Being in a fix: The difficult life of Sudanese refugees in Egypt

By Shan Huang

Imagining a life as a Sudanese refugee in Egypt, living in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions in a foreign country and facing discrimination against one’s race and nationality from the local government and people, is very hard, but part of daily life for so many. Even though most refugees just want to lead a peaceful life away from domestic wars and conflicts which still happen in their homeland, the insufficient access to education, health services,jobs and housing, limits their ability to provide for their families in Egypt. The only hope is to seek help from the international community in order to be resettled in a country with better services and a reliable legal system as going back means being treated as betrayers and facing persecution. Some of them are lucky enough to have a refugee status granted by UNHCR although they waited for this recognition for many years. In those cases, refugees can avoid risking their lives in an unsafe boat crossing the Mediterranean Sea. However, they are still suffering from the long periods of uncertainty, waiting for resettlement to a safe country, which they were promised ten years ago. Due to these circumstances, they are stuck in the harsh reality: living without basic rights and the unreal dream of starting a new life in another country again.

These are typical experiences for most Sudanese refugees in Egypt. This article will introduce some general information about this neglected and underrepresented group, along with the current situation they live in and the most significant difficulties they face. Egypt, as one of the neighbouring countries, witnessed an increasing number of Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers after the brutal genocide in Darfur in 2003, which targeted minority groups living in western Sudan. According to the latest report from UNHCR, there are 41,016 registered Sudanese refugees in Egypt. However, the Sudanese community represents the biggest migrant population in Egypt with three to five million Sudanese immigrants living in the country. Some human rights organizations believe that there are even more non-registered Sudanese refugees living in Egypt than registered refugees. Sudanese asylum seekers have a long history of living in Egypt because of endless civil wars and economic depression since the 1980s. Thus, bilateral agreements between the two countries contributed to this large number of Sudanese seeking refuge in Egypt. The first such agreement was Wadi El Nil agreement, followed by The Four Freedoms Agreement. The latter offers until today a chance for Sudanese to freely move across the border without visa, which enhances the problem of illegal stay. Despite these agreements and the Egyptian ratification of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which should provide basic assistance to refugees, the Egyptian government has not yet implemented any effective laws or efficient actions to protect the basic rights of refugees. In addition to the racial discrimination in daily life and in governmental institutions , those seeking a peaceful and stable life are exposed to another kind of instability: the hardship to gain access to education, health services, housing and jobs.

On the other hand, UNHCR cannot meet asylum seekers’ needs by simply granting refugee status because the definition of refugee is narrow and as UNHCR lacks funding. Many Sudanese refugees would be excluded by the UN-definition of refugees as theycannot provide documents to prove their dangerous situation of being supressed. Due to the delay in being granted refugee status, dozens of Sudanese refugees organised a three-month sit-in in front of the UNHCR office in Cairo to demand their basic needs in 2005. This was only met with beatings and violence by security forces. In recent years, some political dissidents have been threatened with repatriation based on a confidential agreement between the two countries, even though they were officially registered refugees.However, there is still assistance and support, provided by NGOs to improve Sudanese refugees’ lives, for example, through education and vocational training.

Going back home means living an unstable life and being labelled a betrayer, fleeing to other countries can mean death, what other options exist for this marginalised group? Where and how can Sudanese imagine a better future for themselves?


UNHCR report about Egypt:

Egypt/Sudan: A Call to End Torture of Refugees:

Darfur Refugees in Egypt: Suffering out of the Spotlight:

In Egypt, CRS Helps Refugees Start Over:

Sudanese student pursues her dreams in Cairo:

Ten years of waiting: Sudanese refugees stuck in Egypt:

Egypt’s Sudanese Migrants: Caught Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea:

Refugees in Cairo Live in Fear of Sudan’s Wanted List:

“They call us black and filthy”: Sudanese refugees in Egypt, trapped between racism and violence:

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