Prisons, Military Camps, Schools: how Eritrea is Transformed in a big Lager


Our Special Correspondent
Saba Makeda
Somewhere in Eritrea, 7th January 2014
(3 – continues)

In the second part of this story Saba Makeda
writes how the dictatorship killed the free press.
You can find the article here
The first part is on
the Eritrea Constitution
that the dictator didn’t want to implement.
You can find the article here

Prisons etc…

Soon after independence efforts were made to differentiate between the civilian police and the military. We have all seen that with time all such pretence has been abandoned and we have all seen how uniform a civilian police can be easily interchanged for that of a soldier. Consequently it is difficult to differentiate between police lock ups and military lock up. Over time it has become increasingly clear that any facility can become a prison.


This is a Google Earth image of Era Ero, the high security prison in Eritrea where all the journalists and the officials who criticized the president are kept.

In 2001 for a period of time the Eritrean Institute of Management facility in Embatkalla, a site developed with the support of the UN, was used as prison for members of the G15 group.

Just like facility in Embatkalla increasingly various sites are used as prisons  such as :

  • the farms near the former Conte Casciani  residence – military prison used to hold those who tried to cross the border and failed especially conscripts,
  • Mai Sirwa underground prison outside of Asmara
  • Adi Bieto, – outside of Asmara used for conscripts, returned asylum seekers, members of religious groups. This was the warehouse of the CMC the Italian construction company that build the Intercontinental Hotel also known as Asmara Palace
  • Kushet – military prison ,
  • Weki Duba – a stable converted to prison to hold minors mostly street kids
  • Wia – military prison for holding conscripts
  • Track B – near airport in Asmara mostly underground facility – holds EPLF veterans, forgers, Islamists etc…
  • Eiraerio – near Gahtelay  ( on the Massawa road) – it is possibly the location holding the G15 group
  • Dahlak Kebir – on the Dahlak island and it is the place were returnees from Malta were sent
  • Mitire – military detention North East Eritrea purpose built to house religious prisoners ( i.e. Jehovah witnesses)
  • Haddis Ma’askar army prison near Sawa military camp – with underground structures
  • Ala Bazit – military prison on the road between Dekhamere and Massawa
  • Mai Dima – military prison camp operated by the intelligent unit
  • In Asmara there is Sembel designated for political prisoners – lately holds many Ethiopians, Teserat prison holds mainly EPLF veterans, Wengel Mermera security section of Carceri ( Police Station 2) with special investigation section . Police station No 6

The abovementioned list is not exclusive and does not include the facilities that are used by the National Intelligence services.


Tertiary education facilities (i.e. Colleges etc.) built with the support of donors to decentralise the education system and to make tertiary education accessible to more Eritrean, have in fact become an extension of the SAWA military camp.

PressFreedom vignettaThat is education has come under the control of the Ministry of Defence. The existing colleges are not about developing inquiring minds they are e about imposing compliance and brainwashing of the youth. In Eritrea self-sufficiency does not extend to developing independence of thought or the ability to question. Asmara University established by the Comboni sisters, thriving through the period of Emperor Haile Sellassie, surviving the Mengistu period has not survived the liberation of Eritrea. In the last 20 years, Eritrea must be the only country in East Africa that has closed a University.

In 2005 the Government introduced an additional year of high school grade twelve (12). This final year of high school can only be completed in SAWA. Originally the justification was Sawa was the only place in the country with the infrastructure to cater for the extra year of high school. Since then there have been no efforts to improve the infrastructure in other parts of the country. There are a number of issues with the final year of high school being at SAWA. Some of the issues are:

  1. The age of the students – many are below 18 years – therefore are not yet adults
  2. The school that they are attending is not accessible to most of the parents – therefore it is not possible for parents to monitor – as they would do in most other boarding school arrangements
  3. The school is, if not directly, virtually under the control of the military
  4. The student undergo military training – this training is not cadet training it is military training as it is known in some western institutions – which in any event have high level of  participation and oversight of parents.

Sawa is not safe for the students and there is no safeguard to prevent unscrupulous officers from kidnapping students and trafficking them as has happened to more than 100 students in 2010/2011.The movement of these students was not voluntary they were kidnapped and trafficked because the trafficker (Eritreans from the Eritrean Defence Force) knew that they had relatives in the diaspora who would pay a ransom to save their lives.

Makeda Saba
(3 – continues)



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