Eritrea Accused of Forcibly Repatriating Civilians Caught up in Sudan Fighting

When fighting broke out between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group in Khartoum in mid-April, Eritrean brothers Abdel and Dahlak* said goodbye to each other in the Sudanese capital.

Dahlak, the younger of the two, had some savings, so could afford to flee the city on a bus with other Eritreans. He headed east towards refugee camps in the vicinity of Kassala, a town near the Eritrean border that is home to a large Eritrean community.

According to an Eritrean human rights activist based in Khartoum who asked to remain anonymous for their safety, Dahlak and the other Eritreans on the bus were turned away from the refugee camp. They were sent to an area called Gate 13 near the border, from where they were ordered by Eritrean security officials to cross into Eritrea.

What happened to Dahlak next remains a mystery.

Dahlak had deserted the Eritrean army and fled to Sudan a year and a half earlier from the northern Ethiopian region of Tigray, where he and thousands of other Eritrean troops had been sent to fight alongside Ethiopian forces during the federal government’s war against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Eritrea is one of the world’s most authoritarian states, and like thousands of young men before him, Dahlak had been forced to join the army under the country’s policy of universal, indefinite conscription.

“I am frightened about my little brother, we do not know what will happen to him,” his brother Abdel said. “I didn’t have money to go with my brother, otherwise I would have travelled with him.”

Abdel said he had tried to work out what happened to his brother by speaking to other Eritreans who boarded the evacuation bus from Khartoum, but they were too afraid to speak. Relatives in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, told Abdel that Dahlak had not returned to the family’s home there.

Sudanese stand in front of a cemetery near Altaka mountains in Kassala, Sudan
Sudanese stand in front of a cemetery near Altaka mountains in Kassala, Sudan. Photograph: Abdulmonam Eassa/Getty Images

According to the Eritrean human rights activist, Dahlak is one of more than 3,500 Eritreans who have been forcibly deported over the border to the town of Teseney in recent weeks. Among those allegedly deported, 95 were taken to a prison, including eight women, the activist said. Some of those detained were known political activists who opposed the regime of the Eritrean dictator, Isaias Afwerki, the activist said, but the majority were men who had escaped military service. The activist did not say if they knew what had happened to Dahlak.

The activist said they had been told by people at the United Nations refugee agency the UNHCR that some Eritreans were turned away from camps because the camps did not have enough food and lacked the resources to buy more food. The UNHCR has been contacted for comment.

“The Eritrean regime is brutal,” the activist said. “I am worried that some of them will disappear forever, especially those who had opinions on Afwerki.”

The majority of the Eritreans not taken to prison have been given permission to see their families in Asmara and in other cities, the activist said.

At least nine Eritreans are known to have died so far in the fighting in Khartoum and Khartoum North, which along with Omdurman make up a three-city agglomeration around the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers. Four died in crossfire in the Jabara neighbourhood, where the RSF leader, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, and other prominent figures have homes.

Sudan hosts about 1.1 million refugees in total, of whom about 80% are from South Sudan. An estimated 126,000 Eritrean refugees had made their home in Sudan before the outbreak of hostilities between the army and the RSF, of whom about 75,000 lived in the Khartoum metropolitan area.

Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees have long faced harassment in Sudan, including being arbitrarily detained and forced to pay security officials to secure their release.

Since the violence in Sudan started, many Eritreans have fled south, paying as much as $410 for a one-way ticket to Wau, a city in north-west South Sudan. Those in Khartoum who cannot afford the fare have been forced to stay put as violence rages around them.

* Names have been changed.

You’ve read 27 articles in the last year

Article counton

The free press is under attack from multiple forces. Media outlets are closing their doors, victims to a broken business model. In much of the world, journalism is morphing into propaganda, as governments dictate what can and can’t be printed. In the last year alone, hundreds of reporters have been killed or imprisoned for doing their jobs. The UN reports that 85% of the world’s population experienced a decline in press freedom in their country in recent years. 

Last week marked the 30th annual World Press Freedom Day, a day for everyone to reflect on the importance of free expression as fundamental for all other rights. It is also an opportunity to pledge support for independent media – because without a robust and free press, a healthy democracy is impossible.

As you’re joining us today from Indonesia, we hope you will consider marking this day by supporting the Guardian. Despite the financial challenges plaguing the media industry, we’ve decided to keep our journalism paywall-free, because we deeply believe everyone has the right to access high-quality, fact-checked reporting. And we maintain our independence thanks to generosity from readers all over the world, who understand that supporting the free press is an investment in an informed and empowered public. 

Unlike many others, we have no billionaire owner – this helps us maintain the freedom to  fearlessly chase the truth and report it with integrity. Your support will allow us to continue to work with trademark determination and passion to bring you journalism that’s always free from commercial or political interference. 

Source : The Guardian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *