Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Testimonies of Torture

The El Nadim Center in Egypt, an important NGO that treats victims of torture, violence and domestic abuse, has released a number of testimonies from people detained or beaten during the recent police raid on the Sudanese refugees. I want to quote extensively from one and then add some comments. The names in the testimony have been changed to protect the victims.

Nour El Edrisi, carries a blue card, was given local settlement. He finished his university studies and could not receive his graduation certificate because he did not do his military service!

He says: I was supporting the protesters. On that day I was in the camp. There were many security forces in the area. We were worried. But the Egyptian women in the nearby garden (who sold us tea and food throughout the sit in) told us there is going to be a demonstration by the Islamists and they advised us to stay inside the camp and take refuge therein. The same thing was repeated by many sources. Our friends outside the camp told us that the streets surrounding the camp are being blocked by security forces.

We saw about 30 or 40 men wearing white, short gowns. Many of them were bearded. They stood in two lines facing the mosque. The police cars and trucks kept coming and the soldiers started to surround the camp. At first their backs were towards us separating us from the “Brotherhood”. After a while they turned towards us. All the time Sudanese were allowed into the camp after being searched and their papers taken away from them.

An officer started talking to us through a microphone: You know that we are here to remove this camp. We have prepared camps for you with all means of comfort.

We sent a delegation to negotiate with the officer. The delegation agreed to move to the “prepared” camp provided 5 or 6 of us first go to see the place. The officers refused. All the time we were trying to get in touch with UNHCR staff. But none answered our calls. We decided we shall stay until they take us away.

At two or three they opened the way for two fire brigade cars, one from the left, another from the right. They started the water cannons. Water to us is a natural thing, especially those coming from the South where it rains heavily throughout the year. They laughed. We asked them not to be provocative. After the second shot of water cannons someone came from the southerners and tried to negotiate with both parties and failed.

Until this moment we did not anticipate the violence to come. We even sat down and food was distributed to the protesters.

The soldiers started shouting. Our women cheered indicating that they are not afraid. We had hope that is soon will be dawn and we shall be safe again.

Water cannons were shot again. Everybody covered themselves either with a blanket or a plastic cover. This time the water was finished. I pulled the cover off my head. I could not see but kicking and beating from all sides. Wherever one turned there was beating. I don’t know when and how the soldiers were all over the place inside the camp, all over.

We had a disabled woman among us. Her name was Naglaa. She said: Go and leave me. We covered her with a plastic sheet while she was sitting on the floor. They beat her up brutally until an officer recognized that she was a woman. They carried her outside.

Some of us escaped to the trees. The trees would break and we would fall on top of each other. This may be how many children died. They beat directly on the head. I saw a man fall on the ground, holding a child. He lifted the child up and threw him up hoping that someone might catch him. Nobody was there to catch him and he was stepped over.

Most of us were dizzy. Maybe the water had something in it. Maybe they sprayed us with something. Maybe it was the brutal beating. The screaming was everywhere.

There was no way out but to be carried or taken by the police. Whoever falls was carried by 3 or 4 soldiers, who would hand him over to other soldiers outside the camp and then come back to take others. Soldiers outside continued the beating until they reached the buses. In the bus, too, there were soldiers. All the time they were insulting and humiliating us. In the bus there were people breathing heavily and women calling for their children and there were many injured. Ambulance cars were nearby but they did not care. Why? We did not know who among us was dead and who was only injured.

They took us to the central security camp in Tora. We lay on the dusty ground. Our clothes were wet. We were outside the wards. It was then that we realized what camp was “prepared” for us. They started classifying us and record our names. Then ambulance cars appeared. The very severely injured were taken away. We don’t know where. The remainder received superficial first aid. Drinking water was scarce. The treatment was cruel and we are all bruised."

Nour was very tired while giving his testimony. His eyes were tearful throughout. His voice was low and sad and confused. I suggested that he stop to drink something. He refused. He started talking about other colleagues who are in desperate need of him and medical help. He left promising to bring his colleagues to the clinic.

***

I encourage everyone to link to the previous post to take action to prevent the refugees from being returned to Sudan where they face retribution and violence. This event is a reminder that despite the best efforts of international law to provide protection, refugees from violence are often put in situations where they have no options. They face violence both in Sudan and in Egypt. The Egyptians have an obligation to follow international law and stop the violence against the refugees and to provide them with shelter. But the obligation is not the Egyptians alone; They can not carry the responsibility for carrying for these refugees by themselves. At a time that the refugee population around the world continues to grow -- a large number of them Muslim -- this is an issue that faces the entire world.

The second point I wanted to make is the world is taking notice. A demonstration in front of the Egyptian embassy last Friday brought about 60 people. I haven't seen any news coverage of the event, but here is a good description of it with photos.

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