Refugees assaulted in detention
Ministry of Interior said these were “allegations” and dismissed them
An assault was carried out against Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Karmooz Police Station on Saturday night.
The Revolutionary Socialists reported on its official page that “policemen assaulted refugees” inside the police station. It also published pictures of several pictures of refugees with bruises on their bodies from the assault.
Taher El-Mokhtar, a board member of the Doctors’ Syndicate in Alexandria and a member of Refugees’ Solidarity Movement took the pictures that were published by the Revolutionary Socialists. He and others reached the police station after the assault took place. Around eight or nine were assaulted but only three had visible marks on their bodies, El-Mokhtar said, adding that none had serious injuries.
El-Mokhtar said at first he was not allowed to talk to the refugees or see them. “But we insisted, so they let us see them, without talking to them,” he said.
Afterwards he learned that the detained refugees were moved from Karmooz to El-Dekheila Police Station because a team from the prosecution was coming to inspect Karmooz Police Station. All places of detention within the country are under the prosecution’s supervision.
El-Mokhtar said the team of prosecutors was coming to inspect the police station based on complaints filed by lawyers in the Refugees’ Solidarity Movement. After the inspection, they were moved back to Karmooz station but the police station refused to take them back and the refugees were kept for hours waiting, he says. El-Mokhtar said the assault finally took place in the evening in a yard inside the police station.
Ministry of Interior Spokesman Hany Abdel Latif called the reports of the assault “completely unfounded,” describing them as “allegations”.
According to Abdel Latif, the refugees had entered Egypt on one-month tourist visas, then tried to illegally emigrate by boat to Greece, Italy or other destinations. The refugees pay a hefty sum to smugglers to be allowed on these boats, said Abdel Latif, with some making it to shore while others drown. The refugees in detention were arrested while still in Egyptian territory for illegal immigration, a violation of Egyptian law.
Abdel Latif admits that the charges against them were dropped but says they are still kept in detention until they “buy their tickets out of the country.” Abdel Latif said they are not held in the same places as “thieves” but special places are designated for them.
But the chief of Karmooz Police Station has told Human Rights Watch that “police stations had not received any funding to provide refugees with sufficient food, clothing, medicine, or other basic necessities like blankets, diapers, or baby formula,” according to a report released on 11 November. The detainees had to sleep on the floor inside the police station and several children fell ill due to lack of sanitation and lack of natural lighting, the report said.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Badr Abdelatty told state-run Ahram on Sunday that there are allegations by international organisations and Western media regarding the detention of Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as allegations of refugees starting hunger strikes. He added that he was surprised that Western media focused on 250 to 300 who are detained for violating Egyptian law.
Dozens of Syrian and Palestinian refugees started a hunger strike in Montaza Police Station, also in Alexandria on Friday. They were also arrested for attempting “irregular departure” of Egypt. State-run Ahram reported that dozens of refugees in Karmooz station also started a hunger strike on Sunday.
Human Rights Watch’s report said that around 1,200 refugees from Syria were coerced to depart back to Syria, adding that as of 4 November, 300 remained arbitrarily detained. It also cited the UN Refugee Agency as saying that fewer than 10% of refugees are ever released back into society.
Two days after the report was released, the Foreign Ministry described the report as “wholly inaccurate” and said it “deliberately implied” that the refugees suffer difficult conditions, describing this as “incorrect.”
It had also denied in October any mistreatment of Syrian refugees in response to an Amnesty International report detailing the detention and deportation of refugees.
The number of Syrians in Egypt according to government figures is 700,000, of which 320,000 are said to be refugees who came to Egypt since the onset of the Syrian crisis in 2011. But the number provided by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is 126,000 persons of concern.
While the majority of refugees coming from Syria are Syrians, there are also 6,000 Palestinians, many of whom have Syrian travel documents.