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Eritrean dissidents deported back home

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afrol News, 10 October - There are increasing concerns surrounding the forced repatriation of dissident Eritreans back to Eritrea from Europe. Malta has now temporarily halted the deportations, after those arriving Eritrea had been arrested and held incommunicado. 

According to reports, up to 223 Eritreans were forcibly deported from Malta between 30 September and 3 October 2002. The Eritreans were said to have been immediately arrested on arrival in Asmara and taken to a military camp; detained and incommunicado. The Eritrean authorities have neither acknowledged the detentions nor revealed the whereabouts of the detainees to their families or the public. Further deportations are feared.

The deportees were among over 400 Eritreans who had arrived in Malta in March 2002 onwards. They were detained on arrival in Malt as well. About half applied for asylum in Malta but had their claims rejected. Some 50 have submitted an appeal to the Maltese Constitutional Court which has ordered the suspension of deportations orders against the claimants. Others did not apply for asylum, reportedly hoping to be able to proceed to another country. 

According to human rights groups, the situation in Eritrea can best be described as a "human rights crisis". Anyone deported to Eritrea who was suspected of opposition to the government or having evaded military service or deserted from the army would be arrested and possibly subjected to torture or ill-treatment.

Returned Eritrean dissidents may be detained for an indefinite period without charge or trial, without any protection against unlawful detention. If tried, they would face lengthy imprisonment or possibly the death penalty. Their relatives can also be detained on suspicion of assisting them to escape.

According to the dissident Sweden-based Popular Movement for Democracy in Eritrea and the UK-based Eritreans for Human & Democratic Rights, returned Eritrean refugees are "at risk of persecution in their home country." The groups say that: "in Eritrea, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and coercion have become so common that many are fleeing the country."

Amnesty International therefore today called on the Maltese government to "suspend deportations of Eritreans back to Eritrea until a thorough, independent investigation has been made as to their fate and an assessment made as to whether Eritreans can be forcibly returned in safety and in dignity, with full respect for their human rights." 

- The Maltese government should ensure that all returns of Eritreans take place in conditions of safety and dignity and that those deported will not be subjected to human rights violations on return, the group said in a statement today. Amnesty further urged the Maltese government "to ensure that police officers have clear instructions that no more force should be used in deporting a person than is reasonably necessary, in line with international standards." 

The group also had made an appeal to Eritrean President Issayas Afewerki that the returnees from Malta should not be ill-treated or arbitrarily detained as a result of conscientious objection to military service.

Earlier this year, the Italian government also forcibly had deported a group of Eritrean dissidents back to their home country. Eritrean refugees in southern Italy were thus "being held in detention centres where conditions are substandard," according to Eritrean dissident groups in Europe.

Sources: Based on Amnesty and afrol archives

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