While the world was celebrating World Refugee Day on 20 June, US President Donald Trump was signing an executive order on Wednesday that reversed his decision to separate migrant families crossing the border from Mexico, following a global outcry.
The “zero tolerance” policy instituted by the US faced mounting criticism, as around 2,000 children were separated from their parents after illegally crossing the southern US border over a recent six-week period, according to global media reports.
Daily News Egypt examines the Egyptian model of hosting refugees and migrants and compares it with the American one in light of the recent global and local developments.
Egypt remained a transit and destination country for refugees and mixed movements, which was reflected by the diversity of the registered population from 58 different countries, including Iraq, Syria, and various sub-Saharan African countries, according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.
Egypt allows refugees to be involved in community, does not force them to live in camps
Rakha Ahmed, former deputy minister of foreign affairs, said that Egypt has a longstanding history of hosting as many migrants and refugees around the world as possible, noting, “Egypt is a regional power in the Middle East region. We hosted many of the Armenians following the first world war, who peacefully lived in Egypt”.
In 2017, a generally conducive asylum environment was upheld. Egypt grants access to public healthcare to all refugees and asylum seekers and allows Syrians and Sudanese access to its public education system, according to the UNHCR website.
Difficult socioeconomic conditions in Egypt, with high inflation levels and increased costs of living, impacted the lives of Egyptians, refugees, and asylum-seekers alike, especially the most vulnerable.
However, Ahmed added that Egypt allows refugees to be involved in the community and does not force them to live in camps or prevent them from getting jobs, saying, “now we have many successful Syrian small and micro business in the food industry sector. However, the US is a different country as it is a migration basis country.”
Ahmed noted that many citizens from Latin America expanded in illegal migration to the United States, adding, “Donald Trump announced many racist statements regarding migrants from Africa and other Middle East countries”.
Ahmed mentioned that many European countries encourage so-called brain drain migration, as they choose the most professional and talented people from African and poor countries and offer them better jobs, good opportunities, and nationalities to benefit from their talents.
Europe needs more young migrants to keep living
“Age averages in European countries are very high because of the advanced healthcare, while youth are not totally in agreement about with having babies, so governments try to get talented generations of migrants to keep the country working,” said Ahmed, noting that Portugal recently announced an offer to receive about 400 refugees who live in Cairo.
Egypt welcomed the offer by Portugal to host a number of refugees currently residing in the country, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday.
As a part of the cooperation between the EU and Egypt on the issue, Portugal offered to host 400 refugees in the years 2018 and 2019, in cooperation and coordination with local authorities and the UNHCR.
The statement came in response to queries from a number of diplomatic reporters about the news circulated about the possibility of Portugal receiving refugees residing in Egypt.
“The number of refugees offered to be received by Portugal is not very big, but it is just a beginning, I hope we will see other European countries doing the same in the future,” added Ahmed.
In 2017, Egypt experienced the highest number of arrivals since 2013, close to 40,000, with approximately 18,000 from Syria. The continuous increase in new registrations of refugees, coupled with funding constraints and inflation, hampered the UNHCR’s ability to assist all those in need, in particular the non-Syrian populations of concern.
Egypt deals with Arab refugees, migrants as its ‘old sister duty’
“Egypt deals with the Arab refugees and migrants as its old sister duty and help them to get over their difficulties,” said Gamal Bayomi, former head of the Europe department at the International Cooperation Ministry, noting that Egypt hosts about 4 million undocumented Sudanese refugees, about 1 million Syrian refugees, and many Iraqis, Palestinians, and Lebanese migrants as well.
Bayomi added that the Portuguese offer to host about 400 refugees who live in Egypt is very modest, but that perhaps the small number expresses the people whose documents are well prepared, noting that other European countries may announce similar offers as Europe needs more young migrants to keep living.
“Egypt hosts about 4 millions refugees and it has not ever complained of having them and it works closely with international agencies to efficiently help them live better,” said Bayomi.