Cairo – In the vicinity of the High Commissioner for Refugees in the city of “6th of October” in Giza Governorate, south of Cairo, Mubarak Ali, a newcomer to Cairo with 5 family members behind him, is waiting to obtain the status of a “refugee”, and he says that it will be the first page in his book of suffering.
Ali quickly turns around and says to Al-Jazeera Net, “Sorry, the first page started from Khartoum about two months ago, and perhaps years of corruption and loss.”
Ali does not know that the Egyptian government has approved a new draft law regulating asylum in Egypt. The man does not seem optimistic, but he says, “The brothers in Egypt will not leave us alone,” referring to the rest of his family who set up a “small tent” in the vicinity of the UNHCR, after a long wait there.
As for Duha, who only mentioned her first name, she complained about what she called “poor organization” and talked about “unjustified cruelty on the part of some security men.” In her interview with Al-Jazeera Net, she expressed her hope that the new law – the details of which she did not know – would contribute to ending her suffering quickly.
Duha said that she understands “the right of the Egyptian brothers to organize,” pointing out that huge numbers of displaced people believe that Egypt is the best place, at least at the current stage.
Duha asserts that she will move immediately to reconcile her family’s situation in accordance with the new law, noting that she works in the field of selling ready-made clothes and has relatives who own licensed shops in Cairo.
In a remarkable move described as a reflection of the continuing unrest in Sudan, a draft law was approved by the Egyptian government to “regulate the asylum of foreigners and establish a committee to manage their affairs in the country.”
During its meeting yesterday, Wednesday, the Egyptian Council of Ministers approved the draft law, which obliges refugees and asylum seekers to regularize their status within one year from the date of implementation of the executive regulations.
According to the draft law, the Egyptian Prime Minister may extend the aforementioned period for a similar period, while the government issues the executive regulations for this law within 6 months from the date of its enforcement.
The draft law also stipulates that the Permanent Committee for Refugee Affairs shall have a “legal personality” and a body responsible for refugee affairs, including information and statistical data about them.
The committee coordinates with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations and all agencies in Egypt to ensure the provision of support and services to refugees.
And a member of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Nagy, considered that the draft law, which will be referred to Parliament, “comes in line with Egypt’s belief in human rights, heart and soul.” He told Al-Jazeera Net that the move confirms Cairo’s intentions regarding this file and respect for people, whether Egyptian or non-Egyptian.
Naji stated that legalizing the conditions of refugees preserves their rights and at the same time protects the country from the consequences of any illegal asylum or departure from the regime. He also said that the Egyptian state “appreciates the current risks due to wars in many countries, especially among the brothers in Sudan, but countries must facilitate the return of their citizens as soon as the current conditions end.”
And last December, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced that Egypt is hosting about 6 million refugees and provides them with livelihoods, care and full support.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently stated that his government “unlike some other countries, does not detain migrants in camps, but allows them to live freely in society.”
9 million refugees from 60 countries
The International Organization for Migration of the United Nations estimates the number of immigrants residing in Egypt at more than 9 million people, belonging to about 60 countries. These numbers are likely to increase, according to Christine George, an official at the UNHCR in Cairo, to Al Jazeera Net. She pointed out that the outbreak of the conflict in Sudan between the army and the Rapid Support Forces on April 15 led to large waves of refugees to Egypt.
She considered that amending the regulations governing refugees is an important step, but said that the details will become clear after the parliament approves the law.
According to Christine George, immigrants from Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Libya constitute 80% of the refugees currently residing in Egypt, considering that “the positive discourse of the Cairo government towards refugees represents an attractive factor for immigrants and asylum seekers.”
According to UNHCR statistics, since the start of the fighting in Sudan until the end of last May, Egypt received more than 170,000 refugees, including 164,000 Sudanese. The majority of refugees in Egypt are from Syria, followed by Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia.
“Stand or we shoot”
Although Egypt is described as an important destination for refugees, Suleiman Al-Saeed, a human rights activist at the Southern Research Center, points out that it is still being criticized by many human rights organizations because of the policy of dealing with this humanitarian file.
Al-Saeed said, “The regulations governing irregular migration fall short in affirming important rights for refugees,” explaining that “the ancient Egyptian law lacks guarantees for the rights of asylum seekers as well as for freedom of movement and education, nor does it guarantee protection from refoulement, which is the deportation of migrants to a country where they may be subjected to to serious harm.”
Al-Saeed described the new draft law, according to the details announced by the government, as just an organizational regulation and does not present anything new, stressing the need to put the items for public discussion before it is approved by Parliament. He went on to say that the government may have moved to “set things up, collect fees in dollars, and play the refugee card in front of international organizations and donors,” as he put it.
The human rights activist called on the government and parliament to confirm in the new law the removal of any ambiguity regarding the prosecution of the immigrant, his detention, or dealing with him as a criminal, stressing that the asylum seeker is a victim and may fall into the net of human trafficking gangs.
He pointed out that Egypt is a party to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, which guarantees the principle of non-refoulement.
Al-Saeed also considered that the work environment in Egypt is suitable for many groups of migrants, especially “irregular workers” from Sudan, Eritrea and South Sudan. However, he acknowledged difficulties that he said would appear in the coming period due to the high rates of unemployment among Egyptians.
He pointed out that the number of immigrant and refugee students enrolled in Egyptian universities for the academic year 2020-2021 reached 102 thousand students, most of whom are of Arab nationalities. He explained that studying at Al-Azhar University is one of the factors that attract immigrants, and “they contribute to the revival and growth of the economy, and are not an opponent to it as some promote.”
Until the issuance of the new law, work remains in place according to a memorandum of understanding signed by the Egyptian government with the UNHCR in 1954. The old law does not include the term “refugee”, but rather “immigrant”, according to Al-Saeed, who indicated that the Egyptian police may still follow the policy of “stop or shoot”. Fire” to control the borders, and it is not clear if this will change.
Egyptian security forces killed 15 African migrants in separate incidents in Sinai in November 2015. In 2005, they forcibly dispersed a sit-in of Sudanese migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who were protesting in front of the UNHCR headquarters in Cairo requesting resettlement in other countries, leaving at least 20 dead.
Stuck and vulnerable to abuse
Jurist Salem Ayyad points out that some asylum seekers waited for more than 3 years for their applications to be examined, noting that a large percentage of the stranded asylum seekers are Syrians who spend months homeless on the streets because of what he called “political tensions,” and they are “subject to all forms of violations.” “.
Ayad hopes that the new law will put an end to such violations and prompt the government to fulfill its responsibilities. Ayad told Al-Jazeera Net that leaving the refugees on the streets is a kind of shooting them already.
While work is underway to issue the new law, hundreds of Sudanese are standing in the vicinity of the UNHCR in the city of “6th of October” carrying colored cards, each according to his legal status.
Most of the papers were yellow, indicating that the applicant still holds the status of a “petitioner” and not a “refugee,” Adam Ahmed told Al-Jazeera Net, who is a member of a team that helps the Sudanese.
Ahmed says that obtaining “refugee” status may take many months; There are multiple interviews with UNHCR officials, and a long search for identity papers that were lost due to the war, expressing his hope that the Egyptian authorities will overcome these complications in the new law.