CAIRO: In a 65-page report, the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies (FMRS) center released their study of what occurred during last year’s three-month sit-in by Sudanese refugees, which ended in bloodshed. The report blames all three parties, the government, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the demonstrators.
FMRS is a department at the American University in Cairo which focuses on refugee issues across the globe. This report is the culmination of eyewitness accounts as well as interviews with officials, including the UNHCR.
The events that surround the report happened on December 29, last year, near the Mohandiseen headquarters of the UNHCR. According to reports, some 3,000 Sudanese refugees had been conducting a peaceful sit-in to protest their treatment by the Egyptian government and the UNHCR for not following through on promises to relocate the group in a proper time span.
The report suggests that there were mistakes made on all sides, including the way in which some sit-in organizers gave false hope to others that they would be given a new and better relocation by the UNHCR. However, the majority of the blame fell on the UN organization and the Egyptian government.
“UNHCR’s mandate is the protection of refugees and asylum seekers, the report reads. “From the beginning of the sit-in, however, the agency adopted a hostile and confrontational attitude toward the protesting asylum seekers, refugees and closed files.
A large portion of the report gives an hour-by-hour briefing of what happened in late December of last year. It holds the government responsible for the death of 28 Sudanese refugees.
“During the removal, Egyptian security forces did not offer protesters the choice to disperse peacefully, which might have averted the violence that occurred, the report states. “Instead, a decision was apparently made at the highest levels to remove the demonstrators to unidentified detention centers.
This, FMRS says, evolved into violence and the eventual death of Sudanese, including women and children. The report states that more caution needed to have been taken in order to prevent the unnecessary violence.
“No allowances were made for the safety of the park’s occupants, especially vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and the sick, the report argues.
Police forces used water cannons to disperse the group, and eventually resorted to violence in order to forcibly remove many of the Sudanese, which led to trampling and death. Hundreds of the refugees were arrested. Most were later released promptly.
However, the report condemns how the UNHCR did not allow its staff to speak directly to the demonstrators, which FMRS believes directly affected the outcome.
“Throughout the sit-in, UNHCR exercised tight control over its public posture vis-à-vis the protest. It refused to allow its staff to go the Moustafa Mahmoud Park and interact with the refugees directly until December 17.
Political analysts have not had the opportunity to look at the report, but it appears that this will not have much impact on the actions of the government. One analyst at the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies says that the UNHCR may have to change their attitude with dealing with the public.
“If the report is as people are talking about it, it doesn t look to good for the UN, Mohamed El Sayed Saed, of the center, says. “I need to read it, but my first impression is that it is very balanced and gives a lot of good background on all aspects of what went on.
The tragedy last December raised questions over the status of Sudanese refugees in the country, questions that are not to be soon forgotten.