President. The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on Egypt: violence against Sudanese refugees(1).
Karin Scheele (PSE), author. – (DE) Mr President, on 30 December 2005, the Egyptian security forces cleared a camp that had been set up in front of the UNHCR’s main office in Cairo in September of that year as a temporary home for over 2 500 Sudanese migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. In doing this, the security forces acted with great brutality, and the outcome of their actions is a very, very sad one: 30 dead and over 60 injured.
The Egyptian Ministry of the Interior tried to pin the blame on the Sudanese, claiming that they had panicked and tried to flee, but journalists who were present report that nothing of the sort happened. If we adopt this resolution, we in this House will be joining a number of leading figures in the United Nations who have already denounced these occurrences. The UN’s Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, was critical of the security forces’ brutality and said that there could be no justification for this sort of violence and that this loss of human life was indefensible.
It is a good thing that the Egyptian authorities have now decided to investigate what happened. We call on the Egyptian Government to allow the involvement in these investigations of human rights experts from the United Nations and independent Egyptian human rights organisations. Since respect for human rights is fundamental to Egypt’s association agreement with the European Union, we urge the Council and the Commission to raise these incidents at the next meeting of the EU’s Association Council with Egypt.
The last thing I want to say is that I would like to move two oral amendments before the vote.
Marios Matsakis (ALDE), author. – Mr President, I should like to point out to the Commissioner that we welcome the decision of the Egyptian Government to start a full investigation into the incident of 30 December, in which, after the attack by the Egyptian police on the Sudanese refugee camp in Cairo, many deaths and injuries resulted. We hope that the investigation will be thorough and objective.
We do not in any way prejudge that the blame for the incident will be placed at the feet of the Egyptian authorities. Nor are we claiming that the UNHCR regional representatives, and certain isolated elements within the refugee protestors, do not necessarily share some of the responsibility for what happened.
That is why we feel that it is imperative that a truly independent investigation should be carried out into the incident in which, we should remember, 27 people, including children, died. We are confident that a fair investigation would not only get to the bottom of the problem, but will assist in the prevention of similar incidents occurring in the future.
Simon Coveney (PPE-DE), author. – Mr President, I am glad to have an opportunity to speak and be one of the authors of this resolution, which aims to highlight a tragic and brutal event that occurred in Cairo, Egypt, on 30 December 2005. At least 27 people died: 9 women, 7 men and 11 children, according to the Egyptian authorities. However, certain eye witnesses, NGOs and members of the international press, would claim that the death toll was far higher. This happened when Egyptian security forces evacuated by force about 2500 Sudanese migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who had settled in front of the UNHCR headquarters, requesting to be relocated to third countries.
In the short time available to me, I want to focus on a few points. Firstly, this Parliament has a responsibility to highlight and condemn actions taken by authorities that are a blatant and tragic breach of peoples’ human rights, particularly when these events occur in the EU neighbourhood and with countries that we are working with through cooperation and/or association agreements. In this case, the EU and Egypt have an association agreement that has been in force since June 2004. The Euro-Mediterranean Agreement, to which the EU and Egypt are parties, is also relevant, as is the Barcelona Process. So anyone who suggests that this issue is solely an internal issue for Egypt is wrong. This is our business, in the same way that what happens within the EU is Egypt’s business when it affects the agreements mentioned.
Secondly, I welcome the commitment by the Egyptian authorities to start an investigation into what happened on 30 December. I urge the authorities to ensure that this investigation is absolutely open and transparent and involves UN experts and, if possible, Egyptian human rights organisations. The inquiry or investigation must be credible if we are to learn lessons from what happened.
I hope that the silver lining on this very dark cloud that sits over the event will be a credible assurance from the authorities in Egypt that their security forces will act in compliance with international standards and without a disproportionate use of force in the future.
Finally, this motion supports the UNHCR and calls on the Commission to establish a closer partnership with the UNHCR by offering both political and financial support to assist them in their office in Cairo in order to work more closely with the Egyptian authorities to find lasting solutions to the difficult situation of Sudanese migrants and refugees in Egypt.
Jaromír Kohlíček (GUE/NGL), author. –(CS) Ladies and gentlemen, the human rights situation in Egypt is highly unusual. Although not even the European Parliament has been able to protest at the fact that the army prevented voters from entering polling stations in a number of towns during the recent election, political stability must be safeguarded in Egypt in order to secure peace in the Middle East. Yet we must ask ourselves whether such political stability should be achieved at the expense of citizens’ fundamental democratic rights.
