Letter: 19 Eritrean Prisoners of War Still Detained in Negad Detention Centre in Djibouti

Mr. Yves Daccord
International Committee of the Red Cross
Via email

C.c: Mr. Meyrat Thierry
Head of regional delegation
International Committee of the Red Cross
Via email

Dear Mr. Daccord,

Re: 19 Eritrean Prisoners of War still detained in Negad Detention Centre in Djibouti

Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) is deeply worried about the fate of 19 Eritrean prisoners of war (POWs) who are still detained in the Negad Detention Centre in Djibouti. They were detained during the border conflict between Eritrea and Djibouti in June 2008, and they have been there over nine years in harrowing conditions which increasingly threaten their health and lives.

HRCE earnestly appeals to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to help these Eritrean POWs to find safe relocation. They are exposed to outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and two of them have developed serious mental illness. Given the conditions under which they are living, the length of their detention and the absence of any prospect or hope of real solutions, it would appear that the chance of many of them developing mental illness is extremely high, in addition to the severe risk to their physical health.

These ex-soldiers had no choice about being conscripted into the Eritrean military in which they would be expected to serve for an indefinite time. Following their capture during the 2008 conflict, the Eritrean government has sternly denied that any of its soldiers are in the hands of the Djiboutian forces, despite the Djiboutian authorities having expressed their willingness to conduct an exchange of prisoners of war. The Eritrean government has also denied having any Djiboutian POWs, although 2 had managed to escape and return home and 4 were officially released by Eritrea thanks to Qatar acting as mediator between the two countries.

The good news is that the government of Djibouti has officially pardoned the 19 Eritrean POWs and they are free to leave the country. However, it still considers them a security concern, and thus they continue to be kept in the Negad detention centre where they have been since their capture. They are simply not free to leave until their exit from Djibouti to another country of refuge can be arranged.

HRCE is aware that the Djiboutian authorities have sought the assistance of the ICRC in helping the Eritrean POWs resettle to a third country. These Eritrean POWs would be subjected to many severe human rights violations if they were returned to Eritrea. However, despite having forced them to risk their lives as conscripted soldiers, the Eritrean government’s stubborn refusal to recognise them as Eritrean citizens has in effect rendered them stateless. For this reason, helping them find a safe solution is of paramount importance and urgency.

Although they have been pardoned at the end of 2016, these 19 Eritreans are still awaiting an urgent solution to their arduous plight. They remain in what can only be termed a state of limbo, unrecognised by their home country, as yet without a hope of future acceptance elsewhere. It is for these reasons that HRCE finds it necessary to implore the ICRC to intervene at once on their behalf, for the sake not only of their present health and safety, but also to guarantee their future wellbeing.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth Chyrum
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
+44 7958 005 637