The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

How many Sudanese killed in Cairo?

I'm still on holiday (South Africa) but I thought this comment from Joe Vess deserved some highlighting:

I know Issandr's not here, but I thought the big story from Egypt this week should be mentioned. Eric Reeves has an article on his website where he reports that the SPLM has recorded 265 Sudanese refugees murdered by the police, about ten times the "official" number reported most places. [link]

It also goes into a lot of historical detail on some other very relevant things, but I was wondering if Arabist readers had any more details about an accurate casualty figure. was publishing this:

Emmanuel Joseph, a southern Sudanese refugee, committed suicide yesterday at the Shebin el-Kom prison where Egyptian authorities is detaining hundreds of refugees due to be deported to the Sudan.

Refugees carrying yellow and blue UNHCR cards are still held at camps.

Security authorities prevents refugees from visiting hospitals. The level of health care provided to refugees has not been ascertained yet.

Visits to a 7-year old girl at the 7th floor of Kasr al-Aini hospital till now. Her family is missing.

Security authorities tried to return corpses of victims to Khartoum via the Sudanese embassy. The corpses were transported in refrigerators from hospitals and there were attempts to convince families to make it difficult or impossible to monitor the number of victims. According to refugee sources, 70 persons are missing, in addition to 28 corpses at the Zeinhom morgue.

So far there is no proof of the fear among refugees that organs were stolen from the corpses of victims.

The results of a canvassing of area hospitals:

180 dead at Giza Hospital
27 dead at Zeinhom Hospital
35 dead at Manshiet Bakry Hospital
23 dead at Kasr El Ein Hospital

This represents a total of 265 dead
In his Al Ahram Weekly piece, Gamal Nkrumah reported that rights groups believed there were at least 100 dead. He notes, among other things, that the MB were the first to protest the situation in parliament:

"The indecent and inhumane assault by the police is deplorable. The people of the Nile Valley, Egyptian and Sudanese are one. Nothing can justify such brutality," Hamdi Hassan, spokesman of the parliamentary bloc of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The Muslim Brothers, the largest opposition bloc in the People's Assembly, were the first political group to issue a statement condemning the forcible evacuation by the police of the Sudanese asylum-seekers.

"Egypt's image has been irrevocably damaged," Hassan continued. "The police exhibited the same crassness with which they treated voters during the parliamentary poll a few weeks ago. The situation is untenable."

"Egypt must show it can shrug off its introspection and focus again on the geopolitical challenges in its own backyard. It should be using its leverage in Sudan to help reverse political uncertainty there."

The incident provoked a flurry of diplomatic activity. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit sent explanatory messages to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to the Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa and to the Islamic Conference Organisation and the African Union. He said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had approved the evacuation of the makeshift camp, something the UNHCR denies.

"Who are we to tell a sovereign government what to do? We have been giving the government updates and we reported the deteriorating health conditions at the park. We never requested the forced removal of the asylum-seekers," said Dessalegne Damtew, deputy representative of UNHCR in Cairo.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, issued a strongly-worded statement criticising the Egyptian authorities.

"We negotiated with both the government and the self-appointed leaders of the Mohandessin sit-in," Damtew said. "We told the government that there was nothing more we could do."
A friend who worked on this issue in early December says that the UNHCR has been in negotiations with the government to stop it from "evacuating" the camp over the past three months as it negotiated with the refugees. By mid-December, UNHCR has believed it has concluded an agreement with the refugees to clear the camp by 19 December. It seems that there was a last minute change of mind by the Sudanese (for unclear reasons) and that they decided to stay. At that point UNHCR may have decided to no longer ask the Egyptians to hold back. If that's so (and from the quote above it seems to be) then UNHCR is partly to blame from what happened, since it is perfectly reasonable to expect the Egyptian police to act like this in light of its history of brutality against Sudanese people and in general.

I also wonder whether this will have wider ramifications in Africa, among the African Union or individual member states. A good occasion to show discontent will be during the African Cup which Egypt will host in a few weeks.

The refugees issue is one of legitimate concern for the Egyptian government. However, the way they've dealt with it shows, once again, that the regime is so inept that the only policy tool it knows how to use is violence.