Two Sudanese sisters, Seham and Ekhlas Bashir, were walking their children home from elementary school in a Cairo neighborhood when a group of Egyptian teenagers crowded around them racist harassment. The boys make fun of them, calling them “slave” and other slurs. Then they tried to rip off Ekhlas’s clothes.
An onlooker intervened, scolding the young harassers, and the sisters and their three children managed to escape. But they were shaken.
They had just arrived in Cairo months earlier, fleeing violence in their homeland. The harassment brought up traumatic memories of detention, torture and rape they said they experienced at the hands of militias in Sudan’s Nuba mountains.
“We have come here seeking safety,” said Ekhlas, recounting the incident that took place in November. “But the reality was very different.”
Egypt has for decades been a refuge for sub-Saharan African migrants trying to escape war or poverty. But the streets of Cairo, a metropolis of some 20 million, can bring new dangers in the form of racist harassment or even violence in ways that other significant migrant communities here, such as Libyans and Syrians, do not face.
There are signs that Egypt is starting to recognise and censure racist crimes.
In November, there was a public outcry over a video that went viral showing three Egyptian teenagers bullying a schoolboy from South Sudan.
In the video, taken by mobile phone, the teenagers block the boy’s way, laughing and making fun of his appearance before trying to take his backpack.
In the aftermath, police arrested and held the teenagers for a day before their families settled with the family of the South Sudanese boy, John Manuth.
In 2018, a court sentenced to seven years in prison a man who was known to harass refugees and who beat to death a South Sudanese teacher who had worked in a community-run school for refugees in Cairo.
Refugees and rights workers say the country still has a long way to go. Here