“My family and I left our country in 1999 and applied for asylum in Egypt. We escaped the civil wars and conflicts between the government and armed groups, Islamists and insurgents as well as poverty and hunger in Sudan,” remembered Abdullah Musaed, a member of the South Sudanese community in Alexandria, stressing that if his family had not come to Egypt, they would be dead by now.

“My family and I left our country in 1999 and applied for asylum in Egypt. We escaped the civil wars and conflicts between the government and armed groups, Islamists and insurgents as well as poverty and hunger in Sudan,” remembered Abdullah Musaed, a member of the South Sudanese community in Alexandria, stressing that if his family had not come to Egypt, they would be dead by now.

“The Egyptian people are good and welcoming,” Musaed said, “but the government treats us very badly when we ask them for any civil, education or health services. They do not help us.” He explained that they lack educational opportunities in Egyptian schools and universities because most refugees in Egypt have no official papers proving their refugee status.

Musaed noted that those registered with UNHCR face the same difficulties in enrolling their children in Egyptian government schools and universities. They also suffer from insufficient healthcare due to the lack of financial support that enable them to get treatment when they are sick.

There are no jobs for them except peddling in such streets like Prophet Daniel, Egypt Station and Raml Station. Women work in housekeeping and babysitting in order to help their husbands support their families.

Over two million Sudanese in Egypt

The number of Sudanese refugees in Alexandria is estimated at 3,000, some of whom have lived in the city since the 1980s. Most of them lack jobs and education for their children.

Statistics released by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt show that 15,365 Sudanese refugees were accepted in 2004. In 2005, the number rose to 20,374 (about 75% of the total refugees registered by UNHCR). From 2005 to 2016, this number rose to about 2 million, of whom about 3000 live in Alexandria Governorate.

History speaks

“South Sudanese refugees suffered from violence, injustice and persecution in their own country and when they came to Egypt, they also suffered from injustice, murder, racism and discrimination. They are homeless, dying of hunger and diseases and lacking of a decent life for themselves and their families,” Sayed Hamadoun, a Sudanese researcher at the University of Alexandria, described about their situation.

Hamadoun explained the tragedy of the “miserable” Sudanese: In 1956, when the British occupation left and Egypt separated from Sudan, Egypt opened the door to the Sudanese refugees according to the Valley of the Nile agreement, allowed by the deposed president Hosni Mubarak to help them. They no longer needed a visa to Egypt.

However, said Hamadoun, things all changed in 1995 after the attempt to assassinate Mubarak in Addis Ababa by Islamists, arguably related to Sudan. The government imposed strict laws against the Sudanese, which was escalated by canceling the Valley of the Nile agreement. The Egyptian authorities refused to provide financial assistance or educational or social services for Sudanese refugees within its territory because of the unstable Egyptian economic conditions.

“The Egyptian government refused the entry of large numbers of Sudanese refugees on the grounds of insufficient evidence of persecution in their country even though they only seek asylum because of the war and violence they are exposed to,” Hamadoun continued.

Hamadoun confirmed that the Sudan refugees belong to different Sudanese tribes and regions and their number increased in the wake of the June 30, 1989 coup. He noted that some are northern and southern opponents. They belong to “the tribes of Shallouk, Dinka, zandy and Beja.” The Sudanese fled from their country to Egypt in the aftermath of the 1983 civil war, after being subjected to mass killings and systematic looting.

 Little aid

Awad Lahfan, a Sudanese refugee in Alexandria, said that their life is hard and bitter. They do not find housing in exchange for appropriate amount, as apartment rents are expensive and their wages are low. He stressed that UNHCR in Egypt reduces the subsidies provided to them annually. The aids for eligible refugees groups were reduced by 20% in 2001 and again reduced in 2002 and now reduced by 10%, making the amount very small and not enough to everyday life needs.

Lahfan said that the UNHCR refrained to register more Sudanese in Egypt and denied them financial or social aid for no clear reason. “This made us feel of negligence and racism and that no one cares about our humanitarian crises.” He stressed that the Egyptian law governing foreigners’ labor stimulated incapacitate terms for the Sudanese refugees. Therefore, most refugees work illegally, as taxi drivers or domestic workers.”


Sayed Hamadoun, a Sudanese researcher, said that unlike Syrian refugees and Egyptian empathy to their cause, the Sudanese feel unwelcomed in Egypt because they have lived with the Egyptians for many years and shared their little jobs. The Egyptians feel that there are outsiders competing for their livelihoods.

“However, some bad Egyptians deal with us very racially and contemptuously because of black skin and African hair. If a Sudanese wants to work as a seller in a shop, they refuse and offer him to work as a watchman, driver or guard of the shop. All this gives us a feeling of discrimination and racism, unlike the Syrians who are treated nicely and given all jobs and good salaries,” Hamadoun added.

“We found a solution to the schools problem.”

When asked about the Sudanese community situation, Dr. Mohammed Sgiron, Consul General of Sudan in Alexandria, said that the community now face difficult living challenges in Egypt compare to previous years. He stressed that they help their people, as much as possible, in the extraction of their papers, consulate transactions and extracting e-passports, as well as promoting Sudanese products through a number of Egyptian traders who import various goods from Sudan to serve the Sudanese.

Sgiron explained that they are responsible for many things. Large numbers of Sudanese returning from Libya are in difficult conditions and they must help them and facilitate their procedures and extracting their papers to return safely to their country. He stressed that they communicate with the Egyptian authorities immediately in case any Sudanese in Alexandria subjects to any problem, trying to overcome any obstacle in coordination with them.

Sgiron emphasize that there is an excellent cooperation with the Egyptian authorities in the governorate at all levels, from the governor to the police, who have not withhold any solution to any crisis. He pointed out that the education problem was solved. The Sudanese school was established in Cairo and Alexandria University accepted a large number of Sudanese students, increasing scholarships. “We signed joint scientific cooperation agreements between Alexandria University and the University of the Red Sea, Sudan,” he said, praising the good relationship between the two peoples.

The Egyptian state entered into an agreement with UNHCR

Magdy Hegazy, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health in Alexandria, confirmed that there is a permanent and joint cooperation between UNHCR and the Thagr Directorate of Health to support all Sudanese and Syrian refugees and provide them with full health care, especially after the conclusion of an agreement between the two parties to provide refugees with therapeutic services.

Hegazy explained that the initiative came from UNHCR, having convinced and confident of the quality of health service provided free of charge for all refugees in the governorate. He pointed out that Alexandria is one of the governorates that mostly received and welcomed refugees, providing them, and their children, all humanitarian services and health care.

“We offer a safe shelter for refugees.”

Asir Madaen, the UNHCR Office director in Alexandria, said the UNHCR role is to protect refugees and displaced and stateless persons and to provide life-saving assistance, including shelter, health care, water and education. She stressed that their aim is to protect the refugees’ rights and well-being while ensuring the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state for all.

Madaen added that UNHCR is working to help stateless persons, pointing out that they have main solutions for all refugees, including “Sudanese, Syrians and others.