Palestinian passengers travelling through Egypt’s Cairo airport are being blackmailed by corrupt Egyptian officials, the Khaleej Online has found. The Arab newspaper exposed the systematic abuse faced by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, whose only means of flying is via the international airport in the Egyptian capital 500 kilometres from the besieged enclave.
A typical case involves Palestinians being made to pay as much as $28 to avoid being placed in detention centres used to house illegal immigrants while they wait for their flight. The Khaleej Online correspondent spent two days monitoring exchanges between Egyptian police officers who receive Palestinian passengers as they enter Cairo airport.
The correspondent documented several cases of extortion involving corrupt police officers and Palestinian passengers, many of whom are students travelling abroad to study. It was found that Egyptian officers were demanding bribes from Palestinian travellers before facilitating their travel and to avoid being detained in what is said to be a “notorious” detention facility at the bottom of the airport.
Egyptian authorities are said to impose strict procedures on Palestinian passengers arriving at Cairo airport, where most of them – especially those aged between 12 and 50 – are assembled in the deportation bus, which arrives at the airport accompanied by security.
One passenger speaking about his ordeal said: “After a long flight, I arrived at Cairo airport at 4:00 am. I was handed over to the Egyptian police at the airport. The officer asked me about my destination and the date of my plane. I told him that it was about 5pm.”
“Without any shame or respect for the suit worn by him, or the state he represents, this Egyptian officer took me to the deportation room housing illegal immigrants at the bottom of the airport asked me to wait or to pay to allow me to stay in the transit lounge at the airport to wait for the flight,” the passenger explained.
The passenger said that he was then forced to pay $28 to wait in the transit lounge and, should he fail to pay, he would be delayed by an additional day.
Another Palestinian passenger said that he tried to avoid paying the officer by telling him that he had no Egyptian currency. He admitted that his plan did not work, explaining that the Egyptian officer took him to the National Bank of Egypt located inside the airport to exchange the money and pay $17.
Palestinian student Jihad Mustafa recounted what happened to him at Cairo airport by posting details of the blackmail on his blog. He said: “Once we arrived at the airport we went to the transfer room known to every Palestinian who [ever] entered Cairo airport.”
“Prior to that, one of the officers in charge told us that each of us would pay about 500 Egyptian pounds ($28), and we would bring them to the officer in charge there, so that we could stay in a better room than the detention centres.” Mustafa explained that all 14 passengers with him paid $28 to the Egyptian officer in return for not staying in the notorious deportation room.
The investigation documented the fact that a senior Egyptian police officer obtained a bribe of $400 from a Palestinian family of four for allowing them to enter Cairo and not to be deported to the Rafah crossing, which separates Egypt from the Gaza Strip.
The report noted that the bribes were not limited to senior Egyptian officers at Cairo airport. Junior police officers also impose a financial penalty on Palestinian passengers, especially during any minor travel or departure. According to the anti-corruption organisation mentioned in the report, Egypt faces serious corruption issues due to a rise in poverty and the failure of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government to clampdown on corruption, which is said to be out of control.