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Arbitrary Detention of Asylum Seeker “S.S” at Sheikh Zayed Police Station: Efforts to Forcefully Deport Her Violate Local and International Laws; Egyptian Authorities Urged to Cease Immediately and Release Her.

Photo: Al-Sisi receives the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, at the Federal Palace in 2018. He also visited Egypt last February. Cairo Egypt. Facebook 📷©️

On February 28, 2024, the Refugees Platform in Egypt (RPE) received a report indicating the arrest of Eritrean asylum seeker “S.S” by the Egyptian authorities. According to documented accounts, the arrest occurred on Sunday, February 25, 2024, at 14:15 local time, when plain-clothes officers from the State General Investigations Service in a microbus intercepted the asylum seeker and members of her family on their way out from a restaurant in the 6th of October City and requested to inspect their identification papers. According to testimonies, this incident occurred within the framework of a security campaign in the 6th of October City targeting non-Sudanese dark-skinned individuals. While Sudanese detainees in the same campaign were released, security forces took the non-Sudanese individuals into custody, including the Eritrean asylum seeker “S.S”.

After a search, the family arrived at the place of her detention in the First Police Department- 6th of October City and was then transferred to El-Sheikh Zayed police station in the 6th of October City. Authorities at the station said she was detained for entering the country illegally, which necessitated her arrest. She is currently under the custody of “National Security” at the First Police Department, but is held at El-Sheikh Zayed police station due to the lack of space in the detention facility in the first one.

The RPE has obtained evidence that the detained citizen had submitted an asylum application to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt and had obtained an appointment at the end of next August. Furthermore, she was a refugee in Sudan before the outbreak of armed conflict there and was forcibly displaced among millions of others as the fighting intensified and its scope expanded. The Egyptian authorities ignored such facts in a clear violation of the rights of asylum seekers and international conventions that guarantee the freedom of individuals and their freedom of movement within the country they are in.

In addition to Ms. S.S carrying her identification papers, precluding her detention, she suffers from diabetes, nevertheless, her family was not allowed to bring in her medication until days after her detention. Furthermore, after her transfer, her medication remained in the First Police Department, putting her life and safety at serious risk. In addition to her health condition, she is a mother of two daughters, one aged 4 and the other a 9-month-old infant in need of breastfeeding, which forces her family to bring the infant to the detention center for breastfeeding, threatening the safety and health of the child due to the poor health conditions in the detention facilities. It is reported that she has already developed a fever.

This incident coincides with a wave of arbitrary arrests monitored by the RPE over the past few weeks, which targeted people on the move in various Egyptian governorates, including migrants, asylum seekers, and foreign refugees residing in Egypt. These arrests are occurring amidst a lack of conditions for justice in investigation, trial, and detention, with the different fates and outcomes of the documented cases.

As documented by the RPE, the UNHCR in Egypt was informed of the incident since the arrest occurred. However, neither the legal support nor the protection department provided any support. Additionally, no official from the relevant departments of the Ministry of Interior has reached out to clarify the legality of the detainee’s situation and that the process of waiting for the UNHCR’s appointment implies that the individual’s status has been regulated and falls under the obligations of protection and prevention of detention and deportation. This adds to the complexities of the registration services system at the UNHCR, which the RPE has and continues to warn of its legal consequences on the situations of asylum seekers in Egypt.

We warn against the danger of utilizing Eritrean citizens in Egypt by the Egyptian authorities as a tool of rapprochement with Eritrea amid the complications in the Horn of Africa and the political disputes between Eritrea, Egypt, and Somalia on one hand, and Ethiopia on the other. This is also given that the arrest campaign of Eritreans began following the visit of Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki, to Egypt on February 24th of this year, raising concerns among Eritrean diaspora communities in Egypt about the linkage of the security campaign to political alignments that surpass international law, conventions, and basic human rights. Throughout 2021, the RPE documented a similar campaign of arrests, detention, and forced deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers. After their deportation by the Egyptian authorities, despite local and international human rights condemnations, news about them was cut off, and they became among the disappeared.

It is worth noting that the RPE has launched an emergency response program, providing direct or online legal support and advice. Additionally, it introduced a form for accessing various service providers. It also continues to disseminate guidelines for newcomers to Egypt, which include basic legal information, and information about available service providers. Furthermore, it launched a violations map, through which people on the move can search and report violations they face. 

The practices followed by the Egyptian authorities of detaining asylum seekers and forcibly deporting them to countries where their lives are at risk are blatant violations of the Egyptian Constitution, which stipulates the right to asylum in Article 91 on public rights, freedoms, and duties. Moreover, Egyptian law removed criminal liability from smuggled migrants and prohibited their punishment in Law No. 82 of 2016 on “Combating Illegal Migration and Human Trafficking.”These practices also constitute a flagrant violation of Egypt’s international obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers, as outlined in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Egypt acceded in 1981.

The RPE condemns the arbitrary arrest and systematic forced deportation of Eritrean asylum seekers. The choice between accepting deportation or prolonged deportation without legal justification then forced deportation is a violation of all treaties and conventions signed and ratified by Egypt, and a violation of the Egyptian Constitution and laws.

We call the Egyptian authorities to immediately release asylum seeker S.S, and enable her to complete her asylum procedures in Egypt. We also warn against any efforts or actions to deport her or inform the Eritrean embassy of her situation.

We also reiterate that the UNHCR must take serious and effective steps to address the delays in responding to asylum requests and the postponement of appointments for asylum seekers, which can extend up to six months, as in the case of Ms. S.S and hundreds of thousands of others, as it is its primary role. We also urge the UNHCR to agitate for a change in policies that violate the rights of refugees, enable detained asylum seekers to register and apply for asylum, provide necessary humanitarian assistance to them and their families, and to urgently intervene to provide necessary relief for those currently detained, especially children, ensuring their physical and psychological well-being.

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