Today, November 10, 2011 hours 13.30, a meeting was held at the Egyptian Embassy to the Holy See, at this meeting Her Excellency Mrs. Aly Hamada MEKHEMAR, AMBASSADOR OF THE ARAB REPUBLIC OF EGYPT TO THE HOLY SEE, Mr. Ahmad Raafat Embassy second secretary, Hon. Savino Pezzotta, Member and President of the Italian Council for Refugees, and Fr. Mussie Zerai Chairman of the Habeshia.
In the interview, were all addressed issues concerning the emergency Eritrean refugees in Egypt, starting from the plight of the hostages in the Sinai, and trafficking of organs, and also discussed the best practice of repatriation or deportation of Eritrean refugees inprogram, in violation of international treaties including the Geneva Convention of 1951 which protects the right of asylum, of which Egypt and frimataria.
Arrest and indefinite detention of Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees (already recognized by UNHCR office in Sudan and Ethiopia) due to their illegal entry/exit of the country.
Even the understandable right of Egypt to protect its borders and to halt individuals entering/exiting the country unofficially it is also a duty of the government of Egypt to guarantee the right of asylum for those individuals expressing their request as per established by article 31 of the 1951 Refugee convention of which Egypt is signatory which asks states not to penalize asylum seekers for their illegal entry. (The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.)
Hundreds of asylum seekers arrested at the border with Sudan are kept in detention even in situation where the court suspends the sentence for illegal entry.
The request of access to the UNHCR office in Cairo remains in the 99% of the cases without response since the government refuses to provide the access to individuals not yet registered with the UNHCR in Cairo. In this way, the government is preventing the UNHCR from fulfilling its duties by assessing the claim of those seeking asylum.
In the past weeks, 5 to 9 Eritrean nationals were deported to Eritrea against their will. Three of them are women and for one of them (she was detained in Qanater prison in Cairo), the UNHCR request of access was ignored for almost one year before she was deported.
Currently, there is a group of 118 Eritrean males, 26 Eritrean women + 4(or 5) children in Shellal military camp in Aswan. Their deportation process already started.
The Immigration office in Aswan has already contacted the Eritrean embassy in Cairo which went to Shellal military camp. The Eritrean prisoners have been forcibly registered and their pictures taken in order to prepare the travel documents.
The registration process has been done with the collaboration of Egyptian authorities who have forced (beating them up) the Eritreans to sign the papers for deportation.
Please note:- around 100 of those currently held in Shellal have a UNHCR number either in Sudan or Ethiopia. Egypt is in this way violating the principle of non refoulement by deporting individuals already registered with the UNHCR back to a country where they will face persecution.
Victim of trafficking:
In addition to the above mentioned points, it is necessary to highlight that an important number of Eritrean currently in the custody of the police stations, are victims of trafficking.
Men and women who arrive in Egypt are often the victim of a trafficking network which starts in Sudan and ends in Sinai at the border with Israel.
Eritreans are sold from smuggler to smuggler and held in captivity without being able to escape and trafficked in this way until they reach the Sinai penisula where they are often kept hostages of the Bedouins requesting a ransom whose average is currently about 25-30,000$.
Those who cannot pay the amount request face abuse (physical and sexual), violence and, according to the last information (to be confirmed), also exposed to the theft of their organs and killing.
Those rescued by the police and/or arrested at the border, often injured by the Bedouins and by the police are – aften being hospitalized- held in detention in one of the police stations of Sinai and without access to the UNHCR.
The conditions in the police stations are very difficult because they have rarely access to doctors and the hygienic conditions are poor.
Some of those detained in the police stations died of TB.
Vulnerable people, like women, children and inured persons are held in detention in police stations which are not done to assist individuals with such vulnerabilities.
In this context, it seems that for now, the anti- trafficking law, is not applied to such individuals and the necessary assistance and protection is not guaranteed.
Specific requests made by Fr. Mussie Zerai the Embassy: -
1. Immediately stop the deportations of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers.
2. Allow access to the UNHCR, in police stations or military camps where Eritreans refugees are detained .
3. Egyptian police, working together to identify, and arrest the traffickers and their accomplices, who receive the money in Cairo, result of blackmail.
4. Make an agreement between the nations involved in this phenomenon of trafficking in human beings and organs, for a serious fight against these crimes.
Fr. Mussie Zerai, has asked for a clear gesture by the Egyptian authorities to combat crime against humanity which is the trafficking of organs and persons.
Ambassador, Her Excellency Mrs. Aly Hamada MEKHEMAR, has expressed his sorrow for the tragic situation they are facing many Eritreans held hostage by smugglers. He undertook to discuss with the Egyptian authorities responsible, to search for solution for all problems that have been brought to its attention.
Fr. Mussie Zerai
Presidente dell’Agenzia Habeshia
per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo