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Gibsons volunteer faces Gaza border frustration

Peace delegation
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Annita Couvrette, third from the right, and other Code Pink delegates flash the universal sign of peace from their hotel in Cairo. After bureaucratic delays with the Egyptian government, her group will be able to enter Gaza on Friday.

From the Sunshine Coast to the Middle East is a long way to go to help people in a war-torn area, only to be turned away at the border. But that is what Gibsons resident Anita Couvrette was facing when she arrived in Egypt on Monday.

Couvrette is a member of one of four Code Pink delegations trying to get into Gaza through Egypt to bring aid and comfort to those who have lost everything in war.

“Because there has been a siege and blockade for the last 22 months, the border is generally closed and they open it at their whim,” Couvrette said of the Egyptian government.

The first three delegations were turned away, causing the organizers of Couvrette’s group to begin flexing their negotiation muscles with the Egyptian government.

Ann Wright, a leader in the fourth delegation, and several other organizers spent hours pressing Egyptian bureaucrats to help get the mission back on track.

“We stayed for four hours, and over that four hours the foreign ministry diplomats kept making phone calls to the various intelligence and security agencies of the government of Egypt,” Wright said. “I would like to think because of the direct intervention and enquires we were making, the foreign ministry was able to push the intelligence agencies and security agencies to make a decision as to whether or not they were going to allow all the groups.”

But both Wright and Couvrette think politics may have also had something to do with it. U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to make a speech on American-Arab relations in Cairo on June 4. Other members of the group, mostly made up of Americans, called their state senators and congressmen asking for help.

Couvrette asked friends on the Sunshine Coast to attempt to contact John Weston, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, but said she had the impression Weston was not able to help.

Wright said reasons for being held back could have been either bureaucratic or political, and likely a combination of both. The Egyptian government tightly controls transportation, especially for foreigners who have been targeted by Islamic militants in the past. And Wright said that control goes well beyond transportation.

“It’s a very autocratic, dictatorial government that wants to control every facet of everything in the country,” Wright said.

Three of the four Code Pink delegations were able to enter Gaza on Tuesday, while Couvrette’s group, which includes Wright, is scheduled to cross the border today (Friday).

Couvrette said she knows the group may still face challenges at the border, but that is something they accepted before they left North America, and it is something they are prepared for.

“What we are planning to do if we are not allowed in is put up a camp at the border. We’ll just put out some signs and make our presence really felt there,” she said.

Ultimately, though, Couvrette said she is confident the border will be open when she gets there.

Once across the border, Couvrette, who works with children in a transition home for women fleeing domestic abuse on the Sunshine Coast, and the women she is travelling with will be placed in home-stays and will begin their aid work.

“We will be visiting hospitals and schools, and we are building three playgrounds,” she said. “I’ve worked with children all my life. I’m really looking forward to seeing the children. I want to play with them. I want to let them know that there’s another world other than a world full of hate and war and bombs.”

Being ambassadors of peace in war-torn areas isn’t the only job for Code Pink’s volunteers. They also have a mission to raise awareness about what life is like living under persistent war.

“Really what we want is for the siege to end because it’s like an open-air prison for the Gazans. So we might have some concerns about not getting in, but they don’t have that freedom. That’s the point of this delegation, to bring about awareness,” she said.

There are four Canadians in Couvrette’s delegation, including Monia Mazigh, former federal NDP candidate and wife of Mahar Arar.


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