HRW calls for end to arbitrary detentions of Syrians in Egypt

Egypt should cease arbitrary detentions of Syrians and threats to deport them, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Thursday, days after state-media reported that the government had granted Syrians charge-free visas.

The Egyptian government, following the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsy, a staunch supporter of the Syrian revolution against Bashar al-Assad, adopted stricter measures concerning the provision of visas and residencies to Syrian refugees fleeing the armed conflict back home.

It said the measures, which required Syrians to obtain visas and prior security approval to enter Egypt, rather than passports alone, were temporary and introduced in the interests of security. The government later announced it would grant Syrians free visas.

But HRW said the Egyptian authorities have arbitrarily apprehended a number of Syrians despite them carrying valid residence permits and being registered asylum seekers.

“On 19 July and 20 2013, Egyptian police and military police arrested at least 72 Syrian men and nine boys at checkpoints on main roads in Cairo. Those who remain in custody, including registered asylum seekers and at least nine Syrians with valid visas or residence permits, have apparently not been charged with any offense. The authorities have threatened to deport at least 14 of them to countries neighboring Syria," Human Rights Watch said.

“There is growing hostility in Egypt to the Syrians who fled there seeking refuge from the war,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But a tense political climate is no excuse for police and army officers to pull dozens of Syrian men and boys off [of] public transport and throw them in jail without regard for their rights.”

The report also referred to media attacks on the Syrian community for allegedly siding with Morsy loyalists after the president’s removal from office this month.

“On 10 July, Egyptian television presenters on local channels including Faraeen and OnTV began accusing the Syrian community of siding with Morsy supporters, fueling an atmosphere of mistrust and xenophobia. One popular presenter, Tawfiq Okasha, gave Syrians living in Egypt a 48-hour warning, telling them that the Egyptian people knew where they lived and that if Syrians did not stop ‘supporting the Muslim Brotherhood’ after 48 hours, the Egyptians would destroy their homes.”