Eritrea closes the last Christian-run health centre

Christian migrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia pray during the Sunday mass at the makeshift church in "The New Jungle" near Calais, FranceREUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

After seizing nearly two dozen Catholic-run clinics in the last month, the authorities in Eritrea have now moved to shut down all of the health centres being operated by the Catholic Church in the country.

On July 5, the police closed the last remaining Christian health facility in Zager, around 30km from capital Asmara, says Open Doors, a charity supporting persecuted Christians worldwide. 

The hospital was providing general medical assistance as well as maternity services in the village. 

"The nuns were told to leave the hospital immediately and were prevented from taking hospital equipment with them," the police report said. 

It is the latest in a string of hostile acts against Christians by the authorities this year.  Earlier this year, five Orthodox priests from the Debre Bizen monastery were arrested for allegedly opposing the government's meddling in church affairs. 

On May 17, 30 Pentecostal Christians were rounded up as they met for prayer across Godeif, south of Asmara. 

This followed reports of the arrests of 141 Christians, including 104 women and 14 children, during a private gathering in the Mai Temenai district of Asmara earlier in the month. 

The crackdown has alarmed the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, who has repeated requests to visit the country - something Eritrea has persistently denied. 

She has expressed concern that the closure of the Catholic-run health centres will affect rural communities in particular. 

"The seizure of these health facilities will negatively impact the right to health of the affected populations, in particular those in remote rural areas," she said.

"By curtailing the activities of the Catholic Church, the Eritrean authorities are restricting the right of their citizens to enjoy quality health care."

The government has said that the closures were enforced under 1995 regulations banning the involvement of religious institutions in programmes connected to schools, hospitals, agriculture and the elderly. 

The Catholic Church is one of the officially recognised denominations in Eritrea but the closure of its clinics follows a letter issued by bishops in which they called for a national reconciliation process.