Eye-witness in Cairo to brutality aganst refugees
Nora Younis, an Egyptian woman, has a home help called Rousse, a Christian refugee from southern Sudan. Rousse's husband disappeared during the civil war in southern Sudan, and she made a hellish ten hour trip north to Cairo. There she found a room in the Ahmed Zaki district, among other Sudanese refugees. But sometimes Rousse could not work because of arthritis, and unable to pay her rent, she lost her room.
It was from Rousse that Nora heard about the refugees staging a sit in in the park in the well-off Mohandesin district, outside the offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees(UNHCR). The refugee protestors said they suffered discrimination, poverty and denial of services in Egypt, and they wanted UNHCR to help them move on.
On Thursday night, December 29, Nora heard that Mohandesin was being turned into something resembling a military camp, and the refugees who had been sitting in for three months were to dispersed by force..Nora decided to go down and see. She found the security forces cordoning off streets around the park, and clearing civilians away.
'At 1:00 am, and it was really cold, security forces started flushing the refugees with three water cannons from three different sides. First spray lasted for almost six minutes and was rather high. We could see the water reaching as high as the fourth balcony of the near-by building. Probably it aimed at destroying the top of their shelters.
Refugees met the water floods with cheer and dance. We won’t go was their message. A reaction no one at the other side could understand and it rather provoked the ‘they deserve whatever happens to them – they are crazy’ type of thinking.
The few civilians who gathered to observe the scene from far were mostly quiet amused. I painfully heard comments such 'let them take a shower to become clean', 'Egypt has been more than patient with them', 'security forces should’ve got rid of them from day one. They (Sudanese) are disgusting'. Laughs interrupted such comments as the refugees were sprayed with water. Few stood silent with eyes wide open at the scene, while only one objected and explained that Sudanese have demands and rights to be met by UNHCR.
A police officer told a friend as he smiled that they badly needed a bath after three months sit in. 'We have orders to finish this tonight and we will' he added. We resorted to the 2nd floor of a Cilantro Café just across the park to be able to observe, take pictures, and make phone calls. Choosing the time to attack the refugees was more than well planned. Midnight Thursday in the New Year’s weekend. All the media I contacted were out of town for vacation. A handful of political activists arrived but were totally helpless. A couple of human rights activists were with us on the phone all night, mainly Aida. One lawyer, Zyad, was able to break to the refugees themselves but then was roughed up and forced out.
The rest? Another shame
Almost an hour later another 5 minutes of continues water showered them. This time water was low, strong and direct straight at the people.
Water stopped and a negotiation round started with a Refugees delegated committee, an Egyptian official, and a UNHCR official. The Egyptian said "UNHCR will do nothing for you. We are authorized by the highest power in the state to disburse this sit in today". Refugees’ reply was "we will die on the turf".
At around 4 am we managed to get to the building of Al Watany Bank of Egypt and only then we had a full clear view of the situation from high. In Mustafa Mahmud square, the part I could see from Gamet el Dewal and Lebanon streets, and the side street of the mosque I could count 60 state security wagons, 6 ambulances, 10 armored cars and uncountable busses.
At 4:45 am the troops were lining up properly and the first circle of formations moved closer to surround the refugees. Their warm up exercise echoed in the empty city as they exchanged stepping on each foot at once saying ho- ho- ho- masr! and singing ‘ya ahla esm fel wegood yaa masr’ meaning To Egypt, who has the most beautiful name ever, whose name was created to be eternal, for Egypt we live.. and for Egypt we die.
Refugees lined up and started warming up too but saying ‘allah akbar’, ‘la ilaha ella allah’ and ‘hasbona allah wa neama al wakil’ meaning there is no god but allah and only him we delegate to handle our injustice. The Christians chanted Halleluiah. And this set identity for the war players. The few civilian audience started cheering for the Egyptian army against the dirty / black / Christian parasites. Yes, there was no humanity in the scene.
