Family concerned for welfare of four siblings being held in Egypt
THE distraught family of the four young Irish citizens held captive in Egypt since August have spoken of their fears for the safety of the jailed siblings.
The Halawa siblings – sisters Somaia, 28, Omaima, 21, and Fatima, 23, and their brother Ibrihim, 17, the children of prominent Irish Iman, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, have been held without charge in Cairo since their arrest on August 16.
They were arrested at the al-Fateh Mosque during a day of protest in the city.
Their family and the Department of Foreign Affairs have been trying to secure their release amid fears for their well-being, but so far there has been no breakthrough.
"We are still trying to get them home," the jailed siblings' older sister Nosayba Halawa told the Sunday Independent in Dublin last week.
"Last week, we had a problem because they moved Ibrihim and we didn't know about it. My family found out by accident as they were going to visit him and they found him going out the door. They were asking them where they were taking him and they refused to tell them. He is still a child and for three days our family were looking for him and the authorities wouldn't tell us where they were taking him, they wouldn't even tell our solicitor.
"Ibrihim is a bit shaken and he has been sick. We tried to call a doctor for him and they just ignored it. Even after the counsel told him that they had to," Nosayba said.
"Then last week they eventually managed it and the Irish Government were able to tell us that he had been seen by a doctor, but he wasn't feeling good and he had a problem with his breathing."
Ibrihim is being kept in a separate facility to his three older sisters, who are imprisoned in the Al-Qanatir women's prison in Cairo and while the family are concerned for all four siblings, fears are growing for Ibrihim's health and state of mind.
"It is very frightening, especially in Egypt now. They used to segregate people that were in prison for political reasons, from the people that were in for charges like killing and all of this, but now they put everybody in together and they tell the people in the prisons 'don't give them space'. They scare them. So my brother and my sisters, they try all the time to stay in their rooms because they don't want anyone to harm them when they go out. We are afraid for them.
"Ibrihim is trying his best to cope, but he is not in a very good condition, he is really getting sick and is very lonely. It is just so unfair for them and they didn't do anything to deserve to be there. They just sought refuge in the mosque from the violence outside," Nosayba said.
Last week Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore admitted he is "increasingly concerned" about the plight of the Halawa siblings as he raised the issue with his EU counterparts at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg, where he also met the Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Halawa family now face an anxious wait until November 11, when the siblings will appear once again before the Chief Prosecutor in Cairo. At the Chief Prosecutor's discretion the Halawas' detention may be extended or they could be released, in which case Somaia, Omaima, Fatima and Ibrihim will travel home to Ireland.
The Halawa siblings were caught up in the protests in Cairo while spending their summer holidays with family in the city. Both Omaima, who is studying digital media in college, and Ibrihim, who sat his Leaving Cert last June, have been forced to defer their studies in Dublin this year as a result of their detention.