This letter earnestly requests a helping hand from appropriate bodies of the United States Congress, in stopping the forceful and involuntary deportation of Eritrean Refugees in Libya in direct transgression of Art 33 of the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees; and it calls for 4 pointed actions to that end.
Thank you for taking your time to read our plea for help on behalf of Eritrean Refugees in Libya. We are writing this letter to earnestly ask for you help in stopping the involuntary and forceful deportation of Eritrean Refugees in Libya.
The following paragraph is a statement of the Human Rights situation in Eritrea. It was prepared by the US Department of State, a country report on Eritrea.
"Several persons detained for evading national service died after harsh treatment. [I]ndividuals were severely beaten and killed during roundups of young men and women for national service. Security forces severely mistreated and beat army deserters, draft evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents and exit permits, and members of certain religious groups. [S]everal military conscripts died following such treatment. No known action was taken during the year to punish perpetrators of torture and abuse."
The Root Cause
We, as well as many Eritreans, understand that a blank rejection and evading of civic obligations should not be encouraged. However, rejection of extralegal slavery-like 'civil obligations' that include forced labor for unlimited time under abusive unpaid, and life threatening conditions; or rejection of degrading and humiliating ‘civil’ duties that include running private errands and monetary interests of army commanders and their families, should not be confused with evading.
Those are the root causes that made Eritrea, although a country of only three million, to be amongst the top refugee producing countries.
Considering the circumstances, we need to commend the peacefulness of many of the Eritrean refugees. Many of the young refugees, at one point, were forcefully conscripted, and thus armed; but when intolerably oppressed chose to lay their arms aside, and avoided a potential conflict at the cost of making themselves homeless refugees.
Being a refugee is not easy. It is leaving ones own family, leaving parents and loved ones behind. It is leaving ones own children for an indefinite period of time. It is leaving ones own home and country to become homeless and stateless. It is psychologically tormenting.
What is worse is leaving today's Eritrea; it is a very dangerous venture. It is crossing barbed wires of detention centers and military camps. It is being shot-at by sharp shooters, it is skipping landmines; and to those who got as far as Libya, it is miraculously surviving the heat strokes of the Sahara Desert.
As indicated in the introductory statement quoted from the report by US Department of State, there are those who do not make it in the process; and this is a common knowledge amongst would be refugees. Yet, the dream of freedom from slavery-like life and the pursuit of happiness make the risks involved worth taking.
The Current State of Affairs
Today, Eritrean refugees of strong-will risk their lives to achieve freedom daily, in hundreds a day. Today, as we write these letter there are tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees around the world. Some of us were lucky to get to the free world; but many were not that lucky, they live in refugee camps.
The most unfortunate of us, ended up in detention camps of other countries, Libya being a primary one. Today there are hundreds of Eritrean refugees in detention centers all over Libya. The worst is, however, the government of Libya is now a step away from sending them back to Eritrea.
Summary of our Plea
As we prepare this letter, there are 105 Eritrean Refugees detained in Shurma Detention Camp in Libya being prepared to be deported back to Eritrea. Amongst them are women and children. In the group there are those who were chosen by members of the Eritrean Embassy in Libya after a visit of the detention camps. Now, the Libyan government is arranging to send those refugees back to Eritrea.
In a similar incident in late 2002, when the Maltese government forcefully deported Eritrean Refugees, the refugees ended up being tortured, despite the assurances that were given to the UNHCR. Some lost their lives. Few of those deportees escaped out of Eritrea once more. They can attest this truth.
The difference with the current arrangement is that the Libyan government officials are forcing the refugees to sign a ‘Voluntary Repatriation Form’, while in detention. When the refugees refuse to sign, security officers of the government of Libya are resorting to beating them. The purpose is to produce a document under to show to the outside world.
When you inquire on this issue, as we hope you do, you may get a reply that all the refugees signed a ‘Voluntary Repatriation Form.’ Make no mistake, had they been asked independently none of the refugees would sign to go back to Eritrea, to suffer and to risk loss of life stated in the introduction. However, after being beaten mercilessly, even the ones with the strongest will are breaking up to relieve some immediate pain.
We believe you can exert your opposition to this and put an end to pain if you would consider the following action.
Our call for Action
Dear Senators and Representatives,
As members of the appropriate body of the United States Congress, we believe it is with in your authority, and we earnestly ask you:
1. to request the Libyan Government and UNHCR to immediately halt the proposed deportation. This is a major transgression of the basic human rights tenet regarding refugees as stated in article 33• of the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees to which the United States is signatory.
2. to please bring this matter to the discussions of your respective committee as well as to the United States Congress in general.
3. to ask you propose an Act by the United States Congress that effects ‘deportation of Eritreans back to Eritrea, specifically deportation of those who left the country in such a manner that would endanger them should constitute an human rights abuse’. This should be the natural outcome of the findings State Department as presented in the country report.
4. to ask you to use your good offices to help those refugees be resettled and be allowed to live a peaceful life elsewhere where they would be accepted.
Cost of Inaction
Failing to act, will result in the deportation of those Eritreans. This will definitely result in life threatening physical and psychological harm on the deportees.
Moreover, such deportation may have other far-reaching effects.
1. It will be a slap in the face to those who wage a peaceful fight for democracy against dictatorship. If this is how we react to those who reject oppression peacefully, and suffer quietly to avoid a potential conflict; why would one fight dictatorship peacefully? Or why would anyone fight it altogether? Not only in Eritrea but also everywhere in the world.
2. It might also lead up to radicalization of opinions of the deportees and their sympathizers. If we do not help such stateless refugees and those who are losing hope, the refugees may be left to search for other help. Such inaction will open a rather wide door for radicalization of opinions. It exposes refugees to be brainwashed by false alternatives.
3. Above all, failing to act will be doing injustice to our own true selves. We should not acquiesce in face of injustices that are about to happen, for injustice against one or against one group is injustice against all of us.
Dear Representatives and Senators,
We understand that these days congressional sessions are dominated by several agendas of high importance. We also understand that between the time you get to attend your daily pressing matters in the United States Congress on the one hand; and your responsibilities to your constituents on the other, our request will be additional work to take your precious time.
Still we have no doubts whatsoever that you will give due time and credence to the matter we presented to your attention.
God Bless us all !!