By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
May 31, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Sudanese government last month has deported hundreds of Eritreans to their home country where they could suffer severe violations by an extremely repressive regime, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
- Eritrean migrants wait aboard a navy ship in the Sicilian harbour of Augusta, March 4, 2015 (Photo Reuters/Antonio Parrinello)
In a new report issued Monday, the rights watchdog said Sudan has deported at least 442 Eritreans, including six registered refugees, to Eritrea in May 2016.
Sudanese authorities have started this month arresting Eritrean refugees residing in the capital, Khartoum, and intercepting hundreds who were travelling towards Libya in a bid to cross to Europe.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, the Sudanese authorities arrested 377 people on May 6 in the Sudanese border town of Dongola as they tried to cross to Libya.
Among them were the 313 Eritreans, including six who had already registered as refugees in Sudan and were all tried and convicted of “illegal entry” into Sudan.
The Sudanese authorities deported all of them including 4 Eritreans children who were part of this group.
The latest crackdown against Eritrean migrants comes as EU reportedly reached a deal with Khartoum to stem migration towards Europe.
A leaked document obtained by European Medias indicate that Sudan - which has increasingly become a key transit country for migrants from East Africa seeking to illegally travel to Europe via Libya - will be provided with financial aid to tighten its border control and intercept refugees bound to Europe.
Along with Sudan, 7 other African countries will be aided with a total of £40 million over three years to do so.
Following the recent secret deal, Sudan has reportedly rounded up some 900 Eritreans in Khartoum last week.
Those deported were arrested while they were en route to Libya.
Every month, hundreds of young Eritreans flee their country to evade military conscription which is mandatory to all citizens aged 18-50.
Per the authorized law, the national or military service lasts for only 18 months however President Issaias-led repressive regime forces citizens to serve indefinitely leaving them with no option but to escape their home country.
Citizens leaving the country without government’s knowledge are perceived to be a deserter.
Escaping military conscription or leaving Eritrea without permission from the government is a criminal offense considered by the regime as treason which is punishable up to death sentence.
Human Rights Watch has expressed grave concern over the deportation of the Eritrean refugees as they face a serious risk of prosecutions and end up locked up behind bars in life-threatening condition.
“Sudan is arresting and forcing Eritreans back into the hands of a repressive government without allowing refugees to seek protection,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch.
“Sudan should be working with the UN refugee agency to protect these people, not send them back to face abuse.”
Eritreans and Ethiopians are denied of chance to claim asylum.
International law forbids countries from deporting asylum seekers without first allowing them to apply for asylum and considering their cases.
“This right applies regardless of how asylum seekers enter a country or how long they have been in a country before claiming asylum,” HRW added.
International law also prohibits the deportation, return, or forced expulsion of anyone to a place where they face a real risk to their life, or of torture or ill-treatment.
Sudanese authorities have allegedly denied access for UNHCR representatives to allow them access to visit the refugees group.
Sudanese authorities are entitled to arrest and question Eritreans and other foreign nationals not registered as asylum seekers or who do not have other legal status in Sudan, Human Rights Watch said.
However, it added Sudan is obliged to allow Eritreans and others to lodge asylum claims in Sudan at any time, even if they have already been in the country for some time, and to fairly review those claims.
As Eritrea is a closed nation, it is impossible for international agencies to monitor the situation and treatment of Eritreans back home after deportation.
Thousands of Eritreans use smugglers every year to travel from Eritrea through Ethiopia and Sudan to Libya and Egypt, from where many then try to reach the European Union by boat.
Human Rights Watch has documented that thousands were kidnapped and tortured for ransom in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula between 2010 and 2013, in some cases with the collusion of Sudanese and Egyptian security officials.
“If Sudan wants to market itself as a refugee-rights-respecting nation, it’s going about it the wrong way,” Simpson said. “Eritreans, Ethiopians and others who want protection must be allowed full access to fair asylum procedures.”
In addition, the report says that Sudan has also arrested 64 Ethiopians who risk deportation.
Human Rights watch said Ethiopia’s restrictions on political rights have spurred citizens to leave and a crackdown that began November in its Oromia region may have led to “thousands” fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Ethiopian security forces have killed Dozens of ethnic Oromos mainly university students after they staged weeks-long demonstration in protest to government’s plan to expand the capital’s territory to parts of the Oromia region.
Following the violent and deadly clashes, many Ethiopians are believed to have fled to neighbouring countries, including Sudan.