An Open Letter to Pilots of Ethiopian Airlines Concerning the Proposed Transportation of Eritrean and East African Refugees and Asylum-Seekers from Israel to Rwanda and Uganda

Most respected pilots of Ethiopian Airlines,

You may be aware that the Government of Israel has declared its intention to forcibly repatriate or transfer all African refugees and asylum-seekers presently in Israel to their countries of origin or to East African countries such as Uganda and Rwanda. The alternative to such deportation is officially permanent imprisonment for life. The persons subject to this policy are currently estimated to number approximately 38,000, of whom 72% are from Eritrea.

There are reports that, on certain flights to East Africa, Ethiopian Airlines have co-operated with this Israeli government policy and that some asylum-seekers from Eritrea and other African countries have actually been flown to Rwanda or Uganda by Ethiopian Airlines flights. We have no proof of these allegations and hope that they are not factually accurate, since Ethiopian Airlines has a very high reputation.

May we ask you most sincerely not to allow yourselves or your colleagues to take part in such forcible repatriation and transfer of vulnerable refugees from Israel to unsafe destinations in East Africa? You may have heard that pilots of El Al Airline (an Israeli airline) have, on moral grounds, already refused to take part in such transfers.

We are sure you are aware that such enforced transfers break principles of international law. It is vital that all officials, and especially the pilots in charge of international flights, recognise that refugees from Eritrea and Sudan are fleeing from such widespread and consistent human rights abuses that they must be justly accorded the protection of any state to which they have fled. As Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” This is a universal right.

The persecution referred to, from which Eritreans are fleeing, has been proven beyond the slightest doubt by the Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights in Eritrea. These East African refugees in Israel are not economic migrants but genuinely need protection and asylum from the dangers they face in their home country and other African countries such as Rwanda and Uganda, where no recognised status or guarantees of safety would be offered to them. They would again be vulnerable to the kidnap, slavery, extortion and torture from which they fled.

May we appeal to you to take a stand similar to that taken by the El Al pilots and refuse to participate in these enforced returns of East African refugees (most of whom are Eritrean) to unsafe countries such as Rwanda or Uganda? You have a perfect right and moral obligation to refuse to fly these refugees to a place of certain torture. You would be adhering to international law by taking such a decision.


Yours faithfully,

Elizabeth Chyrum
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)

25 January, 2018