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Causes & Consequences

Causes & Consequences

Origin of Refugees in Egypt

The number of refugees in Egypt is unknown. Representing one of the five largest urban populations in the developing world (Sperl 2001), estimates vary widely from 500,000 to 3 million. According to the US Committee of Refugees, in 2003, there were about 3m Sudanese living in Egypt and it is not known how many of those feared persecution and how many resided in Egypt for economic or other reasons (USCRI World Refugee Survey - Egypt Report 2004). The UNDPs 2004 Human Development Report indicated that the number of refugees in Egypt was 89,000 (UNDP 2004). The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has assumed responsibility for status determination. By the end of 2004 it reported 20,428 recognized refugees. Over the period 1997 to 2003, the UNHCR has rejected some 32,000 asylum cases (UNHCR, Cairo), and since most people seeking asylum are unable to return, it is safe to assume the numbers of refugees in Egypt is far higher.

Refugees in Egypt are made up of some 36 different nationalities. The largest refugee group is from Sudan, followed by Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. There are also refugees from Afghanistan, Burundi, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Yemen, and many other Africans, as well as other nationalities (UNHCR Regional Office (RO) - Cairo: Egypts Refugee Population 2004).

There are an estimated 70,000 Palestinian refugees in Egypt, the majority from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and most of whom have fled Palestine in 1948 and 1967 (UNHCR RO - Cairo: Egypts Refugee Population 2004)

United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Egypt Report 2004
UNDP Human Development Report 2004

Refugees in Egypt

While Egypt has opened its borders to refugees, it has not requested international aid to address the refugee situation. There are no refugee camps in Egypt and the majority of the refugees live in urban areas such as the capital, Cairo, and Alexandria which is the countrys main port and second largest city.

Conflict-Induced Displacement

In the last two decades, Egypt has become host to refugees fleeing conflicts in Africa and Asia. The possibility of obtaining a one-month tourist visa at the airport upon arrival has made entry to Egypt relatively easy for many asylum seekers. Egypt is country of first asylum for many people but there are no local integration prospects. Refugees who fit the criteria are resettled in third countries and this is believed to constitute a pull factor effect for migrating to Egypt.

Refugee Communities in Egypt

Sudanese refugees. The 19 year old civil war in Sudan has caused the displacement of an estimated 500,000 Sudanese to eight neighbouring African countries: Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Chad, Central African Republic, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo (US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002).

The largest refugee group in Egypt is the Sudanese who make up 73% of asylum seekers in Egypt (UNHCR RO Cairo 2003). By the end of 2004, there were 14,999 Sudanese refugees recognised by the UNHCR. The Sudanese refugees in Egypt come from all parts of Sudan, although the southern Sudanese make up the largest group (Sperl, 2001). According to the UNHCR Regional Office in Cairo, in 2004 southern Sudanese made up 61% of the Sudanese recognised refugee community. Sudanese refugees are made up of different ethnicities and speak different languages as well. Whereas the majority of northern, western and central Sudanese are Muslims, southern Sudanese are predominantly Christian.

Historically, Egypt and Sudan have enjoyed excellent relations. There were many bilateral agreements signed between the two countries allowing for the free passage of people and goods across the Sudanese-Egyptian border. In 1994, the Egyptian government requested that the UNHCR screen Sudanese asylum seekers. In 1995, after an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in which it was believed that the Sudanese government was implicated (Hassan, 2000). Egypt closed its borders and applied visa requirements on Sudanese nationals. Sudanese who entered Egypt to reside after that date were required to hold a residence permit (Sperl, 2001).

