At least 20 people are dead after Egyptian riot police stormed the improvised refugee camp in an upscale Cairo neighborhood. Several thousand Sudanese migrants had been camped outside the offices of the U.N. refugee agency for three months, demanding resettlement in another country. After a night-long standoff, police attacked the migrants, and at least one small child is among those killed.
Ambulances raced to tend to the wounded after police stormed the makeshift refugee camp about an hour before dawn. They beat refugees, including women and children, dragged them out of the square and forced them onto buses. A VOA reporter saw many people being carried away, apparently badly injured or unconscious.
Police had cordoned off the area a little before midnight local time, and flooded the neighborhood with about 5,000 officers in full riot gear, armed with truncheons. A standoff then dragged on most of the night. Police used water cannons to try to disperse the protesters, but the Sudanese migrants refused to budge.
After hours of negotiations with the protest leaders, the police suddenly stormed the camp and began beating the asylum-seekers with sticks and batons. The Interior Ministry says at least 10 people were killed. One of the casualties was a little girl, believed to be three or four years old, who was pronounced dead by an ambulance officer at the scene.
The Interior Ministry blamed the violence on the protesters and claimed that the deaths were caused by a stampede.
But a VOA reporter who watched the scene unfold saw no stampede. The Sudanese migrants made no attempt to flee, and they would have had nowhere to go if they had tried to run. They were surrounded by riot police who had cordoned off the entire neighborhood and attacked them from all sides.
It is not clear what Egyptian authorities intend to do with the Sudanese migrants. Local news reports indicate that they were temporarily taken to a military barracks.
About 2,000 Sudanese refugees and asylum-seekers had been camped out for three months in a small square a little larger than a tennis court in the upscale neighborhood of Mohandisseen. Tents made of cardboard, blankets and plastic sheeting offered them little protection from the near-freezing temperatures. Their protest was aimed at the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, whose Cairo headquarters is a few blocks away.
They were demanding that the UNHCR resettle them in Europe or North America. They complained of discrimination in Egypt. The UNHCR has said they do not have the right to be resettled in another country.
There are more than 30,000 Sudanese refugees registered in Egypt, but the government offers them little in the way of assistance.