CAIRO: The Nubian repatriation saga, which dates back to over one century when the inhabitants of what was then known as Nubia in Upper Egypt were first asked to leave their homes in 1889 with the building of the first Aswan Dam, continues to this very day.
Today, promises to relocate thousands of Nubian families back to the area surrounding Lake Nasser – the site of the hundreds of Nubian villages drowned at the completion of the High Dam in 1964 – are taken with a grain of salt.
Despite promises of repatriation made by subsequent presidents for over four decades, many Nubians aren’t holding their breath about the move back to the newly cultivated area around Lake Nasser.
More optimistic than others about the move, Mousad Herki, the director of the Nubian Club in Cairo, believes that a wave of Nubian repatriation is immanent – but by that he means no earlier than the end of 2009.
The plan, he told Daily News Egypt, is to repatriate Nubians to the 10,000-acre who will farm the land. The cost of the establishment of the new villages is estimated at LE 200 million. Over 5,000 homes are currently under construction there.
Herki also said that LE 146 million have been allocated to the maintenance of residential units in Nasr El Nuba in Kom Ombo near Aswan, where the Nubians were first relocated in 1959 before the construction of the High Dam kicked off in 1960.
“However, many Nubians are now waiting in disbelief for their repatriation, thinking that none of these projects will ever see daylight, Herki said.
He relayed how the first repatriation that took place in the 1960s was a big disappointment compared to the magnitude of their sacrifice, having to leave their homes and their rural way of life colored by their proximity to the desert.
“The soil on which the villages were built in Nasr El Nuba was inadequate for construction, which was why a few years after the villagers had settled down there [in the middle of the desert] the houses began to sink into the sand and the walls began to crack. The government had to pay exorbitant amounts to repair.
Nubian skepticism, says Herki, is because their decades-old demands were always handled arbitrarily, with no statistics or information about the exact number of displaced Nubians who were not compensated to substantiate them.
“The current decisions, however, are based on sound facts, statistics and the sincere will by those determined to make a fresh start in the new villages around Lake Nasser, he said.
He explains, however, that those who have not applied for a house and a piece of land will not have the right to them simply by virtue of being Nubian.
“A mix of Nubians and citizens from other governorates will live in these new areas, he said.
Farming will not be the only activity slated to put an end to the estimated 45 percent unemployment rate among Nubians.
The construction of the Qastal-Halfa Valley, 55-km-long land route that links Upper Egypt with northern Sudan, as well as the setting up of a major customs authority on the border will help cut the unemployment rate.
Herki added that the Nubian Club is negotiating the reversal of a decision to build 1,000 houses back in Nasr El Nuba.
Herki sees no reason for wasting funds on construction at Nasr El Nuba, whose soil has historically been proven inadequate.
“A house in Nasr El Nuba would cost LE 100,000 as opposed to LE 70,000 around Lake Nasser where there’s plenty of space. And if the soil is treated the cost will shoot up to LE 200, 000.