Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Egypt

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Egypt , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Egypt hosted more than 45,000 refugees at the end of 1999: approximately 40,000 Palestinians, nearly 3,000 refugees from Sudan, some 3,000 from Somalia, and about 1,000 from more than 25 other countries.


Most Palestinian refugees in Egypt were displaced from the West Bank and Gaza by the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Although their exact numbers were unclear, the population may number 40,000 or more persons. Some estimates place the number as high as 70,000. These and other Palestinians uprooted in 1967 await the outcome of Middle East negotiations regarding the political future of their home areas.

The Palestinian refugee population included about 3,000 occupants of Canada camp. Relatively small numbers of Palestinians repatriated to the Gaza Strip from Canada camp during the year.

Throughout 1999, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) coordinated with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to work on behalf of Palestinian refugees in Egypt needing special legal help. UNHCR provided legal assistance on a case-by-case basis for those needing help renewing their Egyptian residence permits or re-entering Egyptian territory after traveling abroad.

Refugee Status Determination

With no domestic asylum laws, the Egyptian government allows UNHCR to determine the refugee status of individual asylum seekers.

UNHCR struggled to keep pace with the large numbers of people seeking refugee status in Egypt during 1999. Applicants often waited weeks to receive forms for completion and routinely waited more than a year for status determination interviews with UNHCR's over-stretched staff. "This situation results in serious hardship for the asylum seekers," UNHCR reported.

UNHCR conducted status determination interviews for more than 5,600 persons in 1999 – more than double the previous year's number. UNHCR recognized some 2,300 Sudanese and nearly 300 Somalis as refugees during the year. Another 3,500 asylum seekers, mostly Sudanese, awaited UNHCR status determinations at year's end.

All recognized refugees received UNHCR registration cards that Egyptian authorities endorsed as residence permits.

Refugee Living Conditions

Three million or more Sudanese live in Egypt, according to various estimates. It is unclear how many Sudanese remain in Egypt because they fear persecution in Sudan, versus how many reside in Egypt for economic and other reasons.

Before the late 1980s, Egyptian law made migration from Sudan to Egypt extraordinarily easy and automatically bestowed permanent resident status on Sudanese migrants. Egyptian officials even offered citizenship to many Sudanese residents. Egyptian authorities later tightened legal restrictions on Sudanese over the next ten years, however.

Restrictions on Sudanese and other refugees remained in place during 1999. Egyptian laws limited refugees' employment, barred them from government-subsidized health care and schools, and forced them to pay higher housing costs than Egyptian citizens. Many refugees worked in marginal jobs that were "insufficient to consider local integration as a viable option," UNHCR reported.

UNHCR provided a monthly subsistence allowance, education grants, and subsidized child medical care for many non-Palestinian refugees who needed such aid. Some refugees also received other services, such as job training, health education, computer training, and English-language classes.

Thousands of destitute individuals living in refugee-like conditions, primarily Sudanese, have sought assistance from private relief agencies in Cairo. Churches and local humanitarian organizations in Cairo aided some refugee families awaiting UNHCR status determinations, which often took a year or more.

"The situation of these refugees is precarious in view of their limited integration possibilities in Egyptian society and the presence among them of a high number of women heads of household and other vulnerable categories," UNHCR reported.

Egyptian authorities arrested some 50 refugees and asylum seekers during the year before UNHCR secured their release. "UNHCR is given unhindered access to all asylum seekers and refugees who might be detained," a UNHCR report stated.

Resettlement Procedures

Increasing numbers of refugees in Egypt applied to UNHCR for international resettlement. UNHCR resettled some 2,500 refugees from Cairo to third countries in 1999, compared to 1,400 the previous year. About two-thirds of the refugees resettled abroad in 1999 were Sudanese; most of the others were Somalis. The majority resettled in the United States.

UNHCR and other observers expressed concern that the expanded resettlement processing program in Cairo might act as a magnet, drawing new refugees to Egypt from neighboring countries. Many Sudanese asylum seekers reportedly misunderstood the resettlement program or expected immediate resettlement in the United States, they said.

UNHCR disqualified many refugees in Cairo for international resettlement because "they have stayed in other countries where they potentially had access to protection and assistance." UNHCR termed many of these disqualified resettlement applicants "irregular movers."

UNHCR attempted to improve its handling of resettlement applications late in the year to reduce the waiting time of refugees seeking resettlement abroad.

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