Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Waly is expected to start on Saturday evening the delivery of the first batch of residential apartments to the Coptic families that have arrived to Ismailia after escaping the North Sinai city of Al-Arish. This exodus came after Coptic citizens faced unprecedented threats from militants.
According to the Copts United news website, there will be an official ceremony to deliver the apartments, which will see the presence of Ismailia’s governor and other high-ranking officials from the Ismailia diocese.
“48 displaced Coptic families will receive apartments. This is the first batch; other families will also receive apartments from the government when the apartments are fully finished,” said archpriest Youssef Shoukary of the Ismailia diocese.
The number of Coptic families that arrived to Ismailia since Copts in Al-Arish have been threatened by militants may exceed 200. These families are either residents of apartments affiliated to the Ismailia diocese or are living in their relatives’ apartments, said Gamal Aziz, head of a Coptic family that fled from Al-Arish to Ismailia.
“We arrived from Al-Arish to Ismailia at the beginning of the displacement from Al-Arish, following an unprecedented wave of violence adopted by militants against Copts there. We then received apartments from the Ismailia diocese; I believe these apartments are temporarily rented by the diocese and may be available for only two or three months, so the government should provide alternatives,” he added.
Aziz, a displaced Coptic citizen currently residing in Ismailia and an employee in a governmental facility in North Sinai’s city of Bir El-Abd, told Daily News Egypt on Saturday that he still prefers to go to his work despite the hazards that surround his route from Ismailia to Bir El-Abd. He added that the government did not manage to offer him an alternative job in Ismailia, so he was forced to commute to his workplace on a daily basis.
Moreover, he noted that his five children, all of whom are at different stages of education, are now suffering from the high cost of private lessons in Ismailia—as the city’s schools do not provide proper education.
Regarding the issue of the apartments the governments are distributing to the displaced families, Aziz explained that his family was not among the first batch to receive an apartment; however, he clarified that they will probably benefit from the third batch.
Regarding the return to Al-Arish, Aziz stressed that if the governmental authorities informed him that it is now safe to return to Al-Arish, he would do that, because securing the citizens is the government’s responsibility.
“We are ready to be back to Al-Arish whenever we get confirmation from the government that the city’s conditions are completely safe and stable. The government has the responsibility of getting us back to our beloved city and also of securing us there,” he concluded.
However, Shehta Awoud, another head of a displaced Coptic family, informed Daily News Egypt on Saturday that he will not return back to Al-Arish, even though he received confirmation from the government that everything there is “under control,” arguing that he has witnessed terrifying crimes there committed by militants against the Copts.
“It is impossible for me and most of the displaced Coptic families to return back to Al-Arish. The IS-affiliated group of ‘Sinai Province’ is committing crimes against the Copts there. [We] are its main target; they do not want any Coptic citizen there. They will not let us live freely,” he explained.
Regarding his work and living in Ismailia, Awoud noted that his work as a carpet seller has been suspended since his displacement to Ismailia; however, he is currently living off of aid that comes from the diocese.
“Currently, I’m living under the auspice of the Ismailia diocese, which provides me with food and other necessities. Regarding shelter, my family has been chosen to be among the first batch of the families to receive state-established apartments inside Ismailia,” he stressed.
Whether these apartments will be given to families on a provisional or permanent basis, he said that government officials did not inform them on that point. He pointed out that even if these apartments were to be given on a temporary basis, he would not be returning back to Al-Arish.
On 25 February, the governorate of Ismailia saw dozens of Coptic families arrive from Al-Arish.
The families’ decisions came after facing a clear and direct threat to their safety from militants believed to be members of “Sinai Province,” which recently launched intensive operations targeting Copts in Al-Arish.
Murders of Al-Arish’s Coptic citizens have reportedly been on the rise directly after the issuance of the footage by the IS, which included threats to Egypt’s Copts and showed scenes of the perpetrator of the Cairo church attack, which killed 29 Copts.
Since the beginning of February, seven Copts have been killed in Al-Arish by direct shooting; two others were burnt to death. Directly before the displacement of citizens from the city, two Coptic citizens’ corpses were found thrown behind a state-run language school.