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Egypt: UNHCR has until Sunday to complete status assessment of detained Sudanese

Briefing notes

Egypt: UNHCR has until Sunday to complete status assessment of detained Sudanese

13 January 2006

In Cairo, UNHCR teams are continuing to work around the clock in an attempt to properly assess the status of the Sudanese ex-demonstrators still remaining in detention in Cairo and threatened with deportation. On Wednesday, 164 Sudanese asylum seekers and refugees, including 41 women and 31 children, and holders of UNHCR registration cards as asylum seekers or refugees, were released by the Egyptian authorities upon UNHCR's recommendation and following photo and identity verification. The Sudanese had lost their cards while being removed from the square. UNHCR issued all 164 with new cards and provided each with a one-time financial grant of 300 Egyptian pounds (approximately US $60).

The Egyptian authorities have allowed UNHCR until Sunday to assess the status of the remaining 463 Sudanese in two prisons and one military camp. UNHCR has also recommended the immediate release of all women and children (more than 190 remain in detention) on humanitarian grounds and considering international prohibitions of detention of minors. It has also reminded the government of its bilateral commitment under the so-called Four Freedom Agreement with Sudan, which allows Sudanese women and minors up to the age of 14 visa-free entry and residence in Egypt. UNHCR also recommends the immediate release of all Darfurians due to the current situation in Darfur, and following recommendations from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sudan.

Recommendations on the remaining cases, including new arrivals from Sudan as well as closed cases, will hopefully - time allowing - be made on Sunday. While UNHCR had sought a one-month extension to carry out a thorough review, it was given one additional week. UNHCR has so far received no guarantees from the Egyptian government that - as we have requested - no one will be deported.

All detainees have been provided by UNHCR with additional medical care, counselling as well as material support such as clothing, shoes, underwear and toiletries. But the detainees' morale is very low, as a number of people are showing signs of trauma because of the events and many have been separated from their families.

UNHCR advises against forcible return to Sudan at this point in time, as many areas of origin are not yet deemed safe. But UNHCR can facilitate return for those Sudanese who explicitly express the wish to go back to safe areas.

Egypt acceded in 1981 to the 1951 Refugee Convention and as a result has basic responsibilities towards refugees and asylum seekers, including registration and status determination. Deportation of persons of concern to UNHCR is considered a violation of the Convention.

UNHCR is continuing to support other Sudanese who were released earlier. Food, blankets and basic clothing have been distributed to Sudanese who took part in the sit-in strike. All have also been provided with a one-off financial grant, varying from 300 to 700 Egyptian pounds depending on family size.