July 8, 2014 (GENEVA) – The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has accused Sudan of violating international law after the government forcibly returned dozens of Eritrean and other asylum seekers and refugees to their home country.
- Eritrea, which borders Sudan and Ethiopia, has been dubbed the North Korea of Africa (HRW)
The asylum-seekers had been convicted of illegally entering Sudan under national immigration laws, however, the UNHCR said Sudan failed to follow proper procedures, denying asylum seekers the right to have their claims assessed by the competent authorities.
In a press briefing in Geneva on 4 July, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said the agency is “deeply concerned” over the recent forced returns, or “refoulement”, of asylum seekers from Sudan, including an incident on 30 June in Eastern Sudan where 74 Eritreans were reportedly sent back to Eritrea through Laffa border crossing point.
Fleming said the deportations represented an “act of repression” and could place the lives of those expelled in grave danger.
UNHCR does not have monitors on the ground in Eritrea, and nor is there a significant international presence in the country, leaving returnees at risk of detention and abuse.
“Such deportations of asylum-seekers amount to refoulement and constitute a serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as the 2014 Sudanese Asylum Act,” said Fleming.
“Eritrea is a country of concern - people leaving Eritrea are in need of international protection, as their lives would be in danger if they were to be returned,” she added.
The UNHCR has urged the Sudanese government to uphold international law and asylum seekers immediate access to asylum procedures and protection from refoulement.
There are currently over 160,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Sudan mainly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and South Sudan.
Sudan is a major gateway for Eritreans fleeing the repressive regime in Asmara and seeking to reach Europe.
Many fall victim to criminal trafficking networks operating near the Sudanese border with Eritrea that kidnap migrants from refugee camps before selling them to groups operating in Sinai, where victims are then subjected to torture in order to extract large ransom payments from their families.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), since 2004 more than 200,000 Eritreans have fled repression in the secretive Red Sea nation, which is referred to as the North Korea of Africa.
In May, HRW said Sudanese authorities handed 30 Eritreans over to security forces from their homeland, including six who were registered refugees.