Migrants in post-revolution Egypt

Published: 7/Jan/2015
Source: Washington Post (Monkey Cage blog)

By Kelsey P. Norman

January 7 2015

Images of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea by boat from North Africa to Europe were rampant in 2014. Most news stories reporting on this topic either focused on the dangerous and sometimes tragic journey itself, or the response of European countries to migrants who reached their shores. But what about those migrants or refugees who chose not to flee by boat and instead remained in host states such as Egypt?

Egypt is a major receiver of migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa and other Arab states. Although the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ official number of registered refugees in Egypt is about 250,000, the Egyptian government’s count is closer to 350,000, in addition to about 1 million migrants. Compared to the 8 million Egyptian emigrants abroad, this number is relatively small, but that does not mean that migrants and refugees fly under the government’s radar. “Of course we know about them,” one government official told me. “We let them stay. Even those without papers or who come illegally.” Why would the Egyptian government allow this?

This is a question with broad implications. Since the 1990s, new immigration and border controls have made accessing Western states increasingly difficult for regular and irregular migrants, with controls sometimes extending beyond the state. European governments have been pressuring countries in the Middle East and North Africa to bolster border security to curb illegal migration. This has included enhanced policing, fortified fences and walls, joint patrols in international waters, and readmission agreements.

Despite these barriers, migrants and refugees continue to leave their home states, although few are able to reach Europe or their desired destination countries because of the prohibitive cost, potential danger or limited resettlement spots for refugees. Furthermore, refugees and migrants tend not to return home because the price of a return journey via the same migratory route is often too high or opportunities are too limited in a migrant’s home country. As a result, many migrants and refugees choose the best available solution: remaining in a transit state for an indefinite period of time.

But what happens to migrants and refugees who end up effectively stuck in host states, and how do the host states react to them? As Claire Adida acknowledged in an earlier Monkey Cage post, we know very little about the fate of migrants in developing countries. This is despite the fact that slightly more than half the world’s migration takes place between developing countries, not from developing country to Western country.

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Themes: Nationality and Refugees
Regions: Egypt
Year: 2015