Salam Egypt!

My time in Egypt, doing supportive activities to the Syrian refugees in Egypt.

Start-up day (Click Funding – A new concept)

The first ever section we had with concerning the refugees was with Basita – a start up based in Egypt. We’re asked to put ourselves into the Refugees’ shoes, moving to a whole new country and wanting to start a business with 500 dollars given to each of us. We can either work as a team and combine the fund, or alone. For me, this is a very interesting part of the project where I get to work with people from different major of study. My team was with one man from business and a girl from public policy. As two business students, we discussed the idea and the girl showed us the problems of our ideas, and together we tried to find a feasible way to solve it. After that, we presented out ideas to the team, and get the feedbacks from them. Our idea was to creating a online based fashion shop for plus size woman, which is not very common here in Egypt. We noticed that Egypt has large internet based shops, but not many of them are for plus size women. However, the tendency of Egyptian women is that they get overweight easily after giving birth, but there’re little offer for their demands, so they have to either ugly undesigned outfit or just pay a lot for self design ones. The idea was praised by the audience, though we, after all, had figured out the difficulty in the idea was that we need a large human resources, which would lead to more demand on fund. In order to solve that, we had this idea of making most of the outfits on our own since we know how to deal with sewing certain clothes.

It was indeed a fun task where we got to be a refugees our own, understand the challenges faces the start-ups, and work with other people in different background and nationalities. We also understood that in a developing country, new entreprenuers are the biggest push to the economy of that nation, since they get the new idea, test it out and it might be a boost if the idea succeeded.

In the end of the day, we got a chance to talk about Click Funding, which is a completely new concept to me, that Basita’s idea is based on (http://bassita.org/en). Entering the site, you can find the definition of Click Funding and what the company has been doing. Basically the idea oof click funding is that the company gets paid from creating campaigns for the clients who want to get visible to their customer. By getting likes and shares posts on social network, the target customers will be aware of the clients. The work of Bassita is to design these posts so that they will attract the correct customer group of their clients, and motivate them to share and like.

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Education for the Syrian refugees

On one fine sunny day, we visited this Syrian educational centre who’s trying their best to get recognised as a formal school. The school is funded and run under the sponsor of Fard Foundation and an Egyptian businessman. In early days, the idea of the school was to revise the studying interest in drop-out Syrian students and then help them to catch up with the knowledge which they “should have known” at their age. However, time passes by and the centre wishes to do more than just that, they want to become a formal Primary and Secondary school dedicated to Syrian students. The reason behind this was that according to what they have heard from the parents and the students themselves, there are so many problems occur when a Syrian student comes to an Egyptian school. Fard Foundation also carried out a survey a few years ago about education for the Syrian students, and the drop-out rate is unexpectedly more than half of them drop out from schools. Some of the issues have been stated out by the principle of the school during our conversation.

The first and maybe the most important reason, was the difference between Egyptian Arabic and Syrian Arabic, which causes troubles in understanding and speaking. I have a Moroccan friend whose mother tongue is also Arabic, but Moroccan Arabic, and not less than a hundred of times she had to pay 100% of her attention to absorb what an Egyptian says, and sometimes she didn’t even get that and wasn’t able to translate what was written on a notice board, and she’s 24. So imagine how difficult it would be for 8-15 year-old Syrian students to fully understand lectures given by Egyptian teachers, and more challenges to come when the education system is by no means similar to what they receive in Syria schools. According to the principle of the school, the education system in Syria was one of the best in the Middle East, where their students get full opportunities to develop in all aspects, not just in basic educational theories, and they get respect from teachers and friends. Yet in Egyptian schools, the education based too much on theories while practical training is nearly zero chances, and the teachers are legally allowed to punish student using violent. This though also the problem for the Egyptian students as well, the fact is that the educational centre has heard some cases when punishment were made due to discrimination between Syrian students and Egyptian students. This has not frequently been reported, yet the principle herself sees that it still can be an arising threat to Syrian students studying in Egyptian schools, which add up to the reasons why they drop out from schools.

