Egyptian Authorities Fail To Protect Egypt's Coptic Christians, Says Amnesty

 

Christian families who left from Al-Arish in the North Sinai Governorate after the escalation of a campaign targeting Christians by Islamic State militants last week, arrive at the Evangelical Church in Ismailia, Egypt.Reuters

The Egyptian government has 'consistently failed' to protect Coptic Christians fleeing ISIS in the region, Amnesty International has said.

Hundreds have fled El-Arish in North Sinai, Egypt following 40 murders of Coptic Christians by ISIS in the last three months.

Amnesty International says in a statement that Egypt's authorities needed to offer 'urgent protection' to persecuted faith community and do more to provide for those who have been displaced.

'The government has failed to take action to protect Christians in North Sinai who have increasingly faced kidnapping and assassinations by armed groups over the past three years.

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'The authorities have also failed to prosecute those responsible for sectarian attacks against Christians elsewhere in Egypt, resorting instead to state-sponsored reconciliation agreements which, at times, have involved the forced eviction of Christian families from their homes,' Amnesty says.

Bishop Angaelos, the head of the Coptic church in the UK said that Copts in the area were essentially told to 'leave or die'. Most of the displaced have found refuge in the governate of Ismailia, given ad hoc shelter and provisions courtesy of churches and other groups in the area. 

Najia Bounaim, Amnesty's Deputy Director for Campaigns in Tunis, said: '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.'

In December, ISIS claimed responsibility for a Cairo Coptic church bombing that killed 27. In recent weeks the jihadist group released a video inciting violence against the 'infidel' Christian faith community. Since Jan 30, seven individuals have been murdered by militants in northern Egypt, with victims being burned alive, stabbed in their sleep and shot in the street.

'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,' said Bounaim.

She added: 'The Egyptian authorities must ensure that those who have fled are resettled in secure housing, have adequate access to basic necessities and are granted opportunities to pursue education and employment.'

President al-Sisi said last week that the displaced would be given paid leave in lieu of the employment they have had to abandon.

Egypt's Christians –mostly Orthodox Copts – represent about 10 per cent of the country's majority Muslim population.

Amnesty says that attacks on Orthodox Copts have increased since President Mohamed Morsi was ousted in July 2013, noting crimes of arson on homes and churches, looting and physical violence against the community.

The charity says: 'Successive Egyptian governments have failed to tackle a longstanding pattern of discrimination against Copts and rising incidences of sectarian violence, by bringing those responsible for sectarian crimes to justice.

'Instead of prosecuting those behind such violent attacks the Egyptian government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has continued to rely on state-sponsored reconciliation agreements, which in some cases have involved forcibly evicting Coptic Christians from areas where they are under threat.'

Bounaim said that the government must cease its 'prevailing impunity for attacks against Egyptian Christians, and 'end its reliance on customary reconciliation deals which further fuel a cycle of violence against Christian communities.'

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