Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights
10 December 2013
Cairo to be home to strong, unified refugee legal aid organisation
As of the beginning of December, two of the leading refugee legal aid providers in Egypt, the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights (EFRR) and AMERA Egypt, have decided to merge in order to be able to provide a more complete, integrated set of programmes to refugees and refugee communities. Formally, the programmes of AMERA Egypt will be transferred to EFRR over a three month transition period ending in February 2014. The resulting organisation will be the largest provider of legal aid to refugees in Egypt and one of the largest in Africa and the broader Global South.
The merger will create a resilient, unified and integrated set of programmes for the more than 178,000 refugees in Egypt. In the words of Ahmed Badawy, General Secretary of EFRR, “The merger of AMERA-Egypt and EFRR has as its most significant goal the creation of a stronger organisation better able to serve refugees in Cairo, Egypt and beyond.”
The new organisation will provide a wide range of legal, psycho-social and community services to refugees. The programmes will be delivered by more than 50 staff, including Egyptians, international staff, interns and refugees, working out of offices in Downtown Cairo and the Maadi suburb of Cairo, as well as through the organisation’s national network of refugee lawyers.
Over the coming year, the new organisation expects to provide assistance to more than 8,000 refugees, or about 1 in every 20 refugees in Egypt. This assistance includes halting the deportation of refugees to persecution, freeing them from intolerable conditions of detention, allowing the victims of sexual violence to prosecute their assailants, providing counseling for those suffering from PTSD, and helping unaccompanied minors be reunited with their families.
The services of AMERA Egypt and EFRR will continue uninterrupted by this merger. We will be contacting clients individually in the coming weeks and advising them of this development; this merger should improve our ability to provide a comprehensive range of high quality services to our current and future clients.
· The Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights (EFRR) is a registered non-governmental organisation and has been operating since 2008. AMERA Egypt is a programme of AMERA UK and has been operating in various forms in Cairo since 2000.
· There are presently 178,000 registered asylum seekers and refugees in Egypt; there are also a significant number of unregistered refugees in Egypt. This figure has doubled in recent years and UNHCR expects it to almost double again over the next two years. Refugees in Egypt come from various countries, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea, and Syria.
· Egypt is party to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 and the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa of 1969. Both of these international treaties guarantee various rights to refugees in Egypt and protect both their personal safety from being returned to face persecution and their basic human dignity while living as refugees.
For more information contact:
The following representatives of EFRR and AMERA Egypt are available to answer any questions you may have about the merger. Existing clients of EFRR and AMERA may also speak to their current points of contacts (caseworker) about the merger.
Egypt (English / Arabic):
Ahmed Badawy Mohamed Bayoumi
General Secretary, EFRR Chairman, EFRR
+20 (0)227961906 (o) +20 (0)227961906
+20 (0)198895588 (m) +20 (0)1098895589 (m)
skype: ahmed.aehro skype: bayoumi.mohamed
Country Director, AMERA Egypt
+20 (0)1000 591117 (m)
Outside of Egypt (English):
+60 (0)147697632 (m) (until 22/12/13)
+44 (0)7824 427107 (m)
Director, AMERA UK
+44 (0)7769 325003 (m)
TO ALL OF AMERA'S SUPPORTERS:
AMERA would like to thank everyone who has supported our work over recent months and given so generously to our appeal for funding. From individual donations alone we have been able to raise more than $20,000. This, together with support from our partners and institutional funders, means that we can continue to serve refugees living in Egypt for the immediate future while we seek longer term funding.
Of course, we still need funds to keep going! Anyone interested in donating to AMERA's work should visit our donate page to make a donation.
Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA) was founded as a UK Charity in January 2003, (Registered Charity No. 1098788), to promote the development of pro bono legal aid and for refugees in countries where such services. The awareness of this need came out of several years of research in Africa and the Mediterranean region that exposed the appalling conditions in which most refugees live and the failure of states to protect them. We use the term refugee to describe any person who has fled their home country to seek safety in Egypt, whether or not they have been officially recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
AMERA UK provides funding and support to AMERA Egypt. We’ve come a long way over the past 10 years. Through our work we came to understand that provision of legal advice and representation was not enough when the refugees we were helping had problems finding food, shelter, education, basic health services, safety and other essentials. Today, AMERA tries to provide holistic services to any refugee that comes to us for assistance.
What does this mean? AMERA operates two programs; legal and psychosocial. Each program comprises a number of teams that provide wraparound services to refugees at our offices and in refugee communities. We have never and will never charge refugees for any of the services we provide.
AMERA’s legal teams:
- The RSD Team provides assistance, advice and representation to any person who has fled persecution in their home country in their application to be recognized as a refugee made to the Cairo Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
- The Durable Solutions Team assists the most vulnerable of refugees in applications for resettlement to safe third countries
- AMERA’s Egyptian lawyers assist refugees who are experiencing problems in Cairo, usually issues related to their safety arising from the hostility of the local population to refugee communities, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa. They help at police stations, at prosecutors’ offices and in courts, and they help secure documentation, such as birth, marriage and death certificates, essential to access the scarce services available.
AMERA’s psychosocial teams seek to assist the whole individual and their specific needs:
- The Psychosocial Team provides a very broad range of services, helping clients individually or in groups with mental and physical health problems and those struggling to adapt to life in Cairo
- The Unaccompanied Children and Youth Team provides specialist services to those who fled persecution and war and came to Egypt without their parents. These refugees are often the most vulnerable to abuse and exploitation
- The Sexual and Gender Based Violence Team provides dedicated services to survivors, and helps those who have experienced or continue to experience this violence in Cairo
All of our teams could not function without the skilled assistance and care or our Community Facilitators, refugees who interpret and translate but also provide other help to refugees in our offices and in the community. Our Community Outreach Team, a team of five refugees representing the five main communities we serve (Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia) ensures that we understand the needs, challenges and strengths of refugee communities and they facilitate our work provided directly in community settings.
