Egypt continues to deport Eritrean asylum-seekers

Reports indicate that the Egyptian authorities have deported some 700 Eritrean asylum-seekers to Massawa in Eritrea, on special daily Egypt Air flights from Aswan International airport since 11 June. Up to 900 others are at risk of deportation. Hundreds are apparently detained at Central Security Forces camp in Shallal, south of Aswan. The camp has served as a gathering point for asylum-seekers before they are taken to Aswan airport. On 12 June, a security official confirmed that 200 Eritreans had been “sent back home” the previous day.

On 15 June, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt announced that the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt would be granted access to the Eritreans to assess their asylum claims. However, that same night, it is reported that about 90 Eritrean asylum-seekers were deported.

Asylum-seekers returned to Eritrea are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly those who have fled from compulsory military service. Most are likely to be arbitrarily detained incommunicado in inhumane conditions for weeks, sometimes years.

Others continue to face deportation. According to information available to Amnesty International, about 270 Eritreans have been transported to Shallal camp from police stations in the Red Sea cities of Hurghada, Halayeb and Shalateen, and 35 from Aswan police station. All police stations near Aswan as well as Idfu police station, north of Aswan, are now empty of Eritrean asylum-seekers; most of them were deported but some are still detained in Shallal camp. Among those who had been detained in Idfu and are now believed to have been deported are about 25 Eritreans who had been awaiting a court ruling on charges of illegal entry to Egypt, scheduled for 21 June.

According to accounts to Amnesty International, when the asylum seekers learned they were to be deported back to Eritrea, they implored the security forces not to do so and some even threatened to kill themselves. They were then searched to make sure they did not carry any object they could use to harm themselves. The asylum-seekers didn’t physically resist being put on the airplane but continued to cry and beg.

The 200 asylum-seekers deported on Wednesday 11 June, had been detained in a Central security forces camp in Shallal in Aswan city. They were told they would be transported to the UNHCR office in Cairo.

Their lawyers tried to reach them the same evening to offer medication and food, but could not get to them. The Eritreans were in fact taken to Aswan International airport and put on a special EgyptAir flight to Eritrea.

Since the end of February, flows of Eritrean asylum-seekers have reached Egypt either via its southern border with Sudan or by sea, south of the city of Hurghada. Others are recognized as refugees by the UNHCR in Sudan, and are fleeing Sudan to avoid being forcibly returned to Eritrea by the Sudanese authorities.

Hundreds of the Eritrean asylum-seekers in Aswan were charged with illegal entry in Egypt and were sentenced to a suspended one-month prison term. They were, however, kept in administrative detention by orders of the Ministry of Interior, as granted under the Emergency law in Egypt.

The UNHCR issued guidelines to all governments opposing the return to Eritrea of rejected Eritrean asylum-seekers on the grounds of the record of serious human rights violations in Eritrea. These guidelines are still in force.

Two asylum-seekers returned to Eritrea by the German authorities on 14 May are believed to have been arrested on arrival and have not been seen since. Another asylum-seeker returned from the UK in November 2007 was detained in inhumane conditions and ill-treated before being released.
Thousands are detained in Eritrea, in secret and indefinitely, without charge or trial. They have been arrested for suspected opposition to the government, practicing their religious beliefs as members of banned evangelical or other churches, evading military conscription or trying to flee the country.