INTRODUCTION & CONTEXT
The Arab Republic of Egypt continues to generously host Syrian refugees, despite the absence of a land border with Syria. As of December 2017, 126,688 Syrian refugees (including 54,381 children) were registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt. Visa requirements introduced in July 2013 for Syrians entering Egypt are maintained. Government policy allows for family reunification, and in 2017, the Government has extended entry visas for first degree relatives of Syrian refugees already residing in Egypt.
Egypt is stretching its capabilities in every means possible to support the existing Syrian population living amongst the Egyptian people in an integrated manner, since there are no refugee camps in Egypt. Syrian refugees are living in an urban settings among Egyptian communities across the country, with the most impacted areas being Greater Cairo, Alexandria and Damietta. Egypt represents a model with regards to the social inclusiveness dimension. The country is currently hosting approximately half a million Syrians sharing public services such as access to education and health, resources and similar privileges to local citizens.
This is clearly a challenge for a country, which has already been facing a difficult economic situation over recent years. The national poverty rate has continued to increase since 2011, reaching 27.8 per cent and, at 12.5 per cent, the unemployment rate remains high.
Egypt’s Vision 2030 launched in 2016, has followed the sustainable development principle as a general framework for improving the quality of lives and welfare for all Egyptian nationals living in Egypt (95.8 million in October 2017).. It has three main dimensions focusing on economic, social and environmental aspects. The Government is leading national efforts to generate jobs, to establish the infrastructure for investment and economic growth, and to enhance the efficiency of government institutions.
The Government also embarked on an ambitious reform program and has implemented decisive measures to restore macroeconomic stability through various reforms which are already showing positive impact on the economy as market confidence is growing. Although the Egyptian pound showed signs of stabilization, unprecedented inflation levels were reached in 2017, with the core consumer price index reaching 34.86 per cent in August 2017 compared to 13.25 per cent a year earlier according to the Central Bank of Egypt. These factors have contributed to a significantly increased cost of living impacting the lives of the vulnerable and poor, including refugees and asylum-seekers. In addition, the removal of subsidies on items in the energy sector (petrol, gasoline, diesel, and electricity) has affected Egyptians and refugees and asylum-seekers alike.
In 2012, a presidential decree extended full access for Syrians to public education and health services, equating the treatment of Syrians refugees with the treatment of Egyptian citizens. Additionally, Syrians also benefit from all subsidies in the transport and food sectors, provided by the state to Egyptian citizens. Such sharing of public services and government subsidies represents an added challenge for the Egyptian economy. While state institutions play a key role in supporting Syrian refugees’ protection, education and health needs, they require further support in providing broad and quality services for both the refugee and host communities. In addition, there is a need to expand support in promoting livelihood and selfsufficiency among both Syrian refugees and Egyptian communities, due to the economic situation and the depletion of savings.
The protection environment in Egypt is positive. The Government allows refugees and asylum-seekers registered with UNHCR to regularize their residency and grants renewable six-month residency permits. Although government policies do not allow any forcible return to Syria, UNHCR continues its dialogue with the Government of Egypt regarding Syrians who wish to regularize their residency.
Some challenges remain for Syrian refugee men, women, boys and girls, including increasing cost of living and limited livelihood opportunities. The challenges also include lengthy administrative residency procedures and family reunification visa limitations. Advocacy is ongoing with the Government of Egypt to enable all refugees to obtain a one-year residence permit on their UNHCR documentation (instead of the current 6-month), and the adoption of a flexible visa policy for family reunification purposes. Preliminary positive feedback has been expressed by the Egyptian Government in that regard. The modalities of implementation are subject to a continuous dialogue between the Egyptian Government and UNHCR. In addition to hosting Syrian refugees, Egypt also hosts 92,524 asylum-seekers and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq and Yemen. These populations account currently for 42.2 per cent of the total number of asylum-seekers and refugees registered with UNHCR (219,212) in Egypt, including 35,737 Sudanese, 14,452 Ethiopians, 12,693 Eritreans, 10,077 South Sudanese, 6,663 Iraqis, 6,647 Somalis, and 4,585 Yemenis; numbers which are expected to increase further. In January 2017, the Government of Egypt granted access to public health services (primary and secondary) to refugees and asylumseekers of all nationalities on par with Egyptian nationals. Partners are working with the Government on further enhancing access to education services to refugees and asylum-seekers of other nationalities as has already been successfully done for Syrian refugees. The Government of Egypt and agencies are committed to ensuring equity in access to protection, services and humanitarian assistance for Africans, Iraqis and Yemenis registered with UNHCR.