Monday, March 01, 2010

More migrants seek refuge in Egypt

Perhaps the most important refugee ever to have entered Egypt, seeking shelter from Roman oppression was the child Jesus and his family. The four-year old little girl who died in the early hours on December 30th 2005 at the Mustafa Mahmoud Square in front of the UN headquarters was not as lucky, she was among 20 people killed in a stampede when state security tried to storm the camp that was set up by Sudanese migrants staging a sit-in three months earlier protesting UNCHR policy. If the infant Jesus and his parents would have seeked shelter today,chances are that he wouldn´t have been allowed to enter Egypt.

There are about 42 000 refugees living in Egypt, whom are registered with UNHCR(2008)in Cairo, the majority being from Sudan (54 per cent), a quarter from Iraq (24 per cent), 13 per cent from Somalia, refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia also form significant numbers, which are growning. The number of people living in Egypt, but not registered with the UNCHR are believied to be much higher, for example the Iraqis living in Egypt currently are estimated to be at least 17 000. Egypt was one of the major destinations for Iraqis at the hight of the sectarian violence in Iraq 2004-05, and according to Egyptian entry data there would be somewhere between 100 000 and 150 000. Much tougher visa restrictions put in place in late 2006 have minimized the number of Iraqis opting for Egypt. Some may have moved on, trying to secure entry to the EU, some have returned, but most likely, a large number of those entering Egypt in 2004-05 are still residing in Egypt, without official refugee status. That is most likely the case with the other refugee groups as well.

Dalia Malek points out the protection gap facing those entering Egypt illegally, obstructing or denying them access to UNCHR, among other things. Showing another side of the plentiful problems that refugees can face in Egypt.

One of the things that has bothered me the most in the last couple of years is how reckless our border guards are with their guns, with a policy that seems to be shoot first, and ask later, especially when it comes to migrants/refugees trying to cross the border to Israel. I´m not going to dwell on the subject much further at this point, but to stress the urgency of this pattern, the latest chapter in this tragic saga being the two killed last Sunday.

For those who wants further reading on this, the Human Rights watch report from November 2008, Sinai Perils provides a good start.

For those keen on knowing more about the situation for Iraqi refugees living in Egypt, a topic also raised in the Al Jazeera-English clip above, could start at the Iraqis in Egypt site.

In June 2009, the first Cairo Refugee film festival was held, you can find the website here.

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