(London 07- 07- 2010) Eritrean refugees are facing insuperable difficulties including; rape and extortion at the hands of people smugglers who have woven themselves into local systems, and face extremely harsh situations when they are caught.
A report compiled by a Release Eritrea delegation that just returned from a visit of prisons in Egypt, where a number of Eritrean refugees are incarcerated, revealed a horrific array of abuse perpetrated against Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers who were caught up in the refugee crisis that has gripped the nation.
Many of the refugees that were visited by Release Eritrea had serious bullet wounds that were sustained when they were shot at by Egyptian police as they try to make the crossing across the Sinai Egyptian border into Israel. Once caught, it seems prisoners are regarded as ‘illegal combatants’ and taken to military prisons where treatment is extremely harsh. Medical care is rarely available even to those who have serious wounds. Where free medical care was made available through charities that Release Eritrea has been working with, access was denied due to the nature of the prison system that often leaves prisoners at the mercy of local prison wardens. Those in charge declared the prisoners must be treated at hospitals authorised by them, forcing the prisoners to find huge sums to pay for their treatment, or forgo it completely.
The report reveals that children as young as two are incarcerated alongside their parents and many others in extremely overcrowded cells, facing the same harsh conditions, shortage of food and medical treatment. Children seen by Release Eritrea were showing obvious signs of traumatisation and shock. Release Eritrea has identified that there may be up to 700 prisoners, if not more, across Egypt’s vast network of prisons and police station cells. In Sinai alone, there are right now on average 40-50 men and women incarcerated in each of the ten or more police stations, suffering from appalling conditions in vastly overcrowded cells. At one point, there were over 200 prisoners in one of the largest prisons near Cairo, although these have since been split up and relocated.
Whilst the local Eritrean community, in Egypt, tries to support prisoners, in conjunction with the wider Eritrean diaspora, this is proving to be a difficult task for the transient community that sustains itself on handouts from friends and family. Eritrean refugees in Egypt warn friends and families of would-be refugees in Eritrea against encouraging them to make the Sinai crossing into Israel; ‘This has now become an impossible crossing to make and many people are getting seriously injured or dying whilst making that crossing, please don’t encourage young people to make that crossing by paying for that trip’ said one refugee who has seen enough victims amongst Eritreans who continue to try and make the crossing into Israel despite the hazardous conditions.
Meanwhile the situation in Libya worsens; with alarming reports of the United Nations refugee agency being asked to cease operations, whilst Libya is threatening to send Eritrean refugees back to Eritrea where they face immediate imprisonment and torture. Release Eritrea is deeply concerned by the condition of Eritrean refugees in Libya and Egypt and urges the international community to take serious steps to safeguard the welfare of destitute Eritreans who are fleeing abject human rights abuse in their country.
Release Eritrea, was able to distribute medicine and food to refugees in several prisons across Egypt during the visit last month and is in the process of finalising a refugee support project due to be launched in September this year.
Release Eritrea is a charity based in the London UK