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Cablegate: Iraqi Refugee Numbers in Egypt Swell, Under A

DE RUEHEG #1901/01 1721001
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E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but unclassified. Please handle accordingly.


1. (SBU) Egyptian authorities are watching cautiously as
Iraqi refugee numbers in Egypt approach the 100,000 mark,
according to official estimates, amid signs of an
increasingly restless Iraqi community. The GOE offers few
social services to the Iraqis (similar to other large refugee
communities, i.e., Sudanese), leaving them to fend for
themselves in private housing, education, and health-care
markets. There have been no known cases of forced
deportations of Iraqis, but visa issuance has tightened due
to security concerns, and residency permission has become a
crucial tool of control (and exploitation) by GOE security
services. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has
registered approximately 7,600 Iraqis at its Cairo offices,
and very few of these are likely to be resettled to other
countries. Distrust of the UN agency may play a role in
Iraqis, reluctance to register with the Commission, along
with a perception that UNHCR can offer refugees little in the
way of services. Still, lack of jobs, rising prices, and
other problems associated with a dislocated population,
strains are beginning to develop between different Iraqi
groups and between Egyptians and Iraqis. A recent GOE
rejection of a request by Iraqis to build a Shia mosque in
Cairo highlighted these tensions, and revealed deep-seated
ambivalence among Egyptians toward their Iraqi brethren. End

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The GOE: Policy and Perspectives

2. (SBU) According to a senior official at the Egyptian
Foreign Ministry, Egypt is hosting approximately 100,000
Iraqis who left their country to escape the war. There are
no precise figures on the number of Iraqi refugees in Egypt,
however, unofficial estimates range from 60,000 up to
130,000. The majority, he said, hail from middle class
neighborhoods of Baghdad, driven out by the threat of
violence and the "ethnic cleansing" of various communities.
Describing GOE visa policy, MFA Deputy Assistant Minister for
Refugee Affairs Tarek Maaty told emboffs that Iraqis must now
obtain a visa from an Egyptian embassy prior to travel.
Egypt's embassy in Baghdad was essentially closed after the
June 2005 kidnapping and murder of its Ambassador, Ihab
Sherif. Until recently, Iraqis were able to obtain airport
visas upon arrival in Cairo. MFA Assistant Minister for
Consular Affairs Mahmoud Aouf told a Parliamentary Committee
on April 4, 2007 that the decision (to tighten rules) was
"due to the nature of the security circumstances accompanying
the entry of Iraqis in Egypt at this stage."

3. (SBU) Maaty said that visa issuance must await
pre-approval from Cairo security authorities, but that
issuance was generous. The length of legal stay in Egypt is
determined upon application for entry at the border. There
are no cases of forced deportation of Iraqis who entered the
country legally, he added. There have been approximately 100
cases over the past six months, he said, where Iraqis arrived
without visas and were denied entry. This includes a
"handful" of cases involving false documentation by
individuals seeking entry. To deal with this issue, a
mechanism was recently created, for GOE airport authorities
to coordinate with the MFA, the Iraqi Embassy, and the UN
High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to verify bona fides of
an individual seeking entry if there are security concerns or
problems. The mechanism, Maaty claimed, is "working well."

The Iraqi Embassy View

4. (SBU) Iraqi Embassy contacts believe the number of Iraqis
in Egypt is closer to 60,000, and suggest the GOE inflates
the figure in public for several reasons: seeking credit
from the Iraqi government for helping its brother in need,
seeking credit from the U.S. and the international community
for helping Iraq despite its lack of participation in
Operation Iraqi Freedom, and elevating the sense of
"vigilance" among Egyptian security forces to counter any
potential problems imported by Iraqi Shia refugees. The bulk
of the Iraqis reside in and around October 6 City on the
northwest suburbs of Cairo, causing housing and real estate
prices there to rise precipitously. The Iraqis there are
largely self-dependent, relying upon their savings to cover
costs of private education and social services that the GOE
does not offer them. Embassy contacts do not dispute the GOE

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line that Iraqis are welcome in Egypt, but complain that they
are being exploited by unscrupulous landlords, police, and
government officials.

