UNHCR urging Egypt to intervene to secure release of Eritreans held hostage

Briefing Notes, 7 December 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 December 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is concerned about a group of some 250 Eritreans who have been held hostage for about a month by traffickers in the Sinai, Egypt.

UNHCR has very limited information about this group. We have noted media reports that the traffickers are demanding payments of US$8,000 per person for their release, that people are being held in containers and are subject to abuses, and that some may have been held for months.

We are, at this time, in contact with the Egyptian government over this matter. Egypt's Ministry of Interior has assured us that around the clock efforts are underway to locate the hostages and release them.

Every year thousands of people attempt to cross the border from Egypt into Israel, and often in the hands of bedouin traffickers who have little regard for their safety. While many are migrants, some originate from refugee-producing countries, including Eritrea. UNHCR's eligibility guidelines consider that most Eritreans fleeing their country should be considered as refugees.

UNHCR has been advocating with the Egyptian authorities for access to people who are detained in the course of making this journey, with a view to being able to determine those among them who are refugees and in need of international protection.

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Crisis in Libya

UNHCR is working with the Tunisian and Egyptian authorities and aid groups to manage the dramatic influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing Libya. By the beginning of March, two weeks after the violence erupted in Libya, more than 140,000 people had fled to the neighbouring countries, while thousands more were waiting to cross. Most are Egyptian and Tunisian nationals, though small numbers of Libyans and other nationalities are managing to escape. UNHCR is particularly concerned about thousands of refugees and other foreigners trapped inside Libya, especially people from sub-Saharan Africa. The following photo essay gives a glimpse into what is happening at the borders.

Crisis in Libya

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

Stuck at the Egyptian border

Some three weeks after the Libyan displacement crisis erupted in mid-February, thousands of people were still stuck at the border between Libya and Egypt waiting for onward travel to their home countries. Many have arrived exhausted at the Sallum crossing after travelling for days without adequate food or water. Some told harrowing tales of armed men going door to door at night, forcing people from sub-Saharan Africa to leave after destroying their identity papers and taking their money.

More long-haul flights to Bangladesh and other Asian destinations are needed to decongest the border, although people from countries like Eritrea and Somalia cannot go home. As a result, many people have been stuck at the border for days, sleeping outside in the cold. UNHCR has provided blankets, plastic mats, food and water for those waiting to be repatriated.

More than 100,000 people have arrived at the Sallum border since the start of the Libyan uprising. The majority have been migrant workers from Egypt who were allowed through immigration and customs quickly, but many nationalities have also turned up at the border and having to wait.

Stuck at the Egyptian border

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya Play video

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya

Two Eritreans set out on a perilous journey to Europe, crossing Sudan and the Sahara arriving in Libya during its 2011 revolution. They arrive in Tripoli having avoided the risks of detention and despite contending with a crippling handicap: both David and his wife Amitu are deaf and mute.
Sudan: A Perilous RoutePlay video

Sudan: A Perilous Route

Kassala camp in eastern Sudan provides shelter to thousands of refugees from Eritrea. Many of them pass through the hands of ruthless and dangerous smugglers.
Egypt: Seeking SafetyPlay video

Egypt: Seeking Safety

Amid the ebb and flow of fighting in eastern Libya, a steady stream of people continues to seek shelter in Egypt and other neighbouring countries. They tell their stories.