16 August 2021
Source: Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
The Egyptian Immigration Authorities are planning to return two Eritrean Asylum-Seekers to their country of origin where they are certain to be imprisoned and likely to face tortured or might even be killed.
Alem Tesfay Abraham and Kibrom Adhanom have been detained at Al Qanater prison in Cairo, since March 2012 and 2014 respectively. They have been detained in humane, harsh conditions, and without due legal process. These two refugees, who had to leave Eritrea for genuine fear of persecution and who wished to claim asylum in a safe country, have spent over nine years in Egyptian prisons without having committed any crime.
The Egyptian and Eritrean governments are planning to forcibly return the two detainees to Eritrea in violation of international law. On Sunday 8 August 2021, the prison management took them to the immigration office, where they met two Eritrean Embassy officials and were informed by the Egyptian immigration officers that they would be sent back to Eritrea.
Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that “everyone has the right to freedom of movement” and “the right to leave any country, including his own.” These two men have simply exercised these rights.
Egypt is party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and is also a signatory to the African Union Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Under these Conventions, Egypt is duty bound to make every effort to protect the rights and ensure the safety of asylum-seekers and refugees, of whatever nationality. Additionally, Article 91 of the country’s 2014 Constitution stipulates that political asylum must be made available to anyone who has been persecuted.
Mr Adhanom and Mr Tesfay Abraham were conscripts in the Eritrean National Service, which can lasts for decades. All able-bodied men and women over 18 are conscripted into National Service for indefinite periods, and are often used as cheap labour, which amounts to slave labour, under very poor conditions in government owned projects, including construction, mining or any other use the regime finds for them. Because of this appalling treatment, thousands of young Eritreans desert and escape their country. Mr Adhanom and Mr Tesfay Abraham are two of such escapees.
The punishments for desertion are severe. If Mr Adhanom and Mr Tesfay Abraham are refouled, they would most certainly be imprisoned incommunicado, under harsh conditions, and tortured. Seeking asylum in another country is a crime in Eritrea; therefore, Mr Adhanom and Mr Tesfay Abraham would be in grave danger if they were to be returned to Eritrea as failed asylum seekers.
Anyone who has left Eritrea without official permission is regarded as a traitor who has committed a crime, according to the Eritrean regime’s policy. Returnees have to sign a “repentance” form and accept ill-defined punishment for this confession. Refouled Eritrean asylum-seekers have faced incommunicado detention, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment for extended periods of time upon return.
The findings of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry into the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, by highly respected UN experts who took evidence from many witnesses, confirm this mistreatment: –
“A common pattern of treatment of returnees is their arrest upon arrival in Eritrea. They are questioned about the circumstances of their escape, whether they received help to leave the country, how the flight was funded, whether they contact with opposition groups based abroad. Returnees are systematically ill-treated to the point of torture during the interrogation phase. After interrogation, they are detained in particularly harsh conditions…. Returnees… were held in prison between eight months to three years… They were made to undertake forced labour and were frequently punished by prison guards. The Commission finds that, with a few exceptions, those who have been forced to return to the country have been arrested, detained and subjected to ill-treatment and torture.”
In the light of this well-documented and internationally attested evidence, Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE) urgently calls upon the government and Immigration Department of Egypt: –
- to cease all efforts to repatriate the above-mentioned Eritrean refugees;
- to release them immediately from prison;
- to provide them with temporary safe accommodation;
- to ensure they are accorded all the rights outlined in the UN and African Refugee Conventions;
- to ask the UNHCR to assess their asylum cases and seek a safe country where they may be resettled.
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
+44 7958 005 637