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African female refugees report surge of sex attacks in Egypt

October 18, 2019 at 3:00 pm

Somalian women hold their babies in their arms [Arif Hüdaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency]

There has been a surge in reports of sexual abuse against African refugee women in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, in what some rights groups describe as an “epidemic” of sexual violence which has worsened in recent months.

According to a report by Reuters, one 17-year-old South Sudanese refugee managed to escape after being held as a prisoner for three months in a Cairo apartment where she was repeatedly gang-raped, only to realise she had become pregnant by one of the attackers.

Reuters met five women from Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia at a community centre in Cairo, each of whom said she was a victim of violent sexual assault.

One woman disclosed how she was assaulted by a stranger in the street in what later became a gang attack, saying after being touched, she tried to defend herself but was soon surrounded by four other men. The other women said they were assaulted by employers whilst working as domestic workers.

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With a scarcity in jobs and restrictions on foreigners seeking work permits in addition to rising inflation and rent costs, many are driven to homelessness or are forced to share rooms with strangers, making them vulnerable to sexual assault. Only a tiny fraction of refugees have obtained work permits. Of those refugees who are employed, many have complained of low wages, poor working conditions, long hours and sexual exploitation.

Over the past two years the number of registered refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt has increased by 21 per cent, according to the Wilson Centre, making Egypt among the highest destination countries in Africa receiving documented and undocumented immigrants. For Sudanese refugees the crisis has been exacerbated due to conflict and political upheaval in Sudan causing many to flee for a better future for themselves and their families.

One 2017 case study by the Tufts University’s Refugees in Town project focussing on the Sudanese and Somali refugee experience in Cairo mentions that they are largely concentrated in the Kilo Araba wa Nus and Hay el Ashr sub-districts of Nasr City on the eastern outskirts of the city. One African female refugee remarked:

We thought we were escaping war, but we are facing another war here in Cairo. We face sexual harassment on the street, men are always touching us inappropriately. At work, bosses have a bad heart. If you work as a maid, they will accuse you of stealing and imprison you in the house.

There are other implications to sexual abuse and gender-based violence against refugee women – one Sudanese man noted that “for a lot of husbands, if he knows his wife has been raped, he will not want to be with her anymore.”

Cairo was named the most dangerous megacity for women in an international perception poll carried out by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017.

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