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UNHCR alarmed over reports of forcible returns of Eritreans from Egypt

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UNHCR alarmed over reports of forcible returns of Eritreans from Egypt

19 June 2008

Thursday, 19 June 2008

GENEVA - The UN refugee agency is very alarmed over consistent reports of ongoing, forcible returns of Eritrean asylum-seekers from Egypt despite appeals from UNHCR to refrain from any return of asylum seekers until the agency had access to detention centres to determine their claims for international protection.

UNHCR appeals to the Egyptian authorities to urgently provide information on the current location and well-being of some 1,400 Eritreans and other persons of concern to UNHCR, whose names and detention locations had previously been shared by the authorities. UNHCR also requests prompt and unhindered access to all persons seeking asylum currently in detention.

UNHCR strongly appeals to the Egyptian government to maintain its traditional generous asylum policy and respect its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention to which it is a signatory. One of the key principles of the Convention is the prohibition against refoulement, or forcibly returning individuals to their country of origin where they could face persecution or a threat to their lives.

Earlier this week, Egypt announced it would grant UNHCR's office in Cairo access to Eritreans in detention with a view to determining their status. On Monday, a UNHCR team visited two detention centres in Aswan in southern Egypt - Shalal and Nasr Al Nouba - to review and prepare arrangements for refugee status determination. They met 142 Eritreans and 19 Ethiopians. Earlier credible reports indicated the number of detained asylum seekers in Aswan Governorate to be much higher. UNHCR teams also went to other detention locations in Egypt but were unable to obtain access. In some instances they were asked to bring specific permission from prison authorities, while at other locations they were informed by the authorities that Eritrean asylum-seekers were no longer present.

Egypt has seen a surge of Eritreans entering the country illegally in recent months from Sudan or directly from Eritrea across the Red Sea. In late February, the Egyptian authorities suspended UNHCR's access to asylum seekers in detention. Since then, UNHCR has been in continuous contact with relevant authorities asking for access to detained asylum seekers.