Eritrean Refugees Caught Between Crisis at Home, Sudan Conflict

Some Eritreans are reportedly missing in Sudan, raising fears of kidnappings by Eritrean authorities or traffickers.

Nabil Mohamed* last heard from his friend, a fellow Eritrean, on April 19 in Kassala, a city in eastern Sudan near the Eritrean border. He was fleeing Sudan’s war-torn capital, Khartoum, to a refugee camp and to access aid from the United Nations.

Then he received an anxious call from his friend. “He said, ‘They grabbed me and took me off the bus.’ The line was then cut off,” he told Al Jazeera from Sudan.

“If he was in a refugee camp, then I would have heard news from him. But he’s not there.”

His friend could be among a number of Eritreans who have reportedly disappeared on the road to Kassala, raising fears that they have either been captured by Eritrea’s authoritarian government or by human traffickers after fleeing the fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Three Eritrean refugees told Al Jazeera that they lost contact with friends after their bus entered Kassala on April 19, May 1 and May 15. All have asked peers to search for them in refugee camps, but none has been found.

There are an estimated 126,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan, according to UN data, struggling to survive the conflict. They comprise 11 percent of the 1.1 million refugees in the country.

With the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) confining its assistance to Eritreans in camps in Kassala, many are being forced to choose between accessing aid in an area where they risked being kidnapped or relocating where help is not available.

“We are doing the best we can to work in the conditions that are prevailing in the country. I can’t speculate [about returns to Eritrea] because we have no confirmation of forced returns,” said Faith Kasina, a UNHCR spokesperson.

Vanessa Tsehaye, the executive director of One Day Seyoum, which advocates on behalf of Eritrean refugees worldwide, said, “There are different reasons why UNHCR should reconsider its response to the crisis. Obviously, we have the geographic location [of the camps,] which is not ideal considering the allegations of forced returns to Eritrea and that should be taken seriously.”

“If [UNHCR] doesn’t have confirmation that this is happening, then why risk [the safety of Eritreans] … if there is another chance of putting them elsewhere,” she added.

Source : Al Jazeera

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