Hundreds of Palestinians have been stranded for more than a week in the Egyptian city of Arish, in north Sinai, and Cairo International Airport. They were stuck after a sudden closure of Rafah border crossing, which has been recently opened for a limited time.
The story of the stranded people in the city of Arish and Cairo airport sparked on Friday, February 9, when the Egyptian authorities suddenly and unexpectedly announced the closure of Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip two days after it was opened in an exceptional way. Hundreds of Palestinians remained stuck in the city of Arish (not specified number) and unable to leave this city with the large military operation in Sinai, while those who have not been able to reach Rafah border crossing and Gaza have been returned to Cairo International Airport.
Those who have been held at the airport beseeched the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas to help them reach their families in the Gaza Strip.
In the written beseech which Quds Press examined, the held people said “We demand our legitimate and human right to return to our homes and families. Knowing that among the held people there are families, children, elders and post-graduate students who have been forcibly deprived of their wives and children due to the difficulty of returning during their studies.”
A crisis cell
Immediately after the human crisis started, the Palestinian Authority’s embassy in Cairo announced the formation of a crisis cell headed by the Palestinian ambassador in Cairo, Diab Al-Louh.
In an interview with Quds Press, Al-Louh explained that “All those stranded in Egypt are waiting for the opening of Rafah border crossing in order to return to Gaza or arrive in Cairo.” He pointed out that “The opening of the border crossing is linked to the filed circumstances surrounding it.
He also said that “The first step we have taken is to secure the return of stranded passengers on the road between Rafah crossing border and the Egyptian capital. One thousand people have securely returned to Arish and Cairo.”
As for those stranded at Cairo airport, Al-Louh said, “There is an immediate follow-up of the conditions and situations of those stranded at the airport.”
He added that “The number of stranded people since the crisis started has reached 237, and now their number has decreased to around 70 passengers. The rest of them have safely travelled to the countries of destination after the corresponding embassies in Cairo issued visas for them.”
Al-Louh said that “Because of the continued closure of Rafah border crossing, we asked the Egyptian security forces to bring them to Cairo until the opening of the border crossing. There is security on a case-by-case basis and we are waiting for the results.”
He added “Some of those who are at the airport have residences in the countries where they came from (…). Egyptian security is the decision maker because it intends to return them back to these countries. Some of them will enter Cairo under the embassy’s responsibility and knowledge to end this crisis.”
He stressed that the Palestinian embassy will provide full care for those who are stranded at the airport. He continued by saying that “At the end, the decision to end the suffering of these people is an Egyptian sovereign decision.”
From his side, Palestinian student Ahmad Mahareb, 35, told Quds Press about his story, saying: “On Thursday, 8, February, I arrived at Cairo airport from Sudan. On Friday, a security guard bus took me along with a number of deportees from the airport to Rafah border crossing where we stayed at the Baluza checkpoint near Arish for two hours and then the security ordered us to return to the airport.”
Mahareb added that “There were less than 150 kilometres between us and Rafah border crossing. However, the security brought us back to Cairo airport; we then faced a different ordeal, which is detention at the airport in very poor conditions.”
He explained that the Egyptian security detained him and the rest of the bus passengers in a small room at Cairo airport, which he explained lacked the minimum life conditions, and refused to let them leave the airport with the announcement of the closure of Rafah border crossing in an official and urgent way.
He pointed out that the detainees received a sum of 600 Egyptian pounds from the head of the political bureau of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh. This was announced by the movement in a statement which reported that “Haniyeh had intended to distribute $ 100 per passenger (1800 Egyptian pounds). However, the Egyptian authorities refused allow the entrance of all the money for the passengers.”
The Palestinian student complained about what he described as the “recklessness” of the Palestinian embassy in Cairo with them; as it provided one meal a day, without providing any solutions or promises to solve their problem.
He revealed that the Egyptian authorities are exerting pressure on 12 passengers who hold residencies in Arab countries in order to deport them to these countries, including a mother and her children, and they refused.
The return to Gaza
From his side, activist Mustapha Okacha said that “the detainees are facing very difficult conditions because they ran out of money, and the health conditions of a number of them are deteriorating, as they include elders, patients and children.”
He explained in an interview with Quds Press that there are hundreds of stranded passengers in the city of Arish (not specified number) and it is difficult to communicate with them due to the disrupted telephone networks in Sinai.
He pointed out that the people of Sinai hosted those stranded passengers, while many of them provided in-kind and money support and meals.
A number of Sinai sheikhs and activists announced the opening of their houses to the stranded passengers, and that they will put all their resources at their disposal until they safely leave to Cairo.
Israel has imposed a strict siege on the Gaza Strip for 11 years. All crossings and border crossings connecting Gaza with the outside world are closed through Egypt or the occupied Palestinian territories in 1948, except for their partial opening to allow the entrance of some goods and passengers.
The Egyptian authorities have continued to fully close Rafah border crossing since the summer of 2013. It has since been exceptionally opened several times for the travel of patients, students and humanitarian cases, while there are about 30 thousand Palestinians, most of them are patients and students, who need to travel.