The second most common reason is that some of the drop-out students have been encountering social psychological problems. The principle told us, they have seen their parents got killed from the war, or witnessed them being beaten up, or worse, got themselves beaten up. Consequently, their mental status is terribly affected, however, it’s not the responsibility of the Egyptian schools to care since they’re having too many students in one class, from 50-70 students and one or two problems just simply cannot be handled. These students need great deals of help from the society, yet they have received little. The school itself has special free mental service which also Syrian doctors and therapists, this would likely to make the traumatised students feel more comfortable talking to, and better for the doctors to treat them since they’ve been through the war as the children’ve.

In addition, the principle also mentioned some other challenges that caused the students to give up on going to school. Tuition fee for foreign students in Egypt is higher, double the price, so the families who ran away without any money cannot afford full education for their children. The education centre, however, has got the sponsor from the Foundation and the Egyptian Businessman, so they can be able to reduce the tuition fee, which is more affordable. A minor things which comes into the recruitment part is that most of the Egyptian schools are full, there aren’t much spaces for new students. In one class, there can be up to 70 students, an enormous number. Therefore, the family either has to fight to their kids studying place, or just give up since they cannot pay the fee or cannot get a place to study.

 

 

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Legalities issues with refugees in Egypt

During the first two weeks we’ve been doing research on the Syrian Refugees here in Egypt, focusing on 6th Of October city, which’s located 1 hour from the centre of Cairo. First of all, we conduct an informal interview from the refugees who have already succeeded in carrying their own business. The reason why we decided to do the interview before anything is because we wanted to hear from them in order to make a draft on their problems to divide sections from it. After that, we had meetings with representatives from Fard Organisation, an NGO founded and run by the Syrian Refugees themselves, working on helping the refugees in many aspects such as work, legalities, education and donation. The meetings we had concerned the general situation of the Syrian Refugees in 6th October, the legalities and overview of Egypt economy. Then, we visited a Syrian school where we had a discussion with the principles about the educational problems that the Syrian Refugees students encounter.

Since the Civil War started in Syria in 2011, about 5 million Syrians have fled away to neighbouring countries searching for protection. More than 3 million Syrians come to Turkey because it’s the closest country with the longest border, some flee to Lebanon or Jordan. However, around 180.000 Syrians chose to come to Egypt because there is no refugees camps and they’re able to live in big cities, and the most important fact is that they had chance to fly since they lived in cities with airports that haven’t been destroyed. Therefore, it’s a challenge to gather all the information of the refugees in Egypt since they spread all over the country, the only thing we came to know is that the majority is living in 6th of October city and the Red Sea coast city, Dahab.

Ideal as it may sound, still the Syrians here are facing quite a great deal of legalities problems and Syrian students are also experiencing challenges at school here in Egypt.

We had a 4 hours meeting with Mr. Firas Hajj Yehya – a Syrian lawyer in the sector of human rights, mostly dealing with the cases of people getting arrested for political reasons. In the meeting, he provided us with the most reliable information about the history of refugees in Egypt, the International Refugees Law, how it’s applied in Egypt and answered all of our questions regarding to these topics.

The International Refugees Law (http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/protection/basic/3b66c2aa10/convention-protocol-relating-status-refugees.html) was signed the first time in 1951 by 130 countries. It was signed due to the consequences left behind after WWII, resulting in 60M people fleeing away from their home, and the United Nations wished to do something to both help and put boundaries and law to these huge population. Another treaties had also been signed in 1967 when the Refugees situation didn’t seem to end.

In short, a Refugee is a foreigner abroad who is in fear of his life and safety in his home country and asks for protection from the country he goes to, also applies to people without nationalities. The host country has the obligation to provide a refugee with basic human life needs (transport/work/study) without any discrimination with its citizens, guarantees to protect him from his home country. In return, a refugee is asked to respect the laws of the host country, apply for a Residence Permit in the host country with true identity stated in legal documents (name/birth/reason of coming to the host country); also, he’s allowed to carry out start ups/foundation provided it’s non-political view. The status of a refugee ends when he desires to return to his home country (UN has the right to decline his wish as they see it’s still a threat for him), the war/conflict in his country ends (in this case, the UN is obligated to send the refugees back to their country as soon as possible) and when the refugees manages to get the citizenship of the host country.

