Stuck in Karmooz. Arbitrary Detention and Crackdown on Refugees in Egypt
April 14, 2015
After a hundred individuals were kept in arbitrary detention at the Karmooz Police station in Alexandria, Egypt, they began a hunger strike to bring international attention to their plight. But their last battle started in October 2014. The majority of the 74 refugees-detainees in Karmooz police station are part of a group of Syrian and Palestinian-Syrians that left from Turkey by boat on 23 October last year. They wanted to reach their family members in Europe, but they were arrested in early November 2014 by Egyptian coast guards, after becoming victims of the smuggler mafia.
Related Stories Box Related Stories Box end. Following a dispute between the smugglers, the refugees were left stranded on Nelson Island, 4 km north of Abu Qir, Alexandria. Don’t worry if you can’t find it on a map: it is not much more than a rock in the sea, approximately 350 meters by 150 meters. In 2000, Italian archaeologist Paolo Gallo discovered there a series of graves, and now the island hosts a site for picnics and recreation. After their arrest on November 1, 2014, the Public Prosecutor ordered the refugees release only four days later. Despite this, Egypt’s Homeland Security issued orders for their deportation. Where? The unofficial plan is to send them back to Syria, under a sky full of bombs and empty of hope. Nevertheless, until now, they have been held without charge at Karmooz police station.
With them there are other four Palestinian-Syrians – three of whom were arrested on September 30 and one on September 17 – and fifteen Somali nationals – one of whom was arrested on August 25 while the remaining fourteen were arrested on December 1. According to the Center for Refugee Solidarity, the detainees include fifteen minors, seven of whom are less than ten years old and one of whom is only ten months old. The majority of detainees are part of the 529,000 Palestinian refugees that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency has registered in the area surrounding Damascus. When the Syrian uprising started four years ago, they moved from one corner of the country to another. The fighting between Assad’s government’s army and the rebels has harshly affected the refugee camps. Several of the camps’ schools were shut down and many families decided that the time had come to leave that open-air prison.
What started on Nelson Island is just the latest in a series of events showing the extent to which arbitrary detention of refugees in Egypt has increased in the last years. As we already described in a 2013 reportage from Karmooz, the crackdown on Syrians and Palestinians in particular is a clear result of a shift in Egypt’s foreign policy toward Syria amid growing anti-Syrian sentiment in the country since the ousting of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi in July 2013. One should bear in mind the words spoken on July 15, 2013 by Tawfiq Okasha, a famous and influential anchor, and the owner of the television channel Al Faraen, who, addressing the Syrians present in Egypt, launched an ultimatum: “The Syrian people know your addresses. If you protest together with the Muslim Brotherhood, within 48 hours those people will come and destroy your homes.” Very soon the refugees were labelled as Brotherhood collaborators and consequently as terrorists. And while the rift between Morsi’s supporters and his opponents increasingly divided the country, the Syrians who had fled from a land torn by divisions became sucked into the vortex of Egyptian polarization, which positioned them as an enemy of the faction that regained power following the disposal of the Islamist president.