Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2018, 16:17 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Egypt

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 14 June 2006
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Egypt , 14 June 2006, available at: [accessed 19 January 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.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reported cases of refoulement from Egypt since the State Security Investigation service (SSI) abducted and deported Yemeni opposition figure and former Brigadier General Ahmad Salem Ubaid in February 2004 in what Human Rights Watch (HRW) called an "exchange rendition" for six alleged Egyptian militants in Yemen. According to Yemeni Observatory, an independent human rights group, however, "There are many other Yemeni dissidents in Cairo who could face the same fate."

Dozens of Sudanese refugees died when Egyptian police mounted a pre-dawn assault on December 30 to end a three-month demonstration near the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cairo. Refugees were demanding a resumption of refugee status determinations, suspended since June 2004, and resettlement to third countries. Authorities threatened to return some 1,700 Sudanese they detained after the demonstration.

The Constitution guaranteed the right of asylum "for every foreigner persecuted for defending the people's interests, human rights, peace or justice" but the President exercised this right only in rare, high-profile cases and the country had yet to pass refugee legislation. Under a 1954 framework agreement, the Government generally delegated responsibility for refugee status determination to UNHCR, which allowed legal counsel. In 2004, however, UNHCR suspended status determinations for Sudanese refugees, granting applicants temporary protection instead. Later, it limited its protection to certain groups, such as those from Darfur, and called on other Sudanese to repatriate voluntarily. After the December suppression of the demonstration, UNHCR screened all detainees but did not apply the more expansive definition of the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

About 3,500 individuals, including some 2,400 Sudanese and 500 Somalis, applied for asylum and 3,100 individuals, including some 2,000 Sudanese and 400 Somalis, resettled elsewhere. Many of the nearly one million undocumented Sudanese in Egypt were likely refugees. Since few rights attached to refugee status, however, relatively few applied unless resettlement appeared to be available.

Detention/Access to Courts

Authorities detained some 1,700 Sudanese refugees for participating in the demonstration in Cairo at the end of the year, but released them all by February 2006. Although the 1954 agreement with the Government granted UNHCR unhindered access to any asylum seekers or refugees detained for illegal entry or stay, in practice, the agency generally had limited access to immigration detainees and authorities could detain and deport refugees without its knowledge. Sometimes the Immigration Department informed the agency about refugee detentions, but refugees often had to resort to unofficial means of notification.

According to HRW, authorities continued to hold "hundreds, if not thousands" of the nearly 3,000 persons the SSI had arbitrarily arrested in the Sinai between October and December 2004 following the October 7 bombing of the Taba Hilton hotel, including many Palestinians. Authorities alleged that DNA analysis had confirmed that a Palestinian had died in the explosion and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and not Islamism, motivated them.

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 $3,500 (LE 20,000) to the Government, and most had to renew their permits every six months to three years.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Egypt had no refugee camps. The Government issued travel documents to Palestinians but did not confer the right to reenter Egypt without a visa. Refugees were often unable to travel when consulates abroad summarily denied their visas. 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 reentry. The 1965 Casablanca Protocol also provided that Palestinian refugees should enjoy the right to obtain and use travel documents.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

A 2003 Ministry of Manpower and Emigration general decree on the employment of foreigners governed refugees' right to earn a livelihood but allowed for none of the exemptions specified in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention). The requirements for work permits were so severe and the process so cumbersome as to render them virtually unattainable for refugees. Refugee protestors in the demonstration outside UNHCR complained that the Government denied them work permits and several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) called for an amendment of the 2003 decree. 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 the employer's payment of $173 (E£1,000), 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 they were training. Finally, the law prohibited foreigners from working as tourist guides and in export industries. Refugees who worked illegally (as most had to do) were often subject to abuse, nonpayment, and jail, if they complained. Police were inclined to harass and extort money from them, especially in the tourist industry.

Egypt maintained a reservation on the Refugee Convention's guarantee of equal protection of labor laws.

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. Many refugees attempted to protect their assets by registering them in the names of Egyptian friends or relatives, thus rendering the registrations unenforceable in law. Foreigners could own only 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 for Sudanese, but this did not obviate the need for work permits. Egypt was also party to, but had not implemented, the 1965 Casablanca Protocol, which provided that Palestinian refugees should enjoy the right to work on par with nationals.

Public Relief and Education

Egyptian law guaranteed free education for all children in state schools but the obstacles 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.

Egypt allowed Palestinians to attend colleges of medicine, pharmacy, economics, political science, and journalism but required them to pay prohibitive foreigners' fees in pounds sterling and doubled the fees for advanced degrees.

Through reservations to the Refugee 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.

Search Refworld