At 5 am sharp the three water cannons flushed them again and right beside the water line security forces timely attacked the refugees campus with batons and shields. After 1 minute the water stopped. Soldiers destroyed the rest of their makeshift homes and pulled up their front line of luggage throwing it away as other soldiers made their way in.
Refugees fought back with wood sticks (that was keeping their shelters), plastic empty water jars and gallons, and their hands. In 10 minutes time, a whistle was heard and all forces pulled out of the garden. Lines were reorganized. Extra troops added to Al Ogeil store side and in couple of minutes signal was given and they lashed back in.
This time was fierce. The street lights were cut off. Screams never stopped; the most acute were children’s. My eyes couldn’t follow where or where to look. It was cold. It was dark. I am sure the garden was muddy after all this water. Soldiers were brutal. They were just beating anyone anywhere stepping over anyone and anything.
Every two or three seconds a refugee would be dragged out of the horror circle, beaten all the way out, another three or four soldiers will take grip of the refugee so the first soldier could go back hunt another one. The soldiers receiving the refugee beat him more up with batons on his back, bringing him down to his knee, slapping the back of his head, dragging him to a bus where other soldiers take care of the next stage. All the way through, obscenities could be heard.
This happened to men and women equally. Sometimes when the victim was a woman I saw a child trying to hang to her leg as the soldiers drag the mother.
I saw four refugees carried by soldiers from their arms and legs, oftenly dropping midway in total motionless and I could swear they were dead.
The most horrible was the EGYPTIANS! Civilians who cheered as if they are cheering for the "army forces" freeing Palestine! As forces advanced in battle; the audience cheered, whistled and clapped. They were amused!
Resistance was weakening on Al Ogeil side and soldiers breaking fully in when my host, standing beside me in the balcony said "we are entering from the left side". I looked back at him in shock. This is not "we". He said "I mean the Egyptians". These are not Egyptians. He said "whatever".
I started shaking.
As the refugees were dragged out in bigger numbers they forced them to sit the ground on groups casually beating them till soldiers will come pick them and put them in buses.'
Nora was relieved to find that Rousse was not in the park that night, and did not get caught up in the onslaught. The news is that at least 27 refugees were killed that night in Cairo (some accounts say twice that number). The police had been called in by the UNHCR.
You can read Nora Younis' account in full, with photographs, and follow her news and clippings about the refugees in Egypt at http://www.norayounis.com/
Nora expressed shame in her fellow-Egyptians treatment of of the Sudanese refugees, not just the police brutality but the way her fellow-citizens forgot their own discontents to applaud the police. Her sense of responsibility does her credit, but we might reflect that the refugees were asking for help to get to Europe - and we know what the attitude of our own governments, and those who take their ideas from the reactionary media, are towards asylum seekers and black people coming here.
Now the Egyptian government has begun putting refugees on planes to send them back where they came from. The UN asked it not to do this, but why should it take notice? Egypt is regarded as an ally of the "Western democracies" like Britain and the US. And what has the UN done to stop bloodshed and barbarity in the Sudan, whether in the south or Dofar in the west? Some people thought atrocities in the west were being exagerrated, but the truth is the US, Britain, France and - yes, China - have been too interested in cutting deals with the Sudanese regime to worry how it deals with those in its way.
Nora Younis is not alone. Protests against the brutal treatment of the Sudanese refugees have been raised by Egyptian opposition groups. And as with the Dofar issue, the voices of human solidarity cut across the religious divide.
There was a demonstration in Cairo last week, and there's one in London on Friday. It's from 2pm-4pm outside the Egyptian embassy, South Street W1 (nearest tubes Marble Arch or Hyde Park)
War in central Africa, war in the Sudan, renewed conflict in the Horn of Africa and more refugees. But who supplies the weapons? Who makes the profits, grabs resources, and collects the debts? In an earlier posting after referring to French mercenaries - including Balkan war veterans - I mentioned that the African Liberation Solidary Campaign network, ALISC, has called these imperialist "proxy wars".
ALISC has produced a leaflet against proxy wars in Africa. It is available in English and French at: