This Sudanese man sits on his wheelchair outside his crowded home in Cairo. His daughter's husband lost his job in March. Their financial situation is 'difficult' | Photo: Reuters
This Sudanese man sits on his wheelchair outside his crowded home in Cairo. His daughter's husband lost his job in March. Their financial situation is 'difficult' | Photo: Reuters

The UN migration agency (IOM) has announced that many migrants and refugees are struggling to survive in Egypt after losing their jobs during the coronavirus lockdown. Throughout the pandemic the IOM has been providing support to the most vulnerable but as the economy dives, many "struggle to make ends meet" reports Reuters.

"Tens of thousands of migrants" in Egypt are "struggling to make ends meet," writes the news agency Reuters. During the lockdown, many lost their jobs and now the fallout from the restrictions has "hit the Egyptian economy hard" UN officials and aid workers told Reuters.

According to Reuters, more than a quarter of those who had a job have ceased work since the lockdown was imposed and "more than half have been put on shorter hours," state Egyptian statistics.

Many of those who are suffering most are migrants from Sudan. Before the crisis, they had been working as "domestic staff, drivers, or laborers," reports Reuters.

'Fourfold rise in request for aid'

In fact, the IOM in Egypt reports a "fourfold" rise in requests for aid from foreigners since March. The UN migration agency has launched a number of schemes throughout the crisis in order to help, including "1,000s of kits for 1,000 families" and aid to community organizations and centers which work with migrants.

In Cairo on June 9, IOM Egypt organized a "week-long collaboration with migrants and community leaders." The event was designed to support the most vulnerable migrants and their families. According to the IOM, even before the pandemic many of these migrants had "limited safety nets and financial resources." The containment measures taken had led to many of them "losing their livelihoods and source of income."

The boxes distributed by the IOM contained food, hygiene, "awareness raising flyers on COVID-19" as well as coloring books for children with information on nutrition and hygiene. Most of these most vulnerable families are originally from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen according to IOM.

Stress and poverty rise during the pandemic

The UN agency also distributed flyers on mental health to "better aid migrants and their families on how to cope with stress during this pandemic."

At the end of June, the IOM partnered with the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity and took more hygiene equipment and food supplies to various Social Care Institutions SCIs around Egypt. Many of those housed in SCIs include unaccompanied children, single women and persons with disability.

The packs this time contained "masks, gloves, disenfectants, soaps, personal hygiene items and other cleaning materials," and, according to an IOM press release reached 3,500 beneficiaries in six Egyptian cities.

'It is not enough'

However the distribution initiatives may not have reached people like Abdel-Nasser Khamis, a Sudanese refugee who spoke to Reuters. He is one of a community of about 3.8 million Sudanese in Egypt. Khamis lives with is "wife, baby and relatives in a small flat" in the Ain Shams district in Cairo. He does receive some food parcels from a charity but told Reuters "it is not enough." With six children and her sick father and two other relatives concerns about money are uppermost in this Sudanese refugee familys mind  Photo ReutersBefore the pandemic, Khamis got by on cleaning jobs in Cairo but was let go. Now, he says he "has not paid rent for this house for three months. The landlord was okay about it, but now says that this is the last month," the 29-year-old told Reuters tearfully.

Khamis said that his family can’t afford meat anymore and has been surviving mainly on rice. One of his relatives also lost his job as a cleaner. Laurent De Boeck, IOM's chief in Egypt told Reuters that about one fifth of 6.3 million foreigners in Egypt are considered "vulnerable" and "require help."

De Boeck confirmed that so far IOM has received about 26,500 cash requests and that their plan is to be able to help about 80,000 in the future. Many of the Egyptian locals are also not in a much better situation. De Boeck said that about a third of Egyptians live below the poverty line and three-quarters "have seen their income fall" since the coronavirus struck.

'Our financial situation is difficult'

Many African migrants used to see Egypt as a useful transit point to make some money before continuing their journey to Europe. But, as the Egyptian economy struggles to take the strain of the crisis, many migrants are finding that they have lost their jobs and it is hard to move on too. Controls have been tightened along the coasts, stopping migrant boats attempting to leave for Europe. The Israelis have put up a border fence with Egypt and the conflict in Libya has closed that route to many more.

"Our financial situation is difficult," Ayat Mohamed, a 40-year-old who lives with six children, her sick father and two other relatives in a small "barely furnished flat" tells Reuters. Her husband had been working as a day laborer but hasn't had any work since March, she explained. Ayat Mohamed hangs washing out on her balcony in a crowded district of Cairo   Photo ReutersOne Sudanese charity has been helping about 500 families -- yet that is a drop in the ocean of the almost four million Sudanese in the country.

Nigerians too and Filipinos, report Reuters, have also suffered during the pandemic. According to Reuters about 1,000 Nigerians and Filipinos have lost their jobs due to restrictions. Things have got so bad for some that they are hoping to be repatriated.

According to the IOM, 1,500 people have already been flown home and they expect to transport another 500 "in the next three months." For Khamis though, going home is "not an option." There is "no security in Darfur," he tells Reuters.

Based on a feature by Ulf Laessing for Reuters


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