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South Sudanese in Cairo Allege Student Protest Violently Dispersed

FILE - Displaced South Sudanese students take a math examination at a United Nations base in Juba, Jan. 17, 2014.
FILE - Displaced South Sudanese students take a math examination at a United Nations base in Juba, Jan. 17, 2014.

Egyptian police have dispersed protests by angry South Sudanese students decrying conditions and scholarship issues at South Sudan's embassy in Cairo. Students in the Egyptian capital alleged that security agents guarding the embassy beat students Monday night, injuring some of them.

The students began their protest last week over what they call poor living conditions on Egyptian campuses.

Some of the the students told South Sudan In Focus by phone from Cairo on Monday that since they enrolled at Egyptian universities under what they were told were full scholarships last year. They said they endured many hardships, adding that they raised their concerns to university managers to no avail.

One of the students, Petro Mabior, said students holed up on embassy grounds clashed with security operatives.

“In the evening, students were beaten seriously by Egyptian authorities. As per now, eight students including one female were arrested and one student is in critical condition. The student is still in the embassy premises because there is no access to the hospital. More than 70 were injured with minor and serious injuries," Mabior told VOA.

Mabior said the whereabouts of the eight students are unknown. He said students who were locked inside the embassy had difficulties getting food.

"The condition of the students who are in the embassy right now is still alarming. Because we went to the embassy since last Thursday and students stayed inside without basic services like water, food and electricity. Students have been there for three days without food and water, and this issue provoked the students who are outside to mobilize and take water and food by force. Some of the students collapsed before getting food and water," Mabior said.

He called on the government in Juba to "to intervene as soon as possible" in resolving the the standoff between embassy officials and students who are peacefully protesting, saying students' education will be impacted if the scholarships are not fully funded.

South Sudan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Deng Dau said the country's top leaders are aware events at the embassy. He said officials are working to resolve the matter.

“The Minister of Foreign Affairs honorable Mayiik and the Minister of Higher Education Gabriel Changson have met over this matter and the leadership of the country has been informed on the steps that need to be taken. Most important is that we are appealing to our South Sudanese nationals and students that are in Egypt to respect the rules and laws of that country,” Dau told South Sudan in Focus.

Dau said the students’ grievances are being discussed by ministry officials but noted scholarships are “a privilege” given freely by the Egyptian government to South Sudanese students.

He said if it turns out that scholarships are only partially funded, Juba will either renegotiate with the Egyptian government or take up the responsibility and fill the gap.

Asked about the allegations that Egyptian security operatives beat students, Dau said the embassy is considered a South Sudan territory and that Egyptian authorities were not involved.

“The government of Egypt, they have not yet intervened as required because the embassy is the territory of the Republic of South Sudan and nobody can enter there. And this is why the students are inside the embassy,” said Dau.

He said the government is “asking the students themselves to go back to where they were staying” to give the South Sudan ambassador and diplomats in the embassy “a chance” to do their work.

Dau also urged parents of the students to call their children and help convince them to return to their campuses so that the matter can be resolved.

In February, South Sudanese students on government scholarship at Suez University in Egypt occupied the embassy in Cairo for four days, demanding the government clear their credit-hour arrears.

Over the years, students studying in countries like Ethiopia and Zimbabwe have reported a number of academic challenges, with some being barred from graduation due to outstanding tuition fees.