CAIRO (AP) — An international rights group decried on Monday Egypt's policy of detaining refugees from Syria, pressuring them to leave the country. It said dozens of those held have returned to the civil war in their home.
Human Rights Watch said in statement that security officials have acknowledged that the refugees will be held indefinitely until they depart. The New York-based group says 1,200 out of more than 1,500 who have been detained for weeks and sometimes months have been coerced to leave. Some 300 remained as of Nov. 4, held at overcrowded police stations.
Some of the refugees are as young as two months old and at least 400 are Palestinians. "Egypt is leaving hundreds of Palestinians from Syria with no protection from Syria's killing fields except indefinite detention in miserable conditions," said Joe Stork, HRW Middle East deputy director.
Palestinian refugees are particularly vulnerable because Egypt prevents them from seeking protection from United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the group said. Those caught were trying to escape to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. In one incident on Oct. 11, a boat carrying 150 migrants capsized off the coast of Egypt, killing at least 12 while the rest were reported missing. A month earlier, Egyptian forces fired at a boat killing two.
After ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, authorities imposed travel restrictions on Syrian refugees. Heated media campaigns accused them of participating in the protests calling for Morsi to be reinstated.
Egyptian officials turned back a planeload of Syrians at Cairo airport after authorities changed entry rules for Syrians, requiring them to obtain a visa prior to arrival. Egypt's Foreign Ministry said at the time that the measures were temporary and urged Syrians to stay away from protests by the Muslim Brotherhood against the new political order.
HRW quotes Egyptian government figures as saying that there are 300,000 Syrians in Egypt of whom the UNHCR has registered over 125,000.