The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Refugees and migration
The plight of Eritreans in Egypt

This post is by occasional contributor Dalia Malek, who works on refugee issues in Egypt and whom we hope will continue to provide insights into refugees and migration as well as Egyptian politics. You should also watch Channel Four's recently aired documentary looking at Eritreans in Sinai who tried to sneak into Israel.  


Asylum seekers and refugees in Egypt face a threat of deportation to countries where they risk persecution. This violates the cornerstone of international refugee law that prohibits such deportations—the principle of non-refoulement.

Refugees in Sinai have attracted media attention because Egyptian authorities have caught, arrested, shot, or even killed an increased number of those attempting to illegally cross the border from Egypt into Israel.

Others in Sinai have been kidnapped or held hostage by smugglers or traffickers who may have deceived these mainly-Eritrean individuals into believing that they can assist them with entering Israel for a high enough price. There are reports that they have led them as far as Sinai and then held them hostage until they can provide more money; in the meanwhile, they are subjected to torture, rape and other sexual abuses.

Legally speaking, it is important to differentiate between migrants whom the Egyptian authorities have detained—whether refugees, asylum seekers or other categories of migrants.

Some refugees in Egypt have been in detention from as far back as February 2008. A group of several Eritreans and Ethiopians, as well as a few Somalis, are currently being held in Qanater prison; some of them have been detained for entering Egypt illegally, mainly through the Sudanese border. Many of them are held with criminals who have life sentences for crimes like drug trafficking.

This is a particularly vulnerable group for a few reasons. Firstly, their detention violates the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Egypt has ratified. The law says that illegal entry of refugees fleeing persecution should not be penalized granted that they present themselves to the authorities within a reasonable amount of time and can explain their illegal entry or presence. Secondly, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the agency responsible for conducting refugee status determination in Egypt, has not been able to access all such detained asylum seekers due to lack of response from the government authorities. While the UNHCR is the main actor involved in upholding the legal status and welfare of refugees in Egypt, the Egyptian government is the only authority.

The UNHCR may not have the most accurate record of asylum seekers and refugees in detention if the government has failed to coordinate with them about certain detainees. This may leave a number of asylum seekers and refugees unaccounted for in the event of a deportation like we saw in the summer of 2008.

On the other hand, the detention of those who were caught attempting to cross the border with Israel illegally is lawful.

One such group of over 85 Eritreans and Ethiopians are currently detained in Al-Mustaqbal police station in Ismailia. They are at risk of being deported to countries where they may face incommunicado detention, torture, sexual assault or rape and other abuses of human rights.

It is more likely that if these detainees have been in Cairo, they have previously had a chance to approach the UNHCR, and many might already be recognized refugees. This differentiates them from those whose right to seek asylum has not been upheld. However, if those who attempted to enter Israel are bona fide refugees, their deportation is still illegal.

Since the Egyptian government authorities may be excluding the UNHCR from playing its delegated role in offering international protection to these detainees, it remains uncertain whether these crucial distinctions will be made. It is imperative that the authorities are aware of the danger that deporting refugees to countries where there is a high risk of persecution poses to these detainees, as well as Egypt’s legal obligation not to deport.


Londonstani on "The Islamist"

Londonstani, a former Cairo drinking buddy and journalist who blogs over at our counter-insurgency obsessed friends Abu Muqawama (they who speak of themselves in the third person - just teasing, guys), has a great review of Ed Husain's The Islamist, a book about the radicalization of British Muslims. Londonstani makes a very good point about its superficial treatment of "traditional Islam" vs. modern Islamism (whether radical or not) and the importance of understanding the rigid traditionalist socio-cultural concepts that are perpetuated among migrant communities (sometimes even when these things evolve in the "home country"):

"This ‘traditional’ outlook is in general terms shared by most (if not all) immigrant Muslim communities. Husain comes from a Bengali family background, but the cultural outlook he describes is shared by Pakistanis, Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Somalis and Nigerians. That’s not to say all these cultures are exactly the same, but in the main they exhibit large measures of racism (often against each other), sexism, tribalism and a quietist approach to dealing with the outside world that fail to meet the challenges their children experience in reconciling their backgrounds with their everyday lives.

In a depressingly high frequency of cases, these ‘traditional’ outlooks result in harmful and exploitative practices. Two years ago, I got to know several young men from Bengali backgrounds who lived in housing estates in Husain’s old stomping ground. One of the guys, Fasial, I knew from the local gym. He was bearded and religious, and an upstanding member of his community. Three times a week he helped organise a bus that took elderly residents of his housing estate to their local church. And could be found most afternoons teaching football to pre-teens in the estate’s playground.

After knowing Fasial for about six weeks, he started telling me how he had been a gang member until a visit to Bangladesh, where he found religion. A couple of weeks after that initial conversation, he told me how he had ended up in Bangladesh against his will because his father wanted him to marry his cousin. At his extended family’s village, Faisal had been poisoned by relatives angry that his intended bride had chosen him instead of another cousin who lived in the village. Faisal was sick for weeks and thought he might die. He found religion on what he thought would be his deathbed. When he got better, his newly acquired religious persona allowed him the gravitas to resist community pressure and reject his father’s plans.

The other friends I had made had equally horrific stories. And some were plain surreal involving severe beatings as part of what can only be described as a voodoo ritual to banish the evil eye.

Islamism addresses the questionable ‘traditional’ practices of the families its raw recruits come from. This is a large part of its appeal. If you find yourself in a lecture hall where young Muslims are told the way of life they struggled to follow is actually itself ‘un-Islamic’, you will be able to hear the collective intake of air and the surprised mumblings of the crowd."

Go read the rest. Abu Muqawama recently became an official blog of the Center for a New American Security (the old security sucked should be their motto) and their comment counts have been going through the roof lately.

Iraqi refugees in Egypt fly back on Maliki's plane
Iraqi refugees in Egypt get a free flight to a very uncertain future:

BAGHDAD (AP) _ Several hundred Iraqi refugees flew home from Egypt on Monday on the Iraqi prime minister's plane, the first government-organized flight aimed at accelerating the return of Iraqis now that violence has waned.

Many of those returning on the free flight, however, said they had come back only because they were broke after years of living outside Iraq and still feared the dangers in their homeland.

"If I had more money, I would have stayed and never gone back," Abu Hussein, a 32-year-old Shiite merchant, said waiting to board at Cairo's airport. "We hear from other returnees that they had regret going back because there is still bombing, kidnapping and killing."

The International Organization of Migration says some 13,000 Iraqis have returned from nations in the region — a tiny proportion of the estimated 2.5 million who fled Iraq's turmoil after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Nearly 3 million more Iraqis have been displaced inside the country, the Switzerland-based humanitarian group says.

[From Iraqi prime minister gives refugees free flight home from Egypt, seeking to speed up return --]

Iraqi Voices in Cairo

Iraqi Voices in Cairo is a collection of accounts of Iraq refugees' lives in Egypt, where over 150,000 reside with few opportunities to remake their lives:

Approximately 150,000 refugees from Iraq are trapped in Cairo, Egypt, with little hope of integration and no home to return to. We are an association of reporters and researchers working together with the Iraqi community of Cairo to bring world attention to this unaddressed humanitarian crisis.

Check it out.

Rosen on Iraq's refugees
Boston Review - No Going Back:

The American occupation has been more disastrous than the Mongols’ sack of Baghdad in the 13th century. Iraq’s human capital has fled, its intellectuals and professionals, the educated, the moneyed classes, the political elite. They will not return. And the government is nonexistent at best. After finally succumbing to Iraqi pressure, the Americans submitted to elections but deliberately emasculated the central government and the office of the prime minister. Now Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki is the scapegoat for American failure in Iraq, and there are calls to remove him or overthrow him. But talk of a coup to replace Maliki fails to understand that he is irrelevant. Gone are the days when Baghdad was the only major city in Iraq, and whoever controlled Baghdad controlled the country. The continued focus on the theater in the Green Zone ignores the reality that events there have never determined what happens outside of it. Iraq is a collection of city states such as Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Ramadi, Erbil, and others, each controlled by various warlords with their own militias. And the villages are entirely unprotected. Maliki will be the last prime minister of Iraq. When he is run out there will be no new elections, since they can’t be run safely and fairly anymore, and the pretense of an Iraqi state will be over.