Report by: Salih Amar
On Tuesday, August 29, 2017, the Sudanese authorities deported 30 Eritreans back to Eritrea. Dozens of others await same fate in a few weeks in the biggest wave of recent deportations of Eritreans from Sudan.
The move comes as the result of a decision made by Judge al-Sadig Abdelrhaman al- Faki of Kassala Court on August, 28 2017. The decision was made against 66 Eritreans whom had been imprisioned two months and subsequently deported on charges of illegal entry to the country.
A Sudanese army force arrested 66 Eritreans (including 35 women) early in July 2017 during a raid on a smugglers’ camp, south of the state of Kassala in Wadbao forest in Wadhelo locality. The group was later transferred to the Kassala prison. Amongst the Eritreans who were charged, 30 are between 14 and 17 years of age, and according to a reliable source, the children were received by the immigration police and were forcibly returned to Eritrea the next day of their trial through the Allafa 13 crossing, which links the two countries. The remaining 36 will be deported after they serve their two month prison sentence, which begins on July 16 and ends mid September 2017.
Upon their return, the deportees face imprisonment and conscription.
A young Eritrean man that was deported from Sudan to Eritrea in late 2016 told the story of his escape: ” I was deported by a court order along with 50 other Eritreans after we were arrested by the Sudanese police as we attempted to emigrate to Libya…We were put in prison for days and I was lucky for I was not interrogated as they focused on the elder and as for us, the younger men, we were sent to a military training camp for six months and then taken to a military base facing the Ethiopian Army”.
The Eritrean authorities seem to have changed their policy towards those who have fled military service in recent months, as they are now only incarcerated for a short term and ultimately sent back to military training camps and fighting fronts. In the past the punishment for those escaping was prison for many long years as experienced by Samuel, who stated that “after I was arrested when I attempted to escape to Sudan, I was imprisoned for three years with hard labor and then I was placed back in military service”
Observers link the easing of punishment of those forcibly returned to Eritrea to international pressures from Western countries and the authorities inability to control all of their borders and prevent individuals from leaving the country. However to those deported back to Eritrea, the easing of restrictions doesn’t hold much value as the return to Eritrea is “hell itself”. One eyewitness from inside the courtroom in Kassala described that the children who were sentenced to deportation were “hysterically crying” as they left the court.
Observers believe that the group deported is a victim of the evolving relations between Eritrean security forces in the state of Kassala that have strong ties with the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and the intelligence apparatus of the western sector of Eritrea. The Sudan Media Center (SMC) reported on a meeting between the state governor of Kassala Adam Jamah and the head of intelligence of the western sector of Eritrea stressing the “importance of coordination in following up border issues and combating negative phenomena and transnational crimes, specifically human trafficking/ smuggling and trafficking of goods”.
A source from the state of Kassala revealed that the state governor (who is related to Muhammad Hamdan Daglo, (aka Hametti) commander of the Rapid Support Forces-RSF-) strongly supported the decision of the court to deport the 66 Eritreans albeit the opposition of some judges to the decision and their recommendation to have the group transferred to the refugee camps. The source added that “the governor used the help of the Commission of Refugees ( COR), which operates under the management of Sudan Police, to issue a letter stripping the deported group of their refugee status under the premise that their cases don’t qualify for such status”
According to an eyewitness, the Eritreans were tried after being divided into five groups; “the trial of each group didn’t exceed a few minutes as the verdict was already prepared and the judge ruled by virtue of the Sudanese Passport Act of 2015 which gives the judge the power to fine, imprison and/or deport anyone accused of illegal entry….A lawyer volunteered for the defense along with a translator, but that didn’t change the outcome of the court proceedings”.
Several sources confirm that the Sudanese government has deported large numbers of Eritreans and Ethiopians back to their country in the past few years without presenting them with the opportunity to defend themselves. A Sudanese lawyer who spent years representing Eritreans in courtrooms stated that “prison and deportation sentences are handed down by judges under Article 30 of Sudan’s Immigration and Passport Act of 1994 who often treat the defendants as criminals, rather than transferring them to refugee camps to examine their asylum/refugee requests…And too often security forces resort to conducting the trials away from the eyes of lawyers and the media, employing tactics such as holding trials at 7 a.m. and/ or transferring the cases to courts in the peripheries”.
The Eritrean refugees face serious challenges in Sudan. On one hand the police forces organize campaigns against them under the auspices of “controlling the presence of foreigners”; on another, human trafficking rings operate heavily in their areas of residence. On July 3, gunmen kidnapped 20 asylum- seeking Eritreans from inside the police station in Wad Sherifi camp near the city of Kassala.
The European Union decided to grant Sudan $ 100 million of the 1.2 billion it has allocated to help a number of countries to confront the challenges of migration, along with various aid packages received by the Government of Sudan for the same purpose. Albeit this, the Government of Sudan protests that “it doesn’t collect the price” for opening its borders to immigrants and refugees.
Eritrean refugees voice harsh criticism towards the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) for its silence and weakness in protecting them, as no commentary or clarification was provided by the Agency in regards to the incident of deportation of Eritreans in Kassala. In August 2017 Mr. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visited Sudan and called for “the international community to increase its support to Sudan” but evaded speaking on the issues and violations endured by refugees in the country.
Between “extortion and violations” by the hands of the Sudanese authorities, activities of human trafficking rings and the international silence towards the ongoing incidents of deportations of refugees from Sudan back to their countries, thousands of forgotten Eritreans live in Sudan on hopes that the world will eventually remember them. The most difficult moments indeed are those lived by the 36 Eritreans in Kassala city prison awaiting their deportation in two weeks back to the country they fled in quest of peace and freedom.