Sudanese refugees in Egypt
Learn more about Sudanese refugees in Egypt
There are tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in Egypt, most of them seeking refuge from ongoing military conflicts in their home country of Sudan. Their official status as refugees is highly disputed, and they have been subject to racial discrimination and police violence. They live among a much larger population of Sudanese migrants in Egypt, more than two million people of Sudanese nationality (by most estimates; a full range is 750,000 to 4 million (FMRS 2006:5) who live in Egypt. The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants believes many more of these migrants are in fact refugees, but see little benefit in seeking recognition.
From 1994 to 2005, 58,535 Sudanese nationals seeking asylum registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt.
- By December 2005, 31,990 of these asylum seekers had been accorded refugee legal status and 16,675 had been resettled in third countries. An additional 15,000 of the recognized refugees did not meet the resettlement countries’ criteria and most, if not all, remained in Egypt under “local integration” status. This leaves just over 315 individuals who, according to UNHCR, were referred for resettlement but whose procedures for travel have not yet been completed. Of those who sought refugee status with UNHCR, 16,000 were rejected and eventually became “closed files,” and another 10,200 were given temporary asylum seeker protection. As of the end of 2005, 13,327 recognized refugees remained in Egypt. (FMRS 2006:8)
 Legal Status
Egypt, while a party to international refugee conventions, lacks a domestic asylum law and has deferred to the United Nations in determinations of refugee status. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Cairo is located in the suburb of Mohandessin, Giza. As the UNHCR is responsible for assessing applications for asylum, and providing refugee documentation, it has been the site of protests. Two documents are provided: so- called yellow cards that indicate the bearer is an asylum-seeker, and blue cards indicating that the bearer is a UNHCR-acknowledged refugee. In June 2004, UNHCR suspended the issuing of blue cards.(USCRI 2005)
 Conflict with Authorities
 "Black Days"
On January 27, 28 and 29, 2003, Egyptian police conducted raids of Sudanese, Liberian and sub-Saharan African residences in the Maadi area. Detainees, including those with refugee cards, reported ill treatment, beatings and abuse. One detainee reported
- I was taken into a police wagon on the street. They drove around to collect other black people. They would ask Egyptians on the street, "Where are the buildings where blacks live?" It was about one hour driving around like this. By the end there were ten or twelve Africans in the car.HRW
Other detainees alleged that police referred to the raids as "Black Day" and that police intake sheets were labeled, "Operation Track Down Blacks."
 Mohandessin protests
An August 2004, Sudanese refugees, backed by the Egyptian non-governmental organisation SOUTH, mounted a protest against the issuing of yellow cards outside the UNHCR office. Police and security officers arrested and dispersed refugees with tear gas.
In October to December 2005, some 2,000 people participated daily in a protest camp in a park at a busy intersection in front of Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque. The camp had been formed on September 29, 2005 by several dozen people who organized with Refugee Voices, a Sudanese refugee group. The Cairo office of UNHCR closed indefinitely in mid-November, after saying it was forced by the sit-in to suspend operations in October. In the early hours of Friday, December 30, 2005 police raided the camp and clashes ensued in the presence of TV cameras and the press. They dragged the refugees across the street, pulled women from their hair and pushed the elderly carrying newborn babies. Refugees were put in public transit busses to be transferred to central security force camps in different locations in Egypt in addition to taking some of them to State security intelligence offices. Many of those taken to the camps suffered fractures and injuries and lack any medical help.
At least 28, and as many as 100, Sudanese migrants seeking refugee status were killed. At least one committed suicide in the wake of the raid.(FMRS 2006:37-38) The camp was forcibly dismantled and 2,174 protesters were detained. (AFP) The opposition Muslim Brotherhood condemned the raid.(Nkrumah 2006)
Shortly after the arrests, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced it would depart 645 of the arrested people as "illegal immigrants." In late January, the government agreed to allow the UNHCR to perform a status determination on those it wishes to deport. 165 refugee card holders were released from custody. 485 remain in custody at Al-Qanater Prison, Abu Zaabal Prison, and Shebeen Al-Kom and other detention centres.
- Forced Migration and Refugee Studies program (FMRS) of the American University in Cairo, A TRAGEDY OF FAILURES AND FALSE EXPECTATIONS: Report on the Events Surrounding the Three-month Sit-in and Forced Removal of Sudanese Refugees in Cairo, September–December 2005, June 2006.
- Gamal Nkrumah, "The noose tightens," Al-Ahram Weekly, 5-11 January 2006.
- U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), World Refugee Survey 2005.