CAIRO: Hundreds of families who have lived in makeshift housing next to a railway track for over 20 years are facing the threat of eviction, as Egyptian army troops prepare to remove them from their homes.
The families, who live in Arab Abo Regeila in the El-Salam district of northern Cairo, have not been offered alternative housing.
“These families have lived in Abo Regeila for years without anyone troubling them, Mohamed Abdel Azim of the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights (ECHR) told Daily News Egypt.
“They were told that the army would be evicting them on the June 30 but have not been offered alternative housing. The reason why they are being evicted isn’t clear; nobody knows exactly what the plans are for this land, Abdel Azim continued.
While the legal status of the land is unclear, it is surrounded by land owned by the Egyptian army, including an amusement park, Hadiqet El-Badr, also owned by the army.
There are unconfirmed rumors that the army wants to evict the families in order to expand the amusement park.
Living conditions in Arab Abo Regeila are desperate. Families live in either shacks or basic one-storey brick houses constructed on the banks of the Cairo-Suez railway line.
There is no running water. One inhabitant told Daily News Egypt that she collects water from a neighboring factory. And pools of lurid green stagnant water attract flies and mosquitoes.
Daily News Egypt also saw an exposed swamp into which live sewage was being pumped, located between houses. Residents said that small children have fallen into the swamp.
“Of course, I’d leave if I had the chance. Why would anyone choose to stay here living in this filth? But where can I go? I can only leave if my children and I are given somewhere else to go where we can earn a living, one woman told Daily News Egypt.
Many of Arab Abo Regeila’s residents earn a living by collecting and selling cardboard, which is stacked up almost everywhere in Arab Abo Regeila.
One woman said that the cardboard she sells every 15 days earns her around LE 150.
She said that she uses this money to visit her son, who has been imprisoned for violating the terms of his military service because the family could not afford to lose his source of income.
Another woman told Daily News Egypt that she sells a kilogram of cardboard for 10 piastres.
While some of their children attend school, economic circumstances have forced many of the families to send their children to work on the donkey carts used to collect cardboard.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, ECHR lawyer Mohamed El-Helw explained that as a signatory of the United Nations Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Egypt is obliged to provide compensation to people forced to leave their homes and to resettle them, and said that evictions should not involve physical violence.
Egypt has been repeatedly criticized by rights groups for both its failure to provide affordable, acceptable housing for the low-income members of its population and the manner in which the authorities’ evictions are carried out.
In a statement issued during the press conference ECHR places Arab Abo Regeila within the context of continuing violations of housing rights.
“What is happening at the moment in Abo Regeila is not an isolated incident, the statement reads.
“Rather, it is a systematic state policy. Despite the passing of a bundle of laws by the government in the People’s Assembly, it continues to violate both these laws and international treaties ratified by the state under which it has obligations towards its citizens, including the obligation not to evict people except after consultation with them, and providing them with suitable alternative housing, the statement continues.
In 2000 the United Nations Committee on Economic and Social Rights criticised Egypt’s policy of forced-evictions, and failure to provide compensation to those evicted.
In March 2007 authorities were strongly criticized after security forces violently attacked residents of Qalat El-Kabsh, Cairo, and used teargas to force them out of their homes.
A number of people were injured during the attack.
Over 350 homes in Qalat El-Kabsh had been destroyed by fire but, not having been provided with alternative shelter or compensation, the residents were forced to sleep on the remains of their homes, or in the street.