February 2, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – Eritrea’s biggest opposition group on Saturday called for urgent action to stop rising abductions and disappearances against Eritrean refugees sheltered at Shagarab refugee camp in Eastern Sudan.
- Eritrean refugees arriving at Kilo 26 refugee camp in eastern Sudan (UNHCR website)
According to the UN, human right groups and Eritrean opposition groups, Eritrean refugees who arrive at the border in neighbouring Sudan - hoping to claim asylum – are increasingly being kidnapped for ransom, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and bonded labour.
As a result, Eritrean refugees now live in fear of such attacks by networked traffickers operating in and around the camp.
Tewelde Gebresilase, is the chairman of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), a coalition of 11 Eritrean resistance groups based in Ethiopia.
In an Interview, Tewelde told Sudan Tribune that smuggling and human trafficking is carried out by a highly organised network that stretches from the borders of Eritrea to refugee camps in Sudan and the Sinai peninsula in Egypt.
According to reports, refugees are kidnapped in cooperation with the Rashaida tribe, armed gangs, and local tribesmen in Eastern Sudan. They are then transferred to Sinai where they are forcibly sold for different purposes, including the extraction of their organs.
According to the opposition official, on 22 January armed men abducted five Eritrean refugees - four of them women - from Shagarab camp,
Following the incident, angry Eritrean refugees attacked individuals they believed were behind the abductions, with the violence leading to a number of injuries between the two sides.
Excluding unconfirmed cases, the UNHCR has documented the disappearance and kidnapping of 551 Eritrean refugees in 2012 alone – a more than five-fold increase from the previous year.
It is estimated that up to 2,000 Eritreans arrive in Sudan every month. However, increasing kidnappings, gang rapes and other attacks, as well as tightened border controls by the Eritrean security forces have led to a drop in arrivals to Sudan to only hundreds in a month.
While expressing grave concern over the kidnapping situation in Shagarab refugee camp, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming last week called on all national and international actors to step up efforts to counter the ongoing kidnappings by criminal groups against Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers.
She said that UNHCR is working with the Sudanese authorities and other international partners to curb the risk of abductions and kidnappings in Eastern Sudan.
“The Government of Sudan has already deployed additional police and we are supporting the authorities to improve overall security, including the construction and rehabilitation of police stations, provision of vehicles and communication equipment,” she said.
However, Eritrean opposition groups here say that the Sudanese government has done “almost nothing” to protect the Eritrean refugees.
Tewelde called on the Sudanese government to respect the rights of refugees to seek asylum under national and international laws.
He called on Sudanese authorities to refrain from their previous practices of forcibly returning Eritrean refugees.
The opposition group appealed on the international community and particularly the UNHCR to seriously look into the issues and act swiftly.
Thousands of young Eritreans have fled their homeland to escape political oppression and military service by the dictatorial regime in Asmara, which recently faced a small army mutiny.
Since January 2010, an estimated 60,000 Eritreans have arrived at the reception camp of Shagarab.
According to the UN refugee agency, the Shagarab camp currently hosts almost 30,000 people.