So what does this mean in practice? It means that a 15-year-old girl trafficked to Cairo without her family and a survivor of rape can get help to find safe housing in a refugee community, she can get assistance to receive medical care and testing for sexually transmitted infections, she can be accompanied to a police station to file a police report, she can receive advice and representation in getting identity documents and recognition as a refugee to prevent her from being forcibly returned to her home country. Then our teams can help her to access education, to teach her tips on how to get by in an alien environment, to help her to meet other young people in similar situations from her own and other communities, and assist her in applying to move to another country if she is still not safe. She doesn’t have to tell her story again and again to different people, she doesn’t have to travel to different organizations not able to cater for all her needs. Our professional, skilled and caring staff will do all that they can to make ensure she is safe, healthy and happy.
We have 67 staff, half of them are refugees. We also rely heavily on a further 25 or so volunteer staff from Egypt, refugee communities and overseas. We work from three stories of a building in Maadi, in the south of Cairo. Our staff earn ‘local wages’, which together with our use of skilled volunteers means, for example, that the staffing costs for our 15-person refugee status determination legal team is about £1300 per month. Everything we do is directed to providing the maximum benefit to refugees at the lowest cost.
Egypt hosts the fifth largest urban refugee population in the world. Although officially there are only around 95,000 refugees in Egypt and about 19,000 asylum seeking people, unofficial estimates range from 500,000 asylum seekers and refugees upwards from 35 different nationalities. Many refugees are from Africa, the majority being from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. But there are also large refugee populations from Palestine and Iraq. Most recently, Egypt has begun hosting large numbers of Syrians, estimated at some 250,000, around 45,000 of whom are known to UNHCR.
No one in Egypt was providing legal aid and psycho-social services until AMERA (formerly known as Refugee Legal Aid Project) began in 2000. As the main provider of pro bono legal aid and psycho-social support in Egypt, AMERA has established working relationships with UNHCR, national and international NGOs and human rights networks, and other refugee service providers. These connections enable it to effectively advocate for refugee rights individually and in wider policy settings.
Egypt is generally tolerant of refugees and asylum seekers on its territory. A party to both the 1951 UN and 1969 OAU refugee conventions, long before ratification in 1981, Egypt alerted UNHCR Geneva of its reservations to several of the articles regarding elementary education, public relief, the right to work, social security and personal status. This is especially significant as regards the right to work, leaving refugees dependent on the informal economy and increasing the risk of exploitation and abuse.
A Senior Protection Officer with the Canadian Branch Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided the following description of life for refugees in Egypt:
Given Egypt's cost of living, UNHCR-recognized refugees cannot expect to cover even the cost of renting a room, with the limited subsistence allowance provided by UNHCR. They must also secure their own food, as Egypt has made a reservation under Article 20 of the 1951 Convention, which excludes refugees from government-subsidized distribution of food products to certain vulnerable categories of Egyptian nationals.
Prospects for employment of refugees are limited in view of the Egyptian government's reservation to Article 24 of the 1951 Convention – combined with the economic situation and domestic regulations related to the employment of foreigners. The children of refugees recognized by UNHCR do not have access to free public education in view of Egypt's reservation to Article 22(1) of the 1951 Convention. During 1999, UNHCR was able to assist just over 1,100 refugee children to go to school, but again, education programs are limited by scarce funds. Similarly, in view of Egypt's reservation under Article 23 of the 1951 Convention, related to public relief, refugees do not have access to government-supplied medical care.
A commentator from the University of London provided the following description of the situation of refugees in Egypt, made worse by the 2011 revolution and the insecurity and economic decline it has caused:
Because Egypt entered key reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention on personal status, public relief, education, and employment, the state was able to turn a blind eye to the most basic needs of refugees. In practical terms, these reservations prohibit refugees from access to public health care, food rationing, employment, and education. And while there are no camps or settlements in Egypt, the corollary has been that refugees are at once relegated to and hidden by the shadows of Cairo’s sha’bi (popular) districts, where they are self-settled and almost entirely self-reliant. Living in poverty and without any recourse to the law, refugees eke out a hand-to-mouth existence. In these circumstances, daily life has become dangerous for the most vulnerable refugees. That some have died—and others will die—due to a lack of adequate healthcare, has been a fact of refugee life in Egypt.
The net effect of Egypt’s reservations and the operation of its nationality laws excludes refugees from a means of subsistence and social inclusion. Together they create a perception among the host population of migrants living illegally and in direct competition for scarce resources. Worse still, refugee individuals faced with very little likelihood of integration or the means to ensure their own survival seek alternative destinations with little regard as to whether these may be accessed safely or legally. Some die in their attempts to enter Israel or make it across the Mediterranean.
AMERA-UK is a member of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) in Geneva which organizes, in co-operation with UNHCR, the Pre-ExCom meetings where NGOs can lobby for improvements in policy. ExCom refers to a group of representatives of governments who are on the Executive Committee of UNHCR
 Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Egypt: Follow up to EGY34538.E of 9 June 2000 regarding the protection and assistance offered to Sudanese refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 8 September 2000, EGY35551.E, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3df4be2c34.html.
 Robert Lawrence McKenzie (University of London), In the Shadows of Cairo’s Revolution: Reflections on Refugees and Their Human Rights, http://www.anthropology-news.org/index.php/2012/02/10/february-mes-news