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Amnesty calls for an end to the forced eviction of ‘slum dwellers'
Published in Bikya Masr on 24 - 08 - 2011

CAIRO: Amnesty International has called for an end to the forced eviction of slum dwellers in Egypt. According to the London-based rights group at a press conference on Tuesay, the Egyptian authorities and political parties must cater to the urgent needs of the 12 million slum-dwellers as their top priority if they are to meet the demands for social justice and human dignity as was called for during the revolution.
“People living in Egypt's slums must be given a say in finding solutions to their dire housing conditions, but the authorities are failing to respect their human rights,” said Amnesty International's UK Director Kate Allen during the press conference.
Slums, or informal dwellings, are homes which tend to lack basic amenities such as sanitation or electricity, are often poorly constructed and thus posing a threat to human life, are overcrowded creating less than ideal conditions for living and their inhabitants have an insecure tenure.
These issues are tied in with various abuses of human rights and excessive poverty.
These dwellings, however inadequate, are home to roughly one billion people on the planet and that figure is said to rise to two billion by 2030.
The government has taken action to relocate those in need yet their methods, according to Amnesty, has been dubious.
“When slum residents dare to object, they face unlawful forced evictions and arbitrary arrest under repressive laws,” Amnesty said.
One of the major issues has been communication and consultation with the very people affected by the evictions. In 2008 a rock slide that killed several hundred people in the Manshiyet Nasr slum prompted the government to designate 404 of these ‘slum dwellings' around the country as unsafe areas.
Thousands of people in Manshiyet Nasr alone were relocated, often far from their sources of income and lacking in official documentation for the new homes.
Often these people receive no warning of their eviction, and are made aware of it only when the eviction would actually take place.
More recently, these evictions have been carried out by military police and other security forces, breaching international obligations and Egyptian law.
“Government plans for ‘unsafe areas' are essentially demolition plans that don't explore alternatives to evictions where possible. Not one person out of the hundreds we interviewed had ever been adequately notified before their eviction or consulted on alternative housing. With elections approaching, Egyptian authorities have an opportunity to right that wrong,” said Allen.
Many of the residents become homeless once they are evicted because the government fails to find them new homes.
Women and children have been found to be most affected by this, especially if divorced, separated or widowed, because the officials discriminate against them. It is generally assumed by local authorities and enumeration communities that households are run by men.
Women do have the legal right to be recognized as the head of the house in some cases, and some have successfully been given that right, but the process is arduous and the women must prove to authorities that they are widowed or divorced.
Another common trend is the government's apparent inconsistent approach to relocation. Some areas have been reportedly abandoned by the residents because of the imminent danger they face yet lower risk areas such as the Al-Sahaby area in Aswan have been completely demolished, sparking suspicion amongst the residents that certain areas are targeted for commercial gain rather than legitimate aid.
Amnesty has called for a restructuring of the proposed 2050 Cairo development scheme, which would see roughly two thirds of Cairo's projected population of 30 million relocated to newly constructed cities n the fringes of Cairo to pave way for new investment projects.
These ‘relocated' citizens would be uprooted from their communities and placed far away from their sources of income.
“The Egyptian government's first step should go back to the drawing board with Cairo 2050 so that the voices of those most affected can be adequately heard to develop a new plan to deal with the housing crisis in slums and put the needs of residents first,” added Allen.
The dangers of course of moving so many people far away from their sources of income is that it could create a whole new environment where thousands of previously employed people may find themselves living in massive slums with no jobs in their areas and no feasible means of actually getting to their current jobs, effectively shifting the slums out of immediate sight and placing many more people in impoverished conditions.
BM


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