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Egyptian government failing to protect refugees from rape and sexual assault

Egyptian protesters take part in a demonstration in Cairo against sexual harassment on February 12, 2013. [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]
Egyptian protesters take part in a demonstration in Cairo against sexual harassment on February 12, 2013 [KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images]

Human Rights Watch have accused the Egyptian government of failing to protect vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers from rape and sexual assault.

Between 2016 and 2022 the rights watchdog documented 11 cases of sexual violence against Sudanese and Yemeni refugees, one of whom was a child.

In Egypt, refugees live in poorer neighbourhoods where there is a higher crime rate and they are often targeted because they are, or are perceived to be, more vulnerable.

Of the women HRW spoke to, six said they were raped, four said they were assaulted, and one said that her 11-year-old daughter was raped which ended in pregnancy.

When they tried to report the rape, three said police refused to record it, three were too afraid to go to the police and one was sexually harassed by the policeman she tried to speak to.

The women said they suffered physical effects in the aftermath of the rape yet were not referred to healthcare services.

READ: 'Equality Now' calls on MENA governments to urgently review sex discriminatory laws

The issue of sexual violence in Egypt has been a huge issue in recent years as more and more women speak out about attacks and human rights defenders ask why the government is doing very little to bring perpetrators to justice.

Last week the women's rights NGO Equality Now released a policy brief on how inadequate justice for women and girls and a lack of deterrents for perpetrators has increased violence against women, including in Egypt.

For example, Egypt allows for a lesser punishment for men who kill their wives on discovering them in an act of adultery than for other forms of murder, yet if a woman kills her husband, she will be given the full sentence.

Women who are victims of domestic violence are not protected because domestic abuse and marital rape are not explicitly criminalised under Egyptian law.

According to Human Rights Watch, sexual and gender-based violence is a pervasive problem for refugees in the country, with UNHCR stating that in 2021 it provided gender-based violence response services to over 2,300 registered refugees.

In October of 2019 85 rapes, 30 other sexual assaults, 18 physical assaults and six cases of psychological abuse were reported to the UNHCR.

That same year, most rape survivors were African nationals. Black refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have reported racist harassment and violence from the Egyptian police.

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