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Rights groups condemn Egypt’s ongoing detention of refugees

Sixteen international and national rights groups released a statement on Tuesday demanding that Egypt release the refugees who have been detained without cause in the country. 

The statement specifically referred to the over 30 refugees who have been on hunger strike at the Karmouz Police Station in Alexandria. Signatories include the National Group for Human Rights, the Euro-Meditreanean Human Rights Network, the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies, the Palestinian League for Human Rights, Nazra for Feminist Studies, the International Refugee Rights Initiative, the Center for Refugee Solidarity, Al-Awda, The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. 

“Since the 9th of February 2015, 30 Syrian, Palestinian and Somalian refugees began a hunger strike to protest their indiscriminate arrest and their ongoing detainment after the Interior Ministry issued a decision to release them,” the statement asserted. 

The refugees began their hunger strike to protest “being trapped in Egypt for over 100 days.” The 74 Syrian, Palestinian-Syrian and Somali refugees were detained after smugglers left them in Egyptian waters during multiple attempts at illegal immigration via the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Of these refugees, 51 initially declared an open-ended hunger strike in a statement addressed to the UNHCR. 

Human rights lawyer Mahienour al-Massry told Mada Masr that the Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian refugees have been suffering from difficult circumstances in detainment.

She explained, “The Prosecutor General doesn’t issue orders to deport detained refugees, it’s National Security that has this authority.”

According to Massry, Egypt signed a treaty forbidding forceful extradition of refugees, “so they’re often detained and pressured into signing deportation requests.”

Tuesday’s statement added that since February 2015, the UN has registered more than 130,000 Syrian refugees entering Egypt.

In February, Abdallah Shehaby, one of the hunger-strikers who was detained over five months ago, told Mada Masr that the purpose of their hunger strike is to force the UNHCR to find a solution for them. 

He complained that representatives from the UNHCR have been purportedly visiting the group at Karmooz police station to collect information, “but without offering any solutions,” Shehaby said. “After months of detention, we’re yet to see any glimmer of hope for our situation.”

In response, the statement listed demands including the “immediate release of all detained refugees without charge despite the attorney general’s decision to release them,” “dropping all deportation orders against the refugees,” “lifting restrictions on obtaining Egyptian visas for Syrian citizens,” and “allowing the UNHCR to expand its services to include Palestinians.”