MPs want answers on Eritrean riots. Was the regime responsible?

The coach, set on fire during the riots, is removed by crane. Photo: Robin Utrecht ANP

MPs have called on the justice ministry to thoroughly investigate Saturday night’s riots in The Hague in which opposing groups of Eritrean nationals took the streets, setting cars on fire and hurling paving stones at police. Thirteen people were arrested.

In total, eight police officers were injured in the trouble, which according to The Hague officials appears to have started when a group of anti-government youngsters from an organisation known as Brigade Nhamedu turned up at a party centre where pro-regime groups were holding a festival. 

There are tensions between the Eritrean diaspora worldwide and last year violence erupted between the two groups at an event in Rijswijk. There have also been earlier problems in The Hague as well as in Amstelveen and Zaanstad and abroad.

Eritrea is one of the toughest dictatorships in the world. Freedom of speech and religion are limited and critics of the regime of president Isaias Afewerki either disappear or are tortured and given long prison sentences, according to Amnesty International.

Currently there are some 25,000 Eritrean nationals in the Netherlands and around 2,000 apply for asylum every year. Thousands came to the Netherlands to escape the civil war in the 1980s and many of them are now thought to support Isaias Afewerki who has been in power since 1993. Later arrivals, who came as political refugees, oppose the dictatorship. 

In 2017 and 2020 radio programme Argos reported on how secret agents from the regime harassed Eritreans living in the Netherlands and put them under pressure to hand over money – a so-called diaspora tax.  

Professor Mirjam van Reisen, who is an expert on Eritrea, told broadcaster NOS that she did not rule out the trouble in The Hague being orchestrated by pro-government groups. Trouble in Tel Aviv last year had been stirred up by paramilitaries, she said. 

One aim could be to make Eritrean refugees look bad so that the Netherlands would send them back, so they could be “dealt with”, she said.  While there is, as yet, no evidence this is the case, “we really need to look into the riots,” she said. “We have to find out who initiated them.”

Far-right leader Geert Wilders said he was “sick and tired” of the problems and said those involved should be “arrested and deported”. “I want the prime minister to get a grip, once and for all,” he said on social media. 

VVD MPs said those responsible should be given “serious punishments” and said that such violence could have an impact on residency permits and “being Dutch”. The CDA said that people who “imported tensions and violence from abroad” are not welcome and the GroenLinks-PvdA alliance also backed calls for an investigation. 

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