The Social Solidarity Directorate in North Sinai reported on Sunday that 258 Coptic Christian families have left Arish following threats from militants in the North Sinai city. The families have relocated to 13 different governorates.
In a press statement Monir Abul-Kheir, head of North Sinai Social Solidarity Directorate, said displaced families have moved to Cairo, Ismailia, Port Said, Daqahliya, Assiut, Minya, Qalioubiya, Sohag, Giza, Fayoum, Beni Sweif, Sharqiya and Gharbiya, with Ismailia hosting the lion’s share.
The exodus of Copts began late last month after Islamic State-affiliated militants threatened to kill Christians who remained in the city. In less than three weeks seven Copts were murdered, two of them burned to death.
Coptic families fleeing to Ismailia and Port Said have been visited by delegations from the Human Rights Sector of the Ministry of Interior and the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).
After meeting with 60 displaced Coptic families the NCHR released a statement. “The families said during meetings that flyers containing threats to kill Copts were a major reason for their decision to flee. The flyers contained specific threats to 40 named Christians and threatened others by association,” said the NCHR statement.
It stressed that “the decision to flee was the families’ own” and the departures took place without any coordination with the government.
“It is essential that the government rapidly improves the living conditions of displaced Coptic families by providing them with access to education and job opportunities,” the statement said. It also called on the state to do everything possible to protect citizens from attempts to incite sectarianism.
Minister of Labour Mohamed Saafan said that 20 Copts began work at a clothing factory in Ismailia last weekend and another 20 were scheduled to work at a second factory this week, bringing the total number of displaced Christians who have found work in the town to 80.
Major General Yassin Taher, governor of Ismailia, says 120 apartments have been so far allocated for displaced families. “Families have already moved into 50 furnished apartments and another 70 are being prepared and will be ready within days,” said Taher.
According to Fakher Abdel-Aziz, undersecretary of the Ministry of Education in Ismailia, 129 students from displaced families have been enrolled in governorate schools.
“If the crisis continues the students will sit their year-end exams in their new schools,” Abdel-Aziz told the press.
Amnesty International says the authorities in Egypt need to offer urgent protection to Coptic Christians still in North Sinai and provide essential services and accommodation for the hundreds who have been forced to flee their homes. It added that the government has failed to take action to protect Christians in North Sinai who have increasingly fallen prey to armed groups over the last three years.
“This terrifying wave of attacks has seen Coptic Christians in North Sinai hunted down and murdered by armed groups. No one should face discrimination — let alone violent and deadly attacks — because of their religious beliefs,” said Najia Bounaim, deputy director for campaigns at Amnesty International’s regional office in Tunis.
“The Egyptian authorities have consistently failed to protect Coptic residents of North Sinai from a longstanding pattern of violent attacks, they must not let them down further now. The government has a clear duty to ensure safe access to housing, food, water and medical and other essential services to all those who have been forced to leave their homes due to violence and persecution.”