Cablegate: Egypt's "Invisible" Refugees


DE RUEHEG #2297/01 3491209
P 151209Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 002297



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/10/2019

Classified By: Minister Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(C) Key Points: -- Both Somali and Ethiopian refugee communities in Egypt (numbering around 6000 and 5000, respectively) feel neglected compared to larger or more visible groups such as Sudanese or Iraqis. -- The Somalis receive few benefits from UNHCR and suffer from lack of educational opportunities. Ethiopians believe UNHCR staff fail to understand political realities in Ethiopia, and consequently refuse to recognize their refugee status. Both groups cite additional barriers to integration including limited UNHCR funding, a Government of Egypt (GoE) prohibition on refugee employment, and language constraints. -- Due to lack of opportunities many Somali and Ethiopian refugees attempt to migrate onward to Israel and Europe, often at risk to their lives.

2.(C) Comment: Despite significant differences in refugee status recognition, Somali and Ethiopian refugees suffer from similar problems of discrimination, lack of employment opportunities, medical care and education. Somalis are granted prima facie refugee status by UNHCR Cairo. However, the Ethiopian rate of refugee acceptance is only 20 percent, which is by far the lowest acceptance rate among applicants in Egypt. The next lowest are Eritreans with a 70% refugee acceptance rate. ------------------- Somalis "Neglected" -------------------

3.(C) We met in separate late November meetings with leaders from the Somali and Ethiopian refugee communities in Egypt to discuss their challenges. Both communities expressed their concerns that unlike the Sudanese, who are numerous, or the Iraqis and Eritreans that have garnered international attention, Somalis and Ethiopians are the "invisible" refugees in Egypt. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that despite being recognized as refugees, the Somali community of around 6,000 is "neglected" by UNHCR and NGOs that service refugees. She said organized refugee schools provide education in Arabic and English primarily for Sudanese children, but do not target the Somali community. ------------------------------------- Ethiopians Not Granted Refugee Status -------------------------------------

4.(C) Ethiopian community leader XXXXXXXXXXXX believes the majority of the approximately 5,000 Ethiopians in Cairo were not recognized as refugees because "the UNHCR staff does not understand the political situation in Ethiopia." He noted that all of the Ethiopian community leaders in Egypt fled their homeland over the past 3-15 years due to political persecution by the Meles Government. XXXXXXXXXXXX, another Ethiopian community leader, said many Ethiopian refugees are members of political parties such as the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and the Tigrayan People' Liberation Front (TPLF) and cannot return home without fear of persecution and imprisonment. However, most still lack refugee protection. Others, according to Tadesse have been granted refugee status by UNHCR, but have been denied resettlement in the U.S. because of a USG policy that deems members of certain Ethiopian opposition groups to be "terrorists." (Note: We have forwarded information on one case to the Department for review. End Note). --------------------------------------------- -------------- Egypt Safe; Discrimination and Language Limit Opportunities --------------------------------------------- --------------

5.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said most Somalis come to Egypt because they believe it is safe, has better education opportunities, and the Government of Egypt (GoE) does not forcibly repatriate Somalis. However, she said many soon realize that there in fact are few education opportunities in Egypt for refugees and "black Africans" are discriminated against and unable to integrate into Egyptian society. XXXXXXXXXXXX, a leader in the Somali refugee community and founder of the Somali Development Organization for Refugees, said language is also a major impediment to Somali integration since few are conversant in Arabic. He said Somali children cannot attend public school because they do not speak Arabic and older Somalis cannot find work in the informal sector due to language issues.

6.(C) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, Ethiopians also choose Egypt because the situation in the neighboring countries of Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan is "too dangerous and unstable." However, Ethiopians suffer discrimination at the hands of Egyptians because they are "Africans" and Ethiopian children are unable to attend Egyptian schools because they do not speak Arabic. --------------------------------------------- --------- Minimal UNHCR Benefits and No Employment Opportunities --------------------------------------------- ---------

7.(C) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, since the Government of Egypt prohibits refugees from working in the formal sector, UNHCR provides "minimal" financial assistance of 350-500 Egyptian pounds (USD 63-90) per month to Somali families with a minimum of 3 children. However, this does not begin to cover expenses such as rent and food. (Note: Rent in poor refugee areas of Cairo averages LE 600-1000 (USD 110-180) per month. End Note). Smaller families and unaccompanied refugees do not receive assistance. XXXXXXXXXXXX said most Somalis in Cairo are forced to rely on remittances from the Somali community in the West to pay for rent and food.

8.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that Somali women who work informally as domestic servants leave older children at home to watch younger children. This prevents the older children from attending school. XXXXXXXXXXXX are working to organize centers to provide day care and school classes for Somali children in three areas of Cairo where Somalis reside, but they lack the funding to rent space for the centers.

9.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that the Ethiopians know the economy in Egypt is better than other place in East Africa, but due to official and unofficial restrictions only 1 in 5 Ethiopian refugees are employed. Ethiopian men are rarely able to find jobs and those that can make between 500-600 Egyptian pounds (USD 90-110) per month as manual laborers. Ethiopian women often work as maids where they make around 1000 Egyptian pounds (USD 180) per month, but can be subject to sexual abuse and harassment in Egyptian homes. Many Ethiopians, including two of the community leaders, rely on remittances from family members in Ethiopia to support them in Cairo. --------------------------------------------- ----- Israel and Europe Represent Hope for A Better Life --------------------------------------------- -----

10.(C) Due to the lack of economic opportunities in Egypt, both XXXXXXXXXXXX stated that Somalis view Egypt as a transit point to the West. Al Sharmani said that many Somalis have decided to go illegally to Israel or Europe via Libya in search of economic opportunities. She said there are at least 900 Somalis in Libyan prisons and many others in Sinai prisons for attempting to illegally cross international borders. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the movement of Somalis to Europe and Israel has left many "unaccompanied children" in the Somali community in Egypt. (Note: UNHCR estimates that there may be as many as 2,000-3,000 Africans attempting to cross the Egypt-Israel border each month. However, we are unable to confirm this number. End Note).

11.(C) XXXXXXXXXXXX, a young Ethiopian refugee told us that many Ethiopians in Egypt are frustrated and see Israel as "the only hope for a better life." He said he is aware that many people are shot, killed, or imprisoned trying to cross the border, but he believes that this is his only chance to improve his situation and is willing to risk his life. Despite our attempts to dissuade him, XXXXXXXXXXXX is trying to save some of his 580 Egyptian pound (USD 105) salary per month to pay the USD 500 fee to smugglers to help him cross into Israel. Scobey

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