By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
July 19, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – Over 30 members of the Eritrean naval forces have deserted to Yemen this month, an exiled Eritrean opposition group have said.
Based in Ethiopia, the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO), said they are at imminent risk of forcible return to Eritrea by authorities in Yemen.
“A total of 38 Eritrean Navy members in four groups have fled to Yemen during the past two weeks” RSADO spokesperson, Yasin Mohamed Abdela told Sudan Tribune on Tuesday.
“The Eritrean Navy groups fled with their navy boats and weapons across the Red Sea”, said Yasin adding, “The latest defection is the highest number of naval forces ever to be defected in short time”.
The opposition group emailed Sudan Tribune the names of 25 of the 38 navy members it alleges have fled to Yemen.
International human rights organisations have accused the Eritrean government of turning the Red Sea nation into a giant prison. Thousands of young Eritreans languish in the country’s harsh and secret detention centers indefinitely, without charge or trial over accusations that they oppose the government, or as the result of an attempt to flee country to escape compulsory military service.
If returned, asylum-seekers are regularly subjected to gross human rights violations including possible death punishment.
RSADO says that since the start of July an increasing number of young Eritrean Afar refugees are attempting to cross the turbulent waters of Red Sea to Yemen. The opposition group expressed concerns on the safety of the recently defected navy members and many other Eritreans who remain in Yemeni detention centers.
It appealed on the international community and the UNHCR to put pressure on Yemeni Government to refrain deporting the Eritreans. UNHCR’s Ethiopia branch could not confirm the allegations on Tuesday.
“As political uncertainty and volatile situations of Yemen’s future continues, we are extremely concerned for the safety of these young people in Al-Hudayda and AL-Lehya in Yemen.”
“We urge UNHCR to get access to these refugees and appeal to Yemeng government to respect its obligations to Geneva Convention by not returning these refugees to Eritrea where they will face Torture and Death” the group said.
RSADO extended gratitude to UNHCR in Yemen, and other humanitarian groups who helped with their successful intervention that saved the lives of nine Afar Navy personals who were in similar circumstance from being returned to Eritrean regime in September 2010.