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Egypt must end arbitrary arrest of Syrians: HRW

HRW documents 'growing hostility to Syrians seeking refuge from the war', says tense political climate in Egypt 'no excuse' for arbitrary arrest and disregard of rights

Ahram Online , Thursday 25 Jul 2013
Syrian refugees at a UNHCR-run refugee camp (Photo: Reuters)
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Human Right Watch (HRW), a New York-based human rights organisation, issued a statement on Thursday accusing Egyptian authorities of arbitrarily arresting Syrians and threatening them with deportation.

"The authorities should release the Syrian detainees unless they are promptly charged with a valid offense, and not deport Syrians with visas or asylum seekers without their claims being impartially reviewed," read the statement.

According to HRW, Egyptian security forces arrested at least 27 Syrian men and nine Syrian boys at Cairo road checkpoints between 19 and 20 July. The detainees include registered asylum seekers and around nine visa or resident permit holders who have reportedly not been charged with any offense.

The statement adds that at least 14 of the detainees have been threatened with deportation to countries neighboring Syria.

Families of 16 detainees complained to HRW that the detainees were denied visits from either family or lawyers during the first three to four days of custody.

"Two of the detained boys called their uncle at about 2:30 p.m. on 21 July and told him they had been separated from the other members of the family with whom they had been travelling,"

"They said that Egyptian National Security was holding them, and that officials had told them they would be deported. They said that they had been blindfolded and handcuffed, and been given inadequate food," added the statement.

Since the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, many Syrians living in Egypt have complained of harassment due to media reports accusing them of involvement in pro-Morsi rallies and violent clashes.

HRW cited a statement by controversial TV anchor Tawfik Okasha, known for his pro-military stance, in which he gave "Syrians living in Egypt a 48-hour warning, telling them that the Egyptian people knew where they lived and that if Syrians did not stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood after 48 hours, the Egyptians would destroy their homes."

“There is growing hostility in Egypt to the Syrians who fled there seeking refuge from the war,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“But a tense political climate is no excuse for police and army officers to pull dozens of Syrian men and boys off of public transport and throw them in jail without regard for their rights,” she adds.

HRW emphasised that under international refugee and human rights law, the Egyptian government may not send anyone to a place where "their life or freedom is threatened, or where they risk torture or inhuman or degrading treatment."

"Before deporting anyone to Syria, Egyptian authorities should ensure that all asylum seekers from Syria have access to UNHCR, which under a 1954 agreement with Egypt conducts refugee status determination procedures in the country," added the statement.

There are 90,000 Syrian refugees registered or in the process of registering with UNHCR in Egypt. The unofficial number of Syrian refugees in the country could be as high as 250,000.

On 9 July, Egyptian authorities imposed new conditions for admission into the country, making visa and security clearances mandatory for Syrians after they were previously granted unconditional entrance under the deposed president.

However, on Monday, newly appointed foreign affairs minister Nabil Fahmy waived the visa fee for Syrians entering Egypt. 

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