700 Eritreans Threatened with Forcible Deportation from the USA

We have become aware of the directive by the United States Department of Homeland Security on September 13, 2017 to expedite the deportation of approximately 700 Eritreans from U.S.A. back to Eritrea.  Those 700 individuals– many or most of them believed to be law-abiding residents – appear to be at immediate risk of being forcibly returned to their country of origin.

USA’s Obligations under International Covenants and Treaties

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) finds this deportation decision to be most reprehensible and to be against the commitments of the United States of America under international covenants and treaties, notably the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees (UNCSR), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  Under Article 14 of the UDHR, “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution, and to seek safety. Under the UNCSR, that right of refuge is available to anyone who, “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” has had to avail himself of the protection of another country.  Given the likelihood that deportees would be tortured upon their return to Eritrea, as described below, the deportation would also violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Dangers to the Human Rights and Welfare of Eritrean Citizens

We believe that essentially all Eritrean asylum seekers in the USA have a very well-founded and justified fear of being returned to their country of origin due to the persecution they have suffered, political structures and lack of any legal protections within that country. Every international report on human rights in Eritrea indicates that there is no rule of law and no protection of rights for any citizen. As the UN Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights in Eritrea (UN COIE) declares, “There is no independent judiciary, there is a rule of law vacuum, resulting in a climate of impunity for crimes against humanity. These crimes are still occurring. “Eritrean officials have committed crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts, as part of a widespread and systematic campaigns against the civilian population since 1991.”

The Right to Leave One’s Country

In Eritrea, there is no respect for article 13 of the UDHR, which states that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own”. Those who exercise this right are branded as

criminals by the Eritrean government. Consequently, all Eritrean citizens who leave their country without government permission have “a well-founded fear of persecution” from their government for an offence which is clearly political in nature.

The Fate of Eritrean Citizens Returned to their Country

The crucial matter regarding this removal decision is the fate of forcibly returned emigrants who left Eritrea without government permission. Evidence abounds that they face imprisonment, possible torture, and appalling conditions.

In addition, returnees are forced to pay a retroactive 2% tax, as well as signing a “repentance” form, and have to accept any punishment for this law-breaking confession.  Many risk facing incommunicado detention, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, upon return.

The UN mandated Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (COIE), in its June 2015 report, in page 114, 115, 118, paragraphs 431, 432, 433 and 444 respectively, documented its investigation on forcible deportation of Eritreans and on the way the Eritrean government treats the deportees as follows:

“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.”

“After interrogation, they are detained in particularly harsh conditions, often to ensure that they will not escape again. Returnees who spoke to the Commission were held in prison between eight months to three years. Male returnees from [country A] were held on Dhalak Island after a few months of detention at Adi Abeito. Deportees from other countries were held in prisons such as Prima Country and Wi’a.”

“Witnesses who spoke to the Commission noted the severe conditions during their detention. They were made to undertake forced labour and were frequently punished by prison guards for inconsequential matters.”

“The Commission finds that, with a few exceptions, those who have been forced to return to the country have been arrested, detained and subjected to ill-treatment and torture. Other Eritreans voluntarily returning to their country may face arbitrary arrest, in particular if they are perceived as having associated with opposition movements abroad.”

In September and October 2002, 234 Eritreans were forcibly and inhumanly deported from Malta.  Here is the link to a documentary by HRCE of young deported Eritreans recollection of torture and suffering they experienced under the Eritrean government upon their return: http://hrc-eritrea.org/voice-of-torture-documentary/

If an Eritrean, whose only crime was to flee persecution, exercise the universal right to leave her or his own country, faces imprisonment and inhumane treatment upon return, how can the U.S.  Department of Homeland Security logically enforce an immigration court decision that she or he faces no real threat, or that she or he has no “well-founded fear of persecution” if returned?

The UN Refugee Convention (UNCSR) is very clear on this matter: “No Contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened.”

The UN Refugee Agency, (UNHCR) in its March 2005, position document, advises that “asylum claims submitted by Eritrean asylum seekers should undergo a careful assessment to determine their needs for international protection. It is also recommended that states refrain from all forced returns or rejected asylum seekers to Eritrea and grant them complementary forms of protection instead, until further notice.” The notice is still valid.

In light of the above, we vehemently object to the injustice of the Department of Homeland Security’s directive, and demand that it be reviewed taking into account the fully accredited evidence of the UN Commission of Inquiry and the attached UNHCR position document.

We trust that forced removal will not be implemented in these or any other similar cases.

Yours faithfully,

Elizabeth Chyrum
Director
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
London, United Kingdom