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Egypt: Authorities must end campaign of mass arrests and forced returns of Sudanese refugees

Egypt: Authorities must end campaign of mass arrests and forced returns of Sudanese refugees
Egypt: Authorities must end campaign of mass arrests and forced returns of Sudanese refugees

 


Egyptian authorities must immediately stop mass arbitrary arrests and illegal deportations of Sudanese refugees who had crossed the border into Egypt seeking refuge from the conflict in Sudan, Amnesty International said today, in a new report published ahead of World Refugee Day.

report, Handcuffed as Dangerous Criminals: The Arbitrary Detention and Forced Return of Sudanese Refugees in Egypt, reveals how Sudanese refugees are illegally rounded up and deported to Sudan, an active conflict zone with no due process or opportunity to seek asylum in flagrant violation of international law. Evidence shows that thousands of Sudanese refugees have been arbitrarily arrested and then collectively deported with the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimating that 3,000 people were deported to Sudan from Egypt in September 2023 alone.

It is unthinkable that Sudanese women, men and children fleeing armed conflict in their country and seeking safety across the border in Egypt are rounded up en masse and arbitrarily detained in deplorable and inhumane conditions before being illegally deported. said Sara Hashash, Deputy. Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

The Egyptian authorities must immediately put an end to this virulent campaign of mass arrests and collective deportations. They must respect their obligations under international human rights and refugee law to ensure those fleeing the conflict in Sudan safe and dignified passage to Egypt and unrestricted access to asylum procedures.

The Egyptian authorities must immediately put an end to this virulent campaign of mass arrests and collective deportations.

Sara Hashash, MENA Deputy Regional Director

For decades, Egypt was home to millions of Sudanese people who studied, worked, invested or received health care in the country, with Sudanese women and girls, as well as boys under 16 and men over 49 exempt from entry requirements. About 500,000 Sudanese refugees are estimated to have fled to Egypt following the outbreak of armed conflict in Sudan in April 2023. However, the following month, the Egyptian government introduced a visa entry requirement for all Sudanese nationals, leaving those fleeing without no choice but to escape through irregular border crossings.

The report documents in detail the ordeal of 27 Sudanese refugees who were arbitrarily detained with around 260 others between October 2023 and March 2024 by Egypt's Border Guard Forces operating under the Ministry of Defense, as well as police operating under the Ministry of Interior . It further documents how authorities forcibly returned around 800 Sudanese prisoners between January and March 2024, who were denied the opportunity to seek asylum, including access to UNHCR, or challenge deportation decisions.

Sudanese refugees detained in a makeshift detention center inside a military outpost in Egypt's Aswan governorate, which borders Sudan, await their forced return to Sudan, January 2024. Private
Sudanese refugees detained in a makeshift detention center inside a military outpost in Egypt's Aswan governorate, which borders Sudan, await their forced return to Sudan, January 2024. Private

The report is based on interviews with detained refugees, their relatives, community leaders, lawyers and a medical professional; as well as the review of official statements and documents and audio-visual evidence. Egypt's defense and interior ministries did not respond to Amnesty International's letters sharing its documentation and recommendations, while Egypt's National Human Rights Council, the national human rights institution, rejected the findings, claiming the authorities are complying with their obligations. their international

The surge in arrests and mass deportations followed a prime ministerial decree issued in August 2023 requiring foreign nationals in Egypt to regularize their status. This was accompanied by an increase in xenophobic and racist sentiments both online and in the media, as well as statements by government officials criticizing the economic burden of hosting millions of refugees.

It has also come against the backdrop of increased EU cooperation with Egypt on migration and border control, despite its dismal human rights record and well-documented abuses against migrants and refugees.

In October 2022, the EU and Egypt signed an €80 million cooperation agreement, which included building the capacity of the Egyptian Border Guard Force to curb irregular migration and human trafficking across the border with Egypt. The agreement aims to implement rights-based, protection-oriented and gender-sensitive approaches. However, Amnesty International's new report documents the involvement of Border Guard Forces in violations against Sudanese refugees.

