Palestinian-Syrians facing deportation
BY: TOM ROLLINS
25 October 2014
In a move reminiscent of its broadly criticized detention of migrants on the north coast last year, Egypt may be preparing to deport five Palestinian-Syrian refugees back to Syria.
The group, including a 14-year-old boy, were detained from two separate trips that attempted to leave the coastline close to the city last month. They are all being held in Anfoushy Youth Centre, a sports facility close to central Alexandria, which has served as a migrant-specific detention centre since last month.
Khaled Khalil, 32, brothers Omar (14) and 22-year-old Abdullah El-Shehaby, and 23-year-old Youssef Ezzedin Zaytouni were all caught on a boat from Rasateen on September 30. They all come from Yarmouk, although everyone but the Shehaby brothers travelled to Egypt separately and at different times.
Ramy Fathy Ibrahim, 27, was caught at Abu Qir on September 17 along with his sister, Rouba, who was later released with a three-month residency. He has been detained the longest out of the group of five.
Palestinian-Syrians are a special case in Egypt, but not for the right reasons. Although Egypt is not one of UNRWA's areas of operations, meaning it cannot assist Palestinian-Syrians, the Egyptian government has allegedly insisted that UNRWA's mandate takes force. This means that UNHCR, whose mandate covers Palestinians living in a country not covered by UNRWA's official areas of operation (Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon), cannot step in.
Palestinian-Syrians have been deported back to Syria before, including in August, when 13 people travelling from Gaza to escape the Israeli bombardment this year were forcibly deported from Cairo airport to Syria.
The men say they were visited by Egyptian authorities and told to leave the country. There was no offer of voluntary repatriation, where refugees are given a choice of destination (e.g. Lebanon).
"We were told we're not welcome in the country, but they didn't give us a valid reason [for the deportations]," Khalil claims, speaking from Anfoushy by telephone. "Because our papers are Syrian and Palestinian, no one will accept us. We have no choice – only to be deported back to Syria."
Khaled's brother, son and wife travelled ahead of him and ultimately drowned in the Mediterranean on September 10. Some of the men meanwhile fear they'll be forced to join the Syrian army if they are returned.
"Because of the war in Syria and the military service, I can't go back," says Zaytouni.
Ibrahim fled Syria after a regime jet killed his daughter, sister-in-law and cousin.
"I can't go back to Syria because I already buried my daughter there. If I go back, they'll need new reserve troops and I'll have to serve in the army again."
"Yes, we're Palestinian-Syrians," he says tellingly, "but we're still humans. They can't do this to us."
This article originally appeared on Beacon.
Tom Rollins, is a freelance journalist currently based in Alexandria, reports on Mediterranean migration, smuggling and refugee rights on Beacon, a crowd-funded journalism platform.