Egypt has been through 3 refugees waves in 1915, 1949 and 1983 from Romania, Turkey, Palestine and Sudan. Before the treaties the country applied the treaties to their law, the refugees were treated in cultural ways, and religions had a significant role in it. Though the country signed and voted for all the treaties in 1951, Egypt didn’t apply any of them until 1980, only agreed to reserve 5 out of 11 articles and apply the country internal laws, which do not include the obligations to provide basic human needs. Egypt stated strongly that “If the UNHCR considers a person a refugees, we will consider that person a refugee”, however, they refuse to provide the refugees with housing/education/work. For example, a student wants to receive education, he can only apply to schools that registered with the UNHCR and pay double tuition fee when it comes to University or College. In terms of working, the refugees are not given the right to work, therefore, many start ups/small business have to register under either an Egyptian name or an Egyptian company or organisation. Therefore, even being given the refugee status, a refugee cannot benefit much from the government so they choose not to register as a refugees and just try to find a way to survive illegally in Egypt, another small number do not register as they either don’t consider themselves as refugees or they don’t have enough legal documents such as passport.

In conclusion, the refugee status in Egypt is just something on paper as many of them see it, it does not really help them in getting a new life. The refugees in Egypt experienced such severe struggle that they decide to consider fleeing to another country and choose Egypt as a transit country when they’re in search of new destinations. On more fact is that the number of refugees on paper is 180.000 but in reality, it should be more than 300.000 due to the big portion of refugees refuse to register with the UNHCR.

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The first idea and results

Hello, I was thinking of starting off my blog by a “how-to in Egypt” post but on a second thought I might do that last when I’ve fully enjoyed all my experiences here.

Therefore, I decided to kick off by introducing the purpose of this blog. This blog was written during my 6-week internship in Egypt with AIESEC in Egypt, 6th of October Local Committee. The internship I’ll be doing concerns about the refugees’ lives here in Egypt, specifically Syrians refugees in 6th of October city. As we’ve been told, we will be conducting surveys about the Syrians refugees that have already settled here, figure out their difficulties and needs, from that we will have two missions; the first mission is to report the current situation of the Syrian refugees to the Government to raise their awareness about the refugees in their own country and the second mission is to gather information and experiences on how to start a new business or find a job here for the new refugees that are coming from the old ones. During the internship, some of the refugees’ story will be collected for media purpose in order to demonstrate their situations correctly to public, so that people will have better knowledge towards the refugees not only in Egypt but the whole world.

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My reinforcement team. We have people from different backgrounds and countries, which enable us to see things in different perspectives. 

However, things didn’t go as well as we had planned. It turned out that the refugees in Egypt do not have camps, they live basically everywhere, spreading throughout Egypt. Therefore, it’s a challenge to find them and talk to them, and not many of them are willing to let us help since we’re foreigners. We could be able to make a survey on a small amount of them, taking business classes about the economy in Egypt (the slides are available here https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/12inm4ReM_bS5rUeF2MHkPNgZkfmUZz8EK-boBQEeU0s/edit?usp=sharing, which has been given the permission to publish by the presenters, which are Economics students from the University of 6th October), attending sessions related to legalities issues and educational issues of Syrian refugees in Egypt. In addition, we tried to interact with the refugees as much as possible, doing charity work as teams to help them get more access to clothes and basic needs.

The project, in the end, ended 2 weeks earlier than expected, but what we had learnt about the refugees is massive. Never in my life had I gotten the chance to be friend with a refugee, to listen to their story and actually do something as an encouragement to help them settle down and be a part in a whole new country. This experience will never be forgotten!

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