Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

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Research Article

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Throughout history Cairo has enjoyed the status of a cosmopolitan city attracting diverse populations from across the globe. Although refugees have not constituted a significant share of its foreign residents, Egypt has also been seen as a place of exile by sizeable refugee populations, including Armenians who fled the 1915 massacre under the Ottomans, Palestinians after 1948, and Sudanese after 1983. Palestinians are said to constitute the largest share of exiled residents, numbering between 50,000 and 70,000 (El Abed 2003). In the 1950s and 1960s Cairo was host to exiles from liberation movements across Africa and the Middle East, representing nonetheless small numbers of political activists. However, an influx of refugees started arriving in Egypt in the 1990s as a result of wars in the Horn of Africa, especially Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea and Somalia. Most of them headed for Cairo. As a legacy of the British colonial presence in the 19 th century, Egypt has long been a host to Sudanese migrants. The 1983 civil war in southern Sudan resulted in a mass flight of people not only to the neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, but also towards Khartoum and onwards to Egypt. An important element that makes Egypt an attractive destination is the existence of one of the largest resettlement programs in the world, both through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office (UNHCR) and the private sponsorship programs to Canada, Australia, the USA and Finland. 1 With the Sudanese diaspora existing in many of these western states, resettlement programs constitute an incentive for bettering one’s life in the West — escaping war, insecurity, and a harsh and oppressive political regime, as well as the poverty that results from the lack of economic possibilities. At the same time, the number of Sudanese who remain in Egypt, especially those who were unsuccessful in being granted refugee status, is quite significant. Without legal status and protection in Egypt and often unable to return to Sudan, these people live on the margins of society, struggling to secure their livelihoods as illegal ‘aliens’ within the socioeconomic and policy context of contemporary Egypt. The vast majority choose to live in the city of Cairo, where they negotiate space, their identity, and reconcile cultural and religious differences on a daily basis. This research aims to shed some light on the coping strategies of the most marginalized refugee populations and increase knowledge of conditions for refugees in urban centers of developing countries. In particular, this research examines the living conditions and coping strategies adopted by Sudanese refugees whose claims for asylum were rejected and who have often remained illegally in Egypt. It is hoped it will also influence policy In order to get a better perspective on their circumstances, it was necessary to compare their situation to Sudanese refugees who have been granted asylum. In addition, to remedy the shortcomings of other livelihood studies among urban refugees, which failed to take into account the conditions of the host society, this study included some of Egyptians who live in similar economic conditions. It will be argued that, although socially, economically, culturally and politically living on the margins of the host society, refugees participate and contribute to the globalization processes and transformation urban spaces in the developing world. Their contributions, both economic and social, should be recognized and encouraged by host governments, international and local organizations, and donor agencies. Chapter 1 will provide the background and the rationale of the study and place it in the context of the ongoing debate on urban refugees. The context of Sudan as well as the host country will be discussed in Chapter 2. Methodological constraints and the research design will be explained in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 will present the findings of the research and discuss its significance. Issues of marginality as a condition of refugees in urban settings as well as their coping strategies will be considered in Chapter 5. Finally, some conclusions and recommendation will be offered in the final section.

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