Masoud, an Egyptian dentist, kissed his wife and two kids goodbye nine months ago with the intention of a short stay in Ireland to complete exams. He is still in Cork after a threat of arrest for his peaceful activism was issued by Egyptian authorities and has never met his youngest daughter. He fears for his life should he return home. He spoke to Rob McNamara about his experience.
An Egyptian dentist, who is living in a direct provision centre in Cork, has told of his horror at being separated from his wife and three children eight months after arriving on what should have been a routine trip to complete exams.
Masoud* was in Ireland to complete dentistry exams when he was called by family to tell him that the Egyptian authorities were looking for him and his life would be in danger if he returned home.
He is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi — who was ousted by a military regime in July 2013 — and had peacefully taken part in political activism while studying in Cairo.
Last November, just days after Masoud had arrived in Ireland, current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a warning to citizens not to protest against austerity measures implemented by the military regime in a major clampdown on dissent. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are viewed with deep suspicion by the government. Masoud believes a frightened friend or acquaintance may have reported him to the military at that time.
He has had to wait almost nine months for an interview to assess his asylum application in Ireland. This means he cannot apply for his family to join him in Cork. The separation is causing him great anxiety, and he is worried his wife may be made to suffer for his perceived ‘crimes’ in daring to question the credibility of a government which has sparked international concern for alleged human rights abuses.
Only last week, authorities in Cairo levelled the houses of some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in Egyptian society. Land near an underdeveloped island in the centre of the Nile River deemed suitable for industrial use saw several homes destroyed in a bid to displace residents. One person was killed and 19 were injured in clashes.
The incident is only the latest in a long line of controversies. The United States is considering withholding monetary aid in light of a new law that severely restricts the activities of organisations that are not associated with the military run government.
Masoud says Egypt has become a difficult place in which to express views. His anti-government sentiments mean he may never be able to return to his native country.
He knows of people who are also supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and former president Morsi who have been kidnapped and believes one man who disappeared for six days and whose body was later found dumped in the street was killed because of his views.
“The authorities have a file on me. I think that during my stay here in Ireland, my neighbours or maybe someone who has worked with me called the police and said I was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, so they came to arrest me,” said Masoud.
“Maybe they think they are saving Egypt from terrorism or something but that’s not the case.
“I have a wife and three children. Sometimes the authorities arrest the wife of a political activist to make them return home,” he added.
Masoud’s three children are aged three, two and five months. He is calling on the International Protection Agency (IPO) who process applications for international protection within Ireland to help Egyptians who are in the same situation and bring their families here.
The IPO replaced the Office of Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) in January. The ORAC was abolished with the responsibility for the investigation for asylum applications transferred to the IPO following the commencement of the International Protection Act.
Masoud said he has a dental practice in his hometown, near Cairo, and he does not want to be in Ireland and claim benefits but feels lucky he was here when authorities arrived to arrest him back home.
“Ibrahim Halawa is in prison for the last four years and the Egyptian government has done nothing for him and I am in Ireland and the Government here is doing nothing for me. The IPO, the UN agency and Nasc have all told me that they can’t do anything for me,” he said.
“The IPO is supposed to make an appointment for me so I can apply for asylum but that appointment hasn’t been made yet.
“The IPO replaced the ORAC to make the asylum process faster but what is happening in the last eight months since it first took over the asylum process that every thing is so slow.
“I have contacted the IPO several times to explain my fears to them but they only see my nationality and my country and they reply I have to wait and they will contact me in due course. I am worried about my wife and my children. Every day I call home, I am told that people who are activists are being arrested. The authorities have gone to my home looking for me.
“My wife, who is not an activist, is now living in her father’s house. She is in hiding. She doesn’t go anywhere.
“The IPO and the UN agency are involved with applications from some countries but Egypt is not one of them. Some people came after me and they already have had interviews.
“My main concern is not about me. I am safe here in Ireland. I need my case to be granted to be able to bring my wife and children here.
“There are people like me from Egypt who are anti-military who are in real danger, like those from Syria and Lybia but there is war there, everybody there is in danger.”
*Masoud’s real name was changed to protect his wife and children.
This story first appeared in Cork’s Evening Echo.