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Syrian refugees begin hunger strike protesting detention

Over 50 Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian refugees held at Karmooz police station in Alexandria began a hunger strike on Monday to protest “being trapped in Egypt for over 100 days,” according to a statement released by the detainees on Sunday.

74 Syrian, Palestinian-Syrian and Somali refugees were detained after smugglers left them in Egyptian waters during multiple attempts at illegal immigration via the Mediterranean sea to Italy. 51 out of the 74 detainees announced the open-ended hunger strike in a statement addressed to the UNHCR, UNRWA, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UNICEF and the embassies of the European Union. 

“Due to suffering from lack of care by international organizations and human rights foundations, [we] announce an open hunger strike as an attempt to draw world attention to our plight, which is a part of the Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian refugees’ tragedy,” the statement said.

According to the hunger-strikers, “the hell of war in Syria” forced them to flee to Turkey, “seeking a place in Europe that provides human conditions [and] a decent life.” They demanded “instant coordination between concerned parties to provide access to European countries,” where some of their families reportedly reside.

Refugee aid worker Taher Mokhtar told state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper that the detainees are being subjected to inhumane treatment at Karmooz police station, “despite the fact that they are only victims of illegal immigration mafia and not criminals.”

Mokhtar added that in the case of illegal immigration, detainees are supposed to be referred to the prosecution, which usually either pardons or deports them.

Abdallah Shehaby, one of the hunger-strikers who was detained over four months ago, told Mada Masr that the purpose of their hunger strike is to force the UNHCR to find a solution for them. 

Representatives from the UNHCR have been purportedly visiting the group occasionally at Karmooz police station to collect information, “but without offering any solutions,” Shehaby said. “After months of detention, we’re yet to see any glimmer of hope for our situation.”

According to Shehaby, two weeks ago the detainees received an order of deportation, which they appealed, but the appeal has been denied. 

30 Syrians with valid papers who were arrested from a boat near Alexandria’s Abou Qir were sent back to Turkey in November. The rest of the Syrians and Syrian-Palestinians remain in detention.

“The authorities are waiting for us to book plane tickets to deport us, but we can’t go anywhere because most of us are Syrian-Palestinians who only carry a travel document and not a passport. No country will let us in with just a travel document,” he added.

Head of the public relations department at the Alexandria Security Directorate told Al-Ahram that the detainees were arrested for illegally entering the country, which means they are not being legally treated as refugees. He denied any accusations of ill-treatment towards the group.  

Shehaby confirmed that while they have been treated well in detention, “Prison remains prison. There are children here who are less than one year old, and all they know of life so far is a prison cell where the sun almost never shines.”

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