We owe a debt of gratitude to the NY Times’ Michael Slackman for his excellent coverage of last week’s Egyptian massacre of Sudanese refugees in Cairo. The death toll is now up to 26 (with Infoshop News reporting it as 27). UNHCR, which should be mortally embarrassed by its abandonment of the refugees before they were slaughtered by the riot police, has done precious little to redeem itself. The thug Mubarak has called for his attorney general to investigate while the government’s chief spokesman blames the Sudanese for their own murder:
…The government’s official position is that the Sudanese were to blame. Magdy Rady, the government’s chief spokesman, said the Sudanese injured their own people by trampling those who collapsed, and he said they also attacked the police, injuring more than 70 officers.
[ed. Note the bitter irony of the following statement]
The Sudanese were unarmed and many were barefoot. The police were wearing riot gear, including helmets with face shields, and wielded truncheons.
“We are sorry,” Mr. Rady said. “What happened is unfortunate, it is sad, but it was not the intention of the police. The Sudanese pushed us to do this. They do not want even to settle in Egypt. They want to move to another country. We did not know what else to do. It was a very difficult situation.”
After clearing the park, the police took all of the Sudanese, about 3,000, to detention camps. where they were asked for identification papers. Those with passports or United Nations documents allowing them to be in Egypt were being released.
Those without documents, or those who had twice been denied refugee status by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, would probably be sent back to Sudan, Mr. Rady said. Officials acknowledged that many people had lost their documents during the violence.
“I do not understand,” Mr. Rady said. “What were they fighting for?”
Can you imagine a human being, faced with such abject suffering who can still manage to mouth something so obtuse and clueless? I find Egypt’s behavior absolutely repulsive. I think the U.S. Congress needs to reexamine the extraordinarily high level of U.S. aid to that country. We should take action to show our displeasure. Yet, has Secretary Rice released any statement at all? Does anyone in this heartless Administration care?
And Kofi Annan, are you listening? Your representatives in Egypt deserve to be fired immediately. They betrayed the mandate of UNHCR to protect refugees rather than throwing them to the wolves. Even after the disaster which it had a hand in creating, the organization’s spokesperson in Egypt still relies on bureaucraspeak in addressing this tragedy:
…A United Nations spokeswoman said that the agency wanted to help all of the people who had been in the park to find a new place to live, and that the agency would help with the first month’s rent. But many of the refugees said they doubted the agency’s sincerity.
At Sacred Heart Church, Father Mbuthia said the only signs of the refugee agency were the blankets that had been purchased with United Nations money and distributed through a Catholic charity.
“At the moment we’re giving out a lot of assistance, but it’s emergency assistance, like paying bills at hospitals, first aid and blankets,” said the refugee agency spokeswoman, Astrid van Genderen Stort. But, she added, “It has to be organized so we can do it in a structured way.”
[Again note the Slackman’s delicious (wrong word choice perhaps) irony in the following]
But there was no order – and no one trying to impose order – in the church courtyard, which many of the people from the camps said was the only place where they could go.
Instead of offering the Sudanese a month’s rent and blankets, why doesn’t the UN immediately announce it will transport the refugees to whatever nation they wish to go to which will have them? I have to imagine that several countries might combine to accept as many of the 3,000 as wish to go.
As a father of one year old twins, the tales of child death in this disaster move me most to tears and rage:
Abdul Aziz Muhammad Ahmed, 29, sat shivering on the steps just beneath the metal door leading to Father Mbuthia’s offices. “I’m not sick,” he said through a far-off gaze. “My daughter, Asma, was killed.” Asma was 9 months old, and her uncle said he dropped her when the police clubbed him.
“I haven’t told my wife yet,” Mr. Ahmed said. “She is already sick”…
Solaiman Youssef, 32, said he had been holding his 3-month-old daughter in his arms when the police clubbed her over the head. She screamed for a while, and then died. His wife is still missing.
“I just wanted to live with dignity; that is all I wanted,” he said. “Now I feel angry, sad and I want revenge. I am boiling and I want revenge. I have no hope, no idea what I am going to do next. No money, no clothes, no family.”
This incident amounts to a monumental failure not only of the Egyptian government (which is only to be expected), but of the entire world community. It is a failure of empathy and fellow-feeling–a freezing of the heart in the face of a fellow human being’s suffering. We should be ashamed as we have tarnished our own humanity through impassivity.