The Refugees Platform in Egypt (RPE) documented the transfer of 21-one Eritrean asylum seekers last Tuesday (June 21, 2022) from Aswan Governorate, where they are being held in different police stations, to the Eritrean Embassy in Cairo. At the embassy, 20 of the asylum seekers will obtain travel documents that are “valid for Eritrea only.”. The identity of one of them remains unknown and was presented before the embassy to confirm his nationality.
Extracting travel documents from the Eritrean embassy in Cairo is the last measure taken by the Egyptian authorities before the start of the forcible return process from Cairo to Asmara. We expect their deportation any minute now.
According to confirmed information reviewed by RPE, twenty-one Eritrean detainees are at risk of imminent forcible deportation, ten of whom are men, nine women and two children. Some of those to be deported are from the same family (mother and child – brothers). Amongst the detainees, there are two children: nine years old and a ten-month-old baby.
The Egyptian authorities arrested these asylum seekers in different periods between January 2021 and March 2022, after they entered the country in irregular ways. They were arrested despite the fact that Egyptian law stipulates that “smuggled immigrants shall not be punished” in Law 82 of 2016 on irregular migration. All 21 were subjected to inhumane and cruel conditions of detention, did not have guarantees and conditions of a fair trial, and the Egyptian authorities did not allow them to seek asylum in a regular manner or to reconcile their legal status through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Egypt. They were not informed of the reason for their arrest or of the charges against them, and they were unable to contact any lawyer to present their legal position in accordance with the Egyptian constitution and international covenants signed by Egypt.
On the other hand, the Yemeni asylum seeker (Abdul-Baqi Saeed Abdo) faces the imminent threat of forcible deportation and is being held by the Egyptian authorities on charges of “joining a terrorist group with knowledge of its purposes, and contempt for the Islamic religion” because of his declaration of his conversion to Christianity, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
Abdel-Baqi announced on social media that he converted to Christianity in 2013 before he fled from Yemen to Egypt. After that, Abdel-Baqi came to Egypt and obtained an asylum application registration card from the UNHCR office in June 2015. He still has a card in his possession, issued in January 2020.
The security forces arrested the Yemeni Arabic language teacher, Abdul-Baqi Saeed Abdo, 52 years, from his home in Giza Governorate on December 15, 2021, at 2:00 am after searching his residence and seizing three laptops. He was presented to the Supreme State Security Prosecution to be investigated on December 21, 2021, after he was forcibly disappeared for six days, according to sources familiar with the case.
What Yemeni asylum-seeker Abdul-Baqi faces is a conflict with international standards that must be followed with asylum seekers as host countries must provide them with the necessary protection until a decision is made on their asylum applications. The host country, Egypt in this case, must also refrain from sharing any information about him with his country’s embassy or his presentation before it and requesting the issuance of a travel document for him.
International law also prohibits the host country from deporting asylum seekers before their claims are carefully considered in accordance with the conditions established in local legislation, in addition to issuing an official deportation decision and handing it over to him while giving him the opportunity to challenge it before the judiciary. If a final judicial decision requires deportation outside the country, the host country is obligated not to deport him to a region where he may be at risk, and it must give him a deadline to obtain an entry visa to another country that accepts his hosting. All these rights the Egyptian authorities began to waste.
In the past months, RPE has monitored and documented five mass forced deportations of more than seventy (70) Eritrean refugees, including children, all of whom have disappeared since their deportation to Asmara and their families have not learned anything about them until now. The last forced return from Cairo to Asmara was carried out by the Egyptian authorities in mid-March 2022 and deported 31 Eritrean asylum seekers within one week between 15 and 17 March 2022.
In the same context, at the end of last May, well-informed sources told RPE that eight Eritrean asylum seekers were transferred from their detention centre to be tested for “covid-19” in preparation for their forcible deportation to Asmara. According to the sources, it was decided to deport the eight on May 25, 2022. Because of the Egyptian authorities’ blackout and withholding of information about asylum seekers who are detained or those it plans to be deported, we have not been able to confirm any information if the eight were returned to Asmara or not.
This comes after a group of special rapporteurs and experts of the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the Egyptian authorities in April 2022 for the forced deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers and stressed that “Collective expulsion is prohibited under international human rights law. Patterns of human rights violations against Eritreans who have been forcibly returned, including torture, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, trafficking in persons and arbitrary detention have been well documented by UN human rights mechanisms,” they said. “These expulsions also violate the principle of non-refoulement”. UN experts expressed their “grave concern at what is shaping up to be a policy of arbitrary and collective expulsion of Eritreans, and cautioned the Egyptian authorities that such deportations violate Egypt’s obligations under international law.”
As for the Yemeni asylum seeker, “Abdul-Baqi Saeed”, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights anticipated “the grave danger if the deportation of Abdel-Baqi Saeed Abdo to Yemen is carried out, considering the unknown fate awaiting him there. Saeed came to Egypt seeking asylum after being subjected to attempted murder in his country, from which he escaped, and after the actual murder of his wife, following his and his family’s conversion to Christianity”. The Egyptian Initiative called on “the Egyptian authorities to stop the process of deporting Abdel-Baqi Saeed and calls for his release and dropping of all charges against him”. RPE anticipates the same and expresses its concern about the sharp rise in forcible deportations against asylum seekers from Egypt and the violation of international covenants and treaties that protect the rights of refugees. RPE stands by the demands of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and asks the Egyptian authorities to stop the deportation of the Yemeni asylum-seeker, Abdel-Baqi Saeed, and to release him.
In light of the high rate of forced deportation which seems to have become a normal policy followed by the Egyptian authorities to suppress the movement and freedom of refugees and asylum seekers, the Refugees Platform in Egypt is deeply afraid for the life, freedom and safety of the twenty-one detainees in the event of their forcible return to Eritrea. It is almost certain that if they are forcibly returned to Asmara, they will face arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, torture and forced labour.
The Egyptian authorities must stop returning asylum seekers to countries where their safety is feared without a fair assessment of their asylum claims. The Egyptian authorities should also be transparent and disclose the numbers and data of asylum seekers detained in Egypt.
The Refugees Platform in Egypt calls on the Egyptian authorities to release detainees and stop plans for forcible deportations of asylum seekers. We urge the Egyptian authorities to abide by local laws and their international obligations towards irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.