Egypt: UN experts condemn expulsions of Eritrean asylum seekers despite risks of torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance

Geneva, 13 April, 2022.- UN human rights experts* deplored Egypt’s recent and ongoing collective expulsions of Eritrean asylum seekers, and called on the authorities to immediately halt any further forced returns.

The experts expressed grave concern at what is shaping up to be a policy of arbitrary and collective expulsion of Eritreans, and cautioned the Egyptian authorities that such deportations violate Egypt’s obligations under international law.

“Collective expulsion is prohibited under international human rights law. Patterns of human rights violations against Eritreans who have been forcibly returned, including torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, trafficking in persons and arbitrary detention have been well documented by UN human rights mechanisms,” they said. “These expulsions also violate the principle of non-refoulement.”

Since October 2021, Egyptian authorities have deported at least 68 Eritrean nationals, including children, without assessing the risks they may face of human rights violations at their return to Eritrea. Several of those deported have not been seen or heard from since their return to Eritrea, and are believed to be held in incommunicado detention.

“We call on the Eritrean authorities to provide information on their whereabouts,” said the experts, noting that there are growing fears that they may have been sent to the front in western Tigray.

The deported asylum seekers were allegedly held in detention in Egypt in overcrowded police stations and detention centres from a few months to several years, according to reports. They would have been denied access to adequate food, water and sanitation, and medical care.

They were never informed about whether they had been charged with criminal offenses, and were denied access to lawyers, to UNHCR or to any other official asylum procedures. While Egypt is a State party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the country lacks an adequate national legal framework for the protection of asylum seekers. No measures were taken to identify victims of trafficking, or to ensure protection and non-punishment of victims, including in particular child victims of trafficking.

“We are concerned about the safety and dignity of Eritrean asylum seekers in detention in Egypt, and call on the authorities to put an end to their arbitrary detention and to ensure that, pending their release, they are held in conditions that meet international standards,” they said. An estimated 70 to 200 Eritreans, including children, are currently in detention in Egypt, and at risk of deportation. “Immigration detention of children is never in the best interests of the child and is always a violation of international human rights law. Asylum seeking children and their families should be released immediately and provided with adequate care and reception.”

“The Egyptian authorities must stop sending Eritrean men, women and children back to danger, and instead grant them protection in line with Egypt’s international commitments,” they emphasised.

The UN experts, who are charged with monitoring respect for human rights under international law, have made efforts to engage with the Government of Egypt on this issue.

The experts have previously warned the Egyptian Government about the risks of deporting asylum seekers to Eritrea, and expressed concern that the treatment of Eritrean asylum seekers by Egypt violates international refugee law and international human rights law.

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