What happened on December 31st, 2005

It was a cold evening in Mustafa Mahmoud Square, in the middle of Cairo, Egypt. I was sitting among almost 3,000 asylum seekers from Sudan and South Sudan; we were there for a sit-in against the United Nation Commission for Refugee’s (UNHCR) new policy toward Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees in Egypt. The square is right in front of the UNHCR office. The demonstration leaders: Salah, Nazar, Amir, and Bahar sent 20 demands to the UNHCR to improve Sudanese Refugee’s right in Egypt and to stop deporting them back to Sudan and South Sudan. The leader of the protest gave a name to the demonstration, the Sudanese Refugee’s Voice in Egypt.

My friends Dame, Gadir, and I were sitting and talking about being a refugee, away from home. Suddenly, we saw some men came to build a barricade around the square. We stopped talking and started asking questions amongst ourselves and to others. Why were these guys here? What are they planning for? Are they from the government? Are they policemen without uniforms? We kept asking but no one had an answer. A few hours later, dozens of police cars arrived; big cars, small cars, tanker trucks, and private cars. It wasn’t one car or two, ten or fifty, there were numbers. The cars surrounded in different locations around the square, the policemen came out. They were wearing all black, with helmets, boots, and carrying batons. We looked at each other, with fear filling our heads unconsciously. We realized that they were going to evacuate the square whether we cooperated or not. The policeman’s numbers had increased dramatically; there could have been four policemen for every one demonstrator. They didn’t talk to anyone; their faces were blank.

The demonstration leaders asked children, women and old men to move in the middle of the square to be protected if the policemen started to attack us; they told the young men to stand on the outside surrounding them. Dame, Gadir, Soma and I were in confrontation with policemen in the northeast corner.

At midnight, the policemen moved closer and closer to the square. We saw some wearing civilian clothes and holding cameras, and others gave orders to the policemen to move forward using loudspeakers, the sounded like thirsty animals rushing to the lake to drink water. Soon afterward, they started spraying us with strong streams of water from fire-hoses. The water was spraying from every corner; we were retreating to the middle of the square. The water was cold; the winter night was chilly, we were hungry and shivering from the cold. The screaming came out of the children, it was the screaming of fear. After a while, the policemen stopped hosing us. They changed their strategy; the policemen started marching toward us holding their batons in massive lines. We withdrew backward to the middle of the square where the women, children, and old men were located. They started beating with no mercy from every corner. They hit our hands, heads, shoulders, bellies, backs, no part of our bodies was safe, and some of my friends were falling down on others. I fell down myself. I felt someone beneath me. I heard the outcry of men, women, and children mixing together and filling the air. The torture kept going for hours. They started collecting us like a pieces of used cloth and threw us into buses.

Gadir, Soma, and I were sent to a detention center outside Cairo with some of our friends. Dame and the rest of the people were collected and sent to different detention centers and prisons. When we arrived to the detention center. We could hardly walk because we were exhausted, beaten and aching; they kicked us out of the car with their boots and pulled others out with their hands. When the sun came out we finally had a chance to warm up. Afterward, we started to wonder about the fate of the rest of the friends, because we found ourselves very few, less than a hundred. Soon afterward, we learned that 27 of our friends were killed and many others were injured as a result of being stampeded and crushed by the crowd when trying to escape the police batons. We were frustrated, sad, and very angry at the police behavior. At that moment I decided to leave Egypt. A few months later, Egyptian police arrested Salah and Nazar. They both spent more than a year in prison, but Amir and Bahar managed to escape.

By Adam Ahmed

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