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U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Egypt

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2005
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Egypt , 20 June 2005, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
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.

Refoulement/Asylum  There was one case of refoulement. Egypt had no refugee legislation. The Constitution offered asylum "for every foreigner persecuted for defending the peoples' interests, human rights, peace or justice" but the President exercised this only in rare, high-profile cases. Generally, the Government delegated refugee status determinations to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These determinations were plagued with delay, the use of secret evidence, lack of specific reasons for denial, and lack of appeal to an independent body, although UNHCR allowed applicants to have legal counsel. In June, UNHCR suspended determinations for Sudanese refugees, granting applicants temporary protection instead.

Many of the nearly one million undocumented Sudanese in Egypt were likely refugees, though there was little benefit to seeking such determinations unless resettlement was available. About 3,400 individuals, mostly Sudanese and Somalis, applied for asylum and thirty-five hundred individuals, mostly Sudanese and Somalis, resettled elsewhere.

Detention  Sub-Saharan African refugees had been at risk of arbitrary detention since January 2003 when authorities in Cairo arrested, beat, and held in inhumane conditions hundreds, including holders of UNHCR identification cards. According to Human Rights Watch, police intake sheets read in Arabic "Operation Track Down Blacks." Police reportedly told refugees that their cards were "useless." Authorities released some the next day following UNHCR intervention. UNHCR subsequently began issuing temporary protection letters to pending asylum applicants but not to most of those who applied before November 2002. Police injured about 40 Sudanese asylum seekers and arrested 20 in August 2004 following a demonstration protesting UNHCR's cessation of status determinations. According to Amnesty International, "In Egypt everyone taken into detention is at risk of torture."

UNHCR had no general access to immigration detainees, and authorities could detain and deport refugees without its knowledge despite an agreement to inform the agency. Sometimes the Immigration Department informed UNHCR of refugee detentions but refugees often had to resort to unofficial means of notification.

UNHCR issued yellow cards to all applicants and blue ones to recognized refugees, but authorities asserted that the cards were insufficient as legal permits to reside in the country. Egyptian residency permits were difficult to obtain and required regular renewal based on other criteria such as education, licensed work, marriage to an Egyptian, business partnership with an Egyptian, or a deposit of LE 20,000 ($3,500) with the Government, and most had to be renewed every six months to three years.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  Refugees' right to earn a livelihood was governed by the Ministry of Manpower and Emigration's 2003 general decree on the employment of foreigners. The decree allowed for none of the exemptions specified in the Convention Relating the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention). The requirements were so severe and the process so cumbersome as to render them virtually unattainable for refugees. Requirements included employer sponsorship, non-competition with nationals, "the country's economic need," the hiring and training of Egyptian assistants to any foreign experts or technicians, and a payment of LE 1,000 ($173), although Palestinians with travel documents and Sudanese in the private sector were exempt from the payment requirement. The law also capped the number of foreigners who could work in any establishment at ten percent and required reciprocity by a foreigner's state toward Egyptians, effectively excluding Palestinian refugees from practicing professions. Employers had to prepare detailed bi-annual registers of all foreigners they employed, including listings of the Egyptian assistants being trained. Finally, the law prohibited foreigners from working as tourist guides and in export industries. Refugees who worked illegally, as most had to, were subject to employer abuse and nonpayment and could be jailed for complaining. Police harassed and extorted money from them, especially in the tourist industry.

Egypt maintained a reservation on the 1951 Convention's guarantee of equal protection of labor laws. Authorities reportedly tolerated, for a bribe, informal refugee scrap collection in toxic dumps that they prohibited Egyptians from performing on health grounds.

Under Law 56 of 1988, foreigners, including refugees, with the permission of the prime minister, could own residential property, but not agricultural or desert land. Refugees who attempted to protect their assets by registering them in the names of Egyptian friends or relatives, rendered the registrations unenforceable in law. Foreigners could only own 49 percent of a business and an Egyptian had to hold the other 51 percent, exposing refugees to extortion.

In 2004, Egypt ratified a treaty with Sudan to provide freedom of movement, residence, work, and property but did not implement it. Egypt was also party to the 1965 Casablanca Protocol which provided that Palestinian refugees should enjoy the right to work on par with nationals.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  Egypt had no refugee camps and did not restrict the movement or residence of refugees within its national territory. The Government issued Palestinians travel documents but they did not confer the right to re-enter Egypt without visas from consulates abroad, which sometimes summarily denied them. Travelers on such documents, including refugees born in Egypt, had to return every six months (or one year with proof of education or work abroad) or the Government would deny re-entry. The 1965 Casablanca Protocol also provided that Palestinian refugees should enjoy the right to obtain and use travel documents.

In October, Israel closed the border to Gaza, blocking the return of some 3,000 Palestinians, and did so again in December.

Public Relief and Education  Egyptian law guaranteed free education for all children in state schools but the requirements for foreigners (birth certificates, letters from embassies or UNHCR, residence permits, and certificates from previous schools in the country of origin) made it difficult for refugees to exercise this right. Local authorities did not recognize UNHCR refugee and asylum seeker cards in lieu of unavailable passports. NGOs, many church affiliated, ran most schools that served refugees but the Government did not recognize them and they did not issue formal diplomas.

Between 1978 and 1995, Egypt banned Palestinian students with few exceptions from attending colleges of medicine, pharmacy, economics, political science, and journalism. Since then, Palestinians have had to pay prohibitive foreigners' fees in pounds sterling that the Government doubled for advanced degrees.

Through reservations to the 1951 Convention, Egypt maintained the right to discriminate against refugees in public relief, education, and rationing. However, because the Government did not include these reservations when it published the Convention in the Official Gazette, an act essential to making it law, the reservations were arguably without local legal force. Rationing did not take place.

In July, inspectors from the Ministry of Health harassed the Nadim Center for the Psychological Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence in Cairo, which serves Sudanese refugee torture victims. Inspectors confiscated personal files and documentation and threatened the institution with closure.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

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