LANGUAGE: TIGRINYA, ARABIC & ENGLISH
RELIGION: CHRISTIANITY & ISLAM
CURRENCY: ERITREAN NAFKA
POPULATION SIZE: 3,53 MILLION
CALLING CODE: +291
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Since its official separation from Ethiopia in 1991 after a devastating war, authoritarianism and militarism have shaped Eritrea’s political climate in which opposition or dissent are not tolerated. Discussing political matters with strangers is potentially dangerous and should not be done. Eritrea has troubled relations with other countries in the region as well as the wider international community. Due to ongoing military and political tensions with neighboring countries, a new violent conflict is easily triggered.
Travelling to all of Eritrea’s border areas is strongly discouraged due to the high risk of violence as well as the widespread presence of landmines. The previously established Temporarily Security Zone at the border with Ethiopia is particularly dangerous due to the deployment of military forces as well as incidences of robbery, kidnapping and murder. All border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea are currently closed. The invasion of Djibouti’s border area by Eritrean security forces in 2008 has lead to an armed conflict which is still ongoing. The unresolved border dispute has caused the regional security situation to be highly instable and political tensions between the two countries to endure. This border cannot be crossed over land and traveling within 30 kilometers from the Eritrea-Djibouti border is highly advised against. The border between Sudan and Eritrea has also been marked as a security zone due to the presence of armed groups.
While Eritrea’s capital is relatively safe, Asmara is not free from common forms of criminality such as robbery, pickpocketing and purse snatching. In addition, more serious crimes such as car and home burglaries are on the rise. The coastal area north of Massawa regularly experiences armed banditry. Do not go out alone or after dark and keep valuables out of sight, also at home or when traveling by car. When you become victim of a robbery, do not resist as this could exacerbate violence.
While there is no acute threat of terrorism, travelers are advised to remain vigilant at all times and especially when visiting crowded and public places. Demonstrations and protests can suddenly and quickly turn violent and lead to temporary disruptions of traffic and public transport. Large public gatherings of people should therefore be avoided. Monitor local and international news to stay informed about societal developments.
COVID-19 in Eritrea
Eritrea has experienced a steady increase in its number of confirmed cases of COVID-19. The government has imposed a nation-wide lockdown until at least the 23rd of April. No one is allowed to leave their house, except for buying essential food products. All non-essential government functions have temporarily been suspended. All commercial passenger flights from and to Eritrea have been banned. Ethiopia’s policies might change suddenly and unexpectedly depending on how the corona-pandemic evolves. Since Eritrea’s medical facilities may not be able to provide adequate treatment once infected with corona, it is highly encouraged to return to your home country.
The condition of roads varies greatly throughout the country. While some main roads between major towns are paved, most roads in and to rural areas are not. Rural roads and off-road driving can be dangerous. Firstly, landmines are extensively prevalent in many areas, particularly along Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti which continue to cause death and injury. Leaving clearly marked and well-used roads is thus highly advised against. Furthermore, the country’s winding mountain roads are narrow and generally lack signs and guardrails. Oncoming traffic around hairpin turns may not be clearly visible. Traffic also consists of a great variety of vehicles which are often poorly maintained and lack sufficient lighting. Pedestrians and livestock may wander near or on the road and are hardly visible at night. Due to these hazards, traveling by road after dark should be avoided if possible.
All foreign nationals need to apply for a permit to travel outside Asmara and the region of Ma’ekel. You should only travel on roads or routes for which you have permission as your permit is verified at road checkpoints. Travel permits for business travelers are issued by the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, permission to travel to Eritrea’s part of the Hanish islands is highly unlikely to be granted. A Eritrean driving license is required for foreign travelers who wish to drive themselves in Eritrea. Various checkpoints have been set up at which your driving license is checked by the police. If you become involved in a car accident, you should contact the police immediately and leave your care in place until a police officer arrives.
Be alert when taking public transportation as vehicles, particularly busses, tend to be extremely over-crowded and pickpocketing occurs regularly. Taxis are generally available in abundance, but they may transport several passengers at the same time.
Piracy is a significant threat in the Eritrea’s territorial waters. Especially the southern part of the Red Sea is prone to piracy and armed robbery. It is strongly recommended to not go onto Eritrea’s waters if not necessary.
A number of reputable airlines such as Turkish Airlines, EgyptAir, FlyDubai and Ethiopian Airlines carry out flights to Asmara International Airport. Some air carries operating in and to Eritrea are considered unsafe by the European aviation authorities.
