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Fleeing war, poverty, African migrants face racism in Egypt

Two Sudanese sisters, Seham and Ekhlas Bashir, were walking their children home from elementary school in a Cairo neighborhood when a group of Egyptian teenagers crowded around them. The boys taunted them, calling them “slave” and other slurs. Then they tried to rip off Ekhlas’ clothes.

An onlooker intervened, scolding the young harassers, and the sisters and their three children managed to escape. But they were shaken.

They had just arrived in Cairo months earlier, fleeing violence in their homeland. The harassment brought up traumatic memories of detention, torture and rape they said they experienced at the hands of militias in Sudan’s Nuba mountains.

“We have come here seeking safety,” said Ekhlas, recounting the incident that took place in November. “But the reality was very different.”

Egypt has for decades been a refuge for sub-Saharan African migrants trying to escape war or poverty. But the streets of Cairo, a metropolis of some 20 million, can bring new dangers in the form of racist harassment or even violence in ways that other significant migrant communities here, such as Libyans and Syrians, don’t face. While other major centers of African migration like Europe have been wrestling with racist violence, Egypt has only made small starts toward addressing the issue.

The U.N.’s International Organization for Migration says Egypt hosts more than 6 million migrants, more than half of them from Sudan and South Sudan, where simmering conflicts continue to displace tens of thousands of people annually. For some, Egypt is a destination and a haven, the closest and easiest country for them to enter. For others, it is a point of transit before attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Europe.

In visits to several migrant communities throughout Cairo, at least two dozen sub-Saharan Africans, including four children, told The Associated Press that they have endured racist insults, sexual harassment or other abuses in the past three months.

READ  Niger breaks up Sudanese refugees sit-in as fire destroys their camp

The children said they have had rocks and trash thrown at them as they go to or from school. One woman from Ethiopia said neighbors pound on the windows of her family’s home, yelling “slaves” before disappearing into the night.

There are signs that Egypt is starting to recognize and censure racist crimes.

In November, there was a public outcry over a video that went viral showing three Egyptian teenagers bullying a schoolboy from South Sudan.

In the video, taken by mobile phone, the teenagers block the boy’s way, laughing and making fun of his appearance before trying to take his backpack. In the aftermath, police detained the teenagers for a day before their families reached a settlement with the family of the South Sudanese boy, John Manuth.

Weeks later, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi hosted Manuth at a youth forum in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and made a rare high-level acknowledgement of the problem.

“They are our guests and negative treatment is not acceptable and not allowed,” el-Sissi told the audience.

In 2018, a court sentenced to seven years in prison a man who was known to harass refugees and who beat to death a South Sudanese teacher who had worked in a community-run school for refugees in Cairo.

Refugees and rights workers say the country still has a long way to go.

Reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence against migrants has increased in recent months, according to the IOM. Women and girls are the most effected, but so are vulnerable men and young boys, said Shirley De Leon, a project development officer at the organization. She said that could in part be because of Egypt’s economic strains — “challenges remain and are exacerbated by inflation, eroded income and high youth unemployment.”

READ  UK-born children of migrants 'feel more discriminated against' than foreign migrants

Most migrants live in crowded poorer neighborhoods, where they form insular communities in small, packed apartment buildings. The idea is to protect families and vulnerable new arrivals from abuses.

Racism has roots in Egyptian society. For centuries, Egypt was colonized by Arab, Turkish and European imperial powers. Lighter skin was identified with the elite. Darker-complexioned Egyptians and sub-Saharan Africans have been portrayed as doormen, waiters, and cleaners in films for decades. Some Egyptians still unabashedly address people by their skin color, calling them “black,” “dark,” or “chocolate.” Historically, many have preferred to think of themselves as Arab, rather than African.

READ ALSO: Mexico vows to stand firm on granting asylum in Bolivia

Attia Essawi, an expert on African affairs at Cairo’s al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says it will take a lot to break some societal beliefs.

“Authorities should be decisive, with more severe measures against racism and bullying,” he said.

But for many, reporting a crime is not an option.

Two South Sudanese women, who work as part-time house cleaners, told the AP they had been sexually assaulted by their employers. Neither of them reported the allegations to police, as one of them has not finalized her documents as a migrant in Egypt and the other feared reprisals from her attacker. For the same reasons, they spoke on condition of anonymity.

Now, they and others say they make sure to be home by nightfall, and only go out in groups.

READ  Asylum seekers and migrants not respecting lockdown

El-Sissi has said in the past that his country doesn’t need camps for refugees, because it is welcoming and absorbs them so readily. Many sub-Saharan African migrants enter the country legally but overstay visas. Enforcement on those who stay illegally is lax, and a large number of them work in the huge informal economy as street vendors and house cleaners.

In a café frequented by migrants in a central Cairo neighborhood, Ethiopian refugee Ahmed el-Athiopi says that he came to the city five years ago to escape repression at home. He believes the only reason he has been able to keep a job is because he makes half that of an Egyptian.

For now, though, he says Cairo remains his best available option.

“I hope things get better in the future. Here is much better than in my home country as there is likely a zero chance to leave for Europe,” he said.

(abcnews.go.com)

 

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

READ  With low refugee resettlement in 2020, UNHCR calls on states to offer places and save lives

“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

READ  IOM, humanitarian partners roll out new decongestion strategy in Borno IDP camps

“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

READ  IOM Supports “Strategic Diaspora Mobilization” During COVID-19 Outbreak in Mauritania

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

READ  120 Central African, Sudanese refugees resettled to France

UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

READ  13 stranded Nigerians return from Germany, Canada, France

“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

READ  Ex-Canada immigration boss, IOM, others for JIFORM's summit

“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

READ  UK-born children of migrants 'feel more discriminated against' than foreign migrants

Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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