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Report blames “failures”, “false expectations” for violence against refugees

[Egypt] Police at the site of the 29 December riot. [Date picture taken: 12/29/2005]
Police at the site of the December riot where Sudanese protesters were killed (Kenanah.com)

Officials from UN refugee agency UNHCR criticised an 8 June report by the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies (FMRS) programme at the American University in Cairo that blamed agency maladministration, Egyptian security forces and Sudanese protest leaders for the death and forced removal of Sudanese protesters in Cairo in late 2005.

“It does not appear that UNHCR's views have been presented accurately,” said UNHCR regional representative Saad al-Attar in a written statement. “We feel that there are a number of striking omissions and errors of facts.” Al-Attar added that UNHCR Cairo would soon provide “detailed observations”.

The 68-page FMRS report – based largely on interviews with UNHCR officials, security personnel and protest leaders – states that actions by all three groups paved the way for a final confrontation. “There was a tragic failure in the way the UNHCR dealt with the situation. There was a tragic failure in the way that the Egyptian government forcefully and inhumanely dealt with the refugees,” said Fateh Azzam, FMRS director and editor of the report. “And there were false expectations on the part of the Sudanese about their chances for resettlement.”

The report examines the circumstances that led between 1,800 and 2,500 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Cairo to hold a sit-in near the UNDP office in late September 2005. The protest continued until 30 December, when Egyptian security forces forcibly removed demonstrators to various holding centres. In the melee, more than 20 protesters were killed, many of them women and children.

Azzam noted, however, that the report failed to uncover the reasons for the UNHCR’s allegedly “confrontational attitude”, or why the government chose to deal with protestors in so harsh a manner. “The purpose of the report is to really understand what happened, and to see what can be done to avoid it in the future,” said Azzam, who expressed hope that the study – entitled “A Tragedy of Failures and False Expectations” – would lead to improved relations between Cairo, the UNHCR and Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt.

Around 20,000 of the estimated 90,000 refugees currently living in Egypt are Sudanese or Somali. Between 1994 and 2004, some 31,000 Sudanese were granted refugee status and more than half were resettled. Due to a peace agreement in Southern Sudan, however, this number has fallen, with the vast majority of asylum seekers receiving only basic services and renewable six-month visas – but not refugee status.

Azzam pointed to the difficult conditions faced by many Sudanese in Cairo as the real reason for the protest. Many, he said, had been denied resettlement and were expected to return to war-torn areas, while others were still waiting to have their status determined – a situation Azzam described as “suspended animation that can last two, three or four years”.

Azzam went on to suggest facilitating refugees’ access to work permits as a way to ease the situation. “It’s a hard situation for everyone, especially asylum seekers,” he said. “The question is how we can make their lives better for them in the time they’re here.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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