A government decision to release refugees from Syria being detained was issued on Sunday.
The refugees have yet to be released but Alexandria based lawyer Mahienour El-Massry, who has been working closely with refugees, said procedures for their release are being finalised, adding that she expects their release within the next few days.
Ministry of Interior spokesperson Hany Abdel Latif said “these are not refugees; they entered the country on tourist visas and attempted to leave illegally.” He further stated that they are not detainees but “residents” who are provided with food, medical follow up and a place to stay. Abdel-Latif added that 52 are being held in Al-Montaza Police Station in Alexandria.
These 52 started a hunger strike on 22 November. Teddy Leposky, spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said at the time that their strike concerned “the issues of prolonged detention and the conditions [in which] they’re being held” which he said “are of grave concern.”
One day later, reports surfaced of an assault on refugees inside Karmooz Police Station. Taher El-Mokhtar, a board member of the Doctors’ Syndicate in Alexandria and a member of Refugees’ Solidarity Movement reached the police station after the assault took place and said several refugees had visible marks on their body from the assault, but added that none of the injuries were serious.
Egyptian authorities have been widely criticised for gross mistreatment of Syrian refugees in the country, including mass detentions and deportations. Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights and Amnesty International have all released reports highlighting the plight of refugees in Egypt.
Refugees from Syria began facing tough times in Egypt after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in July. Morsi’s ouster was followed by media reports linking Syrians to Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins that were being held in support of Morsi.
In addition to a less welcoming society, lawyer Mohamed Farouk from the Arab Network for Human Rights Information said Morsi’s ouster was also followed by a stricter and less favourable interpretation of the laws governing the refugees residency in Egypt.
Farouk said that under Morsi refugees were allowed to stay without renewing their residencies, so by the time Morsi was ousted, most refugees’ residencies had expired.
Farouk said detained refugees are being held in “administrative detention” until Homeland Security decides whether they will be released from detention or forcibly deported the country.
As of 11 November, Human Rights Watch had documented two dozen cases in which charges “of illegal immigration” brought against refugees were dropped, and cited 615 cases represented by the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Rights, in which the charges were also dropped and prosecution ordered the detainees’ release.
The foreign ministry has repeatedly rejected reports of abuse directed against refugees from Syria. The ministry specifically denied any mistreatment of refugees, as detailed in an Amnesty International report and described a similar Human Rights Watch report as “wholly inaccurate.”
While the majority of refugees coming from Syria are Syrians, there are also 6,000 Palestinians, many of whom have Syrian travel documents.