The situation outlined in the motion for a resolution should serve as a stark warning in this respect. If the Egyptian authorities now not only regard supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat, but are even attempting to adopt regulations banning secular parties, then attention should be drawn to this fact. This would help to correct the mistaken belief that the approach adopted by the Egyptian courts is not something we view as a major departure from the norm. A situation in which the perpetrator of a questionable offence can be sentenced to several years in prison can only be interpreted in one of two ways. Either the country’s legal system contains highly irregular provisions, or the outcome of the judiciary’s work suggests the involvement of politics. In either case, we cannot remain indifferent. How can we ignore the fact that refugees from Sudan or elsewhere are being turned over to their country of origin, where they face the threat of death? The fact that a peace deal has now been signed between the parties to the conflict in Sudan does not mean that the Darfur conflict has been resolved. The problem of the refugees and their possible repatriation needs to be tackled, in cooperation with the Sudanese and Egyptian Governments, although I am aware of the problems this entails. We should therefore support the work of the UNHCR, and prevent any further incidents that would violate international commitments, and in particular the UN Convention on Refugees. As I see it, it is utterly intolerable that prisoners should be tortured – even though this is the approach chosen by the United States – or that refugees should die when refugee camps are closed down. There can be no question that, pursuant to the Association Agreement, such matters must be investigated in an annual report, and I trust that this will happen. I am therefore in favour of the resolution.
Hélène Flautre (Verts/ALE), author. – (FR) Mr President, the tragic events of 30 December in Cairo led to the deaths of 27 people, according to the Egyptian authorities, but in reality there were many more: dozens, even hundreds, up to 220 dead according to some sources. These events must be condemned as vigorously as possible, and the people responsible must be clearly identified.
First of all, the responsibility of the Egyptian security forces, whose violence on this occasion must be condemned as vigorously as possible, must be acknowledged. They unfortunately have a reputation for resorting to systematic and excessive violence. The HCR must also bear some of the responsibility. Firstly, because it allowed the situation to become inflamed. Then, because it used ambiguous, even contradictory, language on the subject of the status of the Sudanese people. One only has to read the correspondence between the office of the HCR in Cairo and the Egyptian authorities to see this. Finally, because it directly called upon the Egyptian authorities to intervene, thereby running the risk of things getting out of hand.
Nor must we lose sight of the deadlock in which these players found themselves. Following the signature of a peace agreement on 26 May 2004 in Sudan, all of the resettlement programmes were halted, even though we know that the situation in Sudan is still very unstable, as many reports indicate, including the recent report by Human Rights Watch. The States refusing to receive these people solely because a peace agreement has been signed should also therefore bear some of the responsibility. It is not proper to ask Egypt, which already accommodates between two and three million Sudanese, of whom 27 000 are registered with the HCR, to receive all of the refugees from that country. For all of these reasons, as other Members have said, I believe that it is important that an investigation be carried out.
It is also important, however, for the Egyptian authorities to release all of the people still being detained, to cease all expulsions and to allow the representatives of the HCR free access so that they can look into the refugees’ demands.
It is also important for this tragedy to be seen within the context of the general asylum and immigration policy. We cannot refuse asylum to people who are in danger in their country, and this is not just an issue for Egypt and Sudan, just as Ceuta and Melilla was not a Hispano-Moroccan issue. The Euro-African conference on migration must be held as soon as possible.
Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo García, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, I am not going to repeat the arguments already expressed by the Members who have drawn up this motion for a resolution, but I really would like to emphasise the importance of this resolution, since it results from an extremely serious incident: the deaths of 27 people – officially, though the real figure is probably much higher, as other speakers have said – who had gathered peacefully outside the Office of the High Commission for Refugees in Cairo.
Those people of Sudanese origin – Sudanese immigrants who were asking for papers and for their status as refugees to be recognised – were subjected to an excessive and savage attack which led to this tragedy and extreme violence. As a result, we need to carry out an in-depth, serious, exhaustive, transparent and independent investigation, not just in order to call for any appropriate penalties to be imposed and civil, criminal or administrative liabilities to be established, but also in order to eliminate the possibility of any similar situations arising in Egypt in the future. The fact is that the flow of Sudanese people is going to continue, given the immigration from South to North - which also takes place in the region close to my own country - from countries to the south of Morocco, towards Morocco and towards Spain.
The principle of human rights must be defended everywhere, whether in Morocco, Spain, Egypt or anywhere else. It must, as other speakers have said, especially be defended in a country that benefits from conditions attendant on its being a neighbour of the European Union.
Carl Schlyter, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (SV) Mr President, have not the Sudanese people suffered long enough? Firstly, they succeeded in surviving and fleeing from a war, and now they are persecuted in Egypt when they try peacefully to contact the UN. Egypt replaced many of its more senior officials and ministers at the end of last year, and now it is time for them to replace their police chiefs.
