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Egypt: Deportations of Eritrean asylum-seekers

Briefing notes

Egypt: Deportations of Eritrean asylum-seekers

20 June 2008

We are very alarmed over credible reports of ongoing, forcible returns of Eritrean asylum-seekers from Egypt despite our appeals to halt any return of asylum seekers until UNHCR has had access to detention centres to determine their claims for international protection.

Egypt has traditionally had a generous asylum policy. We are urging the authorities to halt the deportations of asylum seekers and respect their 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.

We are asking for unhindered access to all persons seeking asylum currently in detention and requesting the Egyptian authorities to urgently provide information on the 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 with us by the authorities. 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 sharp increase 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.