Civil society groups and members of the Sudanese community in Egypt held a ceremony on Tuesday commemorating refugees and asylum seekers killed in clashes with local police, following a sit-in protest in December 2005.
In Muslim countries such as Egypt, wakes are traditionally held 40 days after a death has occurred.
Late last year, Sudanese protesters staged a three-month-long sit-in demonstration in a public park in central Cairo close to the offices of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Their main demands were for better living conditions and resettlement in a third country.
On the night of 29 December, however, Egyptian police staged a massive security operation to evacuate the site of the protest.
Approximately 4,000 police troops surrounded the camp and, after warning the demonstrators to disperse, fired water cannons into the crowd. They then entered the park in force, beating protesters indiscriminately, according to a report from civil liberties monitoring group Human Rights Watch.
Official accounts reported that 27 people were killed in the subsequent violence, although civil society groups believe the death toll was much higher.
“The government has not yet issued any death certificates,” Jihan Shaaban of the Socialist Centre for Political Studies pointed out. “This way, they reveal neither the cause of death nor the number of victims.”
No one from the government was available to comment on the issue.
After the protest was broken up, between 2,000 and 2,500 Sudanese were taken to detention camps, according to UNHCR. Of these, some 1,500 were immediately released when they produced documentation proving they were registered with the UNHCR as asylum seekers or refugees.
However, 183 people still remain in detention.
In the meantime, a handful of local NGOs have continued to press the government for a credible investigation into the affair.
Working closely with Egypt’s large community of refugees and asylum seekers, they are providing political, legal, medical and financial support.
“We need to find out who issued the orders [for the security operation],” said Aamer Jaber al-Nour of The Voice of Sudanese Refugees, a local NGO that initially organised the protest.
Magda Adly, head of the Cairo-based Nadim Centre for Human Rights, also urged action: “Egypt must be condemned,” she said. “We must not cry. Instead, we must act.”
Rights watchdog Amnesty International has said that any investigation into the events of 29 December should look into abuses committed by police and an alleged pattern of excessive use of force.