An article entitled ‘Eritrea: News from Libya and UK’, http://asmarino.com/news/528-eritrea-news-from-libya-and-uk posted on Asmarino, Assenna and other Eritrean websites needs to be read in realistic terms. It would appear to state, as if it were something new, that UNHCR finally has access to detainees in Libyan detention centres; this is nothing new. They have had access to some of the prisons, such as Misrata, for years and to all the others for months. Access is not the issue, action, or the lack of action, is the real problem. If they have access, why do they not use their mandate to provide protection to the detainees, namely by taking the vital step of ensuring that all detainees are registered?
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) have been appealing for many months that the detainees be registered. While they are not registered, they have no rights and protection. It must be known to outside authorities that you actually exist. If you do not exist on paper, then anything can be done to you, especially in detention centres.
For example, the detainees who were sick with diseases as various as hepatitis and skin rashes were locked up together without treatment away from the rest of the detention population, and they are still there, unregistered, and untreated.
We only know about them through the bravery of those who dare to hide a communication apparatus, at risk of beatings or worse, to contact the outside world and inform them of this situation. Otherwise, without registration, and without surreptitious calls (another basic human right denied the detainees) how will we know what becomes of these sick and untreated detainees? And why, after being informed more than a month ago about these goings-on, has UNHCR done nothing, despite not one, not two, but three visits to Grabuli-2 prison? On the third visit, having previously talked to detainees who could not answer fully about conditions because they were under duress, UNHCR provided more than 200 registration forms to be filled in of which only about 70 were collected by their staff with no explanation given about the discrepancy between the known number of detainees, and the number of applications filled in. The 21 untreated detainees were not among them. This only proves that a) it is nothing new for UNHCR to visit detention centres and b) that they are doing nothing new, certainly not enough. We should not be patting them on the back for a job not done.
In Surnam prison, on the 3rd of January, 80 detainees refused to have their photos taken since this would certainly lead to deportation and worse; they were all beaten. One of them sustained serious head injuries which were immediately reported to UNHCR by HRCE and yet it was only four days ago, at the end of January, that this detainee was taken to hospital along with another seriously ill detainee. On their return, other detainees were beaten and food supplies cut off for a period as a reprisal for someone being brave enough to talk to a concerned outsider about what is really going on.
The detainees in Zawya, who are all female, and the detainees in Misrata and Zeleten, remain unregistered. They have been visited a few times by UNHCR officials, so why is it that they remain unregistered?
Registration has become a business in the detention centres and outside; those wishing to be registered at the UNHCR office in Tripoli, a process that requires application to be made on Sundays only, have to bribe Security guards outside the UNHCR compound just to get inside –this is still no guarantee that a registration will take place. There are even those outside the detention centres who are living in rented accommodation in groups who find themselves visited, as if by gangsters, to be forced and beaten, and otherwise harassed to give money so that they will not be arrested and sent to a detention centre. So, inside or outside the centre, corruption, intimidation, beatings and lack of healthcare, even food, is rife.
UNHCR is aware of all of this and yet it has not taken the basic, minimal step of ensuring that all Eritreans in the detention centres or outside are registered so that they can be provided with protection and so that they can be reported missing or dead when this is the case - no one is accountable to someone whose existence is not officially recorded. Invisible people, like the missing in all countries, are the easiest victims. UNHCR has the responsibility of ensuring registration of all detainees at all times – and if this does not take place despite up to three visits in a single month, what are VictimsEritrea-UK celebrating?
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
3 February 2010