Egyptian border guards arrested on Tuesday 20 people attempting to illegally emigrate from Egypt to Italy, the majority of whom are Syrians.
The arrested include 18 Syrians and 2 underage Egyptians, state-run MENA reported. The Syrians arrested are 10 males, 5 females and 3 children.
The group was arrested off the coast of Alexandria where they were waiting to board a boat that was set to smuggle them into Italy.
Toward the end of 2013, Egyptian authorities faced wide criticism for gross mistreatment of Syrian refugees in the country, including mass detentions and deportations.
In November, Human Rights Watch said in a report that out of 1,500 Syrians who were detained in Egypt, some 1,200 “were coerced to depart, including dozens who have returned to Syria”.
Most were arrested while attempting to illegally migrate by boat, and were held in police stations in Alexandria, Port Said and Beheira. They were charged with illegal migration, but even after charges were dropped and they were granted release orders, detainees remained in custody under orders from Homeland Security.
The report states that Egyptian authorities had pressured these detainees to sign declarations saying they were voluntarily leaving the country, threatening indefinite detention if they do not sign.
Eventually, some 200 detainees who did not leave Egypt were released in December. A report by the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights, released on 5 October, detailed the “extremely bad conditions” in which Syrian refugees were being detained.
Syrians have faced difficult times in Egypt since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi, which was followed by a stricter and less favourable interpretation of the laws governing the refugees’ residency in Egypt.
After entering its fourth year last month, the war in Syria has left over 150,000 dead, according to figures provided by Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on 1 April. The war has also forced over 2.7 million Syrians to find homes in neighbouring countries.
Inside Egypt, estimates by the foreign ministry in November indicate that some 320,000 Syrians have arrived in Egypt since the beginning of fighting in Syria.