His Excellency Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Dear President Mubarak:
We are writing to you to express our alarm regarding reports that the Egyptian government intends to repatriate 645 Sudanese demonstrators who were among those detained following the police assault in Mohandiseen in Cairo on December 30.
This appears to reverse an earlier decision by your government not to prematurely repatriate them: a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cairo earlier told a news conference that “we have received assurances that nobody is forced to return to Sudan.” Your government had evidently recognized that the involuntary return of these people at this time is most inappropriate given the grave risks of premature repatriation. We find it especially disheartening that your government has apparently retreated from this position and has chosen perhaps the most harmful option among those available for dealing with this matter.
The forced repatriation of hundreds of Sudanese involved in the demonstration raise a host of concerns. First, we are concerned that some among those targeted for deportation are refugees or asylum seekers who would be persecuted upon their forced return to Sudan. Many of the demonstrators lost their documents and other belongings as a result of the police assault in which they were blasted by fire hoses and beaten with batons. These documents likely include passports and refugee identification cards and asylum seekers’ registration cards issued by the UNHCR. Some Sudanese whose refugee claims were not recognized when their claims were originally adjudicated may now be at risk of persecution in Sudan as a result of actions or statements they made during the demonstration. The UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status states, “A person may become a refugee ‘sur place’ as a result of his own actions, such as associating with refugees already recognized, or expressing his political views in his country of residence. Whether such actions are sufficient to justify a well-founded fear of persecution must be determined by a careful examination of the circumstances.” There clearly needs to be a “careful examination of the circumstances” regarding the individuals now facing imminent removal.
Second, family members were separated during the course of the chaos and violence of the police assault and during the transport, detention, and releases that followed. Family members of recognized refugees and asylum seekers who would have derivative refugee status might well be among the hundreds of currently undocumented people threatened with deportation. It is also likely that children were separated from their parents during the melee and that there are families in which only some of the members were detained. We are particularly concerned that summary deportations carried out so quickly after families were violently dispersed will result in the separation of children from their parents.
Third, this deportation would, in effect, expel hundreds of potential witnesses to the police action that occurred on December 30. As we noted in a statement on December 30, “an independent investigation is absolutely necessary to assess responsibility and punish those responsible.” According to news reports, you have asked the Attorney General to undertake an investigation of this tragedy. The precipitous return of hundreds of victims and witnesses makes such an investigation an empty gesture.
We urge you to instruct the relevant authorities not to deport any Sudanese at the present time. We ask that all of them be given the opportunity for de novo consideration of their asylum claims by UNHCR. We also ask that those individuals among the demonstrators who want to testify regarding the events of December 30 be given the opportunity to do so before an independent investigative body.
We also reiterate our call of December 30 for an independent commission to investigate the use of force against the Sudanese demonstrators on December 30. Your request to the Attorney General does not satisfy the need for an investigation that looks at all levels of the police command, including the ministries of Interior and Justice and Interior Minister Habib al-`Adli in particular. An independent body would also be able to examine dispassionately and objectively the claims of the government that demonstrators played a role in provoking the violence and contributed directly to the deaths and injuries among them.
We believe that by adopting these measures, the Egyptian government would be taking important steps to reunite families, heal wounds, and restore the dignity of these people.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East and North Africa Division
Refugee Policy Program
cc: H.E. Nabil Fahmy, Ambassador, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt