Seven Decades of UNHCR in Egypt


UNHCR: Seven Decades in Egypt

November 2022

About the Book

In many ways, the history of UNHCR in Egypt mirrors the constant change and adaptation that has defined UNHCR’s development as an organization. In 1954, when UNHCR established its presence in Cairo, it was a fledgling organization with a restrictive mandate and limited resources. Events that year marked a turning point however, with the entry into force of the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the award of the Nobel Peace Prize received by UNHCR for its work in Europe during the immediate post-war years.

UNHCR’s presence in Egypt has also run in parallel to the development of Egypt from a young republic to a major political force in the Arab world, with significant milestones in recent forced displacement history: Decolonization and the adoption of the 1967 Optional Protocol and the OAU Convention in 1969, resettlement in the context of the October War, African arrivals in 1970s and 1980s, refugees in urban settings in the 1990s, and the 2000s’ wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

It is highly politicized work – at the crossroads of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East – and has exposed a paradox that lies at the heart of the UNHCR: That of a non-partisan, non-political organization working at the heart of local, regional and world politics. UNHCR in Egypt has, as elsewhere, had to tread a fine line between working in partnership with the government, while asserting its moral and mandated authority in fulfilling the country’s humanitarian obligations.

From the outset, UNHCR has operated in Egypt at the invitation of its government. This book is a testament to a partnership:  one that since 1954, has been based on sincere cooperation and frank dialogue. It is a record of our achievements but also the challenges that we have encountered along the way in ensuring that some of the world’s most vulnerable populations are assisted and protected.