One of the benefits--if that is the right word--of working on asylum cases is that you get to learn about a side of the world that is hidden. Countries that persecute people usually don't like to publicize what they do. Most times, the knowledge really isn't all that news worthy. It's interesting and sad, but we're all busy, and there's only so much time in the day to worry about these things. But a client recently sent me this story, and I wanted to pass it on. It reflects one small piece of the Syrian refugee crisis.
Syrian refugees on the boat. The woman killed by the Egyptian Coast Guard is visible at the bottom right.

My client is a Syrian asylum seekers (currently stuck in limbo along with most asylum seekers in the U.S.). He has contacts with the Syrian Free Army and has been involved in the humanitarian effort to help his people (the UN estimate that the war has created
1.5 million refugees and 4 million IDPs).

Apparently, some Syrian refugees in Egypt were trying to escape Egypt and reach Sweden. The first leg of their journey involved a boat trip to Italy. While they were still in Egyptian waters, the Egyptian Coast Guard chased them, fired on their boat with live ammunition, and then captured the refugees. Two people were killed by the gunfire. As of today, the refugees--men, women, and children--remain detained in Egypt in difficult conditions. My client was able to talk with one of the detained refugees by cell phone. Below are some excerpts from the conversation (translated from Arabic and edited by me for clarity).

The trip began last Tuesday, September 17, at 8:00 AM. We started from the shores of Alexandria, Egypt towards Italy. We hoped to reach Sweden to apply for political asylum. When the boat left, we were in extremely hard conditions and the boat itself was in very bad shape and very old. The boat was carrying almost 200 persons, including 30 children as young as four months old. There were also about 50 women; some of them are pregnant. The rest were men aged 20 to over 50.

After sailing for almost an hour, we were surprised that the Egyptian Coast Guard was tracking us. They began shooting live ammunition towards us, even though they could hear the screams of women and children and all the people on-board, and we waved our hands at them hoping they would stop shooting. They did not respond to our desperate cries and they kept shooting at us until our boat stopped. Then some Coast Guard members jumped onto our boat and threatened everyone with their guns. They did not even try to help the wounded among us.

The daughter of Fadwa Taha mourns her dead mother.

When the situation calmed down for a moment, we discovered that there were two dead people, killed by the shooting. They are Omar Dalloul, a man in his late thirties, and Fadwa Taha, a woman in her fifties. There were also two people wounded--a 15-year-old boy and a young man who is 20 years old.

After that, the boat was towed to Aboukir Harbor in Alexandria (which is a military harbor), the coast guard did not allow any humanitarian agencies or media to document the incident. They pressured us to leave the boat. We tried our best not to leave the boat before having any organization present like the Red Cross or other humanitarian organization. We stood on the boat for four hours and tried to contact anyone to help us, but it was no use. Finally, the Egyptians promised that we would go to the police station for an hour to sign some paperwork and then be released. But when we arrived at the police station, they took our passports and we have not been allowed to leave.

Immediately after we left the boat, we were detained in the port for 15 hours in the open. The children and women slept on the floor without any blankets. Finally, at around 2:00 AM on Wednesday, our group was divided up and we were transferred to two police station in Alexandria: Almountazah 2 Police Department and Aboukir Police Point.

Syrian men and boys detained at the Egyptian police station.

The situation is very bad in prison. The part of the prison where we are does not have water or bathrooms because it is still under construction. Every day, construction workers and painters come and work here and the kids are suffering from the smell of paint. Also, there is a swamp nearby and so we are suffering from mosquitoes and flies.

We have babies who need nursing and the police won’t let them out of the prison. We have a boy who is here alone without his parents. When his family came to take him, the police didn’t agree. They said that he is charged and he needs to stay in prison. He is nine years old.

No media have covered our story, but we think some charity knows we are here because we are receiving food. We are not sure who is providing it, but it is not from the prison.

As far as I know, the refugees are still detained in Alexandria. Of course, I cannot verify this story, but it comes from a source I trust.

Egypt has signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. We can only hope that despite the turmoil in their own country, the Egyptians will live up to their obligations and treat these and other refugees with respect.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: