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Egypt: Police 'arbitrarily detain and abuse' Sudanese refugees

Human Rights Watch says dozens of refugees were subjected to 'forced physical labour' at the hands of Egyptian police
Egyptian police stand guard during a demonstration against then-US president Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo on 8 December 2017 (AFP)

Police in Egypt have subjected dozens of Sudanese refugees to arbitrary detention and abuse, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday

The organisation said the police had arbitrarily detained at least 30 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers, subjecting some to "forced physical labour".

According to three Sudanese refugees and a Cairo-based civil society group interviewed by HRW, police carried out raids on 27 December and 5 January, in nearly identical circumstances.

Plainclothes police arbitrarily arrested some two dozen refugees and asylum seekers from their homes, coffee shops, on the street and at community centres.

They were taken to a security facility and forced to "unload boxes from large trucks into warehouses" by police, who hurled racist insults and "used batons to beat those who they claimed were not working hard enough".

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The next day, police dropped off those detained at a highway crossroads in eastern Cairo, without levelling any charges against them.

The New York-based watchdog called on Egypt's public prosecutor to "investigate and hold accountable those responsible for arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers," HRW's Joe Stork said.

According to HRW, some of those targeted had mobilised protests in May and August 2021 at the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, in Cairo "over harassment and racist treatment by Egyptians, a lack of protection and resettlement delays".

Last May, they also held a protest at the Sudanese embassy in Cairo in support of demonstrations in their home country.

As of January 2022, more than 52,000 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt are registered with the UNHCR, though official figures estimate between two and five million Sudanese live in Egypt.

Activists and rights groups regularly charge that Sudanese in the country face mistreatment, discrimination and racism.

"Silencing activists will not solve the issues of the Sudanese refugee communities, whom authorities should protect from abuse," Stork said.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said Egypt hosts around "six million people who came to the country due to ongoing conflicts or the magnitude of poverty in nearby countries".

"We do not call them refugees," he told a forum held earlier this year in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

"They are integrated into our society, they eat and drink, they receive [medical] treatment and whatever [resources] we have are made available to them."

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