A further aid and investment package, under which migration is a key pillar, was agreed in March 2024 as part of the newly announced strategic and comprehensive partnership between the EU and Egypt.

By cooperating with Egypt in the field of migration without rigorous human rights guarantees, the EU risks participating in human rights violations in Egypt.

Sara Hashash, MENA Deputy Regional Director

By cooperating with Egypt in the field of migration without rigorous human rights guarantees, the EU risks participating in human rights violations in Egypt. The EU should pressure the Egyptian authorities to adopt concrete measures to protect refugees and migrants, said Sara Hashash.

The EU should also conduct rigorous human rights risk assessments before implementing any cooperation on migration and establish independent monitoring mechanisms with clear human rights standards. Cooperation must be terminated or suspended immediately if there are risks or reports of abuse.

Arbitrary arrests from the streets and hospitals

Mass arrests occurred mainly in Greater Cairo (including Cairo and Giza) and border areas in Aswan province or within the city of Aswan. In Cairo and Giza, police have carried out mass stops and identity checks targeting individuals of color, spreading fear within the refugee community and leaving many afraid to leave their homes.

After arrest by police in Aswan, Sudanese refugees are transferred to police stations or the Central Security Forces camp, an unofficial detention site, in the Shallal region. Detainees from Border Guard Forces in Aswan province are held in makeshift detention facilities, including warehouses inside a military site in Abu Simbel and a horse stable inside another military site near Nagaa Al Karur, before being forced into buses and vans and be sent to the Sudanese border.

Conditions in these detention facilities are cruel and inhumane, with overcrowding, lack of access to toilets and sanitary facilities, substandard and inadequate food, and denial of adequate health care.

Amnesty International also documented the arrest of at least 14 refugees from public hospitals in Aswan, where they were being treated for serious injuries sustained in road accidents during their journeys from Sudan to Egypt. Authorities transferred them against medical advice and before they had fully recovered to detention, where they were forced to sleep on the floor after surgery.

Amira, a 32-year-old Sudanese woman who fled Khartoum with her mother was receiving treatment at a hospital in Aswan after a car accident on October 29, 2023 that left her with neck and back fractures. Nora, a relative of Amira, told the organization that doctors told her she would need three months of medical care, but after just 18 days the police transferred her to a police station in Aswan, where she was forced to sleep. on the ground for about 10. days.

Cold and rat-infested detention facilities before mass deportations

Amnesty International's Evidence Lab reviewed verified photos and videos from January 2024 of women and children sitting on dirty floors amid debris in a warehouse controlled by Egyptian border guards. Former detainees said warehouses were infested with rats and pigeons' nests, and detainees endured cold nights without adequate clothing or blankets. Conditions in the men's warehouse were overcrowded, with over a hundred men crammed together and limited access to overflowing toilets, forcing them to urinate into plastic bottles at night.

At least 11 children, some under the age of four, were detained with their mothers in these countries.

Sudanese refugees in makeshift detention center in Aswan, Egypt Private

Sudanese refugees in makeshift detention center in Aswan, Egypt Private

Israa, who has asthma, told Amnesty International that guards at the overcrowded horse stable near the village of Nagaa Al Karur ignored her request for an inhaler, even when she asked to buy one at her own expense.

After periods of detention ranging from several days to six weeks, police and border guard forces handcuffed the men and took all detainees to the Qustul-Ashkeet border crossing and handed them over to the Sudanese authorities, without individual risk assessments of serious violations of human rights if they were returned. None were given the opportunity to seek asylum even when they had registration appointments with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), were asked to speak with UNHCR, or pleaded not to be returned. Such forced returns violate Egypt's international obligations under human rights and refugee law, including the principle of non-refoulement.

Border Guard forces deported Ahmed, his wife and two-year-old child along with a group of about 200 detainees on February 26, 2024, after holding them for six days at the Abu Simbel military location.

Since the start of the conflict in Sudan, Egyptian authorities have failed to provide statistics or acknowledge their deportation policy.

Sources

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2/ https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2024/06/egypt-authorities-must-end-campaign-of-mass-arrests-and-forced-returns-of-sudanese-refugees/

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