Monday, January 02, 2006
CALLS FOR INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION MOUNT IN MASSACRE OF SUDANESE REFUGEES IN EGYPT
The death toll among Sudanese refugees after violent clashes with Egyptian security forces outside UN refugee agency offices last week in Cairo has increased to 27, a Sudanese diplomatic source said Monday.
The dead include 12 children, eight women and seven men, a spokesman for the Sudanese embassy in Cairo told AFP. The toll rose after more people died of their injuries in hospitals across the city.
Egyptian authorities said they acted in consultation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and with Sudanese diplomats in Cairo.
A Sudanese official said today Egyptian authorities are preparing to deport some 600 Sudanese, part of a group of nearly 2,000 people detained after police forcibly broke up the protest in Cairo. "The targeted number of Sudanese who will be flown home ... is around 600," Major General Beshir Ahmed Beshir, who chairs a committee formed to receive the deportees, told AFP.
Human rights groups have expressed concern for the safety of those being returned, many of who lost their documents when Egyptian security forces stormed the park where they had been protesting for three months.
More than 44 Egyptian MPs, most of them Muslim Brotherhood deputies but also some from opposition political parties and independents, issued calls for a government investigation into the deadly violence.
"Is it the role of the police force to kill people and confront them with such force?" asked Taymur Abdul Ghani, a Brotherhood MP.
The refugees, including women and children, had been staging a public sit-in for the past three months protesting their treatment by the UNHCR and were demanding relocation to a third country.
The protesters were demanding that the UN's refugee agency move them to another country, citing racism and a lack of jobs, education and healthcare in Egypt since they fled violence in Sudan.
"We want to move to a country that treats us like human beings, where we can live in freedom ... Ask anyone — we can’t send our children to school. The one job we’re allowed to do here is be a cleaner," said Fawzia Adam, from western Sudan.
She added, "The Egyptian government will never help. The UN just stood by. If there’s no solution we will all have to just kill ourselves. This is the final solution, so that world knows it’s impossible to live like this," she added.
In 2004, the UNHCR changed its policy on Sudanese refugees due to an ongoing peace process and improved conditions in Sudan, leading to disgruntlement among Egypt's Sudanese refugee community.
Between 1994 and 2004, 31,000 Sudanese were given refugee status and more than half were resettled. Now, however, the vast majority of asylum seekers are provided with basic services and renewable six-month visas, but are denied refugee status.
The lack of refugee status precludes the possibility of resettlement and had led to a perception among Sudanese refugees that their rights have been infringed.
According to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), refugee children are unable to get public elementary-school education, while their parents are discriminated against when looking for work. "The EOHR calls upon the People's Assembly to draft a bill on refugee protection in Egypt and to amend the Unified Labor Law of 2003 so that a refugee can find a job easily without being discriminated against," read a statement from the rights group.
The EOHR statement added that the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, ratified by Egypt in 1981, should be implemented through legislation consistent with the Egyptian constitution, which guarantees the rights of refuges.
Human rights groups are calling for an independent investigation into violent police attack.
"Egyptian Security Forces should immediately investigate these deaths and unjustified violent incidents," read a statement from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). The police used "excessive force" in breaking up a three-month long peaceful demonstration, it noted, urging that all those responsible be brought to trial.
EOHR also said UNHCR bears part of the blame. The group said the UNHCR has become so bureaucratic that it let the plight of the refugees drag on for too long. EOHR said it was the UNHCR's responsibility to guarantee refugee safety in the first place and suggested that the UN agency had abandoned the Sudanese leaving them open to the possibility of forced eviction from Egypt.
The Arab Network for Human rights Information, Egyptian Anti-Globalization Group (AGEG), El Nadim Centre and the Centre for Socialist Studies said they are joining forces to set up an independent fact finding task force and persuade the Sudanese refugees to file suit in Egypt against "the crimes committed against them and the violations they suffered at the hands of the Egyptian government and the UNHCR".
The groups have also demanded that they be allowed to visit the camps where the refugees are now held, to provide them necessary legal and medical aid.
Other groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) chose to focus on the Egyptian government in their reaction to the killings. They failed to cite either the UN or the Sudanese government as having any responsibility in the massacre.
"The high loss of life suggests the police acted with extreme brutality," said Joe Stork, deputy director of HRW's Middle East division. "A police force acting responsibly would not have allowed such a tragedy to occur."
HRW said that the evident planning of the police operation to clear the park in Mohandiseen district meant that the police acted on the basis of a high-level policy decision.
Like the Arab and Middle Eastern groups, the New York-based organization has called for a local investigation that looked at all levels of the police command, including the role of Egypt's interior minister Habib al-Adli.
"The blood is still on the sidewalks, and already the government is blaming the Sudanese refugees and migrants... An independent investigation is absolutely necessary to assess responsibility and punish those responsible," Stroke said in a statement. Sources: IPS, IRIN, AFP, Sudan.net, Sudan Tribune