Syrian refugees detained in Egyptian police stations launch hunger strike

Zeinab El Gundy , Friday 29 Nov 2013

208 Syrian refugees are currently being detained in Egyptian police stations after trying to cross the Mediterranean illegally

Syrian refugees
Syrian refugees in Egypt (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Dozens of Syrian refugees detained in Alexandria for trying to cross the Mediterranean on makeshift boats are continuing a hunger strike in protest at their treatment.

On Wednesday, the fifth day of their hunger strike, five of the refugees were hospitalised, but the group are adamant that the protest will continue.

“We started a hunger strike to try to send a message to the world and international organisations, including the UN refugee body (UNHCR). We want to be resettled in another country, in Europe,” a Syrian refugee on hunger strike at a police station in Alexandria told Ahram Online.

The 52 Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian refugees currently on hunger strike at Monataza police station in Alexandria were detained for attempting to migrate illegally from Egypt.

Most of them have been at the police station for nearly 70 days, although the general prosecution has ordered their release. Syrian activists in Egypt say that the matter is in the hands of the national security apparatus. 

“We tried to leave Egypt, risking our lives on the sea in order to reach a safe place in Europe,” said the refugee, who preferred to remain anonymous.

“Do not get me wrong; I came here in March 2013 and I was treated well by the Egyptian people. But conditions are hard,” he said.

“I used to work 12 hours per day to get LE1,000 per month, and I pay LE800 for my rent. Luckily I came from Syria with my wife only. We do not have children. Then the 30 June protests [against then-president Mohamed Morsi] happened and people began to accuse us, sometimes of being Muslim Brotherhood supporters and sometimes of being army supporters.”

“I have friends who have managed to get to Europe through illegal migration and they are treated well. They have even received full political asylum,” he said.

In neighbouring Beheira governorate, another group of Syrian refugees detained in Idku police station for more than two months for the same reason have also started a hunger strike.

“Our main aim is to make our voices heard by the UN and the EU, especially Sweden, which promised to resettle 200 Syrian refugees detained in Egypt. We want the international community to help us,” said Nadal, a Syrian refugee detained in the police station.

The 32 refugees who are detained in Idku include 20 children.

In recent weeks Swedish Immigration Minister Tobias Billstroem reportedly said that Sweden was ready to resettle 200 of the detained refugees.

“The statements of the Swedish minister were misunderstood by Syrian refugees. They were not official statements -- we checked with the Swedish embassy in Cairo,” Ambassador Mohamed Dayri, UNHCR regional representative, told Ahram Online.

“The Swedish minister was emotionally moved after hearing about the conditions of the Syrian refugees detained in Egypt. He said that if they were facing problems then we are ready to host them; but it was not an official decision," Dayri added.

“If Sweden issued an official decision to resettle 200 of the refugees, UNHCR would implement it immediately,” the official added. “Still, that statement raised the bar for many Syrian refugees in Egypt who came to our offices in Cairo asking to move to Sweden.”

In October 2013, Sweden said it would offer permanent residency to Syrian refugees.

"The security forces in Egypt tell me that they will return me and my family to Syria. To where exactly? There is war and already our house is destroyed," Nidal told Ahram Online.

Since July, hundreds of Syrians, including those arrested for attempt to migrate illegally, have been deported back to Syria from Egypt, or sent to other countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.

“We are treated well by the police officers and conscripts. But we have been here for more than two months but our conditions are extremely bad,” Joumana, another refugee detained at Idku, told Ahram Online.

“All the women and children are in a tent in an open space inside the police station, while the men are sleeping inside one of the rooms in the police station. For over 60 days we have been suffering, waiting for deportation,” she said.

“Now we cannot stay in the tent as there is rain and it is leaking. There are also insects like mosquitoes and fleas,” she said.

According to the UNHCR, there are 208 Syrian refugees, and Palestinian refugees from Syria, detained in Port Said, Alexandria and Beheira for attempting to migrate illegally.

The UN has registered a total of 128,158 Syrian refugees in Egypt, but it is thought the real number is much higher.

Since the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi in July, Syrian refugees have been the victims of a wave of xenophobia, after being accused in the media of supporting Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

The backlash extended to official status of Syrian refugees, who are now required to obtain an entry visa and security clearance prior to their travel to Egypt.

Several human rights organisations have voiced their concern about the treatment of Syrian refugees in Egypt.


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