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 ( 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.

| Author: LY HOANG