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Egypt: Mass Arrests of Foreigners  (in Arabic) FREE    Join the HRW Mailing List 
Accounts From Detainees
(all names have been changed)
(New York, February 2003)

On the Arrests

Diallo, from Liberia, described how six or seven plainclothes police forcibly entered his flat in Maadi on the morning of January 27, demanding his documents. They told him his UNHCR card was "not valid," and demanded a valid passport. Refusing to show IDs or warrant, the police searched his flat. Diallo said,

I was taken into a police wagon on the street. They drove around to collect other black people. They would ask Egyptians on the street, "Where are the buildings where blacks live?" It was about one hour driving around like this. By the end there were ten or twelve Africans in the car. They picked up one lady with two kids, a nine-month-old baby which was coughing and sick, and a two-year-old girl.

Diallo spent the night in Maadi Station, crammed with 33 other foreigners and some 50 Egyptians into a cell measuring four by four meters, with room only to stand. He was released in the morning after UNHCR intervention.

Matthias is a twenty-year-old Sudanese. He was picked up at 10:30 AM on January 27 at the Maadi metro station. He described how police carried out the operation there:

They got very many people, twenty or thirty at least. Some they stopped on the street, some they took from taxis, and some they tricked: they stopped a microbus, then the police would make the driver say that the bus was going to Tahrir. So Sudanese who were going to work would board it. They would turn Egyptians away. Then when the microbus was full it went to the police station.

Me they stopped and asked for my passport. I didn't have it, only an Egyptian driver's license, expired. They called the station and the officer on the other end said "Bring him in." The policemen took me to the station in a taxi and then they demanded that I pay for the taxi. I said to them, "No, I have no money, and you hailed this thing, not me." So they slapped me in the face.

On UNHCR Refugee Identification Cards

Paul, another Liberian, was picked up on the street on the morning of January 27 by police who told him his UNHCR card "will not help you." He was held for the night, in a cell measuring eight by four meters, with some fifty prisoners, including women and children. He says he saw several other prisoners beaten by police while being arrested or led into the cells.

Kwame is a fifteen-year old survivor of Sierra Leone's civil war. His mother, Patrice, recalls that on the morning of January 28, he went out to play and did not return for two hours. A friend who had been picked up-but quickly freed after his sister's intervention-called her to tell her that he had seen Kwame in Maadi police station's cells.

Patrice said,

I went down there at once. I had to leave my other son, an eight-year-old, alone in the apartment. Kwame is listed on my UNHCR card as a child. First they told me the card was not what they wanted, they would only accept a valid passport. They threw the card back in my face. Then they demanded to know why only his name was on the card, not his picture.

The place was full of black people, more being brought in all the time. Finally [a representative of UNHCR) got there in the afternoon. He took names of people who were under the UN. I gave him Kwame's name. Close to midnight, Kwame came out.

Kwame told Human Rights Watch that he was slapped and beaten repeatedly by police, then placed in a small cell together with thirteen adults.

On Police Beatings and Discrimination

John, from Ghana, was stopped by four plainclothes policemen on the morning of January 28, demanding his passport. Officers refused to let him return to his room for his UNHCR documents. When he protested, he was beaten and thrown to the ground; police kicked his neck and head. At Maadi station, the arresting officer struck him in the jaw. His arm (viewed by Human Rights Watch), which may be sprained or broken, is severely swollen, and he has bruises on his neck.

Matthias, from Sudan, spent five days in Maadi Police Station, and was released on February 2. He says,

Conditions in Maadi were very bad. The numbers in the cell kept going up and down as people came in and went out, but at the highest there were maybe one hundred in a cell five by four meters. There was no place to sleep. You slept curled up in a ball on the floor. There was a women's cell next door, and separated by bars, so that the men could see the women and the sexes had no privacy.

The cell was dirty and the floor was dirty. The foreigners were made to clean the floor, because we were foreigners. What is more we had to sleep on the floor nearest the toilet and anyone could kick us or hit us as they passed. There were beatings: every day the prisoners had to line up outside the cells to take attendance. Then the guards would hit you or kick you as you tried to find a place to sit in line. They hit everybody but it was the foreigners they cursed. They would say, "You blacks, you are all poor, you come to occupy this country, you come because of famine, not because of war."

Matthias, who is undocumented, is faced with deportation on February 6.

A Sudanese asylum-seeker standing outside Maadi Police Station in the middle of the night, with a small bag of food for a jailed friend, told Human Rights Watch: "They say that silence is the image of death. But we are living and dying in this silence."

One Nigerian asylum-seeker told Human Rights Watch: "The police and people here do not believe in human rights. And they do not even seem to believe that black people are human."