GENEVA: Sudan is forcing Eritrean refugees to return to their home country, the U.N. said Friday, warning that their lives and liberty were at risk.
Some 74 Eritreans were forcibly sent back Monday to Eritrea through the eastern Laffa border crossing point, according to information provided by Sudanese authorities to the U.N. refugee agency.
"UNHCR is deeply concerned over recent forced returns, or refoulement, of Eritrean and other asylum seekers and refugees from Sudan," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said.
"We are concerned that their lives and freedom are at risk," she warned.
While Sudan has sent Eritreans back in the past, the size of the group and the fact that they were forced to return right after crossing into Sudan marked a new trend, she said.
UNHCR believes that the forced returns, as well as recent mass arrests of foreigners, was linked to a new act by the government requiring foreign nationals to legalize their residency.
Fleming underlined that under international refugee law, "no individual ... can be involuntarily returned to a country where he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution," she said.
Doing so amounts to "a serious violation" of international law, she said.
According to U.N. figures, some 4,000 Eritreans flee the country every month to escape brutal government repression.
Last week, the U.N. Human Rights Council launched an investigation into wide-ranging abuses reported in the country, including extrajudicial executions, torture and forced military conscription that can last decades.
Sudan counts some 160,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and South Sudan, according to UNHCR figures.