Abba Mussie – Egyptian Ambassador



Today, November 10, 2011 a meeting was held at the Egyptian Embassy to the Holy See, between  Aly Hamada MEKHEMAR, AMBASSADOR OF EGYPT TO THE HOLY SEE, Mr. Ahmad Raafat, Embassy’s second secretary, the Hon. Savino Pezzotta, President of the Italian Council for Refugees, and Fr. Mussie Zerai, Chairman of the Habeshia Agency. In the encounter, issues were raised concerning the Eritrean refugees in Egypt, including captivity in the Sinai, the trafficking of organs, and the deportatiion of Eritrean refugees, in violation to  the Geneva Convention of 1951 which protects the right of asylum, of which Egypt is a signatory.

Arrest and indefinite detention of Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees (already recognized by UNHCR office in Sudan and Ethiopia ) due to their illegal entry/exit of the country, was one of the requests presented to the Ambassador.

Even in the understandable right of Egypt to protect its borders and to halt individuals entering/exiting the country illegally, it is a duty of the GoE to guarantee the right of asylum to those individuals  requesting it,  as per Art  31 of  the 1951 Refugee Convention, which asks states not to penalize asylum seekers for their illegal entry. “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

Hundreds of asylum seekers arrested at the border with Sudan are kept in detention even in situations when the court suspends the sentence for illegal entry.

Requests of access to the UNHCR office in Cairo remain in the 99% of the cases without response since the government refuses to provide the access to individuals not yet registered with the UNHCR in Cairo . In this way, the government is preventing the  UNHCR from assessing the claims of those seeking asylum.


In the past weeks, 5 to 9 Eritrean nationals were deported to Eritrea against their will. Three of them are women and for one of them (she was detained in Qanater prison in Cairo), the UNHCR request of access was ignored for almost one year. Besides, there is a group of 118 Eritrean males, 26 Eritrean women and 4(or 5) children in Shellal military camp in Aswan . Their deportation process has already started.

The Immigration office in Aswan contacted the Eritrean embassy in Cairo which went to Shellal military camp. The Eritrean detainees have been registered and their pictures taken in order to prepare the travelling documents. The Egyptian authorities forced (beating them up) the captive Eritreans to sign the papers for their deportation. This despite the fact that around 100 of those currently held in Shellal have a UNHCR number either from Sudan or Ethiopia . against the principle of non refoulement.

Victim of trafficking:

In addition to the above mentioned points, it is necessary to highlight that a large number of Eritreans currently in the custody of the police stations, are victims of trafficking.

Men and women who arrive in Egypt are often the victim of a trafficking network which starts in Sudan and ends in Sinai at the border with Israel .

Eritreans are sold from smuggler to smuggler and held in captivity without being able to escape and trafficked in this way until they reach the Sinai Peninsula where they are often kept hostages of Bedouins requesting a ransom averaging US $25-30,000.

Those who cannot pay the amount face abuse (physical and sexual), violence and, according to the last information (yet to be confirmed), also exposed to the theft of their organs and killing.

Those rescued by the police and/or arrested at the border, often injured by the Bedouins and by the police are – often being hospitalized – held in detention in one of the police stations of Sinai and without access to the UNHCR.

Conditions at the police stations are very harsh, they have rarely access to doctors and the hygienic conditions are poor. Some of those detained in the police stations died of TB.

Vulnerable people, like women, children and injured persons are held in detention in police stations which are not suitable to assist individuals with such vulnerabilities.

In this context, it seems that at present the Egyptian anti- trafficking law is not applied and the necessary assistance and protection is not guaranteed.

Specific requests made by Fr. Mussie Zerai to the the Embassy: –

1. Immediately stop the deportations of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers.

2. Allow access to the UNHCR, in police stations or military camps where Eritreans refugees are detained .

3. Egyptian police, working together to identify, and arrest the traffickers and their accomplices, who receive the money in Cairo, result of blackmail.4. Make an agreement between the nations involved in this phenomenon of trafficking in human beings and organs, for a serious fight against these crimes.Fr. Mussie Zerai, has asked for a clear gesture by the Egyptian authorities to combat crime against humanity which is the trafficking of organs and persons.Ambassador, Her Excellency Mrs. Aly Hamada MEKHEMAR, has expressed his sorrow for the tragic situation they are facing many Eritreans held hostage by smugglers. He undertook to discuss with the Egyptian authorities responsible, to search for solution for all problems that have been brought to its attention.


Fr. Mussie Zerai


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