Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees.
The government provided the UNHCR with authority to make refugee status determinations, with the exception of Sudanese citizens, who were treated as asylum seekers rather than as refugees.
According to the UNHCR, as of October 15, there were approximately 194,640 refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt, coming mainly from Syria, Sudan, Iraq, and countries in the Horn of Africa. As of November 22, a total of 140,500 Syrian nationals had registered with the UNHCR. During the first 11 months of the year, the total number of newly registered refugees was 13,911--a drastic decrease from the same period last year. Only 1,215 Syrian nationals had entered the country and registered with the UNHCR; the others were from other African countries and Iraq. Observers attributed the decrease to the change of government policies since July 2013, including the introduction of the visa system for Syrians, and the security and socioeconomic situation in the country, as well as increased difficulty transiting Egypt to neighboring countries.
In 2012 and 2013 under the Morsy administration, the government afforded Syrians visa-free entry. Since July 2013 the government has applied a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus ensuring no direct entries from Syria since Egypt lacked consular services there. There were cases reported by the UNHCR of prolonged separation of Syrian families in Egypt and family members in Syria, Libya, or the Gulf countries.
Since the new regulations took effect in July 2013, the UNHCR stated authorities detained and deported at least 47 Syrians who arrived in the country without a visa or with forged documents, usually to the transit countries from which they arrived, or to Turkey or Lebanon. Stricter visa restrictions imposed by Jordan and Turkey also resulted in the return of some Syrians to Egypt, where they remained in prolonged detention.
Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum-seekers, and of detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly remained numerous, after a dramatic increase in 2013. Syrians represented the largest portion of this group, which also included Eritreans, Ethiopians, and other Africans. The UNHCR reported 15,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Lampasas, Italy, had departed from Egyptian waters.
While authorities usually allowed UNHCR contact with detained registered refugees and asylum seekers, they continued to deny access to unregistered asylum seekers. The government subjected detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean and Sudanese and may have had a basis for asylum claims, to prolonged administrative detention for unauthorized entry or residence. Detained migrants did not have access to the UNHCR. Authorities often held them in jails, military camps, and regular prisons with convicted criminals.
Approximately 6,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country. Of these, the majority were reportedly living in Cairo while more than 1,000 were in Alexandria. The Palestinian Authority mission in Egypt provided limited assistance to this population, who were not able to access UNHCR assistance provided to Syrians due to governmental restrictions. Despite the UNHCR’s mandate for Palestinians outside of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA’s) fields of operations, the government denied the UNHCR permission to provide services, reportedly in part due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Although detention and deportation of Palestinian refugees from Syria were significant issues in 2013, government dialogue with the UNRWA and other actors improved the treatment of detainees during the year. According to the UNRWA, most were promptly released from detention during the year and allowed to remain in the country.
Refoulement: According to human rights advocates, detained migrants were typically given two options: return to their country of origin or indefinite administrative detention. Because the government denied the UNHCR access to unregistered detained migrants and asylum seekers, the number of potential asylum seekers returned to their countries was unknown. The UNHCR reported nine cases of forced repatriation of Sudanese nationals registered with the UNHCR for whom the office unsuccessfully advocated with Egyptian authorities.
Since May the UNHCR observed the Syrian embassy started to implement a restrictive policy regarding the renewal of expired passports of Syrian nationals in detention, regardless of the grounds for arrest. In such cases the Syrian embassy issued a travel document valid only for return to Syria; therefore, the absence of a valid national passport for Syrian refugees in detention resulted in either prolonged detention or forced repatriation. According to UNHCR reports, the Syrian embassy renewed passports in the latter half of the year on an ad hoc basis in a few cases for detainees after they were released. As of October 15, the UNHCR was aware of one Palestinian from Syria and one Syrian national who were sent back to Syria due to the policy.
An increased number of Palestinian refugees from Syria entered the country in an illegal manner with the intention to travel to Europe. In a number of cases, in the absence of valid travel documents or inability to confirm their identities, they faced either detention or deportation. According to UNHCR reports, authorities returned 13 Palestinian refugees from Syria to Syria in August and another 22 to Gaza, also in August. In both cases the Palestinian refugees from Syria crossed into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing, traveled to Cairo with hopes of departing for third countries, and arrived at Cairo International Airport with no travel documents.
On October 13, authorities returned 68 Palestinians to Gaza after security forces discovered the group in Alexandria, from where they intended to depart for Italy. A court decided all 68 should be returned to Gaza after it found they had used illegal tunnels to enter Egyptian territory. In early September authorities detained 43 Palestinians near Alexandria while they attempted to reach Europe. On September 10, traffickers forcibly sank a large ship off the coast of Malta that had departed Egypt on September 6 carrying approximately 500, mostly Palestinian migrants, killing the vast majority.
Refugee Abuse: Media, NGO, and UNCHR staff reported far fewer cases of attacks against Syrian refugees than occurred in 2013. The Egyptian navy continued to intercept some boats carrying refugees headed to Europe on grounds of suspicion of “illegal migration.” According to the latest data available to the UNHCR, authorities reportedly arrested 2,932 foreign nationals attempting to depart the country in an irregular manner by sea, including 1,400 Syrians, 438 Palestinians, 421 Sudanese, 35 Eritreans, 76 Somalis, and 24 Iraqis. More than half (1,482) were released and 551 departed to third countries by year’s end. Those who were released were able to regularize their residency permits in Egypt.
Reports of societal abuse and abuse by Sinai-based facilitators and captors of illegal migrants continued to decline significantly. The most obvious reason was the dissuasive effect of Israeli construction of a fence that prevented migrants from entering Israel. A few reports, however, suggested abuse did continue, albeit much less frequently, as human smugglers sought different routes.
Employment: Authorities did not grant most refugees legal authority to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment faced challenges due to lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work generally took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to exploitation by employers.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular those from sub-Saharan Africa, continued to face limited access to housing, public education, public health services, and other social services. The Ministry of Interior restricted some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in the Sinai but provided the International Organization for Migration (IOM) access to detention centers. The UNHCR provided refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. Some public schools enrolled refugee children, but most did not, citing overcrowding and lack of resources. Instead, refugee children mainly attended refugee-run schools, private schools, or were home-schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many of the hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In response to the influx of Syrians, the government allowed Syrian refugees and asylum seekers access to public education and health services while in the country.
Since the onset of the Syrian crisis, approximately 6,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria were living in the country. The UNRWA assisted these Palestinian refugees from Syria and provided limited assistance in Egypt, where its presence is limited to a liaison office. The government helped facilitate a partnership between UNRWA and the Egyptian Red Crescent to provide Palestinians with UN World Food Program vouchers and health care at one hospital in Cairo.