UK paves way to return asylum seekers to Eritrea

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27 Aug 2015

The UK Government is paving the way to begin returning asylum seekers to Eritrea, despite the UN recently condemning the country’s government for ‘gross human rights violations’ which could be tantamount to ‘crimes against humanity’.

New statistics published today show there has been a dramatic rise in the number of Eritrean asylum applicants being refused refugee status in Britain. Between April and June this year, just 34% of decisions on Eritrean asylum claims were grants of protection, compared to 73% in the first quarter of 2015.

The drop has been attributed to new, flawed guidelines on Eritrea introduced by the Home Office. Since March 2015 these have been relied upon by civil servants when making decisions on asylum claims.

The Home Office’s updated Country Guidance Information is largely based on the findings of a report commissioned for the Danish Government in late 2014, which had suggested that the Eritrean government may be carrying out reforms that would allow Eritrean asylum seekers fleeing Eritrea’s abusive, indefinite national conscription program to be safely returned to the country.

However, the Danish government has subsequently distanced itself from the report following widespread condemnation including from the report’s only named source and human rights groups. The Danish government has since acknowledged that most Eritreans would still receive protection in Denmark.

The UK Government has also apparently failed to acknowledge the damning findings of a UN report released in June, which accused the Eritrean government of what could be tantamount to crimes against humanity.

The UN report strongly urges continued international protection for Eritrean refugees fleeing human rights violations, and warns against sending them back to danger in a country that punishes anyone who tries to leave without permission.

Despite the UN’s findings and the U-turn from the Danish government, the UK’s new guidelines remain unchanged and have led to a significant rise in the number of Eritreans in Britain faced with possible return to the tyrannical regime.

Refugee Council Chief Executive Maurice Wren said: "The cynicism of the Home Office in denying protection to Eritreans fleeing a regime accused by the UN only two months ago of systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations is truly shameful.

"The number seeking safety in Britain is small and entirely manageable, yet we slam the door in their faces by basing life and death decisions on dodgy, discredited reports which fly in the face of all credible evidence.

"If the Government is serious about protecting refugees, it must urgently change its guidelines to reflect the UN’s findings, and review immediately the cases of Eritreans who have been refused asylum since March on the basis of deeply flawed guidelines."

Eritreans are the only other group apart from Syrians eligible for relocation from the EU’s bordering states across the rest of Europe as they are deemed ‘persons in clear need of international protection’.

The UN estimates that thousands of Eritreans are fleeing the country every month, driven by the prospect of indefinite national service. Everyone from the age of 17 can be conscripted into the military, and UN investigators say "slavery-like practices" are widespread in Eritrea, with conscripts subjected to hard labour, with poor food, bad hygiene and wretched pay.

Most Eritreans are unable to get the visas they need to leave the country legally. Once they have fled, those who return risk being arrested as ‘traitors’. The UN documented some Eritrean returnees suffering detention years and being mistreated “to the point of torture”.

Eritreans form the third largest group of migrants risking their lives to reach safety crossing the Mediterranean after Syrians and Afghans. Eritreans are currently the top nationality of people seeking safety in Britain.