Egypt: Halt plans to forcibly return Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, end unlawful detentions

The lives of three Syrian men will be put at grave risk if the Egyptian authorities follow through with plans to forcibly send them back to Syria, said Amnesty International. 

The three are among more than 140 refugees and asylum seekers, including 68 children – most of whom are from Syria – unlawfully detained at Rosetta Police Station in Beheira Governorate. They have been held at the police station since 14 April 2014, when Egyptian security forces arrested them after they abandoned a treacherous Mediterranean Sea crossing in an attempt to reach Europe. 

“Forcibly sending back refugees and asylum seekers who have sought safety in Egypt is a cruel betrayal of the authorities’ international obligation to offer protection to refugees. If any of them are returned to Syria their lives could be in grave danger,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International. 

“Instead of offering much-needed help and support to refugees and asylum seekers – including families and dozens of young children who have sought sanctuary in Egypt – the authorities have locked them up in a police station in deplorable conditions.”

The three men at risk of deportation were told by the Egyptian authorities on 24 April that they would be returned to Syria within 48 hours if they were not able to afford tickets back to either Lebanon, Turkey or Malaysia, where they had initially sought asylum.  

Any deportation of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers would blatantly violate Egypt’s responsibility to protect refugees.  

“Egypt must stop shirking its responsibility towards those seeking refuge in Egypt. The authorities have repeatedly displayed a chilling lack of compassion to the plight of refugees from Syria who often suffer routine discrimination and detention. Many of them have escaped the bloody conflict in Syria, only to face further misery in Egypt. They should be immediately released and granted access to asylum procedures,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. 

The majority of the refugees held at Rosetta Police Station are Syrian nationals and Palestinians who have fled from Syria. There is also one Sudanese and one Eritrean refugee among the group. A number of those detained, including two of the men at risk of expulsion, are registered with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. 

It is unclear how long the authorities intend to detain the group of refugees – initial “illegal immigration” charges against them were later dropped. 

They are being held in unhygienic conditions in a courtyard at the police station. Many of the children have also been unwell due to the harsh conditions faced on the boat before their arrest. 

There are currently more than 136,000 registered refugees from Syria in Egypt. Amnesty International has documented a number of cases of refugees attempting to cross by boat from Egypt and Turkey, among other countries, to countries in the European Union. Many have been subjected to ill-treatment and detention while attempting to seek safety and security.