Sudan Prepares to Return Refugees to Eritrea

Hundreds of Eritrean refugees may be forcibly returned to Eritrea following a series of arrests last week in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

According to local sources, the Sudanese authorities have been conducting daily house to house arrests of Eritreans since Thursday 12 July 2007.

In an indication of the scale of these arrests, reports received by an Eritrean website contend that the government may already have "finalised the necessary preparations to deport 500 Eritrean refugees to Eritrea".

The website also reports that the majority of those detained during the round-up have already been interviewed and granted refugee status by the local offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The harassment and "disappearances" of key Eritrean refugees occurred periodically in the past, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has reported. However, the recent mass roundups are the most visible sign to date of a continuing rapprochement between the governments of Eritrea and Sudan, which has seen the Sudanese Government progressively clamping down on the activities of the Eritrean diaspora.

Several observers feel this may be part of a strategy agreed upon during a visit to Sudan in June by high ranking Eritrean security officials with an unannounced agenda.

CSW explains that there are well-founded fears that any Eritreans returned to their country will face severe mistreatment, torture and even death.

During 2002 and 2004, CSW tells, refugees deported from Malta and Libya respectively were detained immediately upon arrival in Eritrea and subjected to prolonged and severe mistreatment, including forced labour, severe beatings, extended confinement in sweltering and overcrowded conditions, and in some instances, extra-judicial killing.

CSW's National Director Reverend Stuart Windsor has said: "CSW is deeply concerned to hear of the detention and possible return to Eritrea of vulnerable refugees, many of whom have already received UN refugee status and are entitled to the protection of the host government.

"By returning these refugees, Sudan would be violating international undertakings to which it is party. Moreover, if returned, these people will face certain mistreatment at the hands of a government that has already shown itself impervious to all appeals."

Mr Windsor called on the UNHCR and other key international actors to hold Sudan to its obligations under the United Nations and African Union conventions governing the treatment of refugees. He also urged them to ensure that the detainees are released and that their rights under international law are safeguarded.