The Egyptian security forces arrested about 16 students from South Sudan after beating them as they gathered in front of their country’s embassy in Cairo to show solidarity with their colleagues at the embassy. According to the accounts, the attack and arrest took place at the behest of embassy officials, which makes Egyptian security a tool of proxy repression, which is not the first time.
Nour Khalil, the researcher on refugee and immigrant issues in Egypt, explained that the crisis began a week ago, when about 20 students staged a sit-in inside the Juba Embassy in Cairo, protesting against changes to the scholarships they came to Egypt for. For not receiving tuition, housing or living expenses from the embassy, the students demanded a solution to the issue through three letters addressed to embassy officials without a response, which forced them to sit in. According to Khalil, embassy officials cut off the water from the protesters and prevented food from entering them. Then, on September 29, the ambassador and the embassy staff left the headquarters, and the Egyptian security forces deployed around it. After that, they lost contact with the protesters lost the connection with the protesters since last Tuesday evening.
In a joint statement, the heads of the South Sudanese Student Associations in Egyptian universities called for releasing the arrested students. They called on embassy officials to stop issuing orders to the Egyptian police to use force against the peaceful sit-in students. The statement expressed their concern about the conditions the students were going through and demanded that food and basic needs for the sit-in be allowed to enter. This is not the first time the Egyptian authorities have committed humanitarian violations against refugees and migrants through collaboration with the authorities of their country. Last August, a human rights report documented the Egyptian authorities’ violation of the principle of non-refoulement, enshrined in international law, by forcibly deporting dozens of Eritrean asylum seekers to Eritrea, despite the confirmed risk to their lives. This happened with direct collaboration between the Egyptian authorities and the regime of Isaias Afwerki, who ruled Eritrea with iron and fire for nearly three decades.
The forcible returns of Eritrean asylum seekers after they were arbitrarily detained in Egypt for periods ranging from a few months to two years in harsh and inhumane conditions, where they were denied access to exercise, adequate food, adequate medical care, and personal hygiene items, including sanitary napkins and clothing. The Egyptian regime has also refused to allow them access to UNHCR, impeding their right to access the asylum procedure. The deportees to Eritrea, which suffers from a terrible human rights crisis, faced a black fate, according to their families testimonies, as some of them were sent to compulsory military service after their return. At the same time, some fled again from Eritrea to Sudan, while others did not receive news and disappeared without a trace. UN human rights experts have said that forcibly returned to Eritrea are considered “traitors” and are often “detained upon arrival, interrogated, tortured, kept in severe punitive conditions, and subjected to disappearance”.
In 2017, the Egyptian authorities, in conjunction with the fierce attack of the Chinese authorities on the Muslim Uyghur minority, launched a campaign targeting Uyghur refugees in Egypt, many of whom study at Al-Azhar. At that time, the security forces arrested dozens of Uyghurs without judicial permission and detained some without legal basis. It also allowed Chinese security officers to interrogate them inside Egypt before a group of them were later deported to China at the request of Beijing. The Egyptian regime’s move came at the behest of the Chinese regime, which did not like the increasing numbers of Uyghurs in Egypt, as the Chinese regime believed that these Uyghurs might pose a future danger to it, and the Egyptian regime responded to these fears with a desire to enjoy distinguished relations with Beijing.