Two Syrian Refugees Unlawfully Returned to Syria Last Week
January 18, 2013
Two Palestinians being held at the Cairo airport, apparently refused entry to Egypt, are at risk of deportation to Syria,
Human Rights Watch said today. The man and his son would face
indiscriminate violence and possible persecution if returned to Syria.
The Egyptian authorities should not to return anyone to Syria at this
It appears that some asylum seekers arriving from Syria in Egypt
are at risk of refoulement, forced return to Syria, Human Rights Watch
said. Egyptian airport officials deported two Syrian men back to Syria
on January 13, 2013, in violation of Egypt’s non-refoulement
obligations. In mid-December, immigration officials halted an attempted
deportation of 13 Syrians at the last minute.
“Egypt may have a right to detain people temporarily or investigate
them on grounds of false documentation but it may not under any
circumstance return them to Syria,” said Bill Frelick, Refugee Program
director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt is obligated under international
law not to return anyone, regardless of status, to a place where they
would be persecuted.”
The authorities should allow representatives of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to visit the two men, Human Rights
Watch said. The Palestinians told credible sources that they had entered
Egypt from Syria using their official Palestinian refugee travel
documents with the rest of their family.
Subsequently the man travelled to Turkey
using his travel document and from there attempted to travel to a
European Union country using improper documents, Turkish officials said.
Turkish officials deported them to Egypt, where airport officials
detained them on grounds of having attempted to travel using false
documents and told them they would be deported.
UNHCR’s latest guidance on Syrian refugees calls on all countries to
“maintain a moratorium on all returns to Syria for the time being,
pending an assessment of when the changed situation in the country would
permit return in safety and dignity.”
Both the Convention against Torture and the African Refugee Convention
forbid Egypt from sending people to countries where they face a serious
risk of persecution or torture. The African Refugee Convention calls on
member states to use their “best endeavors” to receive refugees and
provide them asylum.
Egypt is also a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR), which, under article 13, prohibits arbitrary
expulsion and entitles foreigners to an individual decision on their
removal/expulsion. The UN Human Rights Committee has interpreted article
7 of the ICCPR to forbid refoulement – or forced return – of people to
places where they would be at risk of torture or cruel, inhuman, or
degrading treatment or punishment. Egypt is bound to apply the ICCPR to
anyone in its territory.
On January 13, Cairo airport officials deported two other Syrian men,
ages 20 and 22, to Damascus on January 13. The two had landed in Egypt
on December 12 from Syria with valid passports. When they attempted to
travel to France13
days later, airport immigration officials detained them on the grounds
that their visas to France were forged, credible community sources told
Human Rights Watch.
In the week of December 13, immigration officials transferred 13
Syrians who had been in detention in Qanater prison after their arrest
in Salloum to Cairo airport for deportation. Airport security officials
released 6 of them on January 16 after their lawyer intervened, and the
other 7 remained in the airport for another day. They were released
after UNHCR intervened. It is unclear what prompted this attempted
deportation, and what stopped it.
Egypt has provided protection for more than 13,000 refugees from Syria,
a positive development, Human Rights Watch said. And most refugees
have been able to enter at the Cairo airport without difficulty. But
the two cases of refoulement raise concerns that, going forward, airport
officials might use improper documents as grounds to deport to Syria,
Human Rights Watch said.
Egypt is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention but has turned over
responsibility for determining refugee status to UNHCR. Interior
Ministry immigration officials have in the past ordered deportations
that amount to refoulement, most notoriously in 2008 with the
deportation of 1,200 Eritreans. But until the past two months Egypt had
not attempted refoulement of Syrians.
Interior Ministry deportation orders may be challenged before Egypt’s
administrative courts. In 2010, an Egyptian administrative court ordered
immigration officials to halt an attempted deportation of two
recognized Sudanese refugees on the grounds that their deportation would
violate Egypt’s obligations under the Refugee Convention and the ICCPR.
“At a time of great conflict and tragedy in Syria, we call on Egypt and
all countries not to return any residents of Syria, including
Palestinians, to Syria,” Frelick said.