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Egypt releases 171 refugees who fled Syria war

December 10, 2013

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt said Tuesday that it released more than 170 Palestinian and Syrian refugees from the Syrian war whose detention for over three months had sparked an outcry by international rights groups.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdelatty said the released are part of more than 200 refugees including a large number of women and children who were arrested since September after attempting to travel illegally across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

The arrest and detention of the refugees highlighted the agony of Syrians caught up in Egypt’s political turmoil, with some media outlets describing them as supporters of the former Islamist president, ousted in popularly backed military coup last summer.

Abdelatty said in a press conference that 171 of the refugees were given a three-month-residence permit and that none had asked for permanent residence. “Permits were granted to the immigrants in order to allow them to rectify their legal status,” he said, adding that the remainder had yet to be granted permits.

He denied allegations the refugees were abused, adding that some 750,000 Syrians were living side by side with Egyptians and not in camps as in other countries.

“The treatment to the brotherly Syrians is like Egyptians’ in terms of providing basic services like health care and education,” he said, adding, “there was no change ... Egypt stands by the side of the Syrian people and revolution.”

Troubles for the Syrian refugees began after the coup Mohammed Morsi’s overthrow in July, when authorities imposed new regulations requiring entry visas. The rules were first enforced by sending a plane full of refugees without visas back to Lebanon.

Those already in the country feared arrest, and those caught trying to flee to Europe were put in police custody. Abdelatty said that these measures are “limited” and will be reviewed.

Rights groups have accused Egypt of forcing refugees to return to their home countries endangering their lives, something Abdelatty denied.

“This is not true,” he said, adding, “forced deportation is against the Egyptian policy.“Last month, a group of refugees started a hunger strike to protest their captivity. Prominent Egyptian TV journalist Yosri Fouda chronicled their suffering, adding pressure on the government to release them.

The Syrian conflict started in March 2011 as a largely peaceful uprising against his rule, but later turned into a civil war in which activists say more than 120,000 people have been killed. The United Nations put the death toll at 100,000 people in July and has not updated the figure since then.

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