Human Rights: UN experts deplore the expulsion by Egypt of Eritrean family seeking asylum in violation of the principle of non-refoulement

Geneva, November 20, 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.

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