We can never accept a state of affairs in which countries with which we cooperate so much should allow police forces to attack civilians in that way. I hope that we can cooperate very well with the UNHCR in order to obtain clarity about everything that happened in this situation.
I wish finally to remind you that, for example, my own country has, with the help of the CIA, sent so-called terrorist suspects off to Egypt to be tortured. That is something that we ourselves must stop doing.
Urszula Krupa, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – (PL) Mr President, the subject of today’s debate on infringements of human rights and democracy are the tragic events in Cairo, where several hundred police officers attacked a significantly smaller group of Sudanese refugees, who had travelled to Egypt in search of help and shelter. The refugees were cornered and the Egyptian police then attacked them with water cannon and truncheons. Several of the refugees died and the fate of the rest of the group, which included women and children, is unfortunately unknown.
Egypt likes to call itself a democracy, yet by this act it has joined ranks with the many other observers of the conflict in the Sudan, not all of them passive. The fighting has gone on for over 20 years, and two million people have lost their lives. Six million were forced to leave their homes and thousands of women and children have been kidnapped or raped. The United Nations Organisation has done little to support Sudanese refugees. It has granted refugee status to only a few thousand, most of whom wished to emigrate to the United States, Canada or Europe.
In practice, Sudan has been in a state of war ever since it gained independence. The darker-skinned African population in the South of the country is protesting against discrimination by the Arab population that is now in power in Khartoum. Religion also plays a part in this internal conflict, because once in power the mostly Muslim Arabs have been treating the animist and Christian darker-skinned Africans like slaves. This is why so many attempt to flee to neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Egypt, Uganda or Ethiopia
We wish to register our outrage and protest against the treatment meted out by the Egyptian authorities to people seeking help. As we debate the issue in this House, we would be wise to consider not only the causes of the conflict but also the sources of the arms used in Sudan. The rich G8 countries promised to work towards an end to poverty and injustice. Nonetheless, these same countries are still exporting arms, ammunition and military equipment to poor countries involved in conflicts and helping to support repressive regimes. By so doing, the G8 countries are party to human rights violations and anti-democratic activities.
The conflict in Sudan is also indicative of a failure on the part of the international community. The latter has not demonstrated the will to limit or put an end to the series of aggressions and injustices perpetrated over many years. We support the resolution.
Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Commission believes it to be essential for all of the signatories to the Geneva Convention on the status of refugees to apply its provisions.
For this reason, it shares the concerns expressed by the delegations of the European Parliament in relation to the tragic issue of the forced evacuation of Sudanese migrants and refugees in Cairo and the imprisonment of many of them.
The Commission supports the initiative aimed at calling upon the Egyptian authorities to release all of the asylum seekers still behind bars. Following the recent release of two hundred and fifty refugees, we do not have any precise information about whether there are still women, children or refugees from the region of Darfur in prisons. All prisoners not accused of criminal acts should of course be released.
We also agree with the demand that the process of expelling Sudanese asylum seekers be suspended and we insist on strict compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. The Commission also supports the request presented to the Egyptian authorities that they establish a public institution in accordance with international standards, which will be responsible for dealing with asylum requests.
Within the framework of the action funded by means of the programme in the budget line relating to cooperation with third countries in the field of migration, since 2004 the Commission has been funding a project worth more than EUR 1 million through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, with the aim of enhancing protection for asylum seekers and refugees in Egypt.
One of the objectives of this project is to support the creation of a unit responsible for asylum issues within the Egyptian Government. In this regard, the Commission has been informed that the negotiations between the HCR and the Egyptian Government have not been successfully completed. The Commission would like the Egyptian authorities to commit themselves as soon as possible to the actions laid down in the project.
With regard to the responsibility of the HCR, I personally cannot endorse the criticisms expressed by one speaker in this regard. I know that it is extremely difficult for HCR officials to deal with issues of this nature. Through my job, I have very frequent contacts with staff of the HCR and I can tell you that the work of these officials is extremely difficult. They are obliged to respect the rules imposed on them in often extremely sensitive circumstances because, in order to help refugees, they must maintain correct, or at least positive, relations with the different governments. I therefore find that criticism rather excessive. I am not going to pass judgment on what has been said, but I believe it to be premature and, above all, these accusations would have to be verified.
Within the context of the neighbourhood policy, the Commission, with the support of the Presidency and of the secretariat of the Council, is in the process of negotiating an action plan containing a proposal aimed at establishing a dialogue on asylum issues. The negotiations are underway.
President. The debate is closed.
The vote will take place following this afternoon’s debates.