By Linda Bordoni
The effects of the Eritrean government’s decision to close all Catholic-run health care facilities will affect thousands of people in need.
Local sources close to the pontifical foundation “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) described the situation as desperate, especially for those in rural areas.
"They are preventing us from offering what little we could give, in places where no one cares for the population, not even the state,” they said, remarking on how, if the government forces the Church to close schools as well, priests and nuns will find a way to survive, but “what will the people do?”
The source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, also decried the indifference of the world that takes no notice.
“Does it only become aware of Eritrea when more migrants arrive on the Italian coasts?”
The Charity noted that, in recent weeks, 22 health centers owned by religious congregations or Catholic dioceses have been closed following the implementation of a 1995 Law that establishes the State as the only provider of social assistance.
A further 8 Catholic centers had already been confiscated between 2017 and 2018, and ACN asks the question: "How will the government carry out this service when state hospitals lack adequate equipment and resources?”
It explains that the existing facilities should have been made public, but there has been no transfer of equipment or other resources. “The agents have simply sealed everything depriving the population of a vital service.”
ACN pointed out that people of all faiths were assisted in the health centers noting that only 5% of Eritreans are Catholic.
In addition, it reported, seals were also placed on the residences of nuns that were adjacent to the clinics forcing the sisters to move to the houses of their respective congregations.
“Many of them are not even able to leave the country because the government does not allow women under 40 and men under 50, who have not served in the military, to go abroad”.
Schools and nurseries
Now, fears are increasing for the fate of 50 schools and more than 100 nurseries run by the Catholic Church in Eritrea.
Last year, the only existing institute for seminarians and religious in the country was also closed.
In addition, the government has decreed that all students, including those in Catholic schools, must attend the final year of high school in a military institute, or they will not receive a diploma.
Even the nuns who worked in the confiscated health centers are barred from working in other hospitals.
In a recent letter, the country’s four Catholic bishops denounced the crackdown on the healthcare centers and said that the confiscation of the Church’s properties were a potential violation of the Church’s religious rights.
The Eritrean government has been led by President Isaias Afwerki since the country’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993.
Rights watchdogs have ranked Eritrea as the seventh worst country in the world when it comes to religious persecution, with thousands of Christians imprisoned over the last decade.
In 2007, the government removed the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, after he refused to excommunicate 3,000 members who opposed the regime and called for the release of political prisoners of conscience.