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Egypt assures UNHCR that Sudanese won't be deported

1/3/2006 8:04pm

By Mohammed Abbas and Samer Elatrash

CAIRO, Jan 3 (Reuters) - The United Nations' refugee agency has received assurances from Egypt that Sudanese refugees would not be deported to Sudan despite media reports to the contrary, a spokesperson for the agency said on Tuesday.

Egypt's state owned Al-Ahram newspaper said in Tuesday's edition that an unspecified number of refugees were being held in a military camp near Cairo airport in preparation for deportation within two days.

"There are various reports in the media but we have not received any confirmation of that. So far we have received assurances that nobody is forced to return to Sudan," spokesperson Astrid van Genderen Stort told a news conference.

Egyptian officials were not available to comment on the reports.

Last Friday, Egyptian police used sticks and water cannons to move up to 3,500 refugees from a squalid protest camp outside U.N. offices in an affluent Cairo district, killing at least 27. Some had been there for three months, demanding re-settlement in the West.

Talks between the Sudanese and the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to end the protest broke down on Dec. 22, after the protesters rejected a deal signed by protest leaders with the UNHCR.

UNHCR concessions included reviewing the status of the protestors, giving asylum seeker status to those not yet registered with the agency, and inviting applications for "one off" financial aid. Stort said the offer was still open.

She said the UNHCR was distributing blankets and medicines to the refugees, many of whom were seeking refuge in a Catholic church in central Cairo, adding that aid workers had been threatened by the refugees.

Some refugees with incomplete papers were being held in military bases, possibly "several hundred", Stort said.


UNHCR goodwill ambassador and Egyptian actor Adel Imam, who was also at the news conference, said he regretted the deaths of the protesters, but accused them using their children as human shields, attacking policemen and abusing Egyptian law.

"There were talks between the police and the protesters for five hours, but the protesters refused to budge. They put their children in front of them as human shields," Imam said.

International rights group Human Rights Watch said the high loss of life suggested the Egyptian police acted with "extreme brutality" and called for an independent investigation.

The refugees say they face racism, unemployment and a lack of education and healthcare in Egypt since they fled violence in Sudan.

The UNHCR says ordinary Egyptians face similar difficulties finding work or accessing services, and says it cannot move all refugees to countries in the West.

Sudan's north-south civil war lasted over two decades and made 4 million people homeless. A separate conflict in the Western Darfur region has produced a further 2 million refugees.

A peace agreement in January 2005 ended the north-south civil war but many Sudanese say it is not safe to return home as the deal is fragile.

The UNHCR says it has more than 20,000 Sudanese registered with the agency in Egypt. It puts the total number of Sudanese living in Egypt at two million to three million.

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