Petition presented to the Djibouti Delegation attending the UN meeting in New York, concerning Eritreans detained in Djibouti
From the Executive Office of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees, New York, USA.
I present my regards to you and your delegation and take advantage of this opportunity to ask for the assistance of your government in regards to the Eritrean refugees and prisoners of war currently detained in Djibouti.
There are three groups of Eritreans in urgent need of your esteemed assistance. These groups are prisoners of war captured during the war in June 2008, Eritreans who have sought asylum in Djibouti after having deserted the Eritrean defence forces, and Eritrean civilians recognised as refugees and currently supported by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The mass exodus of Eritreans is a sad reality which has caused an influx of refugees across its neighbouring countries. Whilst we are grateful for the cooperation of Djiboutian authorities, who participated in the transfer of some asylum seekers into the care of UNHCR, we are aware that some 334 Eritreans who have been identified as army deserters are still being held in Nagad prison in difficult conditions. Given that your country has firsthand experience of belligerent and aggressive acts of the Eritrean government, you can imagine all the more the oppression to which the Eritrean people are subjected. As the age limit has now been raised to 65, young and old Eritreans must serve in the army in continued national service. Since the beginning of military service in 1994 around 550,000 men and women have been subjected to training and formation in the army.
As such, it is very unlikely that one could find an Eritrean who has not taken part in military service in some form or another. I would like to bring your attention to the plight of Eritreans in Nagad prison and in particular the concerns we have that they are kept together even though some of them are suffering from contagious diseases, including tuberculosis. We ask for your humanitarian intervention in order to secure their release from prison and transfer to UNHCR protection.
I would also ask for the mercy of your government towards prisoners of war captured during the border conflict. Unlike the pariah government of Eritrea which has, against international norms, continued to deny both the conflict in June 2008 and the deaths of prisoners amongst Djiboutian armed forces, your government has been kind enough to provide a written account of the incident and to report it to the Red Cross. These prisoners of war are, like many others enlisted in the army, unimportant to the Eritrean government, which has refused to recognise their existence. Whilst I have confidence in the government of Djibouti to conform to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, I ask you to go further in releasing these prisoners and allowing them to be recognised as part of the refugee population.
As in the past, my organisation is ready to help in any way possible. We have transferred refugees in neighbouring countries to Ethiopia, where the government has generously set up refugee camps for them. Aware of the burden that such a large number of refugees can cause on local resources, we would be grateful to your government if you would consider accepting the request of all Eritrean refugees who wish to be transferred to Ethiopia with the permission of the government. In Ethiopia, Eritrean refugees will be able to get help from their families who are already in the camps. Moreover, given that given that most refugees come from the highlands of Eritrea, they share cultural and religious links with the populations surrounding the refugee camps in Ethiopia.
I take this opportunity to renew to you the assurances of my highest consideration and to once again beg your government to address the plight of Eritrean refugees in Djibouti. The Eritrean people would be eternally grateful for the brotherly assistance given to them in the darkest hours of their history.
Mr Yebio Woldemariam, Ph.D
President of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees