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.
World Refugee Day: Help Iraqis

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Click on the logo above to learn more about a campaign to get the White House to do more to help Iraqi refugees, the fastest growing refugee crisis worldwide. Refugees International is asking people to call the White House to ask them to increase the aid to Iraqi refugees to $290 million. Remember that, as we noted recently in a post on a recent Brooking report on Iraq's refugee crisis, the US has given refugee status to only about 800 Iraqis since 2003, although new legislation will increase that to a still measly 7,000.
New ICG report on Sinai
I haven't had time to read it yet, but the ICG has just published a very interesting-looking report on Egypt's Sinai question in light of the three bombings that have taken place there in the past three years and the subsequent indiscriminate crackdown on the Bedouin population:

Thus, beneath the terrorism problem is a more serious and enduring “Sinai question” which the political class has yet to address. Doing so will not be easy. Since this question is partly rooted in wider Middle East crises, above all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a definitive solution depends on their resolution. But the solution also requires the full integration and participation of Sinai’s populations in national political life, which means it is also dependent on significant political reforms in the country as a whole, which are not at present on the horizon.

While a comprehensive solution of the Sinai question cannot be expected soon, the government can and should alter a development strategy that is deeply discriminatory and largely ineffective at meeting local needs. A new, properly funded plan, produced in consultation with credible local representatives and involving all elements of the population in implementation, could transform attitudes to the state by addressing Sinai’s grievances.
Candlelight vigil to mark Sudanese refugees massacre
Activists are holding a candle light vigil, Friday 29 December, 6pm, in front of the UNHCR office in Mohandessin, to mark the first the anniversary of the massacre of Sudanese refugees on the hands of the Egyptian Interior Ministry's Central Security Forces.
وق�ة بالشموع �ي ذكري مذب�ة اللاجئين السودانيين

Blogger Nora Younis witnessed the atrocity last year, and wrote her testimony here...
100,000 Iraqi refugees in Egypt?
A friend writes:

A new Pentagon report out yesterday describes the continuing disaster in Iraq. One item was on refugee flows. It says that:

"The numbers of refugees fleeing the violence are immense: 700,000 have fled to Jordan; 600,000 to Syria; 100,000 to Egypt; 40,000 to Lebanon, and 54,000 to Iran. Over 3,000 refugees per day are now appearing in Syria and Jordan."

Renewing my visa at the Mugamaa last month I saw people with bundles of Iraqi passports at the window usually reserved for Palestinian sans papiers.
100,000 Iraqi refugees living in Egypt? I need to get out more. Does anyone know of any research done on the Iraqi community in Egypt?

Link to Pentagon report [PDF], which says:
Refugees. Many Iraqis have fled the country, and the number of refugees continues to rise. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) November 2006 Iraq Displacement Report, for Iraqis living outside Iraq, “the figures in the immediate neighbouring states are still imprecise, but we now estimate that there are up to 700,000 Iraqis in Jordan; at least 600,000 in Syria; at least 100,000 in Egypt; 20,000–40,000 in Lebanon; and 54,000 in Iran. Many of those outside the country fled over the past decade or more, but now some 2,000 a day are arriving in Syria, and an estimated 1,000 a day in Jordan. Most of them do not register with UNHCR.”
a plague upon them
One of the little devices that helps me get through the month is ticking up how many stories in the Atlantic Monthly annoy me. When I hit a certain number (yet to be determined), I'm going to cancel my subscription.

This piece scored a tick.

Headlined “Carriers of conflict� it outlines one of the unpleasant side effects of America’s most recent military adventure: the mass movement of people out of Iraq.

Now, there’s some interesting factoids in the piece. 700,000 Iraqi refugees now in Jordan? A quick Google doesn't make it clear where this number comes from. UNHCR? Right. A year ago apparently they had recognized 800. Last year the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants put the number at 450,000 and noted the inflow was increasing. But anyway, there's a hell of a lot of them.

The annoying part comes in the intro, where authors Dan Byman and Ken Pollack pontificate on the root cause of instability and violence in the Middle East:
where large numbers of refugees go, instability and war closely follow... Palestinian refugees, who with their descendants number in the millions, have been a source of regional violence and regime change for decades.

Ouch! According to the Byman and Pollock, these wanton troublemakers:
helped provoke the 1956 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars [then] turned against their hosts and catalyzed a civil war in Jordan (1970–71) and in Lebanon (1975–90) [and, like that wasn’t enough shit disturbing] … contributed to coups by militant Arab nationalists in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.

Wow. Busy little pests those Palestinians. I think they caused the plumbing in my building to get all gummed up last week as well.

Oddly, Israel is mentioned only once in the discussion of Palestinian refugees (as a victim of Palestinian aggression!) and the US is never mentioned at all in the discussion of Iraqi refugees.

But on second thought, it's not really odd is it?

Make that two ticks.
300 Egyptians seek asylum in the Czech Republic
From Fustat:

During July and August, the Czech republic has recieved 300 egyptian asylym seekers, this is in sharp contrast to January when they recieved one.

The authorities thinks it´s the neighbour Italy that they wan´t to reach. The asylum laws in the Czech republic is somewhat milder than in Italy. Most of the Egyptians claim to be economic refugees, and that is not a reason for asylum in the Czech republic, or in any other country in the European Union. Some 90 egyptians left three different reception camps near Prague en massé last week, in what authorities think was an organized attempt to go to other countries. 19 of those where spotted by the police, and returned to the reception camps.
I don't have statistics to back it up, but I have the distinct impression that there has been a major increase of Egyptians trying to cross over to Europe over the last five year.
The other migration
A neat story:

TENERIFE, Canary Islands — It rains little on this island. There are no natural rivers, and the air is full of the dry heat of the nearby Sahara.

But in a ravine on the island’s northern tip, tree limbs drip with water and a tropical forest flourishes, sustained almost entirely by condensation from the low-lying clouds that are regularly pinned against the mountainside.

The area, called Cruz del Carmen, is only one example of the unusual evolutionary habitats on the Canary Islands that fascinated Charles Darwin more than 100 years ago, and that today reveal a new species or subspecies to scientists an average of once every six days.

But the unique plant and animal life here is being steadily overtaken by an invasion of foreign species, which have been entering these Spanish islands in increasing numbers since border checkpoints within the European Union were abolished under the Schengen Agreement a decade ago, according to government officials and scientists here.
Usually you hear about the Canary Islands' human migration problems. Over the last 2-3 years, hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants have crossed over from southern Morocco to the Islands, were they are usually caught and then released onto the Spanish mainland if their country of origin cannot be identified (they destroy all ID before they get there.) Not only is the trip dangerous and kills many migrants each year, but Spanish and European authorities are naturally concerned about how to stop the migration.

Ironically, animal and plant migrants are potentially much more dangerous to a country's economy than people are. After all people tend to be productive, and migrants provide much-needed cheap labor. But imagine if a type of sub-Saharan African insect is introduced that turns out to be deadly to Spanish olive trees...

Paulin Kuanzambi
A day or two before we left Morocco, I went to say goodbye to Paulin Kuanzambi, an Angolan refugee in Morocco who now works with AFVIC (Amis et Familles des Victimes de l'Immigration Clandestine, "Friends and Families of Victims of Clandestine Migration"). Paulin had been great help to me in some stories I did for The World on migration in Morocco.

Paulin was out and I didn't get to say goodbye. As I just found out, he had been entrapped into a meeting with members of the Moroccan secret service, who posed as journalists, then kidnapped him and another activist and drove them to the border with Algeria. You can a letter from AFVIC (in French) about it it after the jump.

This will be the fourth time that Paulin--who's been officially recognized as a refugee by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees--is illegally kicked out of Morocco. The secret service agents took his money, hit him and his companion, and then showed them pictures of recent refugee sit-ins in front of the Moroccan office of UNHCR (see previous post on Arabist) and asked questions about the people involved.

I find it incredibly disturbing that the agents posed as journalists--then we wonder why refugees are often leery of the press!

I don't understand why the Moroccan government--while hosting international conferences on migrants and their "rights"--treats a few thousand refugees on its soil like seditious criminals.

I also don't understand why UNHCR seems so utterly incapable of fulfilling its mandate and protecting the people it has recognized as refugees. Unless the UNHCR office in Rabat--as the one in Cairo--has little sympathy for refugees who advocate for their rights (I was told that during a recent refugee sit-in, it was the UNHCR office itself that called the Moroccan police).

Enlèvement et refoulement d’un agent de proximité de l’AFVIC

L’AFVIC informe sur l’enlèvement et le refoulement de Paulin Kuanzambi, le 02 août 2006, membre et agent de proximité au sein de l’association AFVIC. C’est un réfugié statutaire angolais au Maroc depuis juin 2004. Il était en compagnie de Marcel Amiyeto lui aussi réfugié Statutaire.
Paulin a reçu un appel téléphonique de personnes prétendant être des journalistes suisse pour une interview à 14h à Casablanca alors qu’ils sont des services secrets. Un deuxième appel a reporté le rendez-vous à Rabat devant le café Balima en face du parlement. Ils se sont rencontrés à 21h à deux heures de retard. Ils avaient une voiture bleue de marque Peugeot au bord de laquelle ils sont partis vers la côte. Deux autres personnes se sont joignis au groupe et ont demandé à Paulin d’éteindre son portable sous la menace. Le refus de son compagnon Marcel lui a coûté quelques coups plus les deux mille dirhams (2000 dh) de Paulin. On leur a présenté des photos prises lors de différents Sit-in en leur citant les noms des différents responsables des comités des réfugiés au Maroc. Par la suite, on les a conduit dans les voisinages de la ville de Oujda à travers la route de Meknès.
Deux autres demandeurs d'asile ont été arrêté à Rabat le 27 juillet 2006 après leurs participations au Sit-in organisé par les réfugiés et demandeurs d’asile devant le Bureau du HCR et ont été refoulé vers la ville de Oujda.
AFVIC dénonce fermement l’arrestation et le refoulement de Paulin Kuanzambi et les autres réfugies et demandeurs d’asile et invite les autorités marocaines à assumer leurs responsabilités et de s’abstenir de toute mesure de refoulement aux frontières.
L’AFVIC rappelle les autorités marocaines à respecter la convention de Genève en 1951 inspiré par les principes de la déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme.
From Mansoura to Montana
11 Egyptian students from Mansoura University on an exchange program to Montana have disappeared:

(AP) WASHINGTON Eleven Egyptian students who arrived in the United States last month are being sought by authorities after failing to turn up for an exchange program at Montana State University.

The Egyptian men were among a group of 17 students who arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York from Cairo on July 29 with valid visas, according to U.S. authorities and university officials.
While a terrorist threat is certainly nothing to overlook, I bet they're finding undeclared jobs (an incredible number of cab drivers in New York appear to be Egyptian) and having a great time. In other words, pursuing the immigrant to America's dream for the past 200 years.