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(Beirut) – Jordanian authorities are about to deport  nine detained Eritrean refugees, including a 7-year-old girl, to Yemen where they risk indefinite detention and possibly deportation to persecution in Eritrea. Jordan should allow the group to remain in Jordan and give the United Nations refugee agency access to the refugees.

Jordanian authorities recently intercepted the group on its way from Yemen through Jordan to an unknown destination and intend to deport them to Yemen on a 9:30 p.m. flight on May 15, 2012. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which has confirmed it has already recognised all nine as refugees in the past, has been unable to convince the authorities to allow the group to remain in Jordan.

“Jordan should protect these Eritrean refugees from persecution, and that means not returning them to indefinite detention in Yemen,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program director at Human Rights Watch.

The Yemeni government has a poor record of protecting Eritreans arriving in Yemen in recent years, Human Rights Watch said. Although the country hosts almost 1,000 registered Eritrean refugees who were recognized as such many years ago, more recently it hasarrested and indefinitely detained Eritreans as soon as they arrive by boat on Yemen’s southern shores.

UNHCRhas been unable to secure the release of hundreds of detained Eritreans in Yemen, with only a handful allowed to resettle in third countries.

Although there are no recent cases of deportation from Yemen to Eritrea, Yemeni authorities have recently allowed airlines to transit through its capital, Sana, on the way to Eritrea with Eritrean deportees on board.  Human Rights Watch said that if deported to Eritrea, the group would be at serious risk of persecution.

Eritrea’s extremely repressive government requires all citizens under 50 to serve in the military indefinitely. Anyone of draft age leaving the country without permission is branded a deserter, risking five years in prison, often in inhumane conditions, as well as forced labor and torture. UNHCR considers that, in practice, the punishment for desertion or evasion is so severe and disproportionate in Eritrea that it constitutes persecution.

No international agencies in Eritrea, including UNHCR, have been able to monitor the treatment of Eritreans once they are returned to Eritrea. However, Eritrean refugees in various countries have told Human Rights Watch that Eritreans forcibly returned to their country are routinely detained and mistreated in detention.

UNHCR’s official Guidelines to States on the protection needs of Eritrean asylum seekers state that “[i]ndividuals of draft age who left Eritrea illegally may be perceived as draft evaders upon return, irrespective of whether they have completed active national service or have been demobilized,” and that “[t]he punishment for desertion or evasion is so severe and disproportionate such as to amount to persecution.”

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