Nov 8, 2011

Refugees in Egypt, a forgotten issue!

In Egypt, several issues do not have enough attention. Refugee issues in Egypt are not usually publicly discussed and even if this happens, it hardly goes in the right direction.

Due to its position, Egypt receives a lot of refugees and asylum seekers who aim to stay in Egypt or only to transit until they leave to another country. Those refugees and asylum seekers leave their countries for various reasons, such as fleeing war and armed conflict, political instability or prosecution. They come from different directions; the majority of which come from Sudan followed by Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea and other countries. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are approximately 40,000 registered refugees in the country, from 38 different nationalities. Not all refugees are registered with UNHCR however, so the real number is very much higher and may reach millions. 

Recently, Youm 7 newspaper carried a daring and shocking investigation in Sinai and revealed the horrors that refugees are subjected to there. The investigation shed light on the African refugees who seek to enter Israel through Sinai are subjected to torture, rape and killings by organized criminal groups in Sinai. Those criminals engage in organs trafficking taken from the refugees’ bodies. The details and images were really harrowing and definitely caused a controversy.

CNN also made a report called "Death in the Desert" about the same issue which caused an international media buzz.  

The investigation stirred many reactions. Some Egyptian media reported on it. African media in Sudan and Eritrea also reported on it and human right groups there called for further investigations and for the Egyptian state to interfere to protect the lives of those refugees. Egyptian human rights groups also called the results of the investigation a scandal and demanded immediate intervention. UNHCR also “expressed concern” over the reports and claimed that they haven’t received any previous complaints regarding the issue.

Egyptian human rights organizations have raised concerns about torture, rape and human trafficking of African refugees in Sinai before, but officials didn’t want to admit it or take any actions.  The situation seems to continue as it is and our government doesn’t want to intervene to stop this tragedy.

Unfortunately, we have a bad history in dealing with refugees in Egypt. Refugees leave their countries running away from wars, prosecution or dire economic conditions to face other hardships in Egypt. Egypt has signed 1951 Refugee Convention, but it had reservations and there’s a de facto ban on accessing employment and formal education for refugees. Obviously, Egypt already has a struggling economy and high unemployment rate which makes it hard for our government to provide services to refugees.

The Sinai horrors are not the first of a kind for refugees in Egypt. In December 2005, Egyptian security forces attacked a protest camp that was set up by Sudanese protesters in Mostafa Mahmoud Square which caused the murder of about 30 refugees including women and children, other were also deported and detained, which was also reported on in the Egyptian blogosphere. 

 Egypt also uses shoot-to-stop policy at Israeli borders to kill African refugees trying to cross the border to Israel with a death toll amounting to dozen of refugees. 

Sadly, it's not just the state that discriminates against but it permeates into daily life events and African people in Egypt suffer from incidents of racism and discrimination

This tragic situation cannot continue any longer. Immediate action must be taken from the government to stop those grave violations. It's horrible that those men, women and children flee their country to save their lives and find themselves in equally dangerous conditions or worse.More attention should be directed to refugees and their situation to end the dire condition that they suffer from.