Egypt releases Sudanese women, children and people from Darfurdarfur
CAIRO, 19 Jan (UNHCR) - Egyptian authorities have agreed to release the last of hundreds of Sudanese women and children arrested when a protest sit-in was broken up three weeks ago, responding to an appeal by the UN refugee agency.
UNHCR welcomed the decision in which 176 Sudanese women and children were freed on Wednesday night and a further 39 women, children and holders of UNHCR cards that show they are refugees were set to be freed late on Thursday.
In addition 57 Sudanese from the troubled Darfur region were freed. UNHCR had requested their release because it does not support the return of anyone to the war-torn region of Sudan.
A UNHCR staff member watched at Kanater Prison as the women and children were released, many crying with joy but some angry that they had been jailed. Many had been separated from family since before the demonstration was crushed.
"I am so happy I can leave because I want to find my family," said one woman. "I have had no news from them for weeks."
The authorities have extended until 26 January the time UNHCR will have to conduct detailed interviews with the remaining 183 Sudanese still in prison to see if they need international protection. They were among 2,000 Sudanese who for three months had held a sit-in close to UNHCR's office in Cairo and were removed by police on 30 December.
"We are extremely relieved that this group has been released and an additional group of 39 - women, children and UNHCR card holders - will also be released today," said Radhouane Nouicer, UNHCR's Geneva-based deputy director for the region who is helping with the emergency in Cairo, "We are grateful to the Egyptian authorities for this humane gesture."
Following the 29-30 December clash, in which 27 people are reported to have died, most of the demonstrators initially detained were released within a few days of the incident. But more than 600 were still being held on 5 January, when UNHCR was given access to the Sudanese in three Cairo prisons to assess their legal status and their need for international protection.
The agency consequently recommended the release of all detainees - especially the two-thirds who are registered with UNHCR or are women and children or who have fled Sudan's strife-torn Darfur region.
"We will now continue to assess the status of the 183 Sudanese remaining in prison through a proper in-depth legal assessment to ensure whether these people are of concern to UNHCR," added Nouicer. The government has given UNHCR until the 26th of January to continue its legal assessments and UNHCR is hopeful that no deportations will take place for this group.
In the meantime, UNHCR Cairo resumed registration of asylum seekers and the renewal of ID cards, which had been seriously hampered by the sit-in. It will take some time to clear the backlog.
The agency has also provided assistance to hundreds of Sudanese who had participated in the three-month Cairo demonstration but who had earlier been released from detention after being identified by UNHCR.
"We will work closely with the Egyptian authorities and continue to assist them in providing the best support for persons in need of protection", said Nouicer, "Burden-sharing will be crucial, as well as much needed additional funding from donors."
By Astrid van Genderen Stort in Cairo, Egypt