The undersigned human rights organizations condemn the Egyptian government for its relentless campaign against immigrants and students from the Uyghur minority. Ongoing for years, the state security-led campaign has most recently targeted student Bilal Abdul Karim, 38 years old, who was arbitrarily arrested on 21 March 2023. Abdul Karim has been studying in Cairo since 2015.
Police arrested Abdul Karim while raiding his home, during which they confiscated his passport and all of his family’s savings in various currencies. Abdul Karim’s wife presented the police with his asylum-seeking registration card issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in an attempt to find out where and why her husband was detained, to no avail. On 23 March, she learned that Abdul Karim is being held at the Department of National Security.
On 26 March, the police introduced Abdul Karim as a defendant in Case No. 1193 of 2023, on charges of illegally trading in foreign currencies. Although police had seized all money from his home, the officers’ account and investigation records alleged that Abdul Karim was in possession of this money, with intent to trade at black market prices, as he was being arrested from the street in front of his home.
On 27 March, the Public Prosecution decided to release Abdul Karim on a bail of 100,000 pounds, an amount which he could obviously not pay as the police had seized all his and his family’s savings from their home. His detention was thus renewed for 15 days and he remains detained at the time of this statement’s publication.
The arbitrary arrest and detention of Abdul Karim raises many concerns about his physical and psychological integrity, amid fears that the Egyptian authorities will deport him to China. Uyghur Muslims in China face brutal human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, forced labor and torture in detention camps. Domestically, Abdul Karim’s arrest has provoked a state of panic and insecurity among the refugee community in Egypt, raising fears that at any time the entirety of their savings could be confiscated by police on the basis of falsified accusations.
Refugees in Egypt are exposed to great danger by security authorities’ forcible deportation measures, which violate the Egyptian constitution and law, and international treaties and covenants ratified by Egypt. Bilal Abdul Karim holds official papers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as an asylum-seeker. Accordingly, Abdul Kareem enjoys international protection – inclusive of the right not to be forced or threatened with deportation – as stipulated in the 1951 United Nations Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, ratified by Egypt.
The recent arrest of Bilal Abdul Karim and earlier arrests of Uyghurs constitute arbitrary detention with no legal basis, and violate international covenants and Egypt’s obligations towards refugees. Refugees are entitled to humane treatment that respects international refugee law and human rights law, and protection from threats against physical integrity. They further have the right under international law to access justice and assistance with basic physical and material needs, and to reunite with their families.
Refugees’ right to free movement must be upheld by states under the 1951 Refugee Convention, as stipulated in Article 31.1 If Abdul Karim were to be deported by the Egyptian government, it would violate Article 33 of the Convention relating to prohibition of expulsion or return “refoulement”.
In addition to violating international law, Abdul Karim’s detention violates Egypt’s constitution, which prohibits detention without legal basis in Article 54. It further violates national legislation, namely the Code of Criminal Procedure, articles 36, 40, 41, 42, and 43 of which stipulate that no detention is arbitrary, and detainees must be provided with information about the reasons for their detention, their right to obtain legal aid, and the right to challenge their detention, and they must not be detained in prisons where convicted criminals are present, and the conditions of detention must be humane.
The undersigned organizations call on the Egyptian government to immediately release Bilal Abdul Karim and ensure his physical and psychological integrity, instead of forcibly deporting him or handing him over to the Chinese authorities as it has done with numbers of Uyghur residents and refugees in Egypt, in violation of international law. The Egyptian government must allow him to complete the procedures for legalizing his status, by re-contacting the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Egypt. Further in this regard, the UNCHR in Cairo is requested by the signatory organizations to follow up on procedures for asylum-seekers, especially those at risk, by registering them, legalizing their status in Egypt, and rapidly providing them appropriate protection.
The organizations further demand an end to Egypt’s policy of forcibly deporting refugees, whether to their home country or any other country, or threatening to do so, including by requesting refugees to book a ticket at their personal expense. We call on the Egyptian security authorities to immediately disclose all information related to detained refugees, including location and conditions, and to facilitate their immediate release. We also call on the Public Prosecution to investigate the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and other related violations, given the frequency with which such illegal practices are perpetrated against them.
● Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
● Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
● El Nadim Center
● Egyptian Front for Human Rights
● Committee for Justice