Egyptians facing eviction should have right to stay: U.N. rapporteur

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptians living in areas marked for urban development projects should have a right to remain in their homes if they wish to do so, a U.N. special rapporteur said during a rare visit to Egypt on Wednesday.

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Egypt has launched a series of housing projects in recent years and is developing 42 new cities, including a new capital east of Cairo.

These are designed partly to replace unplanned or informal settlements in which at least 40 percent of Egypt’s 97 million population is estimated to live.

Leilani Farha, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said she was concerned that residents of several areas of Cairo facing redevelopment should “be able to remain in their communities and homes should they wish to do so”.

One such area is the Maspero district of central Cairo, which runs along 26 July street and where many homes were razed this summer.

“I have yet to understand (for) what reason these people are being moved from their homes. It looked like an intact community to me,” Farha said.

In Cairo, some communities are being displaced to make way for business or tourism projects that authorities say will boost the economy and attract investment.

Farha is the first independent rapporteur appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to visit Egypt since 2010, the year before an uprising toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

Farha said being invited into the country was an “important step”, but she had been unable to gain access to some residents and housing rights defenders, and had encountered “a lot of fear”.

“A number of individuals and organizations would not meet with me in public spaces, expressing fear that talking to me ... might result in them experiencing reprisal.”

The government appeared committed to tackling housing issues, she said, praising a “financially innovative” public housing program that was reaching a vast number of people, even if not necessarily the poorest Egyptians.

But she said her overarching concern was “the lack of meaningful engagement with residents to determine their own future”.

People are moving to areas with few economic opportunities, she said, and one new development she visited, al-Asmarat, already looked like a “potential slum”.

“No housing program, no new city, no social housing program will be successful without the full engagement of people,” Farha said.