Migrants and refugees in Egypt: “They do not find the security or the human dignity they hoped for.”  


Muhammad Alkashef is a member of the Alarm Phone and an Egyptian researcher on issues related to migration. He got in contact with the Alarm Phone in 2016 and joined the network. “I feel we share the same ground and lots of ideas. The project motivated me to see the bigger picture and look at the whole scene of the Mediterranean region not just Egypt. I think the Alarm Phone is bigger than a hotline project. It’s a magnificent solidarity initiative with different activities, ranging from observing, documenting, consulting, and emergency work to campaigning and advocacy. It was great experience for me to see how they stand for saving lives and helping people in distress, which is the right thing to do in my eyes!”

 He was interviewed by Miriam Edding

Migration through the Mediterranean has been occurring since the nineties in Egypt, where the migrants were mainly local citizens escaping economic hardships and looking for better standards of living. Egypt is one of the largest African countries that receive different kinds of immigration, documented and undocumented. African refugees moving into Egypt are fleeing political instability, conflicts and civil wars in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia), as well as Sudan. The war in Yemen added the Yemenis to the list of the various nationalities of refugees.

Since the upheavals in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Egypt has become an important place in the regional migration route of Syrian refugees. Egypt made headlines after the drowning of 500 Syrian and Palestinian refugees in September of 2014. But while the Egyptian route was getting less often frequented by Syrians it was becoming one of the few available options for refugees from Africa. The opening of the Balkan route was not the only reason why Syrian migration through Egypt decreased. Based on our fieldwork, we can highlight different reasons. First of all, the families wait for legal reunification with their relatives who made it to Europe. In addition, within the Syrian refugee networks we notice that the attraction of living in Europe is not as strong as it used to be, and stories of hardships of sea migrants increasingly circulate. This is probably why many accept staying in Egypt and pursue their registration here.

Moreover, in July 2016, the Egyptian government imposed additional measures restricting the entry of Syrians coming to Egypt that required them to get a visa and security approval in advance. In mid-July, nearly 476 Syrians were deported or prevented from entering the Egyptian territories. Waves of violence and attacks on Syrian refugees escalated after some national media outlets claimed the Syrians in Egypt supported the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood and former President Mohamed Morsi.

Generally, asylum seekers and refugees are negatively affected by the current state of economic, political and social unrest in Egypt and have increasingly faced forms of xenophobic attack. But already in June 2013 violence against asylum seekers and refugees had escalated, particularly targeting Ethiopians after the Ethiopian government had announced that it would divert the course of the Blue Nile and launch the construction of the Great Renaissance Dam on its territory. Unfortunately, the Egyptian media played an instigating role in the ignition of this violence by portraying Egypt as if it was facing a severe water scarcity crisis.

In Sinai, the situation was way worse. With the ongoing military operations against armed groups, the security of immigrants and refugees in Sinai, many of them are trafficked, suffered great damage. Egypt has witnessed a remarkable increase in the number of refugees who are victims of human trafficking and who suffered from severe and prolonged ill-treatment and torture in the Sinai region during the previous years. In Cairo, more than 400 survivors of trafficking live. They escaped or were released from ‘torture camps’ in Sinai after they had been sold and re-sold many times in Egypt, in the absence of any intervention to enforce the law, where no arrests or prosecutions were made so far.

The refugees fled their country as a result of life-threatening situations, but they do not find the security or the human dignity they hoped for in Egypt. The Egyptian government has failed in providing the minimum necessary services to protect the physical integrity and secure their belongings. They failed to intervene with communal conflict resolution, which is usually taken up by the local community members and the refugees. The refugees in Egypt suffer from a large degree of marginalization and vulnerability. The existing legal system and the policies of the Egyptian government fail to protect them or give them access to appropriate and effective judicial remedies. Except for spouses of Egyptian citizens, the Egyptian law does not allow refugees to apply for Egyptian citizenship, even if they cannot return to their countries of origin. Moreover, refugees are usually confronted with xenophobic attitudes which can turn very quickly into violent racism, especially in the case of darker-skinned sub-Saharan refugees. These factors combined draw a bleak future for the social integration of refugees in Egypt.