Expelled Yemeni AUC student given provisional UNHCR protection pending asylum application

Expelled AUC student Najm Iryani will remain in Egypt and petition to be granted asylum after American University in Cairo (AUC) officials provoked controversy by raiding his dormitory, confiscating his passport and escorting him to board a flight they had booked for the Yemeni national to return to his home country.

The 21-year-old student was escorted by university security personnel to Cairo International Airport in the early hours of August 11 after the university terminated his enrolment for alleged violations of the terms of his scholarship.

From the airport, Iryani published a post on his personal Facebook page appealing for help, stating that he was being sent back to Yemen from Egypt “by force” and requesting that he be allowed to stay in the country in order to apply for asylum.

After the AUC Student Union (SU) communicated with university administration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the SU president picked Iryani up from the airport, according to a statement issued by the student body. Iryani tells Mada Masr that he then met with UNHCR representatives in Cairo on Sunday and was promised protection in Egypt while the agency reviews his application for asylum.

Iryani came to Egypt in September 2015 on a scholarship offered to students from the Middle East and North Africa, as part of the Tomorrow’s Leaders (TL) program, a joint initiative between the US State Department and AUC.

Iryani was expelled from the university in July, after AUC noted that he had violated terms of university student policies.

Accusations constituting a violation to the scholarship terms came to the university’s attention on July 9, after which the university took the decision to expel Iryani on July 15. Iryani submitted two appeals to challenge the decision on July 22 and July 26, he explains, but both appeals were rejected by July 29. The university purchased Iryani a ticket to Yemen that was scheduled to depart on August 24, which the student cancelled and refunded without notifying the university.

On Friday, AUC informed Iryani that he would be escorted to the airport to board a newly booked flight to Yemen at 5 am on Saturday. That afternoon, a police officer and six AUC security personnel entered his dorm room, Iryani tells Mada Masr, and confiscated his university-supplied laptop, passport and LE8,350 for what he was told was the cost of the ticket he had refunded.

After attempting to leave campus for lunch on Friday, Iryani was told that he must remain on university premises. At 1:30 am on Saturday, university security personnel arrived to escort him to the airport.

“When I refused, they told me they would report me to the police to arrest me if I did not go with them,” Iryani tells Mada Masr. “Security personnel accompanied me to the airport and managed to enter the airport with me, but I kept postponing the check-in. After I wrote the post, the AUC Student Union and UNHCR intervened to stop my deportation back to Yemen.”

In his Facebook post on Saturday, Iryani detailed the effects of the ongoing conflict in Yemen on his life and the possible danger he would face in returning.

“During the war, my sisters, mother and father all passed away,” Iryani wrote. “I have no one in Yemen and, as you all know, the war in Yemen is happening in front of everyone’s eyes and going back for me means having the same fate as my family.”

In the post, Iryani also published screenshots of an email he sent to the AUC administration on Saturday, in which he wrote that his cancellation of the first ticket bought for him was driven by his fear of returning to Yemen “to be killed.” In the email, he urged the administration to respond to his situation with “humanity.”

Shortly after Iryani published the post, the SU released its first statement on the case. “Upon negotiations with [AUC’s] Executive Director of the Security Office, Najm will not be deported and will be given some time to further discuss his case. The Student Union was assured by the Security Office that Najm would have a safe stay in Egypt until this issue is resolved,” it reads.

AUC spokesperson Rehab Saad confirms to Mada Masr on Saturday that Iryani had committed serious violations against the AUC student policies, leading to his expulsion from the university. “According to the contract signed with scholarship students, the university should return students to their country of origin when their scholarship ends or is terminated,” she explains, adding, however, that the university has no independent authority over individuals’ residence in or departure from Egypt.

“We did not deport the student. We care for our students,” Saad states. As a result of Iryani’s expulsion, “[AUC] had to take him to the airport to leave, but does not have authority [to force him to do so]. If the government wants to grant him asylum, it can, but we had to expel him.”

Iryani and representatives from the SU and AUC told Mada Masr that details of the violations that resulted in his expulsion are confidential.

Though the university has the right to terminate student scholarships in the case of a violation of the contract’s terms, it does not have the authority to forcibly return them to their countries of origin, according to a SU member, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity on Saturday.

In its second statement on the case, the SU condemned the AUC administration for “raiding the student’s dorm and forcefully demanding him to leave the country in such an offensive manner,” adding that “no one, other than governmental personnel, has the authority or right to deport anyone on Egyptian soil.”

“No matter what his mistakes were, he has the right to stay until his visa ends, even if he is no longer a student at the university,” the SU member tells Mada Masr. “Iryani has a special case, because he is from a country that has turned into a war zone that he cannot return to.”

Iryani tells Mada Masr that he does not remember signing a document stipulating he would be returned to Yemen in the case of violating his contract.

Mada Masr obtained a copy of the scholarship contract, which specifies that students on the TL program who do not reside in the program’s country of study at the time of application will be “required to exit the country of study within two weeks of graduation.” In the case of students unable to return to their country of origin, the contract states that students “will be given a ticket to a third country where they have family.” TL university staff are to accompany students to the airport following graduation, and students must return any university-sponsored residency permits to the university at that time, the contract adds.

The contract does not specify that students will be returned to their home country in the case of violating either the TL program or AUC student policies. It does state, however, that if the student has violated the TL program requirements, but not AUC’s student policies, the student may be dismissed from the scholarship program but can continue their studies at AUC, “with full responsibility for funding his/her education and any other costs previously covered by the TL program.”

*Note: This piece has been edited for clarity and accuracy since it was originally published.

Hadeer El-Mahdawy 

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