As of 1 June 2004, the UNHCR RO Cairo has stopped registering all Sudanese asylum seekers for Refugee Status Determination (RSD) interviews and is only issuing them with yellow cards (temporary protection). The yellow cards are valid until the end of 2004. The UNHCR has stated that by the end of 2004 the situation in Sudan will be reviewed and a decision will be taken regarding the status of the Sudanese refugees in Egypt. The UNHCR stated that if the situation remains the same, the temporary protection for the Sudanese asylum seekers will be extended. If the situation improves, the UNHCR will promote voluntary repatriation. It will give prima facie recognition if the situation worsens. On 1 December 2004, the UNHCR Cairo decided to extend the temporary protection for Sudanese refugees in Egypt until June 1, 2005. All Sudanese asylum seekers presenting themselves at a UNHCR office are registered and issued with a UNHCR yellow card and are entitled to renewable six-month residence permits. Sudanese refugees in Cairo are mostly concentrated in Maadi, Nasr City, Heliopolis and Ain Shams (UNHCR, 2003b).

US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices, 2002 Sudan
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2004 Country Report, Sudan

Somali refugees. By the end of 2004, the second largest group of refugees after the Sudanese by the end of 2004 were the 3,734 Somali refugees recognised by the UNHCR, and which make up 18% of the refugee population in Egypt (UNHCR RO Cairo, 2003). Somali refugees fled Somalia after the eruption of the power struggle brought about by the fall of Barres regime. There are an estimated to be 75,000 Somali refugees living in the Middle East (in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya) (Al-Sharmani, 2003)

Somali refugees in Cairo live in two main neighbourhoods: Ard il Liwa in Giza and Nasr City. Most of the Somali refugees in Egypt belong to one of five clan families: Darood, Hawiye, Issaq, Dir and Rahenweyn, although there are also others from minority clans (Al-Sharmani, 2003).

Ethiopian Refugees. By the end of 2004, there were 459 Ethiopian refugees recognised by the UNHCR in Egypt. The Ethiopian refugees make up 2% of the total refugee population recognised by the UNHCR (UNHCR RO Cairo, 2004). Ethiopian refugees fled to Egypt in three waves: between 1977 1979 to escape the Mengistu regime: between 1991 1992 with the fall of the regime; and in 1998 2000 as a result of the border conflict with Eritrea, as well as the suppression of civil liberties and economic hardship (Zohry and Harrell-Bond, 2003)

Eritrean Refugees. The number of Eritrean refugees recognised by the UNHCR in Egypt by the end of 2004 was 158. In 2000, the invocation of the cessation clause by the UNHCR and the Eritrean government caused Eritrean refugees in Sudan to flee to Egypt because of their fear of forcible repatriation. Eritrean refugees in Sudan lost their refugee status by end of 2002. It is estimated that the Ethiopians and Eritreans in Egypt number around 5000, the majority of whom have had their asylum claims rejected by the UNHCR (Zohry and Harrell-Bond, 2003) (UNHCR, Eritrean refugees in Sudan screened for political asylum, 2002).

Yemeni refugees. By the end of 2004 there were 319 Yemeni refugees recognised by the UNHCR in Egypt (UNHCR RO Cairo, 2003). In 2002, 137 Yemenis who expressed their wish to repatriate voluntarily were assisted by the UNHCR to return home (UNHCR, Country Operations Plan: Egypt 2004). Some Yemenis in Egypt have not applied for asylum.

Development-induced displacement. After the Egyptian government decided to go ahead with plans to build the High Dam in the south of the country in 1963, it started the relocation of the Nubian communities living between Aswan and the border with Sudan. The Nubians are an ethnic group and the Nubian population involved then numbered approximately 100,000. In 1963 to 1964, the Nubians were resettled to Kom Ombo. The displacement of the Nubians from their traditional homes to new ones had a number of effects: changes in agricultural methods as well as problems concerning food and water (Zohry and Harrell-Bond, 2003).

Refugees from Egypt. In 2003, there were an estimated 2,000 Egyptians seeking asylum in Western countries (USCRI 2004). According to the UNDPs 2004 Human Development Report, during 2003, there were 1000 Egyptians who applied for asylum in other countries.

UNHCR, Country Operations Plan: Egypt 2004
United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants Egypt Report 2004
UNDP Human Development Report 2004
Last updated Aug 17, 2011