January 2nd, 2008
PCHR strongly condemns the continuation of the crisis of the return of Gaza pilgrims to their homes. The pilgrims are stranded on the back of a transport ship in the Red Sea and in Egyptian city of El-Arish. The Centre condemns denying these pilgrims of their right of safe return to their homes, noting that all Muslim pilgrims returned to their homes one week ago. The Centre calls upon the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), to pressure Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) cease violating the freedom of movement rights of the civilian population, and to allow the safe return of the pilgrims to the Gaza Strip. In addition, the Centre warns of the deterioration of the humanitarian conditions of the pilgrims, many of whom are elderly and ill persons, as they are under harsh conditions lacking minimum basic needs such as water, food, medicine, and housing.
It is noted that 2200 pilgrims from Gaza traveled to Saudi Arabia through Rafah International Crossing Point on the Egyptian border on the 3rd and 4th of December 2007. On their return from the Pilgrimage on 28 December 2007, these pilgrims were surprised in the Jordanian seaport in Aqaba that they were denied access to the ferries to the Egyptian port of Nuwebe’, from which they would continue by land to Gaza through the Sinai Peninsula. Boarding the ferries to Nuwebe’ was conditional to signing a written pledge accepting the return to the Gaza Strip through Karm Abu Salem “Kerem Shalom” on the Egyptian-Israeli border instead of the Rafah Crossing on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The pilgrims refused to sign this pledge. The Jordanian authorities intervened at approximately 17:00 and allowed 1200 pilgrims to board a ferry, which reached Nuwebe’ after 5 hours. The Egyptian authorities refused to allow the passengers to disembark in Nuwebe’; and the ferry remained a few kilometers offshore.
On Saturday, 29 December, the remaining 1000 pilgrims arrived at Nuwebe’ and joined the remaining pilgrims offshore as the Egyptian authorities refused to allow them to enter Egyptian territory. And at approximately 21:00, the Egyptian authorities allowed the pilgrims to disembark and enter Egypt without signing the written pledge.
Information gathered by PCHR indicates that the Egyptian authorities set up a tent compound to host the pilgrims in El-Arish, to the south of Rafah International Crossing Point. Several pilgrims stated in telephone conversations that they are under harsh conditions; and that they have suffered significantly over the past few days due to the lack of food, water, and medicine on the ferries.
The continued obstruction of the return of Gaza Strip pilgrims to their homes is a violation of their right to freedom of movement and return to their homes. In addition, it is a violation of their rights to freedom of thought and religion, especially the right to worship and religious practice. These violations are a breach of International Humanitarian Law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949); International Human Rights Law; and the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
PCHR condemns the continuation of this crisis, and calls upon the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), to intervene immediately to ensure the safe and speedy return of Gaza Strip pilgrims to their homes through Rafah International Crossing Point.