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Egypt: Deadline met for completing interviews

Briefing notes

Egypt: Deadline met for completing interviews

27 January 2006

UNHCR yesterday met the deadline for completing interviews with the remaining 183 Sudanese detainees who have been held by Egyptian authorities since a Cairo demonstration ended tragically in late December. Over the past several days, 25 legal specialists conducted in-depth status determination interviews - averaging about three hours each - with all of the detainees. UNHCR last night advised the Egyptian government that 14 of the detainees were found to be persons of concern who should be released immediately. We also advised that another 34 recent arrivals should be given five days to appeal UNHCR's findings, if they wish to do so.

The remaining detainees have been determined not to be eligible for international refugee protection under UNHCR's mandate. UNHCR has, however, reiterated its earlier recommendations, on humanitarian grounds, that none of the detained Sudanese be deported at this point in time. We cite the unstable and evolving situation in Sudan, family separation, ongoing displacement, and the hardship already suffered by all the detained Sudanese following the recent tragic events in Cairo. We hope the remaining detainees will be released.

UNHCR has also reminded the Egyptian government that if any of those in detention are, or have been, under criminal investigation, they should be offered due process under Egyptian law and various international refugee and human rights instruments to which Egypt is a signatory.

The Sudanese have been detained since a tragic confrontation in which several people died in Cairo's Mustapha Mahmoud Square on 30 December following a three month sit-in by some 2,000 people close to the UNHCR office. Most of demonstrators were released from detention within a few days. In early January, UNHCR had asked the government for a period of at least one month to do proper legal assessments of all the remaining 627 detainees still being held at that time. UNHCR was initially given three days, followed by a week, and then another extension of one week, which ended yesterday.

UNHCR's legal teams worked day and night to assure proper assessments of all the Sudanese remaining in detention. Between 7-20 January, as a result of recommendations made by UNHCR's Cairo office, more than 440 Sudanese were released.

In the meantime UNHCR Cairo has continued to deal with the backlog which had arisen over the past three months. Over the past days hundreds of people, mostly Sudanese, approached our office in Cairo to renew cards, get registered or present other requests. UNHCR Cairo normally provides basic assistance and care to over 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly Sudanese but also Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians.