Egypt is a signatory to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. A 1954 memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Government of Egypt and UNHCR remained in place, delegating functional responsibilities for all aspects related to registration, asylum documentation and refugee status determination (RSD) to UNHCR.
In 2020, a generally tolerant asylum environment continued at the central level. However, protection challenges experienced by persons of concern to UNHCR (PoCs) on the ground increased following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The overall operational and protection environment was heavily impacted by COVID-19, affecting the economy, and leaving many PoCs without a livelihood, more dependent on assistance, and exposed to evictions and increased protection risks. Temporary closure of many Government services, as well as adjustment of UNHCR’s activities to providing most services remotely, further affected PoCs.
Despite these challenges, UNHCR strived to find alternative ways by which protection support and material assistance could be provided to refugees and asylum-seekers.
Registration, Refugee Status Determination and Resettlement
International protection for asylum-seekers and refugees begins with admission to a country of asylum, registration, documentation, and refugee status determination to facilitate their access to basic assistance and protection. In Egypt, the registration process and determining refugee status have been delegated by the Government of Egypt to UNHCR based on the memorandum of understanding signed in 1954.
COVID-19 has severely affected UNHCR’s activities. With the need to minimize the risk of viral infection, the majority of in-office interviews (except for acute protection cases) were temporarily suspended and eventually replaced by innovative alternatives to ensure continuity of critical programmes remotely. To maintain continuity of services and keep two-way communication with refugees and asylum-seekers open, UNHCR capitalized on existing and new communication tools such as phones, emails, social media, messaging applications, video calls and web forms.
registration interviews conducted
registration-related phone calls & e-mails responded to
remote RSD interviews conducted
RSD decisions finalized
refugees submitted for resettlement
persons departed to 9 countries
The protection of refugees is the mandate of UNHCR and the ultimate goal. It includes the prohibition of being returned to the dangers from which refugees have fled; access to fair and efficient asylum procedures; and measures affirming their basic human rights to live in dignity and safety while helping them to find a longer-term solution.
UNHCR adjusted the operation to the COVID-19 situation, ensuring that the key strategic priorities remained on course. Registration, RSD and RST processes have been adjusted and priority has been given to respond and prevent risks related to GBV and child protection. Support to the most vulnerable groups was prioritized, while continuing engagement with the national institutions in enhancing their involvement in refugee protection and strengthening the protection advocacy for access to fair asylum procedures and against arbitrary detention and refoulement.
individuals assisted with GBV response services
Unaccompanied and Separated Children
unaccompanied and separated children provided with protection services and/or assistance
received counseling and legal assistance
benefited from protection counselling
calls responded to by UNHCR Egypt infoline
Community-based Protection and Communication with Communities
UNHCR adopts a community-based protection (CBP) approach to working with all the people it serves, based on consultation and participation. CBP implies that communities engage meaningfully and substantially in all aspects of programmes that affect them, strengthening the community’s leading role as a driving force for change.
participants on 55 refugee-run WhatsApp group reached
meetings organized, attended by 1,211 community leaders
community leaders participated in different trainings
sports sessions and game activities organized by youth leaders in 8 areas
community leaders participated in the peer to peer mentorship program
community leaders received TOT training
Ensuring access to health care is a key component of UNHCR’s protection activities and programming. We promote an integration model, enabling refugees and asylum-seekers to access national health care. In response to COVID-19, health awareness sessions and home visits continued to be replaced by phone calls and information provided through mobile messaging applications. The messages focused on COVID-19 preventive measures, addressing rumours, and updating refugees and asylum-seekers about essential services available in public health facilities. Vulnerable families and families reporting suspected cases of COVID-19 were provided with hygiene kits to maintain preventive measures.
In addition, to support medical staff fighting COVID19, UNHCR donated the following medical supplies to Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population:
units of gloves
Moreover, UNHCR Partners maintained essential health service delivery even during the pandemic.
persons with non-communicable diseases treated
received primary health assistance
live-saving emergencies attended to
received secondary and tertiary healthcare
community health workers contacted
persons by phone to disseminate COVID-19 preventive messages, follow up on cases, facilitate referral to MoH hospitals
UNHCR helps refugees and asylum-seekers to support themselves and their families by offering them training and assisting them in finding opportunities for their skills and goods. Work in this area is guided by several core principles, mainly protection, diversity, equity, access and sustainability. We also work to promote economic inclusion of those forced to flee their homes by advocating for their right to work and building their livelihoods through market-oriented programmes.
refugees started/enlarged their businesses with UNHCR support
received training sessions, guidance on labour market opportunities, job placement services
UNHCR uses cash to protect and assist people in all phases of displacement. Cash-based interventions (CBI) can be used in a variety of settings, provided there is a stable market and a safe way to provide cash or vouchers. The flexibility that CBI offer makes them a more dignified form of assistance, giving refugees the ability to immediately prioritize and choose the items they need.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the majority of refugees and asylum-seekers in Egypt were already highly vulnerable, with seven out of 10 refugees unable to meet their basic needs and often forced to adopt negative coping mechanisms such as incurring debt or reducing expenditure on food and other essential items to survive. Following the outbreak, many have lost their source of income and have found it even harder to purchase food, hygiene products or pay rent, prompting UNHCR to expand its cash programme to support as many households as its funding allows.
A Sudanese refugee receives a cash grant from Egypt Post Office. UNHCR/Pedro Costa Gomes.
supported with multipurpose cash assistance
added to the cash programme in 2020 for one year
placed on waiting lists for the cash programme in 2021
out of the waiting list were provided with one-off cash transfers
unaccompanied and separated children received cash assistance as of May 2020
supported with cash for 3-6 months
UNHCR has also recently released the following publications on cash:
Vulnerability Assessment 2018
Minimum Expenditure Basket 2020-21
Vulnerability Assessment of Refugees in Egypt: Risks and Coping Strategies
Beneficiary Selection Process for UNHCR Multipurpose Cash Assistance
Post-Distribution Monitoring for Sectoral Cash 2019
Education is a vital protection aspect for refugee children and their communities. Instrumental to fostering social cohesion, education strengthens community resilience and empowers refugees by giving them the knowledge and skills to lead productive, fulfilling and independent lives. Education also provides for the ‘human capital’ needed for the future reconstruction and economic development of areas of origin or settlement.
While COVID-19 greatly impacted school attendance, enrolment rates continued to be high reaching approximately 90%. This is due to the wider access to public education granted to some refugee nationalities and the provision of UNHCR education grants and higher education scholarships. Health & Safety training reached 8,000 refugee and host community children in 80 schools.
In addition, UNHCR advocated successfully with the Ministry of Education to allow refugee children to enroll in schools without valid documents or valid residency permit for the year 2020/2021.
school students received education grants
refugee youth supported to continue their higher education
369 & 1,513
differently-abled and unaccompanied and separated children enrolled in schools