1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Egypt

Lack of income main problem for Iraqi refugees

Hamid and his family at their rented apartment. While the humanitarian crisis of displaced Iraqis shows little sign of abating, the push for resettlement of Iraqi refugees has increasingly put strain on the resettlement program at the UNHCR Cairo office.
(Marwa Awad/IRIN)

A first official survey of Iraqi refugees in Egypt tentatively puts their number at 20,000.

The product of a year’s field work and analysis by Egypt's Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) and the American University in Cairo's Centre for Migration and Refugee Studies, the survey (not available on the internet) looked at how and why Iraqis came to Egypt, their population profile, socio-economic conditions, and the main challenges they face.

There is some uncertainty about the 20,000 figure as there was no sure way of capturing all the refugees due to the transient nature of their residence, and a degree of mistrust among them of the IDSC, a government body. “Some Iraqis were cautious and reluctant to participate in this research," the IDSC’s Said al-Masry told a discussion panel on the survey’s findings in mid-November.

Human Rights Watch estimated in 2007 that the number of Iraqis in Egypt might be about 150,000, and a BBC report on the plight of Iraqis in Egypt published in September also mentioned the figure of 150,000.

Sara Sadek explained why the survey was important: "It is important to know the facts in order to give NGOs and policymakers an understanding of the needs of Iraqis. Being a nationwide survey, it has also raised awareness [of the issue] among Egyptians and engaged local policymakers in identifying problems," said Sadek.

Most of those interviewed for the survey came to Egypt because of insecurity at home; some 60 percent had received threats. Most acquired tourist visas to legalise their stay in Egypt; their travel expenses were covered either by selling their houses or using savings.

About 60 percent of respondents are registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), allowing them to receive some basic services and open a resettlement file. However, of these, only 5 percent have been given a date for a resettlement interview, and fewer than 1 percent have been accepted for resettlement in a third country.

Lack of income

"Lack of income is the main problem, followed by education," said Sara Sadek, the lead researcher. Iraqis have been depending on income from dwindling remittances and savings.

Respondents bemoaned the lack of job opportunities: There were few jobs available, wages were low and it was very difficult to find a job commensurate with educational qualifications. Rent had been rising fast and residency permits were complicated to process and renew.

"I stopped sending my kids to school this year as the fees got too expensive. We are opting for private tutors. The landlord has doubled our rent. I sold my house and car in Baghdad, but because of the situation here, I am losing all my savings," said an Iraqi refugee who preferred anonymity due to the sensitivity of his position in Iraq.

Egypt signed the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, with reservations: refugees cannot work in Egypt without a work permit and access to services is very limited. As a result, working in Egypt is practically impossible for refugees, unless they opt for work in the informal sector. Click here for an earlier IRIN report on this.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Help make quality journalism about crises possible

The New Humanitarian is an independent, non-profit newsroom founded in 1995. We deliver quality, reliable journalism about crises and big issues impacting the world today. Our reporting on humanitarian aid has uncovered sex scandals, scams, data breaches, corruption, and much more.


Our readers trust us to hold power in the multi-billion-dollar aid sector accountable and to amplify the voices of those impacted by crises. We’re on the ground, reporting from the front lines, to bring you the inside story. 


We keep our journalism free – no paywalls – thanks to the support of donors and readers like you who believe we need more independent journalism in the world. Your contribution means we can continue delivering award-winning journalism about crises. Become a member of The New Humanitarian today

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.