Letter to Mr. Antonio Manuel de Carvalho Vitorino

Mr Antonio Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira Vitorino
Director General
International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
17 Route de Marillons
PO Box 17
CH 1211 Geneva

Dear Mr. Antonio Manuel de Carvalho Vitorino, 

Re:  Repatriation of Eritrean Refugees from Libya

Human Rights Concern Eritrea request that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) stops all repatriations of Eritreans from Libya. 

Despite the ongoing peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea, since the peace process has started the Eritrean Government has taken no action to address human rights violations in the country or to reform any of its policies that have led to the flight of so many Eritreans from the country and have led the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea to find that: 

…. [there] are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea since 1991. Eritrean officials have engaged in a persistent, widespread and systematic attack against the country’s civilian population since 1991. They have committed, and continue to commit, the crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder. (A/HRC/32:47-2016;[1]

Therefore, though the situation of Eritrean refugees in Libya is desperate, it is also the case that it is just as dangerous for Eritrean refugees to return to their country. Those who are forcibly returned are at risk of arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearances, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment as well as forced labour/slave labour. A situation well described in the 2015 and subsequent UN Human Rights reports (A/HRC/29/CRP.1 – 2015 – [2]

Individuals forcefully repatriated are inevitably considered as having left the country unlawfully, and are consequently regarded as serious offenders, but also as “traitors.” A common pattern of treatment of returnees is their arrest upon arrival in Eritrea. 

They are questioned about the circumstances of their escape, whether they received help to leave the country, how the flight was funded, whether they contact with opposition groups based abroad, etc. Returnees are systematically ill-treated to the point of torture during the interrogation phase.)

The Eritreans presently repatriated by IOM, from Libya, have all been registered by UNHCR as refugees in accordance with the 2011 UNHCR Guidelines for Assessing International Protection Needs of Asylum Seekers from Eritrea. A specific UNHCR Guideline that considers the particular context in Eritrea of continuing human rights violations reads as follows:  

In light of current serious human rights violations, as well as transgressions of international humanitarian law during the 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia and subsequent border disputes, exclusion considerations under Article 1F of the 1951 Convention and/or Article I (5) of the OAU Convention may arise in individual claims by Eritrean asylum-seekers. Careful consideration needs to be given in particular to the following profiles: (i) members of the Eritrean military; (ii) Government officials in positions of authority, including Cabinet members; (iii) prison wardens and guards; (iv) members of State security/intelligence apparatus, including the police forces and the National Security Service; (v) Government informers and agents; (vi) members of the judiciary; (vii) members of armed liberation movements during the war of independence with Ethiopia; (viii) members of opposition groups involved in armed attacks; and (ix) Islamic militant groups. [3]

Since November 2018 at least 50 Eritrean have been repatriated. [4]And Human Rights Concern-Eritrea has received information that more than 70 have been processed by IOM with the support of the Eritrean Embassy in Libya and, by the time you will receive this letter, will have been repatriated. 

The IOM repatriation programme for Eritrean refugees in Libya is taking advantage of the utter desperation of Eritreans to get out of the horrific condition in Libya, as well as their ignorance as to their rights and lack of information as to the process.  According to eyewitnesses,  IOM does not inform the  refugees that once they reach Eritrea they will be received and debriefed only by the Eritrean  government; that  IOM  has no presence in Eritrea and that no independent  agency ( i.e. UNHCR, UNICEF,  ICRC) will be able to  monitor or follow  their cases to  ensure their  safety. Nor does IOM inform them that the Eritrean government has objected to the monetary component of the repatriation package.

This repatriation programme is not grounded on informed consent and it fails to consider the fact that the circumstances in Eritrea have not changed; a matter that is highlighted by the fact that UNHCR has not changed its Guidelines with regard to Eritrean asylum seekers.  Through this repatriation initiative, IOM is becoming  complicit and instrumental  in the Eritrean government’s efforts to  discredit  and dismantle : (i)  the findings of the UN Human Report  of the detailed findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea ( A/HRC/29/CRP.1 –  2015; A/HRC/32:47 – 2016) and the UN ; (ii) the minimum international  recognition and protection mechanisms as  represented by the  2011 UNHCR  Guidelines.  

The current repatriation from Libya is reminiscent of the previous forcible returns of Eritreans from Malta, Libya, Egypt and Sudan. In each case those returned to Eritrea were imprisoned. 

IOM is not present in Eritrea; it is not part of the process of reception and debriefing of the returnees; and it has not put in place any mechanism to ensure the protection of the returnees. 

Therefore, no independent international agency (i.e. UNHCR, UNICEF, ICRC) in Eritrea is involved in the repatriation process, and because of the restrictions of movement that the Eritrean government has imposed, UNHCR, UNICEF and ICRC are not able to monitor the return and reintegration process to ensure that returnees are safe. 

Yours sincerely

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