The Egyptian authorities must immediately release and refrain from deporting at least 66 refugees from Syria and Gaza, including a number of children, who are unlawfully detained in the country, said Amnesty International.
The refugees are being detained in poor conditions with some held in rooms infested with cockroaches, mosquitos and mice.
The National Security Department within the Ministry of Interior has issued deportation orders against at least 64 of the refugees – who could be deported at any time – even though the Public Prosecutor office in Alexandria ordered their release.
They include 56 Palestinians threatened with being forcibly returned to Syria.
“By unlawfully detaining dozens of refugees and issuing them with deportation orders the Egyptian authorities have displayed a shocking level of indifference to their suffering,” said Hassiba hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“These are people who have had their lives devastated by the conflict and humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. The Egyptian authorities are cruelly flouting their international obligations and Egypt’s constitution to offer protection and sanctuary to those seeking refuge in their country.”
At least 150 refugees from Syria have been deported by the Egyptian authorities to Syria or other countries, including Lebanon and Turkey, so far this year, according to information available to Amnesty International.
The organisation is calling for all those detained by the Egyptian authorities on the basis that they are irregular migrants to be immediately released, as ordered by the Public Prosecutor.
Those under threat of being forcibly returned to Syria or Gaza are at particular risk of being killed by shelling or of arrest, torture or other ill-treatment. Under international refugee law, forcibly returning a refugee to a place where their lives are at risk is prohibited.
“That the Egyptian authorities could even consider returning refugees to the turbulent and bloody conflict in Syria is appalling. They are carelessly placing the lives of those seeking safety at grave risk,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
“Instead of detaining them like criminals and issuing deportation orders to wash their hands of the matter, the Egyptian authorities should be offering support and protection to refugees.”
The news of the deportations coincides with moves by Lebanon and Jordan to take a more hard-line stance on refugees from Syria. Both countries have tightened border restrictions for Syrians fleeing the conflict in recent months.
The 66 refugees at risk of deportation are being held in three locations: Karmouz police station in Alexandria, al-Anfoushy detention centre in al-Gomrok, Alexandria, and Cairo International Airport.
Karmouz police station, Alexandria
Those detained include a group of 56 Palestinian refugees from Syria. The majority of those detained are men but Amnesty International understands there are at least 15 women and 10 children, ranging in ages between eight months and 16-years-old. They were among a group of 104 refugees from Syria living in Turkey who in October paid smugglers to arrange a sea crossing to Italy. After a dispute over payment reportedly broke out between the smugglers, the refugees were left stranded on Nelson Island, 4 km north of Abu Qir, Alexandria. They were rescued and arrested by the Egyptian Navy after they called for help. The Public Prosecutor ordered their release on 5 November, but the National Security Department still issued them with deportation orders. They are at imminent risk of forcible return to Syria. Those detained at Karmouz police station also include five Palestinians (four men and one woman) who fled the Gaza Strip due to the difficult security and humanitarian situation there following the Israeli military operation in July and August 2014. Three were arrested by the Egyptian authorities while they were on their way to Alexandria from the Rafah Crossing, after they left Gaza. The other two, a young couple who had married in secret against the wishes of the bride’s parents, were arrested as they tried to board a boat bound for Europe. The Public Prosecution ordered their release on 31 October, however the National Security Department issued deportation orders for all five of them to Gaza. The couple fear they are at serious risk of being killed by the bride’s parents if they are forcibly returned to Gaza.
Anfoushy detention centre in al-Gomrok, Alexandria
There are at least three Palestinians from Syria including one 14-year-old boy unlawfully detained at Anfoushy detention centre in poor conditions. They were arrested in September after attempting to leave Egypt irregularly. The Prosecution ordered their release last month but the National Security Department ordered their deportation. “We do not have anyone here to help us, no government, no family and no friends… we are kept in horrible conditions, with insects and mice. What is our crime? What is the guilt of a 14-year-old child to be held in such horrible detention conditions?” one of those held said to Amnesty International. The three detainees are starting to suffer the effects of the unsanitary conditions, developing rashes as a result of poor hygiene.
Cairo International Airport
Two men who fled Syria are being held at Cairo International Airport’s arrivals hall where, according to information available to Amnesty International, they are regularly threatened with being deported back to Syria or Gaza at any time. They had fled Syria because of the armed conflict engulfing the country.