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Egypt: Eritreans at imminent risk of deportation

The Egyptian authorities must immediately halt all deportations of Eritrean nationals to Eritrea where they would face serious human rights violations including torture, said Amnesty International. 

In the past two weeks alone, the Egyptian authorities have deported 31 Eritreans in violation of the prohibition of refoulement under international law. A group of up to 50 people including a baby and three children under seven, detained in the southern city of Aswan are now at imminent risk of deportation. The group has had no access to asylum procedures or the possibility to challenge their expulsion orders.

“These deportations would be a grave breach of Egypt’s obligations under international law and must be halted immediately. There is a well-documented pattern of those forcibly returned to Eritrea being interrogated, arbitrarily detained and tortured. Egyptian authorities must grant this group access to asylum procedures, and stop sending people back to danger,” said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa for Amnesty International.

“We are also calling on Egyptian authorities to put an end to the prolonged arbitrary detention of Eritreans and ensure that, pending their release, current detainees are held in conditions that meet international standards.” 

Arbitrarily detained Eritreans, including children, are held without charge or trial in cruel and inhuman conditions, and denied access to adequate medical care, items for personal hygiene including sanitary napkins, clothes, and sufficient food. 

The authorities also frequently refuse to grant detained Eritreans access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) thereby obstructing their right to an asylum process. 

Amnesty International has documented how, ahead of deportation, Egyptian authorities forcibly transport Eritreans to their embassy for travel documents, before taking them for PCR tests in preparation for their deportation.  Many are held with no or limited contact with the outside world, making it difficult to verify information about deportation plans.

Worrying rise in deportations

In recent months, Amnesty International has observed an alarming increase in deportations from Egypt, with 31 Eritrean nationals, including children, deported between 15 and 17 March. At least 40 Eritreans were deported between October and December 2021. 

Deportations of Eritreans violate the principle of non-refoulement, which guarantees that no one should be returned to a country where they would face persecution, torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, or other irreparable harm.

One of the main reasons Eritreans flee their country is to escape human rights abuses and a harsh indefinite military conscription. The UN has documented how Eritreans who are forcibly returned are at high risk of torture and other ill-treatment and forcible disappearance. 

In November 2021, UN human rights experts issued a statement condemning deportations from Egypt, describing how returnees are considered “traitors” and are often “detained upon arrival to Eritrea, questioned, tortured, held in extremely punitive conditions and disappeared.”

Background 

In November 2021, there were 20,778 Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees registered with UNHCR in Egypt. The number of those in need of protection is likely to be much higher as not all Eritreans in Egypt are documented and/or registered with UNHCR. 

Egyptian authorities routinely arrest Eritreans who irregularly enter the country from its southern borders. According to Refugees Platform, an independent NGO, dozens of Eritreans were detained in police stations in Aswan and Red Sea governorates during 2021.