Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Author's Department

Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Third Author's Department

Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Migration and Refugee Movements in the Middle East and North Africa

Publication Date



Emigration from Iraq has been occurring since the 1970s. The Iran-Iraq War, Gulf War and the subsequent international sanctions placed on the Iraqi regime have all produced waves of emigration. After US occupation of Iraq, however, and particularly since 2005, the country has witnessed unprecedented levels of out-migration. Since the US led war on Iraq in 2003, massive numbers of Iraqis have been displaced from their homes causing the largest influx of refugees into the region. The situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon has received the attention of academics. In comparison, the picture of Iraqis in Egypt has remained obscure. This report sheds light on the situation of Iraqis living in Egypt. It answers questions related to numbers of Iraqis, reasons for choosing Egypt, patterns of flight, and the current situation and social networks of this population. Family flights took place during 2005, 2006 and 2007. Due to violence and sectarian tensions as well as to direct threats to the lives of persons, the majority of Iraqis in Egypt have fled from Baghdad, followed by waves from Al-Basra and Diyala. As urban refugees, Iraqis who fled to Egypt reside in the country’s main governorates namely Giza, Cairo and Alexandria. In Giza, 6th of October City is hosting the largest number of Iraqis followed by other areas in Cairo namely El Rehab City, Nasr City and Haram. Upon arriving to Egypt, Iraqis are expected to register with the Ministry of Interior. The majority of Iraqis enter Egypt with a valid tourist visa; however with the extension of their stay, they are expected to renew their residence permit. They may also register with the regional office of UNHCR located in Cairo. Upon registering with UNHCR, Iraqis are given a prima facie refugee status granting them protection and some relief services. However, as a signatory to the 1951 convention on the status of Refugees, Egypt has reservations on clauses related to rationing, education, relief, labor rights and social security. Without access to the labor market, Iraqis depend on two main income sources, remittances and savings, to support their livelihoods in Egypt. Alternatively, some Iraqis have become employed in unskilled labor professions, but many endure low wages and are over-skilled with regard to their actual occupation . As an educated population, Iraqis are keen to enroll their children in private schools due to their inability to access public schools and universities adding more financial burden on the family. Due to their inability to access public health care services, accessing medical care serves as another financial burden. A majority of Iraqis in Egypt register with UNHCR. Iraqis who register with UNHCR have access to few relief services; mainly financial, medical and educational. In light of these circumstances and with the continuous depletion of savings, Iraqi families are left with no choice but to depend on remittances sent from their family members and friends in Iraq 8 and third countries. Remittances received by Iraqi families in Egypt − contrary to economic migrants who typically send remittances to families left behind− help these families support their living in Egypt with the inexistence of alternative means of income. Yet connections with relatives and friends are not only through remittances, but also through the flow of information. Iraqi refugees in Egypt are well-connected to other Iraqis in Iraq and in third countries through means of communication thereby forming a transnational Iraqi network. Iraqis are also well-connected with each other in Egypt. However the prospects of them forming a social community in Egypt is unclear (actual links with other Iraqis in Egypt, with Egyptians). In general terms, Iraqis feel secure in Egypt and have positive relationships with Egyptians. Yet, due to the perception of Iraqis as wealthy migrants, they may feel welcomed or abused financially by Egyptians. Without a stable source of income, the main problem affecting the lives of Iraqis in Egypt is financial constraints. This in turn adds to housing, education, medical and procedural problems in Egypt. The other major problem facing Iraqis is the uncertainty of their future plans. In light of the continuous tension the decision to return to Iraq remains challenging. Resettlement, furthermore, appears unattainable due to the scarcity of resettlement opportunities offered and the specific criteria of different counties and agencies. In the end, their situation remains in limbo until they make the challenging decision to return or are accepted for resettlement.

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