Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Nothing like a homeland

With the increase in the number of refugees around the world, Nesmahar Sayed listens to some in Egypt about their needs

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Youssef Duhuli, a Somali community officer, is grateful for the role Egypt is playing in the refugee crisis. At the same time he believes that because Egypt is targeted by terrorists, something which has affected the economy, refugees suffer more than Egyptians.

“I suggest the Egyptian government gives those who have residency visas the right to work, open schools for our children, advocacy in police stations and provides more financial support for families from the UNHCR,” Duhuli said.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes, including 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under 18.

There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights. Nearly 34,000 people around the world are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.

“I usually take public transportation and as my colour is different from most Egyptians some ask me where I come from. Sudan is my answer. Why do you live in Egypt? I say I am a refugee. Then they tell me that Egypt has already enough people,” a distraught Sudanese lady said.

“I am just asking people working in the media to talk about us and the situation of our countries that led us to become refugees,” she added.

“We flew from Syria six years ago. We were afraid of death but now we are afraid of illiteracy in our children,” Bedour Al-Erian, from Syria, said. Al-Erian recounts how by 2010 Syria had wiped out illiteracy but by 2015 only 15 per cent of Syrian children had gone to school either in Syria or abroad. “We are demanding the Egyptian government open government schools for Syrians, in the afternoon, funded by the government and the UNHCR,” Al-Erian said.

“More than 60 million people are displaced worldwide; over 20 million are refugees. This is indeed a global challenge,” said Reinhold Brender, chargé d’Affaires and acting head of the European Union delegation at the opening session of a conference on national mechanisms for the protection of refugees and migrants, organised by the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights (EFRR) and funded by the EU.

The EU and EFRR held the conference after EFRR succeeded in providing legal assistance to 350 refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt, holding community meetings with refugees to raise their awareness on their rights and obligations in Egypt, and providing training for Egyptian lawyers. EFRR has provided legal advice to individual refugees and asylum seekers as well as representation to clients, including their civil and/or personal status.

The objectives of the conference are to take stock of the project that started in June 2013 and will end 30 October this year, review its achievements and lessons learned, and move the debate forward on the mechanisms for protection of refugees and migrants in Egypt and globally, according to Brender.

According to Brender, recognised refugees have the right to international protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention of 1951 and the protocol of 1967. He added that the rights of refugees can only be ensured by host governments which have a duty to implement the legal and policy frameworks that grants rights to refugees and through which all refugees can satisfy their needs.

He added that the Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis and the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa have allowed more flexible, coordinated and quicker identification and awarding of targetted projects.

“For the Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis, the European Commission has already set aside €1.88 billion, of which over €750 million is already committed to supporting agreed projects. The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa now has €736 million. Projects focussing on education, livelihood and health are worth €628 million,” Brender said.

“Since 2011, the European Commission alone has granted more than €3.4 billion in response to the Syrian crisis. This includes both immediate humanitarian assistance and non-humanitarian aid which responds to medium-term needs,” he added.

Mohamed Farahat, programme director at EFRR, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the EFRR is an implementing partner with the UNHCR, offering legal services to refugees. “Advocating for, appealing and liaising with the UNHCR, an international entity, is the main focus of EFRR, being the first legal aid organisation in Egypt,” Farahat said.

Farahat said there were almost 139,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt as well as 60,000 of other nationalities, including Ethiopians, Iraqis, Yemenis and Sudanese. “The number of refugees is not always accurate because illegal migrants are not registered,” Farahat said.

Refugees are becoming part of the Egyptian community. For example, Shakira Adam, an Ethiopian community activist, asked participants at the conference to stand for a minute of silence following the death of 12 Egyptian soldiers killed in a terrorist attack in North Sinai on Friday. “The instability in relations between Egypt and Ethiopia has made Egypt a hub in the Mediterranean for illegal immigrants who suffer from housing problems in poor districts, disease and lack of medical services,” Adam said. Adam said the number of Ethiopian refugees in Egypt is well beyond the estimated 7,000 and suggested that national integration should take place between Egyptians and Ethiopian refugees to give the latter the opportunity for a good life. “I am aiming that we reach an end to the conflict between some Egyptian citizens and Ethiopian refugees. I also want the authorities to give us an accurate number of Ethiopian prisoners in Egypt,” Adam added.

The effect of terrorist attacks launched by many of Arab origin led to the stereotyping of Arabs as terrorists. “Arab refugees in Europe are the first to be accused when there is any terrorist attack there,” according to Dayef Almodares, an Iraqi professor who lives in Cairo. “The media should address refugees and their problems should be solved under the supervision of the UNHCR in Cairo,” Almodares said.

Hazem Mounir, a prominent journalist, believes that the Egyptian media should play a big role in raising awareness among its audience towards refugees and to spread tolerance in Egyptian society.

Fearing a repetition of the Palestinian crisis, Mohsen Awad, a board member in the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, told the Weekly that refugees should have all the legal documents that guarantee their rights when they return to their countries of origin. “We should not repeat the crisis of the Palestinians who left their homes carrying their keys but have not been able to return up until now,” Awad said.

For Farahat, family unity and residency are common issues of concern among refugees living in Egypt. “As the number of refugees increases in Egypt, there is a deep need for a law or procedures that can manage the situation and circumstances of refugees. They should be treated to this law regarding education, work and driving,” Farahat said.

He said the government should raise awareness among civil employees because they represent the “main gate” that the refugees must deal with concerning all official papers.

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