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SafetyTravel Safety: Africa: Eritrea

Eritrea: State of Eritrea
Capital: Asmara
Population: 4,465,651
Currency: nakfa (ERN)
Languages: Afar, Amharic, Arabic, Tigre and Kunama, Tigrinya, other Cushitic languages
Religions: Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Borders: Eritrea 109 km, Ethiopia 349 km, Somalia 58 km

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.

SECURITY AND SAFETY ^
Following the 1998-2000 armed conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, a peace agreement was signed in December 2000. A United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force has been deployed along the Eritrean-Ethiopian border since January 2001 and monitors a 15 mile-wide Temporary Security Zone. As part of the peace agreement, Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed to settle the border issue via international arbitration based on the 2002 Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission decision. Demarcation of the border has not yet begun. Currently, all border crossings into Ethiopia from Eritrea remain closed. U.S. citizens should inquire at the U.S. Embassy in Asmara and with Eritrean officials before traveling near the border.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance remain a serious problem throughout the country. There are continuing reports of accidents in 2003, with numerous incidents where vehicles and people detonated mines. Many detonations occurred on relatively well-traveled roads in and near the Gash Barka region of western Eritrea. Investigations of these incidents indicate that several mines had been recently laid. Vast areas of the country have not been certified as free of mines and unexploded ordnance left over from both the 1998-2000 conflict and the 30-year war for independence that ended in 1991. Americans should avoid walking alone and hiking in riverbeds or areas that local government officials do not certify as safe.

Although Eritrea and Sudan have diplomatic relations, the border between the countries is closed. Overland travel between these countries is dangerous and strongly discouraged. The Eritrean-Sudanese border area remains tense. In addition, there is a risk of encountering banditry or Islamic extremist insurgent activity near the Eritrean-Sudanese border in areas north and west of the road between Keren and Barentu. In 2003 there were several incidents apparently involving insurgents or criminals near Eritrea 's border with Sudan. Sporadic bombings occurred in 2003 in the Gash Barka region near the Sudanese border that targeted vehicles and government facilities. This resulted in a travel restriction for the area being issued by the UN for its personnel requiring prior approval and strict adherence to security precautions for travel into the area. In addition, several attacks were reported in the North Red Sea region, including an ambush of an NGO vehicle resulting in two fatalities. Eritrean officials attribute these incidents to insurgent groups such as the Eritrean Islamic Jihad or other dissident groups supported by foreign governments. However, Eritrean authorities have not offered evidence to support their assertions and have not announced any arrests related to these attacks. Travel in the area along Eritrea 's border with Sudan remains unsafe and ill advised. If such travel is essential, travelers should consult both the Eritrean authorities and the U.S. Embassy.

CRIME ^
Street crimes, such as theft, robbery, and assault are rare in Asmara and other cities and towns, but the incidence of these occurrences is increasing. Travelers should exercise vigilance in their personal security and safety precautions regarding valuables carried and areas visited.

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. Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens to exploit children sexually via pornography, the Internet or other means or to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a person under the age of 18 in a foreign country, regardless of whether there was intent.

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

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS ^
In Eritrea there is a high risk of earthquakes. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.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

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 are in poor condition. U.S. citizens should avoid traveling at night and on unpaved and secondary roads.

Landmines 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 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. Check with local government and local village officials before undertaking travel off of paved roads in Eritrea, as newly discovered minefields are located regularly. Exercise caution when traveling off primary roads or to remote areas, and avoid secondary roads when possible. Bad weather may significantly reduce the ability to use roads that are in poor condition.

Many Eritreans make use of inexpensive public transportation, especially bus service. Travelers should avoid using buses if possible due to the risk of accidents as a result of extreme over-crowding. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive in Asmara but 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 obstruct traffic. Children and the elderly sometimes 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 as you back in to park.

For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT ^
As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or 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 U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA�s website at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm. 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 DOD at (618) 229-4801.

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Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

May 20, 2004

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