Egypt hosted more than 55,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2000: approximately 40,000 Palestinians, about 3,000 refugees and 9,000 asylum seekers from Sudan, some 3,000 refugees and 1,000 asylum seekers from Somalia, and about 1,000 refugees from various 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 might 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 UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provided help to refugees on a case-by-case basis. UNHCR, for example, assisted refugees to renew their Egyptian residence permits or to re-enter Egyptian territory after traveling abroad.

Refugee Status Determination

Egypt has no domestic asylum laws. As in previous years, the Egyptian government in 2000 allowed UNHCR to determine the refugee status of individual asylum seekers.

UNHCR interviewed about 7,000 Sudanese asylum applicants during the year and granted refugee status to about 2,700. About 40 percent of Sudanese asylum applicants were granted refugee status. Nearly 9,000 Sudanese awaited asylum interviews at year's end. Nearly 500 Somali asylum seekers were granted refugee status during the year, while 1,500 Somalis awaited screening interviews.

UNHCR for the first time provided expedited interviews for asylum applicants judged to be economically vulnerable. UNHCR urged the Egyptian government to develop national procedures for asylum adjudication and to take direct responsibility for refugee matters.

Refugee Living Conditions

Three million or more Sudanese lived in Egypt, according to various estimates. It was unclear how many Sudanese remained in Egypt because they feared persecution in Sudan, versus how many resided in Egypt for economic and other reasons.

Until 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, however.

Most restrictions on Sudanese and other refugees remained in place during 2000. Egyptian laws limited refugees' employment, barred them from government-subsidized health care, and forced them to pay higher housing costs than Egyptian citizens. Many refugees worked unofficially in poorly paid jobs that made local integration difficult.

Egyptian officials announced in December that children of Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers would be permitted to attend Egyptian public schools. Authorities also agreed to begin providing identity cards to asylum seekers – a step long advocated by UNHCR to improve asylum seekers' legal protections.

Most of the 7,000 non-Palestinian refugees in Egypt received at least limited material assistance from UNHCR. UNHCR provided a monthly subsistence allowance, education grants, and subsidized medical care for refugee children who needed such aid. Some refugees also received job training, health education, computer training, and English-language classes.

Funding constraints, however, hampered UNHCR's assistance programs during 2000. The agency curtailed refugees' already inadequate subsistence allowances by as much as 20 percent.

Education stipends, medical payments, vocational training, and self-help projects supported by UNHCR also suffered cutbacks. The funding problems placed more pressure on small private agencies in Cairo that struggled to assist Egypt's destitute refugee and immigrant communities.

UNHCR urged Egyptian authorities to ease government restrictions to allow employment opportunities and social benefits for the neediest refugees who have lived in Egypt many years with no prospect of repatriation or resettlement abroad.

Random security sweeps by police at times detained refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR intervened to gain their release.

Resettlement Procedures

Nearly 3,000 refugees in Egypt were permanently resettled in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Nordic countries during 2000, including 2,500 Sudanese and nearly 500 Somalis.

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 mistakenly expected immediate resettlement in the United States, they said.


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