Located along the Mediterranean refugee route, Egypt hosts around 300,000 registered asylum seekers and refugees from 60 countries. Since intense conflict broke out in Sudan, the nation is currently dealing with a new influx of Sudanese refugees – since April 15, over 200,000 new arrivals have been recorded.
Many refugees travel from Egypt to Europe or other Western states. However, only a small percentage succeed, and the bulk find themselves stuck—possibly indefinitely—in refugee settlements in many Egyptian cities.
The ongoing influx of migrants and refugees occurs when Egypt’s economy has come under severe pressure, with the Egyptian pound tumbling, foreign currency drying up, and inflation soaring.
COPING WITH REFUGEES
Amid an acute economic crisis, living conditions for the most vulnerable population are worsening due to dramatic price hikes for food and utilities.
“One of the most important factors that have assisted refugees in general in dealing with inflation and economic crises is that they come from a worse economic state than Egypt’s,” says Ghaith Jawish, a refugee who is now working as the Coordinator of the Monitoring and Evaluation Team at St. Andrews Refugee Services.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Amena Reda, a humanitarian worker and refugee rights advocate who worked with refugees for three years in Egypt and Croatia between fieldwork and research focusing on education, resettlement, and social integration, says, “Egypt has represented a stable political order compared to other Middle Eastern countries for the past 12 years, since the Arab Spring.”
Syrian refugees constitute the largest group of refugees in Egypt.
Syrian-born Ghaith Jawish claims that Egyptian society generally accepts the Syrians’ presence and that they don’t feel isolated there. “In addition to the historical ties that existed between the two nations at the time of their unification, the business aspect played a significant role in the Syrians’ decision to migrate to Egypt.”
Dr. Dina Rashed’s research article entitled Egypt and the Syrian Refugee Crisis, published in the book Policy and Politics of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Eastern Mediterranean States, argues that domestic stability and economic capacity have influenced Egypt’s policies towards the Syrian refugee issue.
She indicates that the Egyptian government has worked to restore macroeconomic stability and offer suitable services to its citizens; however, the unintended consequences of adhering to neoliberal international prescriptions have had an impact on both the living conditions of Egyptian citizens and Syrian refugees as well as the state’s policies towards them.
HAVING NUMEROUS RIGHTS
The political relationship between Egypt and the country of conflict has influenced refugees’ experiences, but this has changed over time. Palestinian refugees, for instance, are considered the oldest group of Arab refugees and are granted numerous rights, including the ability to own property and study at Egyptian colleges and universities.
Initially, only Palestinian children were allowed to study at Egypt’s public schools, but later on, the government permitted children of Sudanese, Libyan, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees to attend public schools.
However, Ghaith states that Syrians and Sudanese are among the nationalities that gain the most from Egyptian government services such as education, enrollment in government institutions and universities, medical care, and vaccinations.
According to him, although the impact of this on certain people undoubtedly led to a rise in incidents of racism and the accusation of refugees of contributing to the economic downturn, the Egyptian government is making efforts to facilitate the process of obtaining the required papers, such as residency and permits, through accredited centers.
“It differs based on the refugee background and economic situation. Finding jobs is problematic due to the difficulty of obtaining a work permit. So, they mainly work informally,” adds Reda.
In a research journal, Kelsey P. Norman claims that most refugees are no longer housed in camps. Egypt has never had a policy of establishing camps, except for the Saloum Camp on the Libyan border, which was constructed for a limited time in 2011.
According to Norman’s study, “The vast majority of refugees live in Cairo, although other coastal cities such as Alexandria and Damietta have become popular locations for refugees hoping to be smuggled to Europe, or possibly because they are less expensive than Cairo, and some refugees have existing social networks there.”
She states Cairo has a robust resettlement program in the form of the UNHCR’s presence and private sponsorship schemes to Canada, Australia, and the US make the capital an appealing destination for refugees. Even though the number of refugees successfully resettled is relatively low, this system has significant pulling power. Due to this pattern of high inflows and low exits, Cairo is home to a sizable urban refugee community.
According to Reda, the current situation is challenging. “This is visible on a more social level, as evidenced by the rising cost of housing and the low pay in unofficial jobs.”
Although finding stable jobs has become a challenge for many refugees, and most get hired based on their nationalities, according to Reda, reports from international organizations state that their living conditions are improving.
Egypt will continue to be a popular destination as long as displaced refugees can find work opportunities, a welcoming atmosphere for their enterprises, and uninterrupted education for their kids.