My first post for BU’s student blog dealt with the International Human Right’s Clinic’s Egypt trip to research the Syrian refugee crisis. Now that the end of our project is approaching, I wanted to share some exciting news and more information that we are still incorporating into our report’s final draft.
A month after we returned from Egypt, the government released 171 Syrian refugees from detention centers in Egyptian police stations. Unfortunately, by this time, around 1,200 other detained Syrians and Palestinians, who had been given the option of expedited removal or indefinite detention, had already left the country. The release of these 171 detainees represents an important step for Egypt toward a more humane refugee policy. However, according to Amnesty International, 18 Syrians remain in detention without any legal justification.
These recently released detainees were part of a group of around 1,500 who the Egyptian authorities arrested as they were beginning the perilous journey to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. Some of these boats sank claiming lives, separating families, and leaving many refugees in extremely desperate circumstances. In one instance, Egyptian naval forces opened fire on a boat packed with refugees heading to Europe. The attack resulted in the deaths of two refugees, a Palestinian woman and a Syrian man.
Many of our interview questions for the Egyptian government and UNHCR focused on the deplorable detention conditions in Egypt’s police stations. During this time, there was no indication that Egypt planned to release any of the detained refugees. Certain NGOs and volunteer attorneys had challenged the detentions in Egyptian court, and many won release orders for their clients. The Ministry of the Interior, however, refused to comply with those orders. By the time of our trip, Egyptian authorities had released only a few refugees sporadically making it impossible to discern a clear policy.
By releasing these 171 detainees, Egypt moves closer to compliance with its international legal obligations against arbitrary detention and forced return of refugees to their country of origin. The fact that there has been a mass release may also suggest that the political situation in Cairo has stabilized to a certain extent.
Human Rights Watch reported that the release was the result of intense lobbying by the United Nations, Egyptian and International NGOs, and other foreign governments. Though Syrians and many other Middle Eastern and African refugees in Egypt face substantial obstacles in housing, employment, education, and health care, the release of these 171 Syrians is amazing news.
More information on our report to come soon! Have a great rest of your spring break!