OVERVIEW: Located on the Red Sea, Eritrea is governed by a totalitarian regime that seeks to control every aspect of life. Some have compared Eritrea to the “hermit kingdom” of North Korea, as it is one of the most secretive and isolated countries in the world. In 2002, the government outlawed every religion except Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran Church. All other religious groups are illegal, and the government heavily controls approved churches, including their messages. Years of communism, required military service and economic depression have forced many Eritreans, including evangelical believers, to flee the country. Despite these hardships, the underground church in Eritrea continues to grow due to the faithfulness of church leaders both inside and outside the country. A 2018 peace deal between Eritrea and Ethiopia ended a two-decade-long state of war, but the benefits are one-sided. While Ethiopians may travel freely between the two countries, travel for Eritreans is restricted by the government. The situation for Eritrean believers has not changed, and very few Christian prisoners have been released.
MAJOR RELIGIONS: The population is evenly divided between Christianity and Sunni Islam.
PERSECUTOR: The authoritarian government arrests, imprisons and harasses Christians.
WHAT IT MEANS TO FOLLOW CHRIST IN ERITREA: Evangelical churches are highly persecuted and must meet secretly. The government actively seeks to infiltrate these underground churches and imprison their leaders. Over the past 16 years, hundreds of Christians have been imprisoned because of their faith. Around 300 believers are known to remain in prison, including several top leaders. Imprisoned Christians are not given a trial or allowed to see their families, many of whom do not know where their loved ones are imprisoned or even if they are still alive. Christians simply disappear and are assumed to be in government prisons. These prisoners of faith are sent to the strictest and most remote prisons. The conditions inside these prisons are some of the harshest in the world. The Christian prisoners are provided meager rations, treated very poorly and sometimes held in shipping containers in extreme desert conditions for years. Recently, the government has begun to arrest not only Christian leaders but also anyone engaging in Christian activities.
ACCESS TO BIBLES: Bibles are available, but the government tracks each Bible sold. Christian literature is highly regulated, and evangelical believers who want Bibles must smuggle them in.
VOM WORK: VOM supports Christian prisoners as well as their families. We also get Bibles and Christian literature to believers inside Eritrea.