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UPDATE: Egypt security forces begin to release detained Syrian refugees

After over 60 days detention, Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian refugees given three-month tourist permits to remain in Egypt

Ahram Online , Tuesday 10 Dec 2013
Syrian refugees
(Photo: AP)
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Over 100 Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian refugees in detention for more than 60 days in Alexandria and Behaira have been released and given three-month permits to remain in Egypt.

The refugees had been arrested at different times between July and August while attempting to escape from Egypt to Europe by boat.

On Monday, however, the refugees were released by the Interior Ministry and transferred to security directorates in Alexandria and Behaira to receive three-month tourist permits, human rights activists and news sources reported Tuesday.

A UNHCR regional representative said he appreciates the role played by the Egyptian government in releasing the refugees.

"We want to thank the Egyptian government represented in the ministry of interior and ministry of foreign affairs for what they had done," Ambassador Mohamed Dayri told Ahram Online.

"The ministry of education and the local development ministry are now trying to help the Syrian refugees," he added.

According to Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdel Atti, 750,000 Syrians are residing in Egypt, including 350,000 who arrived since March 2011.

Nidal, a Syrian-Palestinian refugee who was a part of the Behaira group, expressed his dissatisfaction that they were given permits for tourists and not residency.

"We do not know what to do, especially about our children," the father of four told Ahram Online. "Students need to join schools and university. They've already missed a year."

Nidal had been arrested while en route to a boat in Behaira that would have helped his group illegally migrate to Europe.

They were detained in Behaira for over two months. Last month, many of the refugees in Behaira began a hunger strike in protest of their conditions, demanding to be released and granted asylum in a European country.

Nidal said that despite his group's legal release, conditions in the prisons had been deplorable. Over 20 child refugees had suffered from illnesses, including skin diseases, while in detention.

Monday's release did not include all of the refugees, however. Nidal said that families and the elderly were let go, but that single young men, including two who were studying in Egyptian universities, still remain in detention in Alexandria and Behaira.

He said that five refugees remain in Behaira, and "not less than 25" are still in Alexandria.

The Palestinian Embassy in Cairo has announced that it is working towards the release of the remaining refugees. Also, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has said that it is working with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministry to follow the status of both the released refugees and those still in detention.

Hundreds of Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian refugees in Egypt have been forced to flee the country since July, after a media campaign portrayed them as violent supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some of have been deported to Syria and Turkey. Many have been arrested. According to the UNHCR, 208 Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian refugees have been detained in Alexandria, Behaira and Port Said since late November.

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