Thursday, September 20, 2018 | ePaper

Palestinians stuck in `bad conditions` at Cairo airport

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The group of travellers was returning home to the Gaza Strip when Egypt suddenly shut the border crossing.

Al Jazeera News  :
Some 160 Palestinians, who are heading back to the Gaza Strip, have been stuck in Cairo's airport for the last 13 days as Egyptian authorities deny them the right to enter the enclave.
According to human rights groups and some travellers, the group is experiencing "horrible" conditions, without access to proper food, a shower or mattresses to sleep on.
The group of travellers was returning home to the Gaza Strip, bordering Egypt, last week when Egyptian security forces told them the border crossing was suddenly closed and demanded that they return to the countries from which they came, they told Al Jazeera.
Egypt announced it would temporarily open the Rafah crossing on February 7 for three days, but suddenly closed it two days later, on February 9.
"We refused because there were people who had completed their studies abroad and were going back home, and others who were abroad for medical care and were also returning," one traveller, who asked to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera.
"People were just exhausted. We were mentally prepared to return home," the man said, explaining that they were stopped at Balouza checkpoint in Sinai, several kilometres from the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.
He said the group underwent "six hours of interrogation and humiliation" before being asked to return to Cairo airport.
The Gaza Strip - home to some two million Palestinians - does not have an airport, and has been under an Israeli land, sea and air blockade for over a decade.
Israel controls Gaza's airspace and territorial waters, as well as two of the three border crossing points. The third - Rafah - is controlled by Egypt and is rarely opened.
For the majority of Palestinians who wish to travel, study or seek medical care abroad, they must cross into Egypt before being able to take a flight to their destination.
When the group was forced back to the Cairo airport, an envoy from the Palestinian embassy threatened them, the man who is among the group told Al Jazeera.
"He told us that we either agree to be peacefully detained in this hall with our dignity intact or that he'll bring security forces to detain us with force," the man said.
"Since we are the weaker link, we agreed to go into this hall at our own will. More than 70 percent of us are women - many of whom are pregnant - as well as children, sick and elderly people," he added.
The man also told Al Jazeera that the conditions inside the hall are "appalling", explaining that the group has been sleeping on the floor and on metal chairs for the past 12 days. The hall, he said, only has two bathrooms.
"One hundred and sixty people without a shower for 12 days," he said. "The bathrooms have no soap. It is catastrophic. Animals would not be able to live here."
Many in the group have reportedly contracted skin diseases and one man was left untreated after experiencing heart issues.
The Palestinian embassy in Cairo released a statement late on Sunday saying that the group was brought back to the Cairo airport based on a request from Egyptian security forces.
The embassy said it was "providing full services and care" to the group, as well as offering "food, drink, blankets, items for child care, and medical care".
It added that it has "spared no effort in working with Egyptian authorities" to get the group out of the airport, adding that it is working on issuing visas for students back to the countries they were studying in.
"These are sovereign Egyptian decisions that the embassy is considerate of."
'This is shameful'
Several human rights groups have condemned the situation.
The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK, called on the Palestinian embassy to "carry out its duties and pressure Egyptian authorities to allow [the group] to return to the Gaza Strip or secure temporary accommodation until the crossing is reopened".
"The organisation calls on the Egyptian authorities to comply with international law and to allow those stuck to return".
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said "hundreds of other Palestinian citizens are still stranded and held on the Egyptian side" of the Rafah border crossing - unable to enter Gaza or return to Egypt.
It remains unclear when Egypt will decide to reopen the crossing and allow those being held to go back home.
The Palestinian ambassador in Cairo was not immediately available for comment.
"We are extremely exhausted. I called the Palestinian ambassador and told him you have two options: we will call on the Israelis to release us from here or you do something," the man who is among the group, said.
"This is shameful. It is shameful for us to say we have a country or a government. It is shameful for us to say we have a country when they cannot even get 160 people out."

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