Dutch expel top Eritrean diplomat over ‘diaspora tax’ row

Eritrea's highest representative has been expelled from The Netherlands, Dutch officials announced Wednesday in an ongoing diplomatic spat over the secretive African country's practice of collecting so-called "diaspora tax" from expatriates.

“In light of the continuous intimidation and force used in the collection of diaspora tax and its resulting social and political unrest, the cabinet is forced to give the Eritrean government a powerful signal,” Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra said.

Therefore the Eritrean charge d’affaires Tekeste Ghebremedhin Zemuy “has been declared persona non grata and his departure has been requested,” Zijlstra said in a letter to the Dutch parliament.

The official was notified about the move on Tuesday, which Zijlstra said was a “particularly heavy measure, seldom used by the Netherlands.”

The decision came after Dutch officials in December summoned the Eritrean ambassador in Brussels to protest the practice of collecting diaspora tax, levied by the Eritrean government.

“Based on these and previous discussions with the Eritrean authorities the cabinet realised that there was no understanding of the strong Dutch resistance against the way diaspora tax was being collected,” Zijlstra said.

“Also, there is no attempt by the Eritrean side to compromise on the matter,” the minister said.

“Therefore, the Dutch cabinet wants to make it clear that it will not accept this practice,” said Zijlstra.

Zeilstra, however, added it did not mean the closure of Eritrea’s embassy in The Hague, as such a move would harm bilateral relations including over migration and human rights.

Eritrean refugees make up the second-largest group of refugees taken in by the Netherlands in recent years, after Syrians.

Eritrean strongman Isaias Afwerki’s regime is accused of jailing thousands of political prisoners since he came to power in 1993 in the Horn of Africa nation, one of the world’s poorest countries.

The University of Tilburg said many of some 20,000 Eritreans now living in The Netherlands still feel intimidated.

A study done by the university in June last year said a mandatory two percent tax payment is enforced on members of the Eritrean expatriate community to boost empty coffers back home.

“Those who are reluctant or refuse to pay… are ostracised as pariahs and consequently intimidated and harassed,” the study said.

No general elections have been held since the ex-rebel Marxist leader took power after a three-decade independence war against Ethiopia.

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