'Handcuffed like dangerous criminals': Amnesty International accuses Egypt of persecuting Sudanese refugees en masse

'Handcuffed like dangerous criminals': Amnesty International accuses Egypt of persecuting Sudanese refugees en masse
One day ahead of World Refugee Day, Amnesty International released a detailed report on the alleged atrocities Sudanese refugees have experienced in Egypt.
4 min read
Egypt - Cairo
19 June, 2024
Amnesty Interantional accused Egypt of committing human rights violations against undocumented Sudanese refugees. [Getty]

Amnesty International accused Egypt on Wednesday of allegedly committing human rights violations en masse against undocumented Sudanese refugees, who fled the war-ravaged neighbouring Sudan to, arguably, face a worse fate.

In a report entitled, "Handcuffed like dangerous criminals: Arbitrary detention and forced returns of Sudanese refugees in Egypt," the international watchdog called on Egypt to immediately cease the alleged "mass arbitrary arrests and unlawful deportations of Sudanese refugees," who sought refuge in Egypt, many were reportedly kept in inhumane conditions before being forcibly deported.

The London-based watchdog claimed in the 35-page report, released a day ahead of "World Refugee Day," due on 20 June, that the Egyptian authorities had forcibly returned 800 Sudanese detainees from January to March this year.

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The Sudanese refugees were reportedly deported after they had been denied the right to claim asylum, including by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), or to legally challenge deportation decisions.

The group said it based its findings on interviews with detained refugees and other concerned individuals, as well as a review of official statements and documents and audiovisual evidence.

In Cairo and Giza provinces in Greater Cairo, police have been reportedly conducting mass stops and identity checks targeting dark-skinned individuals, spreading fear among the refugee community with many afraid to leave their homes. Other individuals were detained in Aswan, border areas in southern Aswan province, neighbouring Sudan.

Among the atrocities detailed in the report, 14 Sudanese refugees were reportedly detained from public hospitals in Aswan, against medical advice, where they were receiving treatment for serious injuries sustained during road accidents on their journeys from Sudan to Egypt.

"Authorities transferred them…to detention, where they were forced to sleep on the ground after surgery," the report claimed.

"Amnesty International’s Evidence Lab reviewed photos and verified videos from January 2024 of women and children sitting on dirty floors amidst rubbish in a warehouse controlled by Egyptian border guards," the report added.

In recent months, anti-Sudanese sentiments have unfolded in Egypt, especially after the country witnessed a significant influx of refugees, with Egyptians accusing Sudanese nationals of causing the ongoing economic crisis in the country to worsen.

The international human rights group cited former detainees as alleging that "the warehouses were infested by rats and pigeon nests, and those detained endured cold nights with no appropriate clothing or blankets."

"Men's warehouse conditions were overcrowded, with over a hundred men crammed together and limited access to overflowing toilets, forcing them to urinate in plastic bottles at night," the report alleged.

In October 2022, the EU and Egypt signed an €80 million cooperation agreement, which included building up the capacity of Egyptian Border Guard Forces to curb irregular migration and human trafficking across Egypt's border. The agreement purports to apply "rights-based, protection-oriented and gender-sensitive approaches".

A further aid and investment package, under which migration is a key pillar, was agreed in March 2024 as part of the newly announced strategic and comprehensive partnership between the EU and Egypt.

Since the conflict in Sudan began, the Egyptian authorities have failed to provide statistics or acknowledge their policy of deportations. But it is believed that Egypt had already been home to about four million Sudanese citizens prior to the ongoing conflict. 

Before war broke out in Sudan in April last year, Egypt had required only Sudanese men between the ages of 16 and 49 to obtain an entry visa.

Women, children, and the elderly were exempted from this rule. But as the number soared, Egypt required all Sudanese nationals, regardless of age or gender, to obtain a visa that took three to four months to be acquired. The Egyptian authorities justified the new measure to help limit "illegal activities," including fraud.

Earlier this month, dozens of Sudanese refugees lost their lives, including elderly citizens, women, and children. They died mainly from sunstroke and dehydration, as they reportedly attempted to cross into Egypt via Aswan inside open trucks facilitated by smugglers during a heat wave.

Meanwhile, the ministries of defence and interior did not reportedly respond to Amnesty's letters sharing its documentation and recommendations, while the state-run Egyptian National Council of Human Rights claimed that "the authorities comply with their international obligations."

When contacted by The New Arab, several Sudanese nationals living in Egypt refused to comment on the claims in the report for safety reasons.