Joint press statement: Egyptian government must provide urgent health care to Syrian refugees detained in Egypt

Press Release

25 November 2013

The undersigned organizations are deeply concerned about the deteriorating health conditions of refugees detained in Alexandria who require urgent medical care, among them at least two children (ages 6 and 14) and one woman who are in grave condition requiring immediate care. At the very least, the government must release these cases, most of whom are still detained despite release orders issued by the Public Prosecution, to enable them to obtain the necessary care immediately.

The undersigned organizations have documented a growing number of cases of poor and arbitrary treatment of Syrian and Palestinian refugees with Syrian documents in Egypt, which in recent months has seen a marked increase in arbitrary detention and press campaigns inciting hatred and violence against refugees after they were dragged into domestic political disputes.

From 11 August to 11 October, more than 670 Syrian refugees in Alexandria alone were arrested and arbitrarily detained, although most of them were in the country legally. Most of the detainees were arrested while attempting to leave Egypt for Europe, via Alexandria, after the Egyptian authorities began to arbitrarily arrest growing numbers of them in various provinces and following an anti-Syrian incitement campaign. Hundreds of Syrian refugees, including dozens of children, are still detained in Alexandria pursuant to national security directives, despite numerous release orders issued by the Public Prosecution. These refugees have not been convicted of any crime.

In addition to wrongfully detaining them, the Egyptian government has placed the refugees in crowded detention facilities lacking even minimum health standards, a widespread problem in all Egyptian prisons and detention facilities. Poor detention conditions, overcrowding, the lack of clean food and insect infestations have led to the spread of illness among the detainees, including skin diseases and respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.

The undersigned organizations stress that at the very least, the necessary care must be given to the critical cases that require immediate medical intervention. In addition to general health problems, the authorities are refusing to provide health care to some detainees with illnesses that require special medical care. For example, the Egyptian authorities at the Abu Qir police station continue to detain a six-year-old Syrian child who has a birth defect in his urinary tract that required surgery on 3 June 2013; the conditions of his current detention preclude carrying out the second phase of the operation. At the Muntazah police station, detention conditions are obstructing care for another child, age 14, who suffers from rheumatic fever and heart complications. A group of doctors has documented no less than eight cases in police stations in al-Rahmaniya, Muntazah (1 and 2), Karmuz, Edku and Abu Qir that need urgent medical intervention, including surgery in some cases.

In addition, recently detained refugees have come under severe pressures that threaten their mental health and require immediate psychological intervention. According to volunteer doctors, refugees in the Karmuz and Muntazah 2 stations, many of whom lost family members when the boat they took to leave Alexandria sank, urgently require psychological care. For example, the authorities are still detaining a 13-year-old child who is exhibiting numerous symptoms of psychological distress.

In a flagrant violation of international law and the 1951 treaty on refugees, amended with the 1967 protocol—which is also part of Egyptian law after approval by the People’s Assembly and publication in the Official Gazette in 1981—the Egyptian authorities have threatened to hold many of the detainees indefinitely if they do not agree to be deported to other countries like Lebanon or Turkey or be repatriated to Syria, although the Public Prosecution has issued release orders for most the detainees. These threats of indefinite detention and the authorities’ refusal to provide health care have led two women detainees to accept deportation to Syria and Lebanon.

The undersigned organizations call on the Egyptian government to comply with their legal obligations by taking all necessary measures to release detainees given release orders by the prosecution, immediately release all detained minors, provide a safe environment and adequate health care to all detainees, end the campaign of arbitrary arrest against Syrian refugees and stop the campaign of incitement to violence and hatred by both the state and private media. The Egyptian government must shoulder its international obligations to refugees and asylum seekers by lifting all measures that arbitrarily obstruct their entry to the country and facilitating residence procedures.

For more information see:

Rights Groups Express Concern about Detention of Dozens of Syrians and Palestinian Refugees with Syrian Documents in Alexandria (Arabic)

Signatory organizations

1. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

3. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression

4. Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights

5. Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions

6. Nazra for Feminist Studies

7. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

8. Egyptians against Religious Discrimination

9. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights

10. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance

11. Land Center for Human Rights

12. Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violenc