Egyptian families at risk of forced evictions over road project

Amnesty International has called on the Egyptian authorities to halt the forced eviction of 200 families in the north-east of the country as part of a road widening project.Without prior notice, bulldozers arrived to demolish the homes in Zerzara slums in Port Said on Tuesday, 4 May 2010, leaving fifteen families homeless and another 200 at risk.”Residents must be consulted about these demolition plans and new homes found if necessary,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.”Even if the authorities are genuinely building a road for the benefit of the community, nothing can justify the fact that families were thrown out of their houses without being given anywhere to go. Those families already evicted must be given adequate alternative housing and adequate compensation for the loss of their property.”The eviction was accompanied by a heavy security presence and evictees were reportedly beaten.The eviction orders were apparently issued by the Governor of Port Said who has the power to order the removal of “infringements” on land owned by the state, The authorities say the roads are being widened to provide better access to blocks of modern six-storey buildings that surround the area.However, many of these buildings, which were built to provide affordable housing, are too expensive for residents of Zerzara, and remain empty.Left without alternative housing, the 15 families already forcibly evicted were offered the possibility of £500 EGP (US$ 89) compensation for the loss of their homes on the day of the eviction. They were also told that they could rebuild their homes in Zerzara, but away from the new road. The Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights has filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor to stop the demolition process.Most of the Zerzara slum was built by its residents, who had been evicted from run-down housing in Al-Salam and Nasser areas of Port Said in 2000.An estimated four to six thousand families live in Zerzara with little or no access to clean water and sanitation. The accumulation of rubbish and sewerage water in Zerzara has reportedly led to the spread of water-borne and respiratory diseases. Residents complain of rats which they say attack their children at night.“The authorities appear to be placing the comfort of some residents over the dignity of hundreds of families, ignoring their duty to give priority for adequate housing to the poorest sectors of the population,“ said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.Zerzara has been classified as an ‘unsafe area’ by the Informal Settlements Development Facility (ISDF).Established by presidential decree in October 2008, the ISDF’s mandate is to develop plans to deal with informal settlements in Egypt.In March 2009, Zerzara residents protested in front of Port Said Governorate after rain and sewage water flooded homes and a fire started by faulty wiring burnt down others.At the time, the Port Said Governorate said it was building 9,000 flats for Port Said’s slums residents, 3,000 of which were to be allocated to families in Zerzara. So far this has not happened.The acute shortage of affordable housing in Egypt means that millions of people have to live in informal settlements.According to the Ministry of State for Local Development, in 2007, 12.2 million people lived in 870 informal settlements in Egypt. More than half of them are living in Greater Cairo.Through the Demand Dignity campaign, launched in May 2009, Amnesty International is calling on governments globally to take all necessary measures, including the adoption of laws and policies that comply with international human rights law, to prohibit and prevent forced evictions. Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign aims to end the human rights violations that drive and deepen global poverty. The campaign will mobilize people all over the world to demand that governments, big corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognise and protect their rights.