, they promised to limit the length of duty to 18 months starting from the 27th conscription round. This has not been fulfilled yet. National service remains open-ended and conscription lasts for several years. According to sources consulted, a growing number of conscripts who had been deployed in civilian roles are discharged once they have served for between 5 and 10 years. However, no reliable information is available on the demobilisation and dismissal of conscripts assigned to the military part of national service. In early 2016, the authorities announced a pay rise in the civilian part of the national service. According to sources consulted, implementation has already started.
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