CAIRO: Human rights groups are calling on the Egyptian authorities not to deport two recognized refugees back to Darfur, and to respect international obligations concerning refugees as Egypt prepares to take over chairmanship of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees’ (UNHCR) executive committee.
Amnesty International says that Mohamed Adam Abdallah and Ishaq Fadl Ahmed Dafa Allah were arrested in Sinai on Aug. 4, 2009 in Sheikh Zuwayed, Sinai. While the two men say that they had gone to the town to provide assistance to Sudanese refugees and asylum-seekers detained in police stations and prisons in the area, the Egyptian authorities allege that Abdallah and Dafa Allah were trying to illegally cross Egypt’s border into Israel.
Abdallah and Dafa Allah – both of whom have been granted formal refugee status – have been in detention since their arrest without charge.
“Neither Abdallah nor Dafa Allah have had any opportunity to consult a lawyer while in detention and to challenge the Egyptian authorities’ decision to deport them to Sudan, Amnesty International said in a statement issued April 9, 2010.
Dafa Allah is chairman of the Zaghawa Association in Egypt, an organization which provides language and training to refugees and asylum-seekers in Egypt and of which Abdallah is a member. The men are members of the Zaghawa ethnic community in the Sudanese area of Darfur.
According to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) – which has lodged a case against the deportation – both men have been in Egypt since 2005.
As refugees registered with the UNHCR, Dafa Allah and Abdallah are recognized as being at risk of persecution if returned to Sudan.
“By definition, a refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution, said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“To send that person back to a place where his life or freedom would be threatened is illegal and inhumane.
Reports of illegal deportations of people at risk of torture and fatal shootings of unarmed migrants on Egypt’s border with Israel have made Egypt’s treatment of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants the frequent target of criticism.
HRW points out that Hisham Badr, currently vice-chair of the UNHCR executive committee, is likely to assume the chairmanship during elections in October 2010, when members states customarily choose the vice-chair to take over the position.
Gasser Abdel-Razek, country director of the Africa and Middle and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA) group, told Daily News Egypt that Badr “should be putting all the pressure he can on government bodies, including security services, to ensure that Egypt is in conformity with its international law obligations.
Abdel-Razek pointed to the Universal Periodic Review recommendations accepted by Egypt in February at the United Nations Human Rights Council, two of which oblige Egypt to respect international legal obligations concerning refugees and to stop using deadly force against migrants on its border with Israel.
Egypt s violation of the most fundamental right of refugees – not to be forcibly returned to face persecution – is completely at odds with having an Egyptian diplomat hold this high-profile post in the UN agency tasked with the protection of refugees, Stork is quoted as saying in the HRW statement.