HRCE has been campaigning for the release and resettlement of the Eritrean refugees for the last three years. Currently, they are detained incommunicado, without visiting rights, and in inhumane conditions at Nagad Detention Centre in Djibouti. Most are deserters from forcible and indefinite national military conscription in Eritrea and several have been detained for as long as six years.
It is believed that the refugees are kept in detention by the Djibouti authorities because they are deemed a security threat due to the ongoing border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti. However, given the oppressive nature of the Eritrean Government, the refugees were almost certainly forcibly conscripted into the Eritrean army, and were seeking refuge in neighbouring Djibouti. The United Nations special rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, has deemed the human rights situation in Eritrea “unacceptable” and said “blatant disrespect for human rights in Eritrea is unacceptable”.
Ms. Keetharuth also visited the deserters, and has confirmed that many of the refugees would to return home should the government respect and ensure the human rights of its citizens. She also underscored that the return of Eritrean refugees is impossible without an end to the current “brutal and inhumane policies and practices” of the regime.
Until relatively recently many of the detainees in Djibouti had been suffering from diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, serious depression and various infections, and had not received treatment. Two are known to have died in custody from illnesses they picked up in prison, and due to the lack of medical care and inhospitable living conditions.
In an interview with the Geneva Centre, Elsa Chyrum reported that, “These people came to Djibouti to seek asylum from a brutal regime. The Government of Djibouti is signatory to the Geneva Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and the African Charter which states that such refugees are entitled to freedom from persecution, such as involuntary confinement, involuntary separation from their spouse, and being held incommunicado when one has committed no crime. It is unjust and inhumane to detain and deprive these forgotten people of liberty year after year”.
“We have tried lobbying the Djiboutian authorities to uphold their international obligations and release the Eritreans, granting them protection, but they have refused to listen. I now feel I have no choice but to protest in this way. These vulnerable Eritreans thought that they had escaped one prison only to find themselves in another”.
The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue stands with the HRCE in calling upon the Djiboutian Government to release these refugees as a matter of urgency and to provide them with the protection and dignity that international law rightly affords them.
Please share this article to call for the urgent release of these prisoners, and to raise awareness about those illegally and arbitrarily detained in inhumane conditions. Join the international community in applying and sustaining pressure on the Djiboutian Government to act in line with its humanitarian obligations.