EU prevention policy puts Eritreans at risk of imprisonment, torture and death

Monday, February 27, 2017 — London - Despite mounting evidence of inhumane treatment faced by Eritreans, both within and outside Eritrea, the EU is doing all it can to prevent them from reaching its shores, says a new report published today by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

The report is based on hundreds of conversations and 106 in-depth testimonies from Eritreans who have fled their country. In MSF’s medical projects in Libya, Ethiopia and on its rescue boats in the Mediterranean, Eritreans arrive almost every day with wounds, heavy scarring and other medical conditions, including severe psychological illnesses, that are consistent with their testimonies.

Every Eritrean interviewed by MSF teams on its search and rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea reports being either a direct victim or a witness to severe levels of violence, as well as being held in captivity of some kind. More than half report having witnessed the deaths of fellow refugees, asylum seekers or migrants, most often as the result of violence.

Every Eritrean woman interviewed has either directly experienced or knows someone who has experienced sexual violence, including rape, often inflicted by multiple perpetrators.

It is illegal for Eritreans to leave the country without an exit visa, which are notoriously difficult to obtain. Those who are able to escape face extended periods in refugee camps in neighbouring Sudan and Ethiopia; physical, psychological and sexual violence; arbitrary detention and deportations in Libya; and dangerous sea crossings to Europe – a crossing which claimed the lives of at least 4,500 people in 2016 alone.

Rather than developing safe and legal routes for those seeking international protection, the EU is increasingly collaborating with Eritrea, Libya, Sudan and Ethiopia to prevent Eritreans from leaving Eritrea and transiting through these countries to reach Europe.

The EU’s attempts to stem migration through strengthening national borders and bolstering detention facilities outside its borders leave people no choice but to pay smugglers to get them past checkpoints, across borders, through fences, out of prisons and ultimately onto boats on the Mediterranean Sea.

Vickie Hawkins, MSF UK Executive Director: “It is vital that the UK government provides channels to safety for Eritreans, and indeed all people fleeing conflict and persecution. Efforts to manage migration should not externalise border controls to unsafe countries - wherever they may be.

"Given the UK Prime Minister’s commitment to lead a ‘truly global Britain which reaches beyond Europe’, the UK must lead by example in ensuring vulnerable people who are in need of asylum are able to seek it safely. MSF insists that people seeking protection must not be abandoned or left trapped in unsafe places, with no option but to risk their lives on a perilous journey.

"Containment is not the answer; UK policies should never trap or force people into danger. Appallingly, current policies do just that”.


Notes to editors

According to the Guardian, new guidance on Eritrea issued by the UK Home Office in 2015 resulted in the levels of grants of asylum to Eritreans plummeting from 85% to 60%. However, 87% of those refused under the new guidance had their refusals overturned by judges on appeal.

The full report, 'Dying to Reach Europe', is available as a pdf below.

Credit: Alessandro Penso / MSF Caption: 2015. Pozzallo. Italy. Anna, a doctor with MSF, checks the health of an Eritrean man during the arrival of 369 migrants on the search and rescue vessel the M.Y. Phoenix at the port of Pozzallo. Staff from the MSF team working at the CPSA (Centro di primo soccorso ed accoglienza – first reception centre) in Pozzallo provide medical and psychological care to those who have arrived.
Credit: Christophe Stramba-Badiali / MSF<br/>Caption: Bourbon Argos rescues in the Mediterranean (July-August 2015). Eritrean migrants on a boat in distress before being rescued by Medecins Sans Frontiers  and the Bourbon Argos. Two boats were found, carrying 700 people. According to the refugees, a third boat had left the Libyan coast along with them . This third boat could not be located by MSF. An Irish ship rescued people aboard the third boat the day after.
Credit: Gabriele François Casini / MSF<br/>Caption: Phoenix rescue 02 Sept 2015. A woman from Eritrea cries while holding her baby on the Phoenix’s lower deck. The journey people go through both on land and at sea is extremely traumatizing.
Credit: Gabriele François Casini / MSF<br/>Caption: Phoenix rescue 02 Sept 2015. An Eritrean woman singing a prayer with other women and children after being rescued 02 September 2015 by the MSF MY Phoenix search and rescue vessel at sea.
Credit: Gabriele François Casini / MSF Caption: Doctor Erna Rijnierse has a chat with an Eritrean man assisted on May 7th 2015. MY Phoenix search rescue and medical aid vessel jointly operated by MSF and MOAS successfully completed their second rescue of 2015. During the rescue 219 people were brought on board the MY Phoenix including 55 women (3 pregnant) and 33 children including 9 children under 5 and 2 babies of 3 month old and 1 year and four month. The majority of which were from Somalia and Syria. In the hours following the rescue the MSF triaged all patients and had consultations with those with medical issues.