Hospitals in Asmara and other major towns are able to provide basic medical care. In case of a serious medical emergency, evacuation to a neighboring or your home country is most likely needed. Medical evacuations are costly. Healthcare facilities in rural areas are extremely limited. Medicines are scarce throughout the country and can be very expensive.
The consumption of contaminated food or water can cause several diseases, such as cholera, traveler’s diarrhea and typhoid. Long-stay travelers, those who visit friends and relatives or travel to areas with poor sanitation and food hygiene are at increased risk. Practice safe food and water precautions as much as possible. Bottled water might be hard to find outside Asmara, take this into account when planning your travels. Malaria is widely prevalent along the coast and regions below 1500 meter. Other mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, Chikungunya, African sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis, are also present. Take precautions against mosquito-bites by wearing body-covering clothes, sleeping under a mosquito net, using mosquito-repellent and taking anti-malaria medication. Meningococcal disease and tuberculosis are a risk for travelers who have close contact with the local population, such as health care workers. There is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and exposure to other people’s blood and other bodily fluids should be avoided. Avoid all contact with animals in order to prevent rabies infection, avian influenza and Ebola. While the risk of schistosomiasis is low for most travelers, it is advised to avoid swimming in fresh water sources. Traveling to Eritrea’s mountainous areas can cause altitude sickness, even when you are healthy.
Along the coast of the Red Sea, the summer months running from May to September can be extremely hot with average day time temperatures of 40ºC/104ºF and rain is rare. The western part of Eritrea also has a desert-like climate, yet rainfall is more frequent. During periods of rain, the western low lands may experience land slides and flooding causing roads to become impassable. Due to its altitude, the mountainous central region of Eritrea including its capital Asmara has mild weather conditions with moderate rainfall. The far south of Eritrea can sometimes be affected by a tropical cyclone. Eritrea is situated in a volcanic zone and is sometimes affected by volcanic eruptions.
Respect local traditions, customs and religions. Dress and behave modestly and discreetly. Shorts and t-shirts are generally frowned upon. Be careful with drinking, eating and smoking in public during Ramadan. While the consumption of alcohol is accepted, the possession, use or trafficking of drugs is severely punished with long prison sentences or heavy fines. Taking pictures of government buildings and military objects or personnel is strictly prohibited. Phone and internet networks are unreliable and access is often limited to a couple hours per day in rural areas.
All electronic devices have to be declared upon arrival. Non-compliance with this rule may result in confiscation of your electronics by customs officials. The Eritrean authorities prescribe that foreign currency cannot be exchanged anywhere else than at a branch of the government owned Himbol. Travelers must declare all foreign currency in excess of US$ 10.000 or an equivalent hereof upon arrival. When leaving, you must be able to prove that any missing foreign currency has been exchanged at Himbol or show the receipts of the items that you have bought. Travelers are not allowed to take more than 1000 Nakfa out of the country and any excess money can be confiscated.
Sexual acts between individuals of the same sex can be punished with ten days to three years of imprisonment. LGTBIQ-travelers are urged to refrain from publicly displaying affection with someone of the same sex. Eritrea has no anti-discrimination laws in protection of LGTBI-individuals. Women are equal under Eritrean law and female travelers are not more at risk than their their male counterparts if usual safety prescriptions are being followed.
» Be up-to-date with routine vaccinations and boosters
» Get additional recommended vaccinations
» Purchase a comprehensive health insurance that covers travel in Eritrea, overseas medical costs and medical evacuation
» Take a first aid kit
» Bring all necessary preventive medication
» Keep a copy of important documents, such as passport, bank cards, health insurance card and medical overview online
» Always keep a high level of situational awareness
» Strictly comply to instructions given by local authorities
» Stay on well-used paths and roads
» Avoid mass and politically motivated meetings
» Monitor local news outlets to stay up-to-date about political developments
» If you happen to be in an area affected by violence, leave as soon as possible. If safely leaving is not possible, find a safe spot, remain indoors and follow local advice.
» Always have an adequate stock of water, food, fuel, cash and medicines
» Only drink bottled or boiled water, only eat well-cooked food, peel your own vegetables and fruit, and avoid unpasteurized dairy products
» Be aware and respect local customs and traditions, dress modestly and behave discreetly
» Avoid the use of non-sterile medical equipment
» Avoid all contact with sick people and animals
» Do not swim in fresh water
» Wash your hands regularly with soap
» Avoid unprotected sexual intercourse
» Monitor local weather reports closely and take necessary preparations on time
» Consult a doctor immediately if you become ill after returning from Eritrea
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