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UNHCR Condemns Deaths of Sudanese Refugees in Egypt


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is condemning the violent confrontation Friday in Cairo, in which more than 20 Sudanese refugees were killed.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres says he is deeply shocked and saddened over the violent confrontation between Egyptian police and Sudanese refugees.

UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond said, "We are not apportioning blame, because we do not have a clear picture of what was happening on the ground. But, the bottom line is, people died, and, apparently, many were injured, as well. And, this is a terrible tragedy, and there is no justification for such violence and loss of life, as far as UNHCR is concerned."

The chorus of international condemnation is growing. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, also called the fatal confrontation a terrible and unjustifiable tragedy. A U.S. State Department spokesman said the Bush administration was saddened by the incident.

The New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, is calling for an independent investigation into the deaths.

Egypt's Interior Ministry says the deaths were caused by a stampede, but reporters on the scene said police stormed the improvised refugee camp and beat the refugees - including women and children - with sticks and batons.

About two-thousand Sudanese had been demonstrating in Cairo's Mostafa Mahmoud Park since September 29. They were protesting living conditions and demanding resettlement to third countries. Throughout this period, the UNHCR tried to mediate a peaceful resolution between the Sudanese refugees and the Egyptian authorities.

About 1,300 demonstrators were detained, and reportedly taken to three locations outside Cairo. Mr. Redmond says some of the people who were taken away have been released. He said UNHCR staff in Cairo are trying to gain access to those who still are detained. "We are urging Egyptian authorities to scrupulously respect the principle of non-refoulement," he said. "In other words, not to send people back to any place where their lives may be in danger. We have asked for the immediate release of all the people who have been recognized by UNHCR as either refugees or asylum seekers. We understand that is already being done and began overnight. We are also asking for full and unhindered access to all the remaining detainees."

Spokesman Redmond says the UNHCR is asking the Egyptian authorities to ensure medical treatment and psychological counseling to those who are detained. It also wants the authorities to make shelter arrangements for people who have been released and have nowhere to live.

He says most of the refugees are from southern Sudan. But, some also come from the conflict-ridden province of Darfur.

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