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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Eritrea

Eritrea - Consular Information Sheet
February 9, 2001

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Eritrea is a poor, but developing east African country. Formerly a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea became an independent country on May 24, 1993, following a 30-year struggle that culminated in an overwhelming referendum vote for independence. Tourism facilities are very limited. The capital is Asmara.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa, which must be obtained in advance, are required. There is an airport departure tax, and residents of Eritrea generally must obtain an exit visa from Eritrean Immigration in advance of their departure. Entry information (and information on the departure tax) may be obtained from the Embassy of Eritrea, 1708 New Hampshire Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; telephone (202) 319-1991; fax (202) 319-1304. Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest Eritrean embassy or consulate.

DUAL NATIONALITY: U.S. citizens born in Eritrea or who otherwise acquired Eritrean citizenship, may be subject to the obligations of Eritrean citizenship, including national service. National service involves approximately six months of military training, followed by one year of military or other service. Dual citizens who are in doubt as to whether they may be subject to this requirement should check with the nearest Eritrean embassy or consulate. For further information, please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs' web site at http://travel.state.gov/ for the flyer on Dual Nationality.

SAFETY AND SECURITY: Tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia related to a border dispute escalated in May 1998, resulting in armed conflict the following month. Hostilities erupted again in February 1999 and May 2000. Eritrea and Ethiopia reached a cease-fire agreement in June 2000 and signed a peace agreement on December 12, 2000. The United Nations authorized a peacekeeping force along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border in September 2000. The first peace observers arrived that month and peacekeeping troops are to begin deployment in January.

Land travel west, south and southeast of Barentu is dangerous and should be avoided. On December 4, 2000, three separate mine incidents were reported on well-traveled roads within a 24-kilometer radius south of the western Eritrean city of Barentu. In late January, near the town of Antore in western Eritrea, two people were killed and two wounded when a pickup truck detonated a land mine. Also in late January, another mine detonation killed two people and wounded six in western Eritrea, 36 kilometers west of the town of Guluj, near the Sudanese border. The December and January incidents appear to have involved freshly laid mines. Because of these incidents as well as reports of banditry and threats from the terrorist group Eritrean Islamic Salvation (EIS), the U.S. Mission in Eritrea has instructed its personnel not to travel by land west, south and southeast of Barentu. Americans traveling in this area despite the obvious dangers are strongly advised to check with local authorities before embarking on their journey, and particularly to avoid travel at night.

Mines remain throughout the country. U.S. citizens should avoid traveling at night and on unpaved and secondary roads. They should avoid walking alone and hiking in riverbeds or areas that local government officials do not certify as safe. For further information on land mine hazards in Eritrea, please see the section below on "Traffic Safety and Road Conditions."

Although Eritrea and Sudan have recently re-established diplomatic relations, overland travel between these two countries is dangerous and strongly discouraged. The Eritrean-Sudanese border remains tense. In addition, there is a risk of encountering banditry or Eritrean Islamic Salvation (EIS) - formally called the Eritrean Islamic Jihad - terrorist activity near the Eritrean-Sudanese border in areas north and west of the road between Keren and Barentu, and along the coastline north of Massawa. There are reports that EIS insurgents have laid new land mines and EIS attacks have occurred in these areas. Travelers may encounter banditry unrelated to the EIS along the coastline south of Massawa. Travelers should use extreme caution when traveling in these areas, and avoid them if at all possible. If such travel is essential, travelers should consult both the local government and the U.S. Embassy.

CRIME: Street crime, such as theft and robbery is rare in Asmara and other cities and towns, but it is increasing. Travelers should exercise normal safety precautions regarding valuables carried and areas visited. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The pamphlets, A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips for Travelers to Sub-Saharan Africa, provide useful information on personal security while traveling abroad and on travel in the region in general. Both are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/.

MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical facilities in Eritrea are extremely limited. Travelers must bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventative medicines because pharmaceuticals are in short supply.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation, and for adequacy of coverage. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's web site at http://www.cdc.gov/.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Eritrea is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor

Most roads in Eritrea are in fair condition. The roads between the major cities of Asmara, Massawa, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Barentu and Keren are paved and are in relatively good condition. However, the roads leading to the smaller villages are usually unpaved and in poor condition.

Land mines and unexploded ordnance litter the countryside in many areas and continue to cause occasional injuries and deaths. Although a demining effort is underway, it is wise to consider all areas that are not well-traveled as potentially dangerous due to live mines. Areas north and west of Keren are known to be heavily mined. Also, there are minefields near Massawa, Ghinda, Agordat, Barentu, south of Tessenae, Nakfa, Adi Keih, Arezza, Dekemhare and in a roughly 40-kilometer wide region bounded on the east by the Eritrea-Ethiopia border on the south by the Mereb River and on the north by the Setit River. Please check with local government and local village officials before undertaking travel off paved roads in Eritrea because newly discovered minefields are regularly found. Please exercise caution when traveling to remote areas or off primary roads, avoiding secondary roads when possible. Please ensure that other traffic has passed over unimproved roads before traveling on them, which may mean delaying an early morning departure from remote areas or waiting until traffic resumes after a lull due to bad weather or other factors.

Many Eritreans make use of inexpensive public transportation, especially bus service. Please avoid buses if at all possible due to the accident risks that come with extreme over-crowding. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive in Asmara, but they are also likely to be crowded with many passengers not wearing seatbelts. If an empty taxi is available, a customer may request a "contract," meaning that for a slightly higher price, the driver will not pick up additional passengers. This option increases comfort and safety for a small extra cost.

Drivers should be aware of heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic that generally obstructs the flow of vehicular traffic on city streets. Occasionally, horse-drawn carts, cattle, or goats can also obstruct traffic. Children and the elderly are especially likely to wander into the street in the path of moving traffic. Drivers should be mindful of small motorized carts traveling at low speeds. These vehicles are normally operated by elderly or disabled people who do not always yield to faster moving traffic. When parallel parking on city streets, be aware of pedestrians trying to dart into your space as you back in to park.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service between the U.S. and Eritrea, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Eritrea's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.

For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Eritrean laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Eritrea are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.

CURRENCY ISSUES: The government of Eritrea introduced the country's new currency, the nafka, in November 1997. As of December 2000, only the airlines and one hotel in Asmara accept credit cards. Generally, foreigners must pay bills at major hotels in U.S. dollars or U.S. dollar-denomination traveler's checks.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our web site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone 202-736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Asmara and to obtain updated information on travel and security in Eritrea. The U.S. Embassy address is: Franklin Roosevelt Street, P.O. Box 211 Asmara, telephone (291-1)12-00-04; fax (291-1)12-75-84.

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