• 14:02
  • Thursday ,30 July 2015
العربية

Amid Sisi's "war on terrorism" … Sinai's displaced residents speak

By-aswatmasriya

Copts and Poliltical Islam

00:07

Thursday ,30 July 2015

Amid Sisi's

The situation in Egypt's Sinai peninsula does not stop at the death toll, updated almost daily, yet extends to involve entire families which have been displaced from the peninsula's Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid towns, escaping the ongoing fighting and shelling.The situation in Egypt's Sinai peninsula does not stop at the death toll, updated almost daily, yet extends to involve entire families which have been displaced from the peninsula's Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid towns, escaping the ongoing fighting and shelling.

Egypt's military and police forces are waging an expanded campaign in the peninsula, in response to a rising wave of militancy which hit Sinai since the military ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in July 2013, following mass protests against his rule. The majority of militant attacks target security forces.
 
In October 2014 and January 2015, two deadly attacks claimed by the group in North Sinai left over 30 people dead each, including civilians.
 
Shortly after the October attack, Egypt's cabinet issued a decision to clear 500 metres of the border area with Gaza of civilians, vowing to provide compensation for those evicted. The area was doubled to 1,000 meters in November, after discovering some tunnels in the peninsula over 800 metres long.
 
Displaced families do not only struggle to find proper accommodation, they also have a hard time dealing with feeling isolated due to moving into unfamiliar towns with different values and traditions.
 
DESERT VS URBAN COMMUNITIES
 
Moving to the urbanised al-Arish town in North Sinai pushed Mohamed Abu Salama, 55 years old, to live with his 7 children in an area far away from the town's residential block, he told Aswat Masriya.
 
The community of Arish is a "stranger" to the people of Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah, due to the difference in cultures, Abu Salama said. He said Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah are rather desert towns, adding that "the families which lived next to one another at Sheikh Zuweid have now been separated …"
 
Some displaced families have sought refuge in the outskirts of Arish and al-Abd well to adapt to the areas' desert nature, which resembles the nature of their hometown, an eye witness told Aswat Masriya. They have nevertheless been met with a problem; lack of services.
 
Other families have relocated near farms in the Galbana village to be able to breed cattle and work in the farms to support their families, said Abu Mahmoud, 60 years old. Some families preferred buying or renting fenced lands to "live freely," he added to Aswat Masriya.
 
The wealthier families meanwhile bought large areas of land, where they built spaced houses for their children to "reclaim the tribal community," yet in a new location, Abu Mahmoud said.
 
STRUGGLING WITH FACILITIES
 
Residents are calling for a fast solution to the problem of overcrowded school classes.
 
"The government must provide a quick solution to absorb the increase [in the number of students] during the next [academic] year, so that our children could resume their education," said Abu Mohamed, a Sinai resident.
 
Flat rents have notably increased, reaching 1500 Egyptian pounds per month, said Abu Soliman, 45 years old. The resident, who hails from Sheikh Zuweid, described the surge in rents as a "big burden, especially that we have lost the income [we used to receive] from agricultural lands."
 
HOUSING DISPLACED FAMILIES
 
Around 800 families have been displaced since the government's decision to create the "buffer zone" in October 2014 and until July, according to preliminary figures provided by the North Sinai governorate. Eye-witnesses meanwhile said the number was doubled after the latest militant attack on Sinai earlier in July.
 
The Islamic State-affiliated militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis launched a string of attacks on a number of security checkpoints and a police station in Sheikh Zuweid on July 1, in a failed attempt to take over the town. The attacks left 17 military personnel and over 100 militants killed, according to army figures.
 
The North Sinai governorate formed a committee to count the number of families which cannot afford to find proper accommodation, in order to house them. The committee is provided with the names of the families and the number of their members to conduct a field study on their financial situation.
 
"Families yet to be housed by the governorate currently reside in shacks," an eye witness told Aswat Masriya.
 
The committee has so far counted 114 families, including 466 individuals, so far. The counting remains ongoing, said Mohamed Fahmy, the head of the Arish city council.
 
North Sinai governor Abdel Fattah Harhour approved the "exceptional" settlement of 40 families, affected by the "security operations" carried out in the region, in chalets of the International Youth Camp and houses built in areas confined to camel races.
 
The government provided the resettled families with all the needed furniture, food and supply, eye-witnesses said.