I received an email yesterday from a blogger in Egypt about the current status of refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan who are caught in between Cairo’s chaos.
Egypt is a transit hub for many of the Horn’s refugees. Some are fleeing conflict, others insecurity or persecution, others simply seek a better life elsewhere. Over the last ten years, as the Darfur conflict intensified and the Eritrea-Ethiopia relations worsened, Egypt and the Arab World has been faced with a sharp increase in the transit and resettling of refugees from the Horn of Africa. Recent reports of Darfuri refugees being denied basic services & protection in Cairo, Eritrean refugees being held hostage in the Sinai, Israel’s establishment of a detention center for African refugees and Ethiopian domestic workers being attacked in Lebanon reveal a worrying trend of hardening policies towards African refugees in the Middle East.
So what will happen to the thousands of Sudanese, Eritreans & Ethiopian refugees who have been living in Cairo? Are they being protected during Egypt’s current crisis? Who is helping them survive through Cairo’s chaos?
Perhaps this note sheds some light on the question:
February 5, 2011
It is four in the morning. I reside about two blocks from Tahrir square. Can’t sleep with the sporadic gunshots ringing around me. I have Al Jazeera on and surfing the internet to have some sense of freedom. I have a lot of activist and blogger friends experiencing a siege as I write. People I have been close to for the last four years. All of them, part of the amazing organic community who is putting pressure on the Egyptian government.
The Black Africans, in this disorder of things, are the silenced community. Of the four years I have spent in Egypt, racism has been a consent companion, at all levels of the Egyptian social structure. This constancy of racial prejudice during time of peace, cannot be imaginable during time of violence and suspicion. This is not to say that the racist behavior has to be generalized to all Egyptians, but the facts are the facts. See for yourself.
There is a considerable sub-Saharan African community in Cairo: refugees, students, migrant workers, international bureaucrats and government or political officials and their families. I spent about half of today at the airport. I saw those with the financial means attempting to leave the country. But there are other members of this robust community. Cairo is home to a significant refugee community from various countries. The bulk of them are from sub-Saharan Africa mainly Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea . Their whereabouts and welfare should be of a public concern in these difficult moments. Their injuries and death (if any) should not be devaluated when considering the growing numbers of victims of the Egyptian state’s repression. Racism is as virulent in the Middle East as in the US in the 1960s.
I was told, by a friend working at Amira, that some Sudanese and Eritrean refugees have been arrested and chased from their apartments. She also mentioned how it has been difficult for them to feed themselves. With some friends, she was working on getting some groceries to some Somali refugees. Prior to his departure for Turkey, another acquaintance and employee of the American University in Cairo, shared with me how he had to financially assist the Sudanese refugees he has befriended. Unable to work, deprives of any assistance in this time of chaos, their survival capacities have been substantively undermined. Abdul Kader, one of the leaders of the Somali refugee community here told me that their vulnerable financial situation has now been aggravated by pressures put on them by landlords, who themselves are doubt strapped in an economy that has come to a halt. Even still, the landlords are pressuring the refugees to vacate their living quarters.
It doesn’t stop there. Two Somali refugee women have been sexually abused in their home at El Ashra two days ago in the heat of the uprising. The Somali community leader, Ali Dahiradin, received the report this afternoon. The women have been beaten and sexually abused by a gang of young armed Egyptians. Dahiradin was vexed, relaying to me that the women are complaining that there is no justice they cannot go to the police.
Even as I have ventured out, dedicated to my passion of documenting society, to capture these ongoing events, I have to deal with some remarks from some of the protesters. At the moment, it will not be fair and ethical for me to further comment on the faith of the sub-Saharan Africans, not knowing all the details. So far, I know that many are exiting the country and I am now thinking about it myself.
As everyone, I hope things will get better. But the reality is actually worse than what is shown on TV. Once again, the Media is exposing its weaknesses to manipulations through different political agendas defending different political and economic interests. Many have been hurt; many are unaccounted for; people are being killed. My utmost consideration and respect to the Egyptian people braving the state and its rigid structures of oppression and exploitation.
Egypt and the region will never be the same. The multitude are already on the move in Jordan, Sudan and Yemen, whatever their specific differences.
It is now five fifteen. The call to pray is being interrupted by the gunshots killing the children of Egypt in a place supposedly incarnating freedom (Tahrir). As I am about to put my forehead to the ground, let us all pray to the all Mighty for the souls of those that fell today to the bullets of the wicked.