Eritrea: Requirements and procedures to obtain the national identity card, including within the country and from abroad; appearance, security features and information contained on the card; prevalence of fraud (2016-Sept. 2018) [ERI106176.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. National Identity Card

Sources state that Eritrean national identity cards are issued by Eritrea's Department of Immigration and Nationality (EASO May 2015, 50; US n.d.). The Identity-Cards.net website [1], however, states that they are issued by the Eritrean Department of Internal Affairs (Identity-Cards.net 1 Sept. 2016). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a representative of the Eritrean Consulate in Toronto stated that Eritrea's national identity cards were first issued in 1992 and were handwritten until 2014 (Eritrea 13 Sept. 2018a). Two specimens of handwritten Eritrean national identity cards are attached to this Response (Attachment 1).

The information in the following two paragraphs was provided by the representative of the Eritrean Consulate in Toronto in another correspondence with the Research Directorate:

The information on the card is written in both Eritrean official languages, Tigrigna and Arabic. The following information appears on the front of the card: full name, gender, date of birth, place of birth, and an identification number ("ER ID"). The back of the card shows the following: work information, home address, "city/country," "region/admin," place of issuance and the official seal.

The following security features are "consistently" embedded in handwritten Eritrean national identity cards: on the front of the card, the letters "PGE" appear horizontally six times on the top of the card, the letters "GE" appear vertically four times on the left of the card, and the letters "PG" appear vertically four times on the right of the card. On the front and the back of the card, the word "Eritrea" is printed horizontally seven and a half times. The symbol of the "wreath with the upright olive branch" appears in the middle of the back of the card (Eritrea 11 Sept. 2018).

In a subsequent correspondence with the Research Directorate, the representative specified that the symbol of the "wreath with the upright olive branch" is a "normal" stamp and does not react to ultraviolet light (Eritrea 13 Sept. 2018a).

The representative mentioned, without giving further details, that there has only been one version of the national identity card since 1993, but that there might be "slight differences" in different samples of the card "due to some changes in the lamination" (Eritrea 11 Sept. 2018). In the subsequent correspondence with the Research Directorate, he further explained that those changes could be caused by "wear and tear," which could bring people to "overlaminate" the card and change its original look (Eritrea 13 Sept. 2018a).

1.1 The New Card

The representative of the Eritrean Consulate in Toronto indicated that Eritrea is in the process of introducing a new, electronic version of the national identity card with "major security improvements" (Eritrea 11 Sept. 2018). A sample of the new identity card is attached to this Response (Attachment 2).

Sources state that a new Eritrean national identity card was introduced in 2014 (The Netherlands 6 Feb. 2017, 21; Identity-Cards.net 1 Sept. 2016). According to the US Department of State's Reciprocity Schedule for Eritrea, the issuance of the new card began in late 2015, but very few are in circulation (US n.d.). According to the Consulate representative, some new identity cards have already been distributed (Eritrea 11 Sept. 2018). The Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken) reports that, according to an estimate of the Eritrean Migration Service, "approximately 150,000 identity cards were applied for from June 2014 to September 2016" and that, according to a confidential source, "[o]nly 70,000 new cards are said to have been issued" (The Netherlands 6 Feb. 2017, 21). The Consulate representative said that the older version of the card remains valid nonetheless (Eritrea 11 Sept. 2018). The US Department of State's Reciprocity Schedule also mentions the following:

Most people still have the old cards which were issued many years ago, are hand-written (only in Tigrinya and Arabic), very poorly laminated, and easily altered. Many individuals have applied for new ID cards with the Immigration and Nationality Department and their old ID cards have been hole-punched, though most have not received the new ID card yet. (US n.d.)

On its website, the Consulate General of Eritrea in Toronto similarly states that while the old identity cards are being replaced, one perforated hole in an old card means that the holder is waiting for a replacement card and that that card is valid until it has two perforated holes (Eritrea n.d.a).

The information in the following paragraph was provided by the representative of the Eritrean Consulate in Toronto in correspondence with the Research Directorate:

The color of the new electronic card is "greenish." The card shows a picture of the cardholder in the front and their fingerprint on the back. The cardholder's full name and the name of their mother appear on the back of the card, in Tigrigna and Arabic. The national emblem of Eritrea, "a camel surrounded by a wreath of laurel," also appears on the card and serves as a security feature. Other security features include a "laser-engraved photograph," the applicant's fingerprint and a unique serial number used to track the card if lost or stolen (Eritrea 13 Sept. 2018b).

2. Requirements and Procedures to Obtain the National Identity Card
2.1 In Eritrea

According to a European Asylum Support Office (EASO) report on Eritrea, in order to obtain a national identity card, "[a]pplicants must submit a supporting letter from their kebabi [municipality] administration, a birth certificate and proof of Eritrean citizenship (the identity cards of their parents or three witnesses) to one of the 12 branch offices" [of the Department of Immigration and Nationality] (EASO May 2015, 50-51). These "branch offices," according to representatives of the Eritrean Department of Immigration and Nationality interviewed by the Switzerland Federal Office for Migration (FOM), are located in Asmara, Mendefera, Dekemhare, Adi Keyih, Barentu, Akurdet, Tesseney, Keren, Massawa, Nakfa, Afabet and Assab (EASO May 2015, 51). The application is forwarded to the headquarters in Asmara for approval (EASO May 2015, 51). A Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs report indicates that, according to a confidential source that the Ministry consulted, when requesting a new identity card, applicants have to hand in their old card, which is destroyed when the new card is issued, pay 100 nafka [C$8.67], submit a residence card and a "new photo," and have one fingerprint taken (The Netherlands 6 Feb. 2017, 21).

