Qanater is a town on the Nile, north of Cairo, at the point where the river starts to divide, forming the Delta. A barrage was constructed there in the 1850s (later improved by a Scottish engineer in the 1880s!) to control the flow of the Nile and improve irrigation. It was a popular place for people to travel from Cairo to enjoy the river, and there were a number of parks and gardens. By now they are sadly overgrown.
Qanater is now the site of a complex of prisons, one for women and two for men. One of the male prisons is specifically for international people – men from different countries who for one reason or another find themselves in prison.
I had travelled there with a group from All Saints Anglican Cathedral, which has had a prison ministry for a number of years. There were 12 of us in the minibus, including Father Samuel, who had worked for many years in churches in Libya, but who had to leave because of the worsening situation there. They go every week and visit the women one week and the men the next. Mostly it is the international prisoners who are visited, as they don’t have family in Egypt and so have fewer visitors.
The group brings groceries for the prisoners – rice, pasta, cooking oil and some hygiene items, which the prisoners are able to use. There would be about 60 international prisoners on the visiting schedule, but the group would only see about 10 each week. Some of the prisoners are jailed for crimes, but others are refugees or migrants who were found without the proper papers and have been imprisoned.
I spoke with someone from Ethiopia, who was in the latter category and who just wants to return home to Addis, where he worked as a ‘wedding decorator’. Like most of the prisoners we visit, he was Christian and was able to wear a big cross round his neck. His English wasn’t very good, but was better than his Arabic. We chatted for perhaps 20 minutes in a visiting room, after which we all stood in a circle and said a prayer. It was good to have the chance to visit, and I look forward to going back again.