UNHCR provides help and medical support to refugees in Egypt

News Stories, 11 February 2011

© REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
Anti-government demonstrators in Cairo. UNHCR is finding ways to help refugees during the political uncertainty.

GENEVA, February 11 (UNHCR) Amid the continuing political turmoil in Egypt, UNHCR has been working through key partners to provide financial support and medical help to refugees in Cairo while UNHCR staff have been manning telephone hotlines from their homes.

On Thursday, UNHCR partner Caritas distributed financial assistance to 150 particularly vulnerable refugees in the Egyptian capital. The refugees collected their money from a branch of Refugee Egypt on the island of Zamalek located away from the main centres of anti-government protest in Cairo, and thus easier to access. About 1,000 people in Cairo rely on this bi-monthly aid from UNHCR and there will be further distributions over the coming days.

On behalf of UNHCR, Caritas has also been providing medical care and handing out medicine and prescriptions to refugees and asylum-seekers at the Refuge Egypt Zamalek outlet.

Meanwhile, although many UN offices in Cairo are closed for security reasons, UNHCR staff members continue to work from home. UNHCR has increased a hotline for refugees, which has been in regular use. "The numbers have been circulated via social media and through NGO and community networks," spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva on Friday.

"We have met partner NGOs to coordinate the resumption of our protection and assistance programmes as of this week. We are also in regular contact with 16 refugee leaders and their networks to find ways to support refugees who are facing problems," he added.

UNHCR increased the number of telephone hotlines at the end of January amid growing concern about the welfare of refugees in Cairo and elsewhere. There are some 40,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Egypt. The majority come from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan.

Edwards said that among the calls received on the hotline was one from a handicapped Somali refugee who fled to Cairo's airport. "Working with community leaders, we arranged for her to be cared for by a Somali family," he said.

"We have heard many accounts from refugees of the kindness of their Egyptian neighbours. Several families are living with their Egyptian neighbours after their homes were looted," Edwards added.

UNHCR is also communicating with refugees via NGO partners, refugee representatives, community leaders and psycho-social workers. This communication includes information on where they can receive medical support and what to do in an emergency.

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Growing Numbers of Syrians Seek Refuge in Egypt

Since the Syrian crisis erupted in March 2011, more than 1.6 million Syrians have fled their homeland to escape the fighting. Most have sought shelter in countries neighbouring Syria - Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But a significant number have made their way to Egypt in recent months. They are coming by air from Lebanon after leaving Syria, and also by sea. Since March, UNHCR has been registering about 2,000 a week. To date, almost 80,000 have registered as refugees, with half of them women and children. UNHCR believes there may be many more and the refugee agency is reaching out to these people so that they can receive vital protection and assistance and get access to basic services. The Syrians are staying with host families or renting apartments, mainly in urban centres such as Cairo, Sixth of October City, Alexandria and Damietta. The refugees heading to Egypt say they are attracted by its open door policy for Syrian refugees and by the lower rents and living costs. The following photographs were taken by Shawn Baldwin.

Growing Numbers of Syrians Seek Refuge in Egypt

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

Stuck at the Egyptian border

Some three weeks after the Libyan displacement crisis erupted in mid-February, thousands of people were still stuck at the border between Libya and Egypt waiting for onward travel to their home countries. Many have arrived exhausted at the Sallum crossing after travelling for days without adequate food or water. Some told harrowing tales of armed men going door to door at night, forcing people from sub-Saharan Africa to leave after destroying their identity papers and taking their money.

More long-haul flights to Bangladesh and other Asian destinations are needed to decongest the border, although people from countries like Eritrea and Somalia cannot go home. As a result, many people have been stuck at the border for days, sleeping outside in the cold. UNHCR has provided blankets, plastic mats, food and water for those waiting to be repatriated.

More than 100,000 people have arrived at the Sallum border since the start of the Libyan uprising. The majority have been migrant workers from Egypt who were allowed through immigration and customs quickly, but many nationalities have also turned up at the border and having to wait.

Stuck at the Egyptian border

Egypt: Seeking SafetyPlay video

Egypt: Seeking Safety

Amid the ebb and flow of fighting in eastern Libya, a steady stream of people continues to seek shelter in Egypt and other neighbouring countries. They tell their stories.
Egypt: Stranded at the BorderPlay video

Egypt: Stranded at the Border

Thousands of people are stranded at Egypt's Sallum border crossing with Libya. Many of them are migrant workers, like these exhausted Bangladeshi men.
Egypt: Egyptians Cross Back HomePlay video

Egypt: Egyptians Cross Back Home

A steady stream of people have been crossing into Egypt from Libya. These migrant workers were elated to return home.