Egyptian security forces on Tuesday foiled an attempt by Syrian and Palestinian refugees to emigrate from Alexandria to Italy by sea, killing two of the refugees.
Coastal guards opened fire on the boat, which was carrying at least one hundred refugees, leading to the death of two Palestinians on board - 30 year-old Omar Delol and 50 year-old Fadwa Taha - according to rights lawyer Mahinour El-Masry.
Others on the boat were arrested and detained in Alexandria's Karmouz police station. Hours later another group of 60 refugees were arrested from a café in Alexandria's Bahari district and moved to El-Montaza. The latter were also accused of planning to leave the country through illegal channels.
Over the past month, Egypt has witnessed a rapid increase in emigration attempts by Syrians and Palestinians residing in Egypt as a result of rising anti-forigners sentiments. Many have attempted to travel from Alexandria to Europe, mainly Italy, via the Mediterranean. Several of these attempts have been prevented by security forces, and a number of refugees have reportedly drowned in the process.
"There are 512 refugees currently being detained in Alexandria for attempting to emigrate illegally from Egypt," said Mahinour El-Masry, a human rights lawyer aiding Syrian and Palestinian refugees.
According to El-Masry, Syrian and Palestinian refugees are detained in different police stations in the coastal city.
"There are 107 refugees in Karmouz police station, 265 refugees in Montaza police station and 140 refugees in Abu Keer police station," El-Masry told Ahram Online.
"Unfortunately our police stations are not equipped to deal with this number of refugees, which includes women, children and the elderly, as well as those who are injured and sick. Sometimes women and children are transferred to the police station's mosque and prayer rooms," El-Masry added.
Groups of Syrian refugees have also attempted to emigrate illegally from Egypt's coastal Beheira governorate.
"There are currently two groups in detention for illegal emigration in Behaira; 64 refugees are being detained in Rashid police station and 45 refugees in Bourlus," El-Masry explained.
The human rights lawyer stated that most of the detainees are usually released by prosecution, but they face deportation to Turkey, Lebanon or Syria by order of security services.
UNHCR registered refugees, however, do not meet the same fate. According to El-Masry, a group of registered refugees, detained for illegal emigration in Alexandria, were simply returned to Cairo.
"The situation is worse for Palestinian refugees coming from Syria, as we do not have UNRWA in Egypt. Therefore, such refugees are deported to Lebanon and then back to Syria," said El-Masry, who added that the last group of Palestinians deported to Syria after arrival in Beirut, were arrested in Damascus international airport.
Palestinian refugees coming from Syria have frequently pleaded with the Palestinian embassy in Cairo for help.
The journey between Alexandria and Sicily in Italy takes about 12 to 14 days and costs between $2,000 and $4,000 per person. According to the UNHCR around 3,000 Syrian migrants have reached the Italian coast in recent weeks.
UNHCR estimates 4,600 Syrians have arrived in Italy by sea since 2013.
The majority have come from Egypt, the UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards stated in a press conference last week.
"Fundamentally, the outflow is a symptom of the conflict inside Syria on the one hand and the strains on asylum in the surrounding region," Edwards said.
"In Egypt we have seen changes in the environment over the last month or so, including tightened visa regulations, and this has resulted in some Syrians attempting to move on elsewhere," he added.
Italy is not the desired destination for most Syrian refugees. Many are on route to Sweden, the first country in the European Union to give Syrian refugees asylum and residence permits.
Several Syrian families, including the relatives of those currently detained in Alexandria and Beheira, are planning a protest in front of the Swedish embassy in Cairo to demand help and support for Syrian and Palestinian refugees.
According to the latest UNHCR numbers, there are 105,153 registered Syrian refugees in Egypt and a further 19,220 refugees still waiting to be registered.