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Three Tales of Asylum

Stay and spend life in jail or leave home and family to escape persecution
Three Tales of Asylum
With crackdowns on activists getting harsher, the only option for many, is to leave Egypt.
12/12/2016 | Cairo

A. Muhammad

"I left Egypt and traveled to South Korea last month after being frequently pursued by security forces, especially since I had taken part in several demonstrations, hoping to topple the unjust regime. Unfortunately, after the counter-revolution prevailed and youths were being constrained and pursued, living in Egypt became very difficult," says A. Muhammad, a former engineering student in his early twenties.

"I made my decision to travel after the political situation in Egypt became critical. Activists were being pursued, sentenced and arrested by the regime. Some have managed to flee the country, and returning to Egypt for them means prison,” says Muhammad who claims that most of the youths engaged in politics or demonstrations made their decision to flee the country by the end of 2013.

A number of Muhammad's friends have been sentenced due to their political affiliations or their participation in demonstrations. They have been sentenced to months or years in prison and even to capital punishment on allegedly fabricated charges like ‘affiliation with terrorist groups’.

Muhammad was arrested twice: the first time was during a pro-revolution demonstration. He says he was tortured and abused by internal police officers for one month. The second time was during a protest in front of the Syndicate of Journalists after internal security forces broke into the syndicate building and arrested journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud Al-Sakka in the wake of Egypt's handover of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

He says that students are the most subjected to frequent detention and security constrains. Councils of faculties ban politically active students from taking examinations and pursuing their studies.

Those escaping from security constraints mostly head to Turkey, Sudan and South Korea, according to Muhammad, whereas students prefer seeking asylum in Norway or Germany. He hopes to return to Egypt if the political situation stabilizes and security constraints are lifted.

He says that religious persecution is another reason behind leaving the country, as in the case of the student Albert Saber.

"I legally exited Egypt from Cairo International Airport. However, I had some trouble before traveling when the security authorities refused to grant me a permit to fly to South Korea without a visa. The Embassy of South Korea also denied me a visa saying that the Egyptian security authorities were being unreasonable and I should settle the matter with them," says Muhammad regarding his route from Egypt to South Korea.

"Having failed to obtain a security permit, I flew to Kenya and then to South Korea. Upon arrival, I surrendered myself and applied for asylum at the immigration office giving my reasons and detailed personal information. After that, Korean investigators interviewed me and told me that my asylum application could be rejected. I contacted Egyptian human rights organisations who had previously followed up on my detention cases. After being kept for a few days at the airport, I was granted the right of political asylum."

A. Salah

In his late twenties, A. Salah worked as a lawyer in a popular neighborhood in Cairo and was dismissed several times due to his political opinions. He emphasizes that the poor economic situation was not the main reason behind leaving Egypt as is usually the case. He fled the country after being sentenced to five years in prison due to holding a sign against the nomination of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for the 2014 presidential elections. He was detained for two months and then released pending investigation before the final judgment was issued against him according to the Protest Law.

Over about two years after his release, he was frequently detained, tortured and released by security forces before the final five-year sentence.

Salah says he legally left Egypt last year before the security authorities stipulated a security permit for travelers to South Korea. At that time, South Korea was not as common a destination for Egyptian political refugees as today.

Upon his arrival, Salah applied for political asylum. He provided news reports to prove his detention and conviction in Egypt. "What I have done, though risky, was better than imprisonment," recalls Salah.

He hopes to one day return to his parents although this may prove difficult, as he was additionally charged of affiliation with a terrorist group


K. is in his late twenties and left the company he had co-founded with a friend and fled the country after being sentenced to life imprisonment in a case known as "the funeral detainees case".

According to Al-Masry Al-Youm Newspaper, the case started on 1 September 2014 when members of the 6 April Youth Movement were commemorating the first anniversary of the death of their colleague Ahmad Al-Masri near his house in Boulaq El Dakrour Neighborhood. Security forces then arrested 10 of them according to the movement’s official Facebook page. Al-Masri died of an injury that he had suffered on his way to work near Mostafa Mahmoud Square on 14 August 2013 in clashes between security forces and advocates of the Muslim Brotherhood after dispersing Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda Movement sit-ins.

"We were a group of friends at the commemorative funeral of our colleague Ahmad Al-Masri, who had been killed by internal security forces. Security forces then raided the funeral and arrested us, and we were sentenced to life imprisonment. I decided, therefore, to leave Egypt. Otherwise, I would have unjustly spent my whole life behind bars especially since it was not my first arrest."

"Before that incident, I was arrested on the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution in 2014 during a demonstration that started from Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Al-Mohandessin Neighborhood to emphasize the revolution’s demands. I spent six and a half months in prison suffering torture in various ways like being transported into another prison naked," says K. who is currently living in the Czech Republic under international protection.

He adds that he left Egypt illegally so that he would not be caught for being sentenced. His trip was horrifying and exhausting, but he bore the burden of leaving the country in order not to face the same destiny as his friends in the regime’s prisons.

Image: Jose A. Bernat Bacete/ Getty Images