The unheard voices

In 1951 Egypt signed then ratified in 1981 the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) in. Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention states that “No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” (Convention and Protocol 32). This blog will address the question of whether Egypt has failed to demonstrate its commitment to article 33 of the Refugee Convention in dealing with Sudanese refugees, specifically with regard to non-refoulement and legal aid. Despite Egypt’s promise to adhere to this article, it has proven itself neglecting on numerous occasions.

  1. The Legal Framework

In 1951 an  international conference held in Geneva resulted in the adoption of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which aimed to ensure the rights and adequate treatment of persons that became refugees “as a result of events occurring before 1 January 1951”, i.e. European refugees resulting from the Second World War. In 1967 a Protocol to the Convention was adopted to expand the definition of refugee to include people fleeing persecution in the rest of the world. The definition of a refugee in the refugee convention is when a person is in jeopardy of being persecuted. Persecution must be centered on the bases of religion, race, nationality, political opinion, and membership in a certain group. The main determinant of the whether the person will be considered a refugee or not Refugee Status Determination (RSD) office through the guidelines made by the UNHCR. (The protection of refugees: The case of Egypt)  States are responsible for providing protection to its citizens; however, when they are refugees this protection fades. As in most cases, their own states are the ones performing the threat of persecution. Therefore, they will need protection from other states. The protection is basically guarantying the basic human rights for the refugees in the states of asylum and that they will not be refouled to their home state where they will face persecution. Also offering the refugees durable solutions to their problems by integrating in states of asylum or in some cases resettling in another country. The protection is provided by the UNHCR staff all over the world. Their main objective is to provide physical and legal protection. (UNHCR Protection)

  1. Article 33 of the Refugee Convention PROHIBITION OF EXPULSION OR RETURN (REFOULEMENT)
  2. No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
  3. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly of a particularly series crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country. (The Refugee Convention 1951).

Any refugee, who is physically in a country regardless of being a legal refugee or not, cannot be refouled as long as his/her return to would threaten his/her life, security, or freedom. The only limitation on this principle is the so-called ‘criminal offence exception’, namely i.  If the restriction applies to the individual that is seeking asylum then the state where the refugee is seeking asylum has the right to either refuse or arrest the refugee, more than likely to deport him. The principle of non-refoulement has the status of jus cogens. It is a peremptory norm in international law that no interpretation or derogation is allowed. As the principle stresses on the right of individuals to move to seek asylum and not be refouled to where their freedoms or lives may be in jeopardy. Therefore, the jus cogens nature of the non-refoulement is preserved. (The jus cogens nature of non-refoulement)

Egypt signed the Geneva Convention in 1951 and ratified it in 1981 with the consideration of five reservations on provisions. The reservations are basically limiting the Egyptian role into just being a host with no duties to offer to the refugees. For example, Article 22 section 1 of the Geneva Convention of depriving the refugees from the right of getting education in Egyptian public schools, article 24 of the convention (social security and labor legislation), article 12(1) (personal status), and article 23 (public relief and assistance). From these examples we could understand that Egypt is excluding itself from any services that could be offered. This is Egypt’s main arguments that it uses to legally maneuver its way out of any accusations

  1. Case study: South Sudanese Refugees in Egypt

Before the secession of South Sudan from the Republic of Sudan there was a civil war from 1983 till 2005. One of the main reasons for the civil war was religious intolerance. The northern leaders were in favor of implementing religious rule and policies and the southern population had different religious beliefs and culture. Crops were burned down, Villages were destroyed, at least millions were killed and double that number fled to neighboring countries either by force or by evading from unfortunate conditions, and indeed this led to the separation of many families. The civil war led to flee of around four million, including families that were separated, and children without adults to take care of them. People escaped from Sudan due to the mass persecution. (Fleeing the homeland) One of the most attracting states is Egypt for several reasons and most importantly a good UNHCR office which gives the refugee better changes of resettling in a western country. The Sudanese refugees that are registered in the UNHCR are 25000; however, the estimated numbers of only Sudanese are one to four million living with no education, no money, no jobs, and no rights. These refugees live in extremely inhumane conditions, degrading treatment ex: racism, rape, discrimination.

Refugees are among one of the most vulnerable individuals in the world and therefore, they seek asylum. When they come to find no rights, host that refuses to help them, unfortunate circumstances (Sudanese struggle in the streets of Cairo). Regardless of the inopportune conditions there is a much worse problem which is not getting accepted as a refugee from the UNHCR. The chance of interview is possible; however, a refugee would never know the reason for getting rejected. On a factual level there are many things that negatively influence the performance of the refugee while conducting the interview such as: Trauma from the tragedy that they lived, not able to fluently express why they are seeking asylum in a different language, or even lack of resources (for example, the interviewer could be concerned with finishing the interview quickly in order to be able to conduct another interview).   How the process is implemented puts the refugee in jeopardy and rises the chances of not receiving the physical protection. This leaves the applicants with the risk of refoulement

Mr. Faisal Mohamed Haroun refugee from Darfur and are registered in the UNHCR, was detained. The Egyptian government has made a decision to deport him on the 16 January 2011 at 11:00 from Cairo Airport in the Administrative Court case no. 47889. He was accused by the Egyptian authority of trying to cross the border with Israel illegally from the city of Sheikh Zuwayid. Also later the Egyptian authority claimed that he has a hand in the refugee and weapon trafficking in this area. As this human trafficking process happens in this area almost every day, thousands are arrested, and some could die before even going to court. When refugees are detained in police stations they are at risk of being refouled. Since it is stated in the Sudanese constitution the citizens are not allowed to go to Israel then this gives the Sudanese government a reason to execute them. In this case, the acts of the Egyptian government are a pure breach of Article 33 of the Geneva Convention as it sends to a state where there is a threat to his life or security. Detention without evidence of the accusations, mistreatment, refusing to allow his family or even lawyers to see him, and threat of refoulement makes up a violation of his human rights and as refugees, including violations of the obligations promised to him by the Egyptian state by virtue as it signed the convention related to the status of refugees and additional international treaties.  I interpret the Egyptian government’s ambiguous position as an act of political favor to the Sudanese government. The detainee’s families are notorious of opposing the Sudanese government and are leaders of an association that aid the darfuri refugees. (EFRR-Egypt) Unfortunately this has not been the first case to be treated in this manner with the same accusation and with no evidence.

As a conclusion, Egypt has breached Article 33 of the 1951 Geneva Convention which Egypt signed and ratified. Firstly, Egypt detained refugees arbitrarily. Secondly, threatening refugees with removal by force back home to where they will face persecution (A clear act of refoulement).

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