2.2 From Abroad

Sources state that applications for national identity cards can be submitted in Eritrean representations or diplomatic missions abroad (Awate.com 11 Dec. 2015; EASO May 2015, 51). According to information gathered by the EASO from the Norwegian Country of Origin Information Centre (Landinfo), the Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UN Security Council, the US Department of State and the Norwegian ID Center, the following procedure has to be followed:

If the applicant cannot prove their Eritrean citizenship in writing, confirmation may be supplied by three witnesses. The foreign representation then verifies the information supplied using the sources available to it, after which it forwards the application to the Asmara-based Department for Immigration and Nationality, which checks it against register entries in Eritrea, issues an identity card and sends it back to the foreign representation. Applicants are also frequently asked by foreign representations to prove that they have paid the diaspora tax or to pay any arrears, and deserters and draft evaders are asked to sign a letter of repentance. It is also possible for family members in Eritrea to be authorised by the foreign representation to collect an identity card. (EASO May 2015, 51)

The instructions and requirements to apply for a new or a replacement of the Eritrean national identity card, including for underage applicants and those aged between 18 and 25, as provided by the website of the Eritrean embassy in Washington, are attached to this Response (Attachment 3 to 6). The fee for a new identity card in the US is US$25, and for a lost one, between US$50 and US$100 (Eritrea n.d.b).

3. Prevalence of Fraudulent Identity Cards

Sources state that the Eritrean government considered the old identity card easy to forge (Identity-Cards.net 1 Sept. 2016; Awate.com 11 Dec. 2015). According to the Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs report, "the Eritrean Migration Service regarded the authenticity features of the old identity card as inadequate," prompting them to introduce the new identity card (The Netherlands 6 Feb. 2017, 21). Several sources indicate that, according to the Eritrean government, old Eritrean identity cards are used by non-Eritreans to claim asylum in Europe or the West (The Netherlands 6 Feb. 2017, 31; Identity-Cards.net 1 Sept. 2016; Awate.com 11 Dec. 2015).

The Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs report indicates that, according in part to a confidential source the Ministry consulted, "[m]any Eritrean documents are forged, more often abroad than in Eritrea itself. The demand for such documents is greater abroad, as they are obtainable legally in Eritrea" (The Netherlands 6 Feb. 2017, 31). The same source also reports that, according to a confidential source it consulted, "irregularities" in the issuance or the wording of identity documents can occur because "witness statements suffice for the issuance of various identity documents when other documents are lacking. This makes it easy to use false testimony to obtain documents which are genuine per se, yet bearing forged data" (The Netherlands 6 Feb. 2017, 31).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Note

[1] The Identity-Cards.net website was developed under the New Transparency Project, a Major Collaborative Research Initiative project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), to meet the need for a comprehensive database documenting the status of national identity card systems in the world; it is maintained and updated by students and faculty from Queen's University and the University of Victoria (Identity-Cards.net n.d.).

References

Awate.com. 11 December 2015. "Distribution of New Eritrean ID Cards in the Diaspora." [Accessed 7 Sept. 2018]

Eritrea. 13 September 2018a. Consulate General of the State of Eritrea in Toronto. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

Eritrea. 13 September 2018b. Consulate General of the State of Eritrea in Toronto. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

Eritrea. 11 September 2018. Consulate General of the State of Eritrea in Toronto. Correspondence from a representative to the Research Directorate.

Eritrea. N.d.a. Consulate General of the State of Eritrea in Toronto. "ER_ID (Clarification)." [Accessed 7 Sept. 2018]

Eritrea. N.d.b. Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Washington, DC. "Requirements for Applying National Identity Card and Social ID." [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]

European Asylum Support Office (EASO). May 2015. EASO Country of OriginInformation Report. Eritrea Country Focus. [Accessed 7 Sept. 2018]

Identity-Cards.net. 1 September 2016. "Eritrea." [Accessed 10 Sept. 2018]

Identity-Cards.net. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]

The Netherlands. 6 February 2017. Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken. Country of Origin Information Report on Eritrea. [Accessed 10 Sept. 2018]

United States (US). N.d. Department of State. "Eritrea Reciprocity Schedule." [Accessed 10 Sept. 2018]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Eritrea – embassy in Washington, DC.

Internet sites, including: The American Team for Displaced Eritreans; Amnesty International; ecoi.net; Eritrea – consulate in Melbourne; Factiva; Freedom House; Human Rights Watch; Keesing Reference System; Public Register of Authentic Travel and Identity Documents Online; UN – Refworld.

Attachments

  1. Eritrea. N.d. Specimens of national identity cards. Sent to the Research Directorate by a representative of the Consulate General of the State of Eritrea in Toronto, 11 September 2018.
  2. Eritrea. N.d. Specimen of new national identity card. Sent to the Research Directorate by a representative of the Consulate General of the State of Eritrea in Toronto, 13 September 2018.
  3. Eritrea. N.d. Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Washington, DC. Requirements for Applying National Identity Card and Social ID. [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]
  4. Eritrea. N.d. Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Washington, DC. Application Form for Underage Eritrean ID Card. [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]
  5. Eritrea. N.d. Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Washington, DC. Application for ID Replacement. [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]
  6. Eritrea. N.d. Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Washington, DC. Application for Temporary Identification Card. [Accessed 25 Sept. 2018]