Egypt doesn’t have refugee camps; instead, you can find migrants located in different urban areas in the greater Cairo, and in Alexandria. Since the beginning of the outbreak, the focus has been more on the camps, but little attention was given to the asylum seekers and refugees living in urban cities. Besides the officially registered refugees and asylum seekers at the UNHCR’s office in Egypt, which exceeds 250,000, many others are unregistered.
Whether they are registered or not, refugees and asylum seekers were in a vulnerable state before the COVID-19, and after the outbreak, they became at more risk than before.
One of the main outcomes of the corona pandemic is the lockdown, hence many organizations closed their premises and suspended their services, among them was the UNHCR registration office in Egypt, which temporarily suspended most registration activities between mid-March and mid-August, as a result, many refugees and asylum seekers are walking around Cairo with expired UN identification cards or residence permits, and many interviews of asylum seekers were postponed as well.
This led to the constant fear of being arrested or detained, and the suspension of the financial assistance they receive, as well as the possibility their children might not be able to get enrolled in the next academic year in schools.
Thereupon, the UNHCR’s office in Cairo advocated with the Ministry of Education to allow the enrollment of refugee and asylum-seeking children in public schools for the academic year 2020/2021, despite the expiration of their identification cards and residence permits, and the Ministry responded positively and officially informed UNHCR that refugees and asylum-seekers with expired documents would be admitted in Egyptian schools.
The majority of migrants are daily worker since many of them can’t get a license to work, they work in the informal sector, specifically in hospitality and food industries, and domestic work, during the period of the lockdown the daily workers were spared, or their salaries were withheld until they resume work, so many lost their source of income, and they are struggling to survive, they can barely provide their basic needs or pay the rent. As a consequence many families were evicted; others started sharing the residence with other families to share the rent to reduce their expenses. So, it is very common to find 10 or more individuals sharing the same small apartment.
Despite the efforts of the UNHCR to provide cash programs like the interim cash scheme which targets those susceptible to COVID-19 vulnerabilities, and another one supports refugees and asylum-seekers facing serious protection risks, many refugees and asylum seekers remain vulnerable, and under the threat of becoming homeless.
Also, the international organization of migration (IOM) exerted effort to try to assist these vulnerable groups, IOM Egypt distributed food baskets to vulnerable migrants in Alexandria.
Following the outbreak the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) reports indicated an increase in the number of incidents, the UNHCR along with its GBV partner, CARE International, responded to more than gender 300 based violence incidents and provided them with different types of support.
These might be the main challenges that were faced by the migrants after the pandemic outbreak, however, still there are many other obstacles they are facing in their daily lives. Many organizations now started to develop an alternative way of work remotely, to resume providing their services to refugees, but still, it is a limited service and not with full capacity.