Refugees in Egypt struggle to live as economic hardships deepen

Ahmad Al-Khatib is one of nearly 250,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers living in Egypt, more than half of them Syrian. (Reuters)
Updated 10 April 2019
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Refugees in Egypt struggle to live as economic hardships deepen

  • More than 77 percent of Syrian families in Egypt were in debt in 2017, according to a UNHCR survey
  • Nearly 93 percent of families were unable to repay the loans

CAIRO: Syrian refugee Ahmad Al-Khatib and his 16-year-old son both work as tuk-tuk drivers in Cairo, but it is not enough to pay the bills.
Tough economic reforms and rising costs have hit refugees and migrants in Egypt particularly hard, aid groups say.
Help from a charity is the only way Khatib can cover the family’s rent. He also borrows cash from friends.
“How am I going to repay them?” he asked.
More than 77 percent of Syrian families in Egypt were in debt in 2017, up from 73 percent the year before, according to unpublished data seen by Reuters from a UNHCR survey of more than 100,000 Syrians.
Nearly 93 percent of families were unable to repay the loans, up from 81 percent in 2016, the year Egypt devalued its currency as part of an IMF loan deal.
Egypt has much smaller refugee populations than Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where most of those displaced by Syria’s war have fled. But refugees and asylum seekers reside in Egyptian communities rather than camps, and those without means are directly exposed to economic hardships.
Nearly 250,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers live in Egypt, more than half of them Syrian.
Khatib, 58, suffers from multiple illnesses, including a prostate infection, but cannot afford all the treatments he needs. He usually eats just one meal a day to cut costs.
Arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers have surged, with about a 25 percent increase registered over the past two years, UNHCR data shows.
Since 2016 Egypt has also prevented large numbers of migrants and refugees from leaving by boat toward Europe, efforts that have been praised by the European Union, but this, combined with the increase in arrivals, have left many stranded in some of Egypt’s poorest neighborhoods.
The Egypt State Information Service could not immediately be reached for comment, but Egypt has previously said that the country’s treatment of refugees is exemplary because they can access services such as health care without discrimination and live freely among the Egyptian people.
Economic reforms have not only made life more difficult for Syrians. The International Organization for Migration says requests for assistance with housing costs, medical expenses and returns started to increase in June and have more than doubled since September. The majority come from Sudanese and Ethiopians.
“We believe it’s a consequence of economic reforms and the cut of gas subsidies, which has led to an increase in basic goods costs,” said Laurent De Boeck, IOM’s head in Egypt.
Austerity measures mean Egyptian landlords are stricter collecting rent, he said. Migrants mainly work in the informal sector and some poor Egyptians now view them as competitors, he added.
When Hala Bekdash fled shelling in her native Syria and brought her children to Egypt in 2012, life in their new country was affordable.
But during the past two years prices have rocketed and the family’s bills have doubled, the 32-year-old said.
Bekdash, who works long hours as a teacher, cannot afford to renew her expired passport, which means she cannot renew her Egyptian residency either, resulting in a fine she does not know how to pay.
But she does not want to return to Syria, where her husband would risk being conscripted.
“The building we lived in and where we had our shop was destroyed,” she said. “We have nothing left in Syria.”


Iran commemorates war with parade of tanks, missiles

Updated 51 min 31 sec ago

Iran commemorates war with parade of tanks, missiles

  • Saudi Arabia and the US have accused Iran of a Sept. 14 drone and missile attack on oil facilities

JEDDAH: As Saudi Arabia prepared to celebrate its National Day with entertainment events, firework displays and cultural events, Iran staged a military parade in Tehran on Sunday with tanks, missiles and armored vehicles.

President Hassan Rouhani and Iranian military leaders saluted as ranks of soldiers marched past them in tight unison, followed by an array of military hardware.

Among the weapons on display in the parade, held to mark the anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, was an upgraded warhead for the Khorramshahr ballistic missile, said to have a range of 2,000km, and the Kaman 12 drone with a range of 1,000km. Speedboats and warships were shown in video footage on state TV.

Saudi Arabia and the US have accused Iran of a Sept. 14 drone and missile attack on oil facilities in the east of the Kingdom. After the attack the Pentagon ordered US troops to reinforce Saudi air and missile defenses.

In a speech at Monday’s parade, Rouhani denounced the US presence. “Foreign forces can cause problems and insecurity for our people and for our region,” he said.

“If they’re sincere, then they should not make our region the site of an arms race.

“Their presence has always brought pain and misery ... the farther they keep themselves from our region and our nations, the more security there will be.”

The US aims to avoid war with Iran and the additional troops are for “deterrence and defense,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

“If that deterrence should continue to fail, I am also confident that President Trump would continue to take the actions that are necessary,” he said.