REFUGEES IN EGYPT
Where Do They Come From?
In addition to Palestinians, who are estimated to number some 50,000, Egypt is a host to refugees from some thirty-five other nationalities. The largest number of people seeking asylum from Africa are from Sudan (some 60%), but refugees also arrive from Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Somalia. Refugee applicants in Egypt also include people from Afghanistan, Albania, China, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Ukraine - in addition to those who seek asylum from Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.
Who Grants Asylum?
The Government of Egypt (GoE) does not conduct status determination interviews; this work is done by the Cairo offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR).
The Law in Egypt
Egypt has not enacted a domestic law regulating refugee matters. Article 53 of Egypt's 1971 Constitution provides the right to asylum 'for every foreigner persecuted for defending the peoples interest, human rights, peace or justice'. The GoE ratified the 1969 Organisation of African Unity's Convention on refugee (which includes the 1951 UN Refugee Convention) in1980. It separately ratified the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol in 1981, but at this time it entered eight reservations, the most important being Art. 12 (personal status), Artic 20 (rationing), Art 22 (Access to primary education), Art. 23 (access to public relief and assistance) and Art. 25 (labour legislation and social security).
It is not possible to provide a good 'guesstimate' of how many refugees there
are in Egypt. Why? The Sudanese, for example, defy any attempt to provide
accurate numbers. In 2000, the World Council of Churches reported that 'between
two and five million Sudanese have come to Egypt in recent years an more are
arriving each week.
Before 1995, Sudanese were allowed to enter Egypt and live as nationals as
regards access to education and work. Since the attempt on Mubarak's life in
Ethiopia, which was allegedly carried out by Sudanese, all newly-arriving
Sudanese refugees are required to possess visas and apply for asylum as do other
The only 'hard' numbers of those provided by UNHCR on the numbers of people they have recognised which amounts to some 7,000 to 8,000 in the past three years. But at the same time, significant numbers of these recognised refugees have been 'resettled' to countries such as Australia, Canada and the USA.
What is known is that there was a 'backlog' of applicants for asylum that was nearly 20,000 at the beginning of 2002. Moreover, in the past five years UNHCR has rejected roughly the same number of asylum applications. Most of these people who now have closed files continue to fear persecution in the country from which they fled and there is no record of how many continue to live in Egypt.
In most European countries there is provision for granting 'humanitarian' or 'B' status to such persons who do not meet the standards are the 1951 UN Refugee Convention but who cannot be returned to their countries because of the continued threat that exists to their lives. In Egypt, such a provision does not exist so persons with 'closed files' remain on the margins of society living illegally without valid passports or residency permits. Although the Egyptian police usually turn a 'blind eye', there are enough arrests and removals to ensure that all people without permission to reside in the country live an extremely insecure existence.
Legal Aid for Refugees
Refugees have the right to legal representation during the asylum determination process. But for thousands of refugees in Egypt, until recently professional legal services have been almost non-existent.
The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) has begun offering free legal advice to refugees in Cairo in August 2001. The EOHR Refugee Legal Aid Office is located on the 12th floor of 8/10 Mathufal Munyal Street, Al Manial. Refugees are received from 09:00 - 13:00 Sunday - Thursday. The office can be reached on 375-3679 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The work of Refugee Legal Aid is:
To assist refugee clients in preparing their testimony, writing legal briefs based on international refugee and human rights law and country of origin information for each case.
To train Egyptian lawyers and students in refugee law and legal practice with refugees to take major responsibility of providing legal aid.
To advocate for the improvement of policies and practices concerning refugees.