Egyptian flag
Egyptian flag

Egypt is a major transit country for refugees looking to go via the Mediterranean to Europe and also has taken in thousands of Syrian refugees. What is the Egyptian government's policy towards them?

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi said at the G-20 meeting in September 2016 that Egypt was hosting five million refugees and immigrants, and that this included 500,000 Syrian refugees. This might be overstated, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) puts the total number of refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people at around 250,000 in the country  and the number of registered Syrian refugees at 122,203.

According to the UNHCR, Syrians in Egypt need 592 Egyptian pounds a month to meet basic standards of living in the country. Education is free to Syrians and there are also special accredited Syrian learning centers in Egypt where Syrian teachers are employed. Egypt is a signatory of the 1951 Geneva Convention, which specifies that refugees who face persecution in their home countries may be granted asylum and may not be returned to a country where they face threats to their lives or freedom.   

According to the UN, Syrian refugees in Egypt have over the years invested almost $800 million into the country since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011. A UN report said that the Syrian refugees in Egypt are generally from "more affluent backgrounds" than those from other neighboring countries. The UN has also recommended that Egypt extend their current residency permits from six months to two years. The report added that 54 percent of Syrian refugees in Egypt were living below the poverty line and that about 20 percent of them were unemployed. Click here to read the report.

There are also two million Sudanese nationals in Egypt, with many of them being refugees. Many of them reportedly came during the Second Sudanese Civil War, which lasted between 1983 to 2005.

Shipwreck tragedy

But refugees in Egypt also face similar dangers compared to the perils reported from other North African countries. In September 2016, a ship capsized off the Egyptian coast, with more than 400 migrants on board. The boat had Egyptian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Somali migrants on board and was believed to be heading to Italy. 168 migrants were killed.

This tragedy, however, did not slow down or stop the flow of refugees trying to make it to Europe. According to Mada Masr, an Egyptian news outlet, Eritrean refugees, for example, are staying in Cairo’s Mohandiseen district, waiting to get on boats to Europe. Eritreans are increasingly using Egypt as a transit country instead of going through Libya.

According to the EU, 7 percent of migrants who came to Europe in 2016 came through Egypt. The UNHCR explains: "limited livelihood opportunities and a lack of prospects for integration, coupled with a loss of hope to be able to return to their country of origin have contributed to the steady rise in the numbers of refugees departing irregularly by sea."

Sinai route

Dangers lurk not only at sea but also in the desert. Between 2009 and 2014, hundreds of refugees were held hostage by Bedouin tribes in the Sinai. The refugees, coming from countries like Eritrea and Ethiopia, would be abducted to demand bribes of $20,000 to $40,000. 

Meanwhile in 2012, Israel constructed a fence on the border with Egypt to keep out African migrants.

 

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