The international human rights group Amnesty International accused Egypt Thursday of “unlawfully detaining and deporting hundreds of Syrian refugees, many of them women and children fleeing civil war at home.”
“Egypt should be helping Syrians get back on their feet, not hindering them at every turn,” Sherif Elsayed Ali, Amnesty’s head of refugee and migrants’ rights, said in a published statement.
Hundreds of refugees who fled Syria, including scores of children, many of them without their parents, face ongoing detention in poor conditions, or deportation, according to Amnesty, which said that during a visit to a police station in Alexandria last week it found approximately 40 refugees from Syria unlawfully and indefinitely detained there, including 10 children. The youngest of these were two one-year-old twins who had been held there since 17 September.
The human rights watchdog said the Egyptian navy has intercepted around 13 boats carrying refugees from Syria attempting to reach Europe.
Quoting the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, it added that 946 people have been arrested by Egyptian authorities while attempting the crossing and 724 — women, children and men — remain in detention.
Last week, Amnesty said 12 people drowned when a boat carrying refugees from Syria sank off the coast of Alexandria. Earlier in October more than 300 people, including several Syrians, died when their vessel capsized trying to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa.
“In one case a nine-year-old boy from Aleppo was arrested on a boat with a family friend. He was detained and denied access to his mother for four days,” Amnesty said.
Lawyers also told Amnesty that in at least two instances refugees were collectively deported to Damascus. “Sending refugees back to a bloody conflict zone is a serious violation of international law. Refugees who have fled are at an obvious risk of human rights abuses,” said Elsayed Ali.
Reacting to Amnesty’s statement, top Egyptian foreign ministry officials denied any exceptional measures or “systematic” policies hostile to Syrian refugees in Egypt, Al-Ahram Arabic news website reported.
Officials also said 300,000 Syrians were living in Egypt, underlining that it was impossible to say that they were subject to any kind of harassment.
They added that legal procedures were only taken against those suspected to be involved in crimes, or participating in Muslim Brotherhood protests.
Syrian and Palestinian refugees were accused by Egyptian media of being supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and being complicit in political violence in the country, following the ouster of Islamict president Mohamed Morsi in July.
Egyptian officials added that the state had the right to implement measures to ensure the security and stability of the country.
Egypt imposed in July new restrictions on Syrian nationals entering Egypt, requiring them to obtain visas and security clearance before they arrive. The decision came after a number of Syrians were alleged to be carrying weapons and appearing at pro-Morsi rallies.
By mid-October, the number of Syrian refugees in Egypt registered with UNHCR was 123,296.