For the third consecutive day, the outflow of Coptic families deciding to flee their residences located in the North Sinai city of Al-Arish to the governorate of Ismailia is on the rise. This exodus followed an escalation of murders targeting Copts by militants believed to be members of the IS-affiliated group “Sinai Province”.
Until the morning of Sunday, the Diocese of Ismailia received and housed more than 80 Coptic families that fled Al-Arish since Friday, Diocese of Ismailia’s pastor Moussa Ibrahim told Daily News Egypt.
“Most of the families that arrived to Ismailia governorate are now being accommodated inside apartments provided by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. These apartments are ‘youth hostels’, where all the families are receiving full hospitality from the ministry,” Moussa noted.
He explained that while the families were hosted by the Ismailia church, which rents apartments inside Future City in Ismailia governorate, a number of the families that arrived were hosted by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which rented apartments on their behalf, he explained.
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Ismailia issued a statement on Sunday that called on all Egyptians to begin donations to the relocated families. The statement mentioned the bank name and account number through which it receives donations.
According to the Diocese of Ismailia’s statement, the total number of Coptic families that relocated from Al-Arish is approximately 80.
Following the circulation of several news reports regarding the massive outflow of Coptic citizens from Al-Arish heading to Ismailia governorate, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi held a meeting on Saturday with the prime minister and other high-ranking security officials in the state to discuss the crisis, a presidency statement noted.
According to the statement, the meeting discussed the latest developments pertaining to terrorist groups targeting innocent citizens in North Sinai, which led to the crisis of Coptic citizens fleeing Al-Arish.
The statement asserted that Al Sisi gave instructions to the government to take all measures so that the relocated citizens would be provided with the necessary accommodation.
“The president stressed the need to confront attempts that seek to destabilise the country and foil the terrorists’ plans to terrorise the citizens,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Gaffar asserted on Sunday that security forces cooperating with the army managed to achieve remarkable successes in the elimination of terrorism and militants.
He added during his meeting with high-ranking security officials that security apparatuses did not ask citizens of North Sinai to flee and go to other governorates.
He stressed that, with the army’s assistance, security apparatuses are carrying out their national role in countering terrorism and afford safety to all citizens in North Sinai.
On whether the current ongoing relocation operations are temporary or permanent, Coptic rights activist Nader Shoukry asserted to Daily News Egypt on Sunday that until now the situation is not clear, as officials are dealing with the relocation as a fact without even hinting at whether or not there will be decisive measures taken to control the security in Al-Arish.
“We were in a meeting on Saturday with Ismailia’s governor and discussed whether or not these families will be back to their residences soon; but the answers are unclear and went around the necessity of strictly revising security measures undertaken in North Sinai,” Shoukry said.
Shoukry noted that the relocated families are hoping that they can quickly go back to their residences in Al-Arish, adding that they only left when the killings against Coptic citizens reached unprecedented levels.
On the same point, a guardian of a family that fled from Al-Arish told Daily News Egypt on Sunday on the condition of anonymity that it is not the first time for him with his family to leave Al-Arish following threats from militants.
“I have been living in Al-Arish for nearly 30 years. Before the 25 January Revolution, the city was considered a paradise in Egypt; however, during the past five years, disturbances hit the city because of a security vacuum in it,” he said.
During the past two years, killings and kidnappings by anonymous militants—believed to be part of IS—against all Al-Arish’s residents reached unprecedented levels. ”These crimes forced to me to leave the city in 2015, following the slaughtering of a Coptic citizen,” he explained.
The state employee noted that the militants have recently targeted seven Coptic residents from Al-Arish, distributed flyers, and made phone calls to the city’s Coptic families warning them to leave or be killed.
On how they are living now, he said that the church is providing him and his family with all the necessary living requirements; however, he stressed that returning to Al-Arish is the role of the government.
“The church is not responsible for affording me shelter or food. I’m an Egyptian citizen who has been forced to flee his residence from one Egyptian territory to another. I have not fled outside Egypt, so the state should guarantee the safety of all Egyptians in North Sinai,” he added.
Since February, seven Copts have been killed in Al-Arish, five of which have been shot and two have been burnt to death. In the latest incident, the corpses of two Coptic citizens have been found thrown behind a state-run language school.
The two corpses belong to an elderly Coptic man named Saied Hakim—65 years old—and his son, Medhat Saied—45 years old. The father was killed by gunshots to his head, a local journalist said on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile, his son was burnt alive. The two are believed to have been kidnapped by anonymous militants, days before they were killed.
Last week, under the name of the “Islamic State in Egypt” and with the headline of “Fight All Infidels”, the IS-affiliated group released a new video, issuing fierce threats against the Coptic citizens of Egypt, accusing them of insulting Islam, and threatening to carry out more attacks against them.