EU-funded Egyptian forces ‘rounding up and deporting Sudanese refugees’

<span>About 500,000 Sudanese people – such as this family in Cairo – are registered as refugees in Egypt. Amnesty said 14 refugees were arrested in hospitals.</span><span>Photograph: Hadeer Mahmoud/Reuters</span>
About 500,000 Sudanese people – such as this family in Cairo – are registered as refugees in Egypt. Amnesty said 14 refugees were arrested in hospitals.Photograph: Hadeer Mahmoud/Reuters

The Egyptian authorities have used EU-funded security forces in a campaign of mass arrests and forcible deportations against refugees from the Sudan war, according to a human rights group report.

Amnesty International found Egypt “forcibly returned an estimated 800 Sudanese detainees between January and March 2024, who were all denied the possibility to claim asylum”.

The organisation said a campaign of mass arrests in Cairo and neighbouring Giza, and in the southern city of Aswan, where police have “conducted mass stops and identity checks targeting black individuals, spreading fear within the refugee community, leaving many afraid to leave their homes”.

Amnesty documented 14 arrests of refugees from public hospitals in Aswan. People were held in makeshift detention facilities run by Egyptian border guards, a force that has received extensive EU funding.

Refugees, including at least 11 children and their mothers, were taken to filthy warehouses or stables at military sites before being “forced into buses and vans and driven to the Sudanese border”.

Almost 2 million people have fled from Sudan since the war began in April 2023, according to the UN, as a power struggle within the military regime quickly spiralled into open warfare on the streets of the capital.

Fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia has since engulfed entire provinces. More than 9 million have had to leave their homes but are still inside the country, making Sudan the world’s largest internal displacement crisis.

In West Darfur state, Human Rights Watch has documented attacks by the RSF and allied militias that killed and displaced thousands, which they say constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, alongside the ethnic cleansing of non-Arab populations in the area.

Edem Wosornu, of the UN’s humanitarian affairs office, told the UN security council in March: “Sudan is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory.” She called the rising famine among refugees “truly the stuff of nightmares”.

About 500,000 Sudanese people are registered as refugees in Egypt.

Amnesty International said the arrests and deportations followed an Egyptian prime ministerial decree last August, demanding that foreign nationals regularise their status.

“Egypt’s border guard forces operating under the ministry of defence, as well as police operating under the ministry of interior, have carried out mass arbitrary arrests of Sudanese people, and held women, men and children in cruel and inhuman conditions pending their forced return to Sudan,” Amnesty said.

The UNHCR documented 3,000 people deported to Sudan from Egypt in September 2023 alone.

In January, the Egyptian government said it would begin an audit to calculate the cost to the state of the refugee population.

“The Egyptian government is documenting the number of refugees to identify the financial costs of hosting them under the country’s difficult economic conditions,” Adel Amer, director of the Egyptian Centre for Political, Economic and Social Studies told the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. The aim, he added, was to “urge the international community to pay its share”.

Related: Conflicts drive number of forcibly displaced people to record high

The EU signed an €80m (£68m) funding agreement with Egypt in October 2022, which bolstered the country’s border forces and coastguard, intended to prevent onward migration to Europe.

Speaking during a visit to Cairo last June, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the fund was for “border management, search and rescue and anti-smuggling operations”.

The EU would provide an additional €20m for Egypt, he said, to help “address this new wave of Sudanese refugees on your southern border”.

The European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic service, as well as the Egyptian State Information Services were contacted for comment.

Egypt was promised a further €7.4bn in EU funding in March during a visit from a group of European leaders, including the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. This included at least €200m to combat migration.

Meloni called such deals “the best way to address migratory flows”.

Amnesty said the EU risked complicity in Egypt’s human rights violations.

Sara Hashash, an Amnesty spokesperson, said: “It is unfathomable that Sudanese women, men and children fleeing the armed conflict in their country and seeking safety across the border into Egypt, are being rounded up en masse and arbitrarily detained in deplorable and inhumane conditions before being unlawfully deported.”