Eritrean Refugees and POWs in Djibouti

Elizabeth Chyrum, on behalf of Human Rights Concern Eritrea, visited Djibouti between 8th and 12th October 2012. While there, on 11th October, she was able to visit Eritrean detainees, refugees and prisoners of war with the assistance of Mr Ibrahim Rayaleh, Secretaire Executive of  ONARS, a national organization that assists refugees and two UNHCR members. She also met Mr Ismail Ibrahim Houmed, the Minister of the Interior.

There are over 300 military detainees in the Nagad Detention Centre in Djibouti. These are mostly deserters from the enforced military conscription in Eritrea. However, because there is a border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti, and these refugees have military training, they are treated as a military risk. 58 of these detainees are extremely ill. They are suffering from ear, nose and throat infections, as well as eye infections, high blood pressure, gastritis, asthma, kidney problems, back problems, skin and chest infections, swollen legs, heart conditions, hemorrhoids, tonsillitis and even mental health problems. The four who have mental health problems receive no medication. Conditions were so bad that some of the detainees looked barely human.

There were another 67 non-military Eritrean refugees in a separate refugee camp, and 19 Prisoners of War, one with serious mental health problem. The Eritrean regime does not acknowledge that Djibouti has Eritrean POWs even though they have been there for four years and four months, and their presence has been repeatedly brought to the notice of the Eritrean government by the Djibouti authorities.

During Ms Chyrum's visit on behalf of HRCE discussions were held in order to find lasting solutions to the problem of the detainees' health and resettlement needs. A safe country needs to be found for them as soon as possible.


During Elizabth Chyrum’s visit to Djibouti on a fact-finding mission for Human Rights Concern Eritrea, information was gathered on the Eritrean refugees who have been detained at Nagad Detention Centre, and HRCE   was able to confirm it during Ms Chyrum’s visit to Negad on 11/ 10/12 with two UNHCR staff members.

Mr Ukbit Weldehawariat  Habteselassie  was an Eritrean detainee who passed away recently due to medical negligence over several months  at Nagad detention centre. It is deplorable and very sad.

Currently there are four detainees who have been suffering from serious mental health problems. Some were given medication at some stage, but it was withdrawn, the reason given by UNHCR to HRCE was ’lack of budget’. UNHCR has been inhumanly neglectful.

The UNHCR Protection Officer who went to Negad Detention Centre told Ms Chyrum and the detainees that a Health Officer sent by UNHCR was visiting them on a weekly basis, and that this  had been reported to the Officer by a monitor. The detainees told the Officer that no one had been coming to see them for a long time; the UNHCR Protection Officer  did not believe them. They cannot all be lying, and why would they lie? (Ms Chyrum tried to obtain the UNHCR Protection Officer’s name, and repeatedly asked for her business card, but neither was obtained.)

The detainees talked about a UNHCR interne who was very caring and following up on their cases passionately, but could not confirm about other health officers sent by the UNHCR at least for a year.

A lack of compassion from the UNHCR has been observed by HRCE. Leaving detainees who suffer from tuberculosis without medication is beyond imagination and shocking. In some cases, medication was withdrawn before completion of the course (6 months) and, as a result, some have suffered lapses. Leaving TB patients without medication amongst other detainees is like condemning all to be infected, and this is also a serious act of negligence.

Haemorrhoids, ear/nose/throat/chest  and skin infections, heart disease, kidney disease, high  blood pressure, asthma and tonsillitis are just a few of the illnesses that go routinely untreated in the Centre.

The people in the Nagad Detention Centre are enforced military conscripts who fled from Eritrea and are now being treated as deserters; because they have military training they are perceived as a security risk while Djibouti is in the middle of a border dispute with Eritrea. They are, in fact, ordinary Eritreans in need of our help.

HRCE appeals to all Eritrean health professionals in diaspora to come to the aid of their fellow Eritreans by sparing some time and medicine to treat and cure these detainees before there are other deaths and more illness in the Detention Centre. If we wait for UNHCR to do what they have neglected to do so far, many more might die. HRCE appeals to the humanity of doctors and nurses everywhere, but primarily to the more fortunate Eritreans in diaspora not to forget their own people.

Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE)
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