GENEVA (19 November 2021) – UN human rights experts expressed grave concerns about the forced return of seven Eritrean asylum seekers today, including five children, from Egypt, despite the risk of enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, and in violation of international human rights obligations.
“Individuals who have fled Eritrea and subsequently forcefully returned are considered as “traitors” and are often detained upon arrival to Eritrea, questioned, tortured, held in extremely punitive conditions and disappeared,” the experts said.
The asylum seekers were part of a larger group of 18 Eritreans – all members of the same family – who entered Egypt through Sudan in October 2019, and who had been detained in Egypt since then. They were denied access to legal representation, to the asylum system and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“We are concerned that instead of being granted protection, this group of asylum seekers has been subjected to what would appear to be arbitrary detention for over two years, and forcibly repatriated to Eritrea without any individual assessment of the human rights violations they may be subjected to upon their return,” the UN experts said.
“Any repatriation process without full respect for procedural guarantees, including an individual risk assessment, violates the absolute prohibition of refoulement under international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law,” they said.
Eight other family members were returned to Eritrea on 30 October. They have not been seen since, and are believed to be held in incommunicado detention. “We are gravely concerned about the disappearance of eight Eritrean nationals who were forcefully returned by Egypt earlier in the month,” said the experts. “We call on the Eritrean authorities to provide information on their whereabouts and to immediately release them.”
Three other members of the family remain in detention in Egypt, and are also facing the risk of imminent forced repatriation to Eritrea. “This family fled Eritrea because they were afraid that the young members of the family, including the children, would be subjected to indefinite forced conscription. The indefinite national service in Eritrea is linked to serious human rights violations, including forced labour, torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, and sexual violence.
“In this case, the circumstances strongly indicated there may be significant risks to this family if returned to the country of origin, which should have been appropriately evaluated and taken into account by the Egyptian authorities. If this group of Eritreans are subjected to human rights violations at their return to Eritrea, Egypt will be complicit.
“We urge the Government of Egypt to immediately halt the deportation of the three Eritrean asylum seekers who remain in detention, and to review its policy of expelling Eritrean nationals without conducting any assessment of the risks, and despite the substantial risks of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment in Eritrea,” the experts said. “We call on Eritrea to respect the rights of Eritrean returnees, and immediately release this family, as well as all other returned Eritrean asylum seekers reportedly held in arbitrary detention” – they added.
The experts have conveyed their concerns to the Egyptian Government on the forced repatriation of Eritreans.
The UN experts: Mr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker , Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; Mr. Nils Melzer , Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Ms. Elina Steinerte (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Miriam Estrada-Castillo (Vice-Chair), Ms. Leigh Toomey, Mr. Mumba Malila, and Ms. Priya Gopalan, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, And Ms. Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.