Refugee population

As of 5 August 2015 (last available data to date), UNHCR-registered Syrian refugees in Egypt were 132,375. Of these, 524 were unaccompanied minors. The vast majority of refugees from Syria were concentrated in urban neighbourhoods where they rent or share accommodation, primarily in the Greater Cairo area (62 percent), in Alexandria (20 percent) and in Damietta (8 per cent). Their being scattered within local communities makes registration and services delivery a huge challenge, as refugees’ savings progressively deplete and family assistance is strained. As of July 2015, 67,716 beneficiaries (64,878 Syrian and 2,838 Syrian/Palestinian refugees) were recipients of World Food Programme (WFP) food vouchers.

Egypt is also home to 50,000-70,000 Palestinian refugees, who since 1982 are considered as foreigners, hence having lost their right to residency, owning property and work granted to them under Nasser’s Panarabist policies. Some Iraqi refugees have also been stranded in Egypt since 2003. In 2008, their number was estimated at around 17,000. Egypt also received refugees from Sudan, as well as South Sudanese, fleeing the latest internal conflict that began in December 2013. As of 2015, 30,000 Sudanese were registered as refugees and asylum-seekers. However, many Sudanese who may qualify for the status of refugee may remain unrecorded, among the many Sudanese believed to reside and work in Egypt (unverifiable figures usually quoted span from 750,000 to 4 million). Egypt also hosts about 8,000 Somali registered refugees and asylum-seekers, alongside Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees.

Refugee Status

Egypt is a signatory to both the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1969 OAU Convention. The country also ratified the Geneva Convention’s 1967 Protocol, but made reservations to some of its clauses (on personal status, rationing, education, public relief and assistance as well as and labour legislation and social security), which limit the access of some of the refugees to public services. UNHCR undertakes the responsibility to determine the status of refugees and register them, as per the terms of the 1954 MoU between UNHCR and the Government of Egypt. In spite of its formal agreement to UNHCR’s and OAU’s Conventions, Egypt has not developed significant domestic asylum procedures. In 1984, the Egyptian govt. created a Refugee Affairs Committee and a Dept. of Refugee Affairs within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Once the RSD process is concluded and the UNHCR has registered the refugee, he/she applies for a residence permit from the MFA, after the Ministry of Interior provides a security clearance.

Government’s approach

The GoE used to exempt Syrians from entry visas to its territory and Syrians could enter on three-month tourist visas. However, entry requirements changed in July 2013 when the government required the procurement of a visa prior to arrival along with security clearance. Once their visas expire, Syrians are expected to register with the government. In general, the Government is abiding by the non-refoulement principle although some deportations have been reported.

For instance, Palestinians from Syria face specific challenges in Egypt. They can enter if they have Syrian travel documents, but the MFA has not allowed the UNHCR to register them, and they have had difficulty renewing their visas. Consequently, many are being arrested and detained for illegal presence, and even, in some cases, turned away at Cairo airport and sent back to Damascus.

Syrian refugees benefit from access to public health care with the same fees than Egyptian citizens. Public education is also accessible to Syrian refugees on the same basis as Egyptians. However, Palestinian Refugees from Syria are excluded from this provision.

Syrians in Egypt require Egyptian work permits, which are difficult to obtain, as they require proof on the part of the employer that no Egyptian national is available to do the work.

Institutional actors

As of 2015, the refugee response continues to be supervised by UNHCR. Regarding Syrian refugees, an Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG), chaired by the UNHCR has been established, which coordinates the action of a vast number of international and intergovernmental organisations (IOM, ILO; UNDP; UNFPA; UNICEF; UNOPS; UNV; WFP; WHO) and national, regional and international NGOs involved in the provision of logistics, basic needs and relief services, educational, health and psychological, legal, etc. assistance. Among these are (as listed in UNHCR’s documents): the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR); the Arab Council for Supporting Fair Trials and Human Rights (ACSFT); the Arab Medical Union (AMU); Care Intl/USA; Caritas; Catholic Relief Services (CRS); Egyptian Red Crescent (ERC); Mostafa Mahmoud Society; Refuge Egypt; Refuge Point; Save the Children; St Andrews Refugee Services (StARS); Terre des Hommes – Psycho-Social Services and Training Institute in Cairo (PSTIC).