Anecdotes of Iraqis in Cairo

5. (U) Mona, an Iraqi Shia from a Sunni neighborhood of
Baghdad resides in Cairo with her two daughters, one with a
severe mental handicap which she attributed to "chemicals
being used in the war on Iraq." She complained to emboffs
that she was unable to locate proper care for her handicapped
daughter and must bear the full expense of her family's
medical needs. Her husband located steady work in the
Emirates in the aircraft engineering field, but he was turned
down when he applied for a visa to visit his family in Egypt.
The woman said she was granted temporary refugee status from
the UNHCR ("yellow card"), and as such cannot depart the
country to visit her husband. She said she and her family
hoped to be resettled by the UN in a third country. "Many
Iraqi families here are in similar circumstances," she

6. (U) Barbara Harrell, a professor at the American
University of Cairo involved in refugee issues, told Emboff
that funding for education of refugees in Egypt is
non-existent. She asserted that Egypt plays host to 130,000
Iraqi refugees. She said that it was a "myth" that these
Iraqis all arrived with lots of money, and that many are now
running low on funds. "There is no way to get money out of
Iraq." There is also no provision for medical care for the
Iraqi refugees, many of whom have cancers, special needs, and
are traumatized by the conflict that they have escaped. The
Iraqis in Egypt are believed to be highly educated and
skilled: their skills are being wasted in Egypt, she
complained, since they are not allowed to work. There are no
sites to dispense welfare funds to Iraqis in Egypt, and Iraqi
children are not permitted to use public Egyptian schools,
over-crowded already with Egyptians. The U.S. she said,
could help by funding hospitals, schools, and other
facilities to aid the Iraqis. Harrell said there was a high
level of distrust among the Iraqi population in Egypt toward
the UNHCR - an agency they felt was more likely to make
trouble, than assist them.

7. (U) Ray Jureidini, another professor at AUC, discussed
the role of the UNHCR and the status of Iraqis in Egypt. He
said the organization routinely extended refugee status for
any Iraqi resident in Egypt, allowing them to enroll their
children in private schools. Most Iraqis, with the
exception of those from the North, are given prima facie
refugee status by UNHCR. But, he complained, the UNHCR is
slow to process applications and is widely distrusted by the
Iraqi population. As a result, he added, the number of Iraqi
refugees registered with the UNHCR in Cairo is only a small
percent of the Iraqi population in Egypt. He believed the
Iraqi refugees in Egypt were providing benefits to the
Egyptian economy, and have begun to create communities and
support networks of their own. Jureidini confirmed that the
GOE does not offer them education, health-care, or employment
- challenges it can not meet for its own citizens. For the
GOE, the needs of refugee communities in Egypt is the
responsibility of the UNHCR (security issues accepted). Those
caught in illegal status in Egypt, he said, are permitted to
remain in the country, provided they pay penalties. Some are
referred to the UNHCR, which routinely registers them as
refugee applicants, providing them with legal status to
remain in Egypt.

Worries over Shia-Sunni Conflict

8. (U) President Mubarak, in a telling 2006 interview with al
Arabiya TV, broadcast his deep personal distrust of all
Shi'ites when he questioned their national loyalties. The
largely Sunni Egyptian population generally shares the
regime's outlook on this subject, despite Egypt's close
historical links to Shia Islam. The issue continues to be a
key concern of both the Egyptian government and public, and
guides GOE policy towards the growing Iraqi refugee
community. According to local press reporting, 7,000 Iraqi
Shiites recently petitioned the Egyptian government for
permission to construct a Shiite mosque in the October 6 City
suburb of Cairo, citing Article 46 of the Egyptian
constitution which guarantees the "freedom of belief and
freedom to practice religious rites." The group reportedly
threatened to refer the issue to the "A'al Al Bayt Supreme
Council" (a religious council in Egypt for Shiites).
According to local contacts, the move added to already

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heightened to GOE fears that the Iraqi community would set
off a "fitna," or clash in Egypt between the two primary
Islamic sects, attracting fanatics from both sides in the
process. Prime Minister Nazif recently rejected the request
to build the mosque. The Iraqi Charge in Cairo, according to
media reports, called for calm from the Iraqi community and
requested they not cause trouble with the GOE. With few
places for the Shia to worship in Cairo, the issue is certain
to remain contentious.

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