Egyptian Raid on Sudanese Protesters Probed
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Funeral services began last night for some of the 25 Sudanese who were killed in Cairo early Friday morning when Egyptian riot police stormed their squatters camp. The government says it acted only after repeated requests from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. A charge UNHCR denies. Human rights groups are calling for an investigation into the deadly police action, but the status of the Sudanese refugees, asylum seekers and migrants remains murky. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.
PETER KENYON reporting:
In Cairo's Mahandaseen(ph) neighborhood just west of the Nile, former Khartoum resident Abdel Hafas Adel(ph) watches Egyptian crews clear away plastic tarps, blankets and trampled personal effects. The 27-year-old Adel was among thousands of people who crammed into this squatters camp for three months, trying to force the government and UNHCR to relocate them to a third country. Most of them fled Sudan's long-running civil war or the more recent violence in the Darfur region. Adel displays the bruises on his body and the stitches in his forehead from police truncheons as well as his blue refugee card which shows he's been here four years without a job and, he says, without hope.
Mr. ABDEL HAFAS ADEL (Refugee): (Through Translator) I am kicked out of Sudan. I am rejected in Sudan. I am accused of having weapons. So I want to live in any country, even if in the forest. I'd live anywhere except here, because here they mistreat me. Then there is nothing. There is no job. There is no future to build.
Unidentified Man: (Shouting in foreign language)
Crowd of People: (Shouting in unison in foreign language)
KENYON: Demonstrators gathered outside the campsite yesterday calling for the resignation of Egyptian Interior Minister Habib Al-Adli and other officials. Dr. Aida Sief al-Dawla, head of the Egyptian Association Against Torture, says she's seen the diagnoses of 22 of the wounded and 18 were suffering from concussions. She says this should not be seen as an excessive reaction to a crisis but as a crime.
Dr. AIDA SIEF AL-DAWLA (Egyptian Association Against Torture): A few years back, when a massacre took place in Luxor that targeted tourists, the minister of the Interior then was resigned. This is now a massacre committed by the minister of Interior himself. He should be brought to justice and leave the investigation.
KENYON: UNHCR spokesman Astrid Van Genderen Stort appears besieged from all sides. The Sudanese and their supporters accuse the agency of supporting the government's tactics, and President Hosni Mubarak's spokesman said the government only acted after three written requests from UNHCR. Stort disputes that, saying the agency's letters to the government asked only that they be actively engaged in finding a peaceful solution to the sit-in. But Stort also says the assumption among many of the Sudanese, that they are automatically entitled to be relocated to a third country, simply isn't true.
Ms. ASTRID VAN GENDEREN STORT (UNHCR Spokesperson): We did a lot of resettlement between 1994 and 2004, and, of course, this has created an image in their head that we can do resettlement for everyone, but that was during the height of the Sudanese conflict. Now the situation is better. People can return to Sudan. It's not an ideal situation, but they can if they want. They don't have to. But obviously resettlement isn't a step much further, that there's only--and that is available for a few people.
KENYON: Stort adds that until Friday, Egypt's record regarding the Sudanese was relatively good, noting that Egypt is host to some two to three million Sudanese, of whom only about 24,000 are registered with UNHCR as refugees or asylum seekers. But as the Sudanese begin to bury their dead, including young children, their prospects are no clearer than before they began their protest.
(Soundbite of traffic)
KENYON: Outside the former campsite, demonstrator Wail Kalil(ph) says even if the survivors weren't eligible for resettlement before, they should be now because of the violence done to them here in Egypt, the country that was supposed to be offering them protection.
Mr. WAIL KALIL (Demonstrator): First, the Egyptian government should release them from the prison camps, and the NHCR should meet their demands. I think that's the least to do in respect of those who died and were injured just by demanding a decent life.
KENYON: But the chances that Egypt will punish those who ordered the riot police to move in appear slim. Yesterday, President Mubarak swore in his new Cabinet, including Interior Minster Adli in a sign of support for the minister's hard-line tactics.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo.
HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.