By Sandra Elliot
06/07/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In February of 2017, approximately 355 Christian families were forced to flee the city of El-Arish, Egypt after a series of murders carried out by Islamic State affiliates. By the end of the three weeks of violence, seven Christians had been murdered, most during the daytime and in public spaces. The inability or unwillingness of Egyptian authorities to intervene left families with no choice but to run. Most landed in cities along the Suez Canal including Ismailia, Suez, El Qantara and Port Said.
Approximately 130 families settled in Ismailia, 26 in Port Said, 15 in El Qanara, 70 in Cairo, and the remaining in various locations throughout Upper Egypt. For the 26 families who landed in Port Said, 14 settled in a youth hostel, six settled in a relief center, and another six settled in a church hospitality building. Of all the locations, Port Said has offered the worst living conditions for these traumatized families. They are cramped in small, public spaces, sometimes without food and all without steady work.
When they first arrived in Port Said, the local government welcomed them and offered protection and aid to the families. Now, three months later, the situation is deteriorating. So much so that the 26 families banded together and issued a concurrent statement regarding their situation.
“We are the families displaced from El-Arish to Port Said in February,” they wrote. “We are living [in] small rooms inside the youth camps and the aid building. We are suffering and none of the officials of the Port Said governor will listen to us. At the beginning of the crisis, we headed to Ismailia. Port Said welcomed us and the governor promised to offer support. The number of families who came continued to increase.”
After the statement was issued, the governor of Port Said, Major General Adel Ghadban, met with the El-Arish families on May 16. The governor allocated 1,500 EGP ($83.00 USD) per month for each family, but was unable to solve the housing crisis they currently face. If the families cannot find permanent housing by the end of June, they will have to move on and find shelter elsewhere.
International Christian Concern (ICC) recently spoke with the displaced families living in Port Said.
“There are 14 Christian families stay[ing] in the youth camp hostel,” one resident explained. “Each family stay[s] in a small room with a small bathroom. These rooms [are] not appropriate for any family to live in…We have been stay[ing] here for more than three months and waiting for the food which is presented to us. This is very hard; we feel that we are waiting for charity.”
The living and working situation for these families became so severe that a few ventured back to El-Arish to generate some temporary income. Nabeel Ayoub, age 43, was one of those few.
“My late husband Nabeel had to return to El-Arish to reopen our grocery shop there as he didn’t find any work here in Port Said,” Hala Fares told ICC. “He was calling me many times daily and told me that the situation had been quiet there, but I was very worried about him.”
On May 6, Nabeel Saber Fawzi was shot and killed by four masked men while inside a barbershop in El-Arish, only four days after returning to the city.
“The main reason which drove my husband to leave us and return to El-Arish was because of our bad circumstances,” Hala explained. “He was unable to find any work in Port Said. He was bored of staying in the small room without work, without doing anything; he felt that he lived in prison.”
Nabeel’s death came as yet another blow to the Christian community from El-Arish. A handful of other men returned to El-Arish around the same time as Nabeel, though they have all since fled.
“I stayed three months in Ismailia without any work so I decided to return to El-Arish,” Christian resident, Refaat Shoukry, told ICC. “Now, after the killing of Nabeel, none of us can return to El-Arish as the situation is unsafe there.”
Adel Amir, another displaced Christian, was once very optimistic about returning home.
“All the displaced Christians lost the hope to return to El-Arish after the murder of Nabeel,” Adel told ICC. “There isn’t any stability for us and there isn’t any work for us here. The situation is so bad for us and our fate is unknown.”
This eighth death symbolized a degree of permanency for the displaced families. ISIS affiliates sent their message loud and clear to the Christians that anyone who returns will be added to the list of El-Arish martyrs.
“We hope that the state look[s] at us; we are Egyptian people. We need a solution to our problem.”