By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
October 4, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - An exiled Eritrean opposition political organization has denounced what it said was a “security arrangement” between Eritrea and Yemen to deport thousands of Eritrean refugees, most ethnically Afar fishermen who sought asylum in the Gulf state.
The Ethiopia-based Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) on Thursday told Sudan Tribune that, Yemeni Interior Minister, Abdul-Qader Qahtan, and Eritrean ambassador to Yemen, Musa Yasin, has held discussions last week on common security concerns.
The two sides conferred over ways of curbing illegal immigration from the Red Sea nation to the Yemeni coast and reviewed the situations of the Yemeni and Eritrean fishermen who depend on traditional fishing for living from the shared water territory.
During the bilateral talks the two sides agreed to set mechanisms to deport illegal Eritrean refugees in Yemen.
RSADO has expressed concerns over the planed deportation and called on the international community to intervene.
“The recent security agreement between Yemen and Eritrea violates international rights of refugees to seek asylum” Abdu Sheik Mohamed, the head of RSADO’s Political Department to the international community, told Sudan Tribune.
Yemen is one the few countries in the region which is signatory the 1951 Geneva’s Refugee Convention, however the country is accused of being “unfriendly” to refugees particularly to asylum seekers from East African nations.
The Eritrean opposition official called on the international community to put pressure on Yemen to reverse the “illegal security arrangement” which if implemented would lead to forcible deportation of thousands of Eritrean Afar refugees.
If deported, the Eritrean nationals will face a serious risk of prosecutions by the regime back home, including lengthy jail terms in harsh prison facilities or a possible punishment of death, according to the group.
Following the security meeting between Asmara and Sana, prison officials have began to threaten and take action against the refugees for expulsion.
Accordingly, on September 27, 2012 Yemen special forces went to a detention center, where deserted Eritrean Navy members are also being held, and started to force them out of the camp for deportation, however the attempt was foiled after a strong resistance from the imprisoned Eritrean refugees.
Since President Issayas Afeworki assumed power in 1991, tens and thousands of Eritreans have fled the regimes extreme political repression to neighbouring countries.
Eritrea requires all citizens above 18 and aged under 50 to serve in the military indefinitely.
Eritrean has also intensified repression against minority groups such as the Afars and Kunamas who continually face persecution, imprisonment, torture or death by regime’s agents who accuse them of cooperating in spying activities with their fellow Afar and Kunama brothers in Ethiopia.
Eritrean Afars and Yemini fishermen, both residing side by side along the territorial waters of both countries are historical interrelated and Eritrean Afars fear that the recently planned security measures would affect the age long traditional and economic ties between the two peoples.
In fear of prosecution, thousands of Eritrean Afars annually flee to Yemen by their small fishing boats. Dozens of Navy members have also deserted with their speed boats to Yemen in the past.
Anyone who leaves the country without permission is labeled as a deserter or traitor by the regime and if caught would risk a serious punishment.
AFAR REFUGEES IN ETHIOPIA
Meanwhile, Eritrean Afar refugees at a camp in Ethiopia this week demonstrated in protest to the planned security measures arranged by Eritrea and Yemen, an organizing group said.
Some 800 Eritrean Afar refugees rallied in the streets of Semera, a city in Ethiopia’s Afar region near the borders to Eritrea, where they voiced their opposition to the security arrangement.
Reached by phone, head of the Eritrean Refugees’ Youth League in Ethiopia, Ahmed Ela-Miso, told Sudan Tribune that the demonstration was in protest to the deportation plan arranged in the pretext of Security cooperation. Ethiopia hosts over 60,000 Eritrean Refugees in at least four refugee camps.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 but almost two decades on the Horn of Africa neighbours still dispute where the border between them lies. This was the major course of their 1998-2000 conflict.