Eritrean consulate accused of taxing Refugees in Switzerland

(Reuters) – Swiss prosecutors are investigating whether the Eritrean consulate has broken the law in allegedly forcing its Swiss-based nationals to pay a 2 percent tax by withholding consular services, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Eritreans are one of the main nationalities among the refugees who have fled across the Mediterranean to Europe in the past few years. Around 36,000 have reached Italy so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

A U.N. Commission of Inquiry into Eritrea’s human rights record said in June that the Eritrean government was forcing Eritreans abroad to pay the 2 percent diaspora tax, also called the “rehabilitation tax”, by denying them access to basic consular services, undermining a right to freedom of movement.

“We submitted the complaint to the Attorney General at the end of September,” a spokesman for the Swiss Federal Office of Police, Alexander Rechsteiner, said on Wednesday.

Consulate officials in Geneva and federal prosecutors could not be reached immediately for comment.

The Office of the Attorney General must now clarify whether the tax collection constitutes “illegal dealings by a foreign state on Swiss territory”, but Rechsteiner said it could be difficult to prove a criminal offence.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR considers Eritreans, like Syrians, to be almost automatically worthy of refugee status, because of the human rights situation in their homeland.

Many Eritreans no longer hold an Eritrean passport, the Commission said, and would receive one only by paying the rehabilitation tax to Eritrea’s diplomatic representations abroad. The government used methods considered illicit by the U.N. Security Council to collect the tax.

In 2011, the Security Council banned Eritrea’s use of “extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea”, condemning the Horn of Africa country’s use of the “diaspora tax” revenue to destabilise the surrounding region.


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