12 June 2015

In a report issued this week, the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea denounces the systematic and widespread human rights violations that have led to hundreds of thousands of refugees having fled Eritrea. The report documents extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual abuses and forced labour, as well as the period of unlimited military service during which Eritreans are subjected to torture, inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment. The UN report concludes that these human rights violations can constitute crimes against humanity.

“To ascribe [‘Eritreans’] decision to leave solely for economic reasons is to ignore the dire situation of human rights in Eritrea and the very real suffering of its people. Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection,” the UN Commission argues.

The UN Commission estimates that 5,000 people leave Eritrea each month, facing the risk of being killed at the Eritrean borders due to shoot-to-kill policies promoted by the government in order to force people to stay. The report documents kidnappings, tortures and risks of death resulting from Eritreans’ journeying across Africa to Europe in search of safety. The report also calls for the creation of safe and legal channels to Europe in order to ensure that people no longer have to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

The UN commission highlights that, with few exceptions, when Eritrean asylum-seekers are returned to their country they are detained. In detention, Eritreans are often victims of torture and inhuman or degrading treatments in breach of the right to life as well as abuses, exploitation and slavery practices, for indefinite periods of time. Moreover, lack of sufficient food, water and medical care are causes of health complications, and sometimes death. The report states that these harsh conditions of detention push some detainees to suicide. Eritreans voluntarily returning to their country may also face arbitrary arrest, the report stresses.

Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch stated that: “This authoritative report rightly condemns the horrific patterns of torture, arbitrary detention, and indefinite conscription that are prompting so many Eritreans to flee their country. In the absence of tangible human rights reforms by Eritrea’s government, host countries, particularly in the European Union, should not close the door on Eritrean asylum seekers or send them back to almost certain abuse.”

According to UNHCR, in mid-2014, 357,400 Eritreans fled their country. With 48,400 new asylum applicants in 2014, more than doubling those registered in 2013 (22,300), Eritrean asylum-seekers are the fifth largest group seeking international protection among 44 industrialised countries. Almost 37,000 of them applied for asylum in the EU, in 2014.


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 12 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.