UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
EGYPT: 164 Sudanese released, deportation threat still uncertain
CAIRO, 12 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - At least 164 Sudanese held in Egyptian detention centres since 30 December were released on Wednesday, according to Astrid van Genderen Stort, spokeswoman for UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in Cairo.
“Nevertheless, there are still many more being held in the prisons,” van Genderen Stort noted.
Of the group released, 92 were men, 41 women and 31 children.
Before their release, the Sudanese were verified by the UNHCR as fully registered refugees or asylum seekers who had lost their official documentation when they were forcefully evacuated from a makeshift camp in late December by Egyptian security forces.
On 29 December, police broke up a three-month long sit-in protest by Sudanese refugees and failed asylum seekers in Cairo's Moustafa Mahmoud Park, near the office of the UNHCR.
Setting up camp in the middle of the capital’s Mohandiseen district, protestors demanded refugee status and transfer to a third country.
Ultimately, security forces moved in to remove protestors by force. Encountering resistance, they used truncheons and water cannons to evacuate demonstrators from the premises.
In the ensuing melee, some 27 protestors were killed, while another 70 were injured. Human rights groups unanimously condemned the way in which the Egyptian security forces dealt with the incident.
UNHCR will provide financial assistance to the families of the deceased.
In the wake of the incident, between 2,000 and 2,500 Sudanese were arrested and brought to detention centres outside the capital.
Most of those who were initially taken into custody, but were able to show valid documentation, were released immediately.
Some 463 are still being held, according to the refugee agency.
Van Genderen Stort said the UNHCR was providing those released with vital supplies, including grants of approximately $52 each, clothes, shoes and toiletries.
“We hope that more will be released,” she added.
The UNHCR has access to three detention centres outside the capital where the remaining Sudanese were still being held, in order to verify their official status as refugees or asylum seekers.
On 4 January, the government gave permission to the UNHCR to visit the detention centres in order to carry out interviews aimed at assessing individual cases.
On 11 January, the organisation requested a further month to perform interviews, but was only granted one week.
The interviews are being carried out against a backdrop of intense anxiety over the prospect of the mass deportation of Sudanese participants in the protest.
“Nobody has been deported yet,” van Genderen Stort confirmed, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has publicly stated that the deportation of 654 Sudanese was imminent.
According to van Genderen Stort, the refugee agency has recommended that all women and children still in custody be released. Their ongoing detention, she pointed out, is illegal under the terms of the Sudan-Egypt “Four Freedoms Agreement,” which allows for visa-free freedom of movement for Sudanese women and minors in Egypt.
Egypt is also a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Refugee and civil society sources, meanwhile, say that many of the Sudanese involved in the 29 December incident remain missing. “We had one woman coming to our office looking for her husband, who hasn’t been seen since the riots,” said Madga Adly of the Nadim Centre for Human Rights, which has closely followed the plight of the Sudanese.
Members of the Sudanese refugee and asylum seeker community have also been denied access to hospitals and detention centres where they fear their friends and relatives are being held.
In addition, according to Aamer Jaber al-Nour, who took part in the protest, “The Sudanese people are facing many problems in the streets from average Egyptians. Sudanese refugees are literally living in fear of attack,” he said.
Describing the current situation of Sudanese in Egypt as “very bad,” Jaber al-Nour claimed that churches had been given instructions from the state not to provide them with shelter. However, there is no confirmation of this accusation.
“This has left many of those who took part in the protest and who lost their homes no choice but to live in poor, cramped conditions in relatives’ and friends’ homes,” he said. Some were returning to their homes, however, according to UNHCR.
When asked about the reported threat of deportation for those without adequate documentation, Jaber al-Nour said: “We still don’t know what our future holds.”
“Despite the fact that the decision ultimately rests with the Egyptian government, the international community must act,” he added.
This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but May not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006
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