Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Iraqi refugees trapped in Egypt appeal to UN | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – A number of Iraqis who are living in Egypt and who have applied for refugee status with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR] have expressed fears for their lives in light of the deteriorating security situation in the country. The Iraqi embassy in Egypt has offered to return any Iraqi citizens trapped in Egypt to Baghdad; however these Iraqi refugees are unable to return to Iraq for fear of what could happen to them there, whilst also fearing to remain in Egypt during this difficult stage.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat from Cairo via telephone, Iraqi poet and television presenter Rana Jafer Yasin, who has lived in Cairo for the past 5 years with her grandmother said “we are extremely concerned about the development of events and the bad security situation…we are afraid to leave our homes, and I am also afraid should we require any medial help for my grandmother, for she is old, and so it would be difficult to reach any hospital.”

She told Asharq Al-Awsat that “I am unable to return to Baghdad as I was kidnapped in 2006 and was only freed after the ransom was paid. I am under threat there, and I also feel terror every time that I even think of returning due to what I experienced, I do not have any family in Iraq, and I would be afraid to return especially as the security situation has not returned to a level that would allow me to feel safe there.”

She added “I have been here [in Cairo] for 5 years, I have sought the right to asylum with UNHCR and was granted this, however I am waiting for them to tell me which country I have been granted asylum in, and this is something that could take some time.”

She revealed that “according to the identification cards that we carry, the UN is responsible for us and for protecting us, however the problem now is that there are no UN officials in their offices in Cairo as they have all been evacuated, and they are also not answering our telephone calls.”

Rana Jafer Yasin called on the UN to “to find a quick and safe solution for us rather than leaving us in the middle of this dangerous situation. If the situation here was not so dangerous, why were the [UN] staff evacuated? Why has the staff of most western embassies been evacuated? We do not know what to do.”

She added that “we thank the Iraqi embassy for its offer to facilitate our return to Baghdad; however the majority of us refused this.”

For her part, Asil Khalid, another Iraqi refugee living in Cairo, told Asharq Al-Awsat “my husband and I fled Baghdad after my nephews were killed and we were forced from our home for sectarian reasons. My husband was detained by US forces for dubious reasons, therefore it would be difficult, indeed impossible, for us to return, especially as we would not be able to return to our home, and there would be no safety for ourselves or for our three children.”

She added that they applied for political asylum with UNHCR and are still waiting to leave Egypt for any safe European country. Asil Khalid said “we are afraid to stay here because we remember what happened to us in Baghdad.”

As for the dangers they have faced in Egypt since the start of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations and the deterioration of the security situation, she said “those who have been described as ‘thugs’ attacked our homes…our building is not protected other than by a small number of youths from the neighborhood watch committees, and nobody can rescue us unless the UN finds a solution.”

As for Iraqi journalist Tariq al-Saud, he revealed that he had been forced to leave Iraq after receiving death threats. He said “although the International Organization for Migration [IOM] accepted my application to settle in the USA, the procedures are slow and the security situation here in Cairo is getting worse. We do not know what will happen. He added that “the [Iraqi] embassy is helping all Iraqis that want to return, however if I returned this would mean losing my opportunity to settle in the US, and I have been waiting for this opportunity for 4 years.”

Some Iraqi families trapped in Egypt have chosen to live together as a form of protection in numbers, and this is what the Iraqi Mazen and Waheed families have chosen to do. Saja Mukram told Asharq Al-Awsat that “my husband was kidnapped in Baghdad where he was only released after we paid the ransom. As a result of this we decided to travel to Egypt, however [in Egypt] we have been robbed and our house has been confiscated from us, therefore we have no choice but to resort to the UNHCR because we cannot return to Iraq.”

She added “the [Egyptian] prisoners who escaped from prison attacked our houses in 6th of October city with knives and other weapons; this terrified us, and so we decided to live with friends in order to help us protect each other.” Saja Mukram also called on the UN to find a quick solution to their problem.