Update to ZZZ17982.E of 2 August 1994 on the protection and assistance offered to Sudanese refugees by UNHCR; the status of UNHCR and how the Egyptian authorities assist it; the assistance and protection offered by the authorities to Sudanese refugees [EGY34538.E]

UNHCR has an office in Cairo, in the residential quarter of Mohandiseen (St. Petersburg Times 22 Oct. 1998; Cairo Times 6 Mar. 1997). Although Egypt is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, "it has not granted official recognition to refugees within its territory" (USCR 1997, 68; DPA 14 Aug. 1998).

Please consult the World Refugee Survey from 1994-1999, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) and available at all Regional Documentation Centres, for a detailed chronological look at the situation of Sudanese, refugees and non-refugees, in Egypt.

Based on the bilateral 1978 Integration Agreement with Sudan, Egypt automatically granted Sudanese permanent residency, allowed them to own land (USCR 1995, 55), and gave them liberal entry rights (ibid. 1996, 47). According to this Nile Valley Convention, Egypt and Sudan are one country, and therefore the foreign ministry cannot recognize the Sudanese as refugees as they have not crossed an international border (Cairo Times 6 Mar. 1997). Because of the rights extended to the Sudanese under this agreement, UNHCR reportedly believed they were "essentially integrated and not in need of special assistance or international protection" (USCR 1996, 47). Following a 1978 coup d'état in Sudan, however, relations deteriorated between Khartoum and Cairo, making it increasingly difficult for the Sudanese in Egypt to exercise their legal rights under the 1978 agreement (ibid.).

In the early 1990s, UNHCR in Egypt began receiving more and more asylum requests from Sudanese, and although it did not carry out status determination at first, in 1994 it was forced to begin evaluating some of the asylum requests (USCR 1996, 47). Once a Sudanese was identified as a refugee according to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, UNHCR notified the Egyptian authorities; the authorities, however, did not recognize their refugee status (ibid., 48).

In the last few years, it has been estimated that between 2.5-5 million Sudanese live in Egypt, approximately 20,000 of them from Southern Sudan (USCR 1997, 68; DPA 14 Aug. 1998). Of these, USCR stated that perhaps 3,000 could be considered to be living in "refugee-like circumstances" due to the on-going war and "persecution" in Sudan (1995, 55). Egypt, however, does not consider them to be refugees because of the rights extended to them under the 1978 bi-laterial agreement (ibid.; Anglican Journal Mar. 1998), and because to do so would "implicitly acknowledge that an Arab 'brother' is mistreating its citizens" (St. Petersburg Times 22 Oct. 1998). There are, therefore, no camps to house the Sudanese (Anglican Journal Mar. 1998). In late 1998, the Director of Refugee Affairs for the Egyptian Government claimed that the Sudanese were economic migrants, seeking jobs, a monthly UN allowance, and resettlement abroad (St. Petersburg Times 22 Oct. 1998).).

In 1994 UNHCR extended a material aid program for up to 2,000 of the most needy Sudanese, on a case-by-case basis, but refused to provide them with written documentation of their refugee status, despite an October three-day occupation of the UNHCR offices in Cairo (USCR 1995, 55).

On 8 July 1995, following the 26 June 1995 assassination attempt on President Mubarak in Ethiopia, which Egypt blamed on Sudan's Islamic military government, Egypt reintroduced entry visa and residence permit requirements for Sudanese (Le Monde 11 July 1995; AFP 11 Aug. 1995; DPA 14 Aug. 1998). These requirements reportedly applied only to new arrivals and not to those Sudanese already living in Egypt (USCR 1996. 48).

A 6 March 1997 Cairo Times article alleged that UNHCR believed that the majority of refugees in Egypt were "con-artists...looking for a quick ticket to the west." Panos Moumtzis, external relations officer for UNHCR's Cairo office, stated that prior to late 1995,

Relatively few people came in here [UNHCR office] seeking refugee status. ... Then the United States announced that it would begin a resettlement program for UNHCR-registered refugees, and all of a sudden we were inundated with thousands of people (ibid.).

On the other hand, many of the Africans "are convinced that the UNHCR-whether because of racism, laziness, understaffing, or pressure from the Egyptian government-shirk[ed] its mandate" (ibid.).

In 1997, nearly 300 Sudanese were recognized by UNHCR as mandate refugees, bringing the number of Sudanese mandate refugees living in Egypt to over 1,000, and approximately 170 other Sudanese were resettled from Egypt that year (USCR 1998, 67). As of mid-1998, DPA reported that UNHCR had given refugee status to about 6,500 people of 24 different nationalities; half of these were Somalis, making up the largest group, while the Sudanese, numbering approximately 2,000, came next (4 Aug. 1998). These mandate refugees were issued renewable residence permits by the authorities (USCR 1998, 67). In 1998 UNHCR and the authorities create new refugee identity cards that had room for the Egyptian residence permit stamps (ibid. 1999, 63). By 1999, UNHCR staff in Cairo reportedly "struggled" to keep up with the number of Sudanese asylum applications (ibid., 64).

UNHCR-recognized mandate refugees do not have the right to work., although the children can attend a UNHCR-run school (DPA 14 Aug. 1998).

The rest of the Sudanese remain in Egypt illegally and seek support from charities and churches (DPA 14 Aug. 1998; Anglican Journal Mar. 1998). The majority of Sudanese are not allowed to work, except as domestic servants or taxi drivers, and do not have access to public education, yet have to pay the "exorbitant" rents of expatriates (ibid.; St. Petersburg Times 22 Oct. 1998). One mid-1998 media source reported that the authorities ignore the Sudanese working illegally, as they have more pressing problems to deal with (DPA 14 Aug. 1998.). Often families cannot afford more than one meal a day and, therefore, suffer from health problems (Anglican Journal Mar. 1998). The Sudanese are also "charged for all but basic medical consultations" (ibid.).

Additional information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 11 August 1995. "Egypt Arrests 23 Illegal Entrants from Sudan." (NEXIS)

Anglican Journal. March 1998. Sue Careless. "Canadian Helps Sudanese Refugees Living in Cairo." (NEXIS)

Cairo Times. 6 March 1997. Vol. 1, No. 1. Steve Negus. "When is a Refugee Not a Refugee? For Many of Cairo's Sudanese Their Physical and Financial Security Hinges on Being Granted Refugee Status, But Few Make the Grade." http://www.cairotimes.com [Accessed 31 May 2000]

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). 14 August 1998. BC Cycle. Hasan Mroue. "Southern Sudanese Refugees in Egypt Not at Home But Tolerated." (NEXIS)

Le Monde [Paris]. 11 July 1995. "L'Egypte impose des visas aux Soudanais." (NEXIS)

St. Petersburg Times. 22 October 1998. South Pinellas Edition. Elizabeth Bryant. "US Slowly Opens Door to African Refugees." (NEXIS)

US Committee for Refugees. 1999. World Refugee Survey 1999. Washington, DC: USCR.

_____. 1998. World Refugee Survey 1998. Washington, DC: USCR.

_____. 1997. World Refugee Survey 1997. Washington, DC: USCR.

_____. 1996. World Refugee Survey 1996. Washington, DC: USCR.

_____. 1995. World Refugee Survey 1995. Washington, DC: USCR.

Additional Sources Consulted

Middle East International [London]. Fortnightly. 8 August 1997-19 May 2000.


Resource Centre. "Egypt" country file. January 1994-August 1996, September 1997-May 2000.

Non-documentary sources:

Unsuccessful attempts to contact UNHCR-Ottawa.