The UN refugee agency said on Wednesday that Egypt had agreed to delay by three days the deportations of more than 600 Sudanese after rights groups condemned the plan.
Egypt, facing an unwelcome international spotlight over the forcible break-up of a three-month protest by Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers, has sought to deflect responsibility, saying the UNHCR had applied enormous pressure on the government to end the sit-in.
Thousands of riot police wielding batons and water cannon last week dispersed the protest by more than 2000 Sudanese in an upmarket district of Cairo aiming to draw attention to their cause.
Hundreds were also reported to have been wounded.
“We will have access for three days to assess the status of the people in the centres, to assess their legal status and to see if there are people that are in need of international protection”
Egypt arrested more than 2000 Sudanese refugees and asylum-seekers after the clashes and has been holding them in military camps around the city.
Astrid van Genderen Stort, the UNHCR spokeswoman, said that the agency had appealed to have access to the people in the military centres.
“We are going to get this access tomorrow, apparently,” Stort said. “We will have access for three days to assess the status of the people in the centres, to assess their legal status and to see if there are people that are in need of international protection.”
The Egyptian authorities had earlier said they would begin deporting 654 Sudanese on Thursday.
Riot police used water cannons on the
Six non-governmental organisations said that the plan violated a Geneva Convention which bans the forced repatriation of refugees.
Human rights groups have expressed concern for the safety of those being returned, many of whom lost their documents when Egyptian security forces stormed the park where they had been protesting for months.
The protesters had demanded resettlement in a third country, complaining of harsh living conditions in Egypt and discrimination.
US-based Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, saying that some of those set for return could be at risk of persecution in Sudan, and that the police assault had scattered families.