Govt disregards rights of informal settlement dwellers, report says

The Egyptian government must do more to protect the rights of people living in informal settlements, human rights group Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday.

The 113-page report, “’We Are Not Dirt’: Forced Evictions in Informal Settlements” paints a grim picture of government policy toward slum areas, its response to crises such as the Duweiqa landslide in 2008 and the absence of any real change in approaches to the challenges of these areas following the revolution.

During the report’s launch at Cairo’s Journalists Syndicate, Director of Amnesty International UK Kate Allen said that it was “unacceptable that people are evicted without consultation and not given notice; it is illegal not to give people a chance to appeal.”

The report describes a huge discrepancy between international law, which lays out safeguards such as those mentioned by Allen to protect people from unlawful evictions, and Egypt's legal code which, according to Amnesty, “has several laws that allow the authorities to evict people from their homes without sufficient safeguards against forced evictions.”

The report says, “It appears that there is no legal requirement for the administration to notify people in writing of eviction decisions. Amnesty International has found that in practice local authorities do not issue formal written eviction notices to residents and keep eviction orders secret."

This has left the estimated 12.2 million people who live in 870 informal settlements across Egypt, according to government statistics organization CAPMAS, vulnerable to eviction.

“We Are Not Dirt” was researched between July 2009 and May 2011 and is based on fact-finding visits to informal settlements in Cairo, Port Said and Aswan.

The report presents the stories of individuals and families who have been the victims of forced evictions – distressing tales of force, lack of communication with the authorities and frequent homelessness.

Lawyer Sayed Abdel Nasser al-Sherif lived on two floors of a four-story building built by his father in Establ Antar, Cairo, in the 1950s.

“I was happy in my flat and didn’t care that it was in a slum area. I didn’t want to move from this place,” Sherif said during the press conference.

Sherif’s home was under a cliff that the authorities had deemed unsafe. They began clearing out the area on 7 March 2009, and riot police forcefully evicted Sherif four days later, assaulting him when he refused to leave. Sherif said the men threw his possessions out the window.

“When they evicted me it felt like they took my life away from me,” he said.

Such evictions will likely continue if the government proceeds with the Cairo 2050 project, a plan for the development of the Greater Cairo area created under the Mubarak regime in 2008. Amnesty expresses concern that under the plan areas designated as “unsafe” will be cleared out, triggering “mass forced evictions.”

“The plans will push slum dwellers out of the city which marginalizing them from decisions affecting their future. Despite this, they have been developed without adequate consultation with the slum-dwellers upon whom they will impact most,” Amnesty says on its website.

The organization concludes its report with a list of recommendations on an optimistic note. The revolution gives the new Egyptian authorities “an historic opportunity to meet their obligations by respecting and realizing one of the key demands of protesters – to ensure that the millions of underprivileged people are treated with dignity and that their human rights respected,” it reads.

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