Dozens of Christian families who fled Egypt's North Sinai in fear of being targeted by extremists are grappling with the daily uncertainty of how long they will remain displaced.
In a calm tone, overwhelmed with sorrow, Father Youssef Shoukry who is in charge of the welfare of the families, told Al Arabiya English it was challenging to find enough places to accommodate everyone.
“We’ve received over 90 families since Thursday at Ismailia's Evangelical Church. We are facing issues trying to accommodate all families, but we thank God for everything,” he said. “The families left all their belongings behind, only to escape with their lives.”
Blankets, baby milk and diapers, and many other aid supplies are missing. Donations are being collected from individuals and institutions, Shoukry added, but the situation will be more challenging “in the long term.”
Father Shoukry said they have been told by Minister of Social Solidarity, Ghada Wali that it will take time before the situation returns back to normal.
“It remains unclear when the fleeing families will be able to return home. And as much as we hope that everything goes back to normal, we are aware that this will last for some time.”
“This will require more support from the state as it will surpass our capacity.”
Churches in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia received dozens of Coptic families who escaped their homes in North Sinai out of fear of being attacked by suspected Islamist militants.
Many of them were from the city of El-Arish, where at least seven Christians have been killed recently. ISIS, which is waging an insurgency there, claimed responsibility for the killings, five of which were shootings. One man was beheaded and another set on fire.
“A forced displacement?”
The Egyptian public was outraged at the “deportation” of the Christian families from Sinai, saying it reflected the government’s failure to protect its own people.
Egyptian journalist Ahamd al-Naggar, wrote on his personal Facebook account that protecting civilians lives in the face of terrorism “is the state’s simplest duty.” Meanwhile, activist Shadi al-Ghazali Harb, wrote that the targeting and displacement of the Copts indicates that “the state has lost its sovereignty over Sinai”.
But the interior ministry denied the claims on Sunday, adding it “had not asked any citizen to leave North Sinai,” and that it is “responsible for the safety of all citizens across the whole state.”
Journalist Sameh Mahrous, an expert in Coptic affairs, denied that the families were deported, adding that the families left of their own will to be in a safer place. “
He told Al Arabiya English that the families will have to wait until “stability returns to Sinai” while "understanding that the country is in a state of war with terrorism."