Dozens of refugees from Syria were released from Egyptian police stations on Monday.
Their release comes one day after a government’s decision to release them was issued on Sunday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said that out of 90 people who were held in Alexandria, 72 were released, including 39 children, 16 women and 17 men. Those released were granted a three month extension on their visas.
However, Nader El-Attar, from Refugees’ Solidarity Movement points out that the visas issued do not permit the released refugees to work.
Abdelatty said that 18 refugees remain in custody and they include 11 Syrians, six Palestinians and one Moroccan. He adds that the remaining refugees will soon be released following the completion of administrative procedures. Most of the detained are being held in Montaza Police Station and with the exception of one who is held in Karmouz Police Station.
The Palestinian Embassy in Cairo confirmed that 100 Palestinians from Syria have been released so far and that efforts are being made to secure the release of the remaining detainees.
El-Attar provided figures which contradict the statement of the Foreign Ministry. Indicating that an estimated 200 refugees have been released from police stations in Alexandria, Port Said and Beheira on Monday, adding that “since August, over 1,500 refugees from Syria have been held most chose to leave the country willingly while others were forcibly deported leaving the 200 released today.”
El- Attar explains that “most of the remaining detainees are single men, such as the four Syrians of Palestinian origin who are still being held in Beheira…. We are working on their release.”
Regional Representative of the UNHCR Mohamed Dayri has made no comment choosing to wait for an official statement from the government.
While the majority of refugees who came to Egypt from Syria are Syrians, some 6,000 are Palestinian Syrians. Unlike refugees of Syrian decent, they are not eligible for registration as refugees with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR).
Dayri indicates that the Egyptian government has placed Syrians of Palestinian decent under the jurisdiction of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
The UNRWA however states on its website that it works in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Dayri said the UNRWA has sent several delegations to hold talks with the Egyptian government on ways that the UNRWA can assist Syrians of Palestinian origin, and describes the talks as “smooth.”
According to a report from Human Rights Watch most refugees from Syria were arrested while attempting to illegally leave the country. Charges of “illegal immigration” were brought against them but “in all cases” the charges were dropped by prosecutors, El-Attar said. The refugees however remained in the custody of Homeland Security, describing them as “a threat to national security.”
Abdelatty and Ministry of Interior spokesman Hany Abdel Latif siad the refugees are not detained but are “residing” at police stations because they lack appropriate accommodation. Abdelatty said they were held in “the backyards” of police stations and Abdel Latif described them as “residents” who are provided with “food, medical follow up and housing.”
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 and detailing the poor conditions of their detention.
On 22 November, 52 held in Al-Montaza Police Station started a hunger strike to voice their objections against their prolonged detention and the conditions of that detention.
The foreign ministry has repeatedly rejected reports of abuse 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.”
The foreign ministry estimates that the number of Syrian refugees in Egypt who have emigrated since the start of Syrian conflict is 320,000. The UNHCR however estimates the number of refugees from Syria at approximately 129,000.