CAIRO,(Reuters) – Egypt has decided to release 143 Sudanese who were among 469 detained by police after the break-up of a protest last month, the Foreign Ministry said.
Egyptian police originally rounded up more than 600 Sudanese who were part of a three-month demonstration that ended in violent clashes in December. Egypt had said it wanted to send all of them back to Sudan but has since released some of them.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has appealed to the authorities not to send any Sudanese back to Sudan, has been interviewing those still in detention to determine whether any are entitled to be labelled refugees.
Those with refugee status would be exempt from deportation.
The ministry said in a statement, issued late on Tuesday, that the authorities would release 56 Sudanese from Darfur, the war-torn western region of Sudan, and 87 women and children, leaving 326 still in detention.
The U.N. agency would have until Jan. 26 to determine the legal status of those still being held, the ministry said.
“We are extremely happy about this positive development that women and children and all Darfuris will be released, and we have been informed that it (the releases) will be taking place tomorrow,” Astrid van Genderen Stort told Reuters.
But she said the UNHCR was still seeking clarification about the number of women and children to be released because the U.N. agency had more than 87 listed as being detained.
Those detained were among up to 3,500 people who held a sit-in protest, which lasted about three months, demanding resettlement in Western countries. Twenty-seven Sudanese were killed in clashes when police broke up the protest.
Earlier this month, Egypt released 164 of the original group of more than 600 who had been detained because they were found to be eligible for U.N. assistance. Their papers had been lost in the clashes.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said the authorities plan to release Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers but would deport illegal immigrants.
The UNHCR says there are up to 3 million Sudanese living in Egypt, of which 20,000 are registered with the agency. Sudan suffered two decades of north-south civil war and has an ongoing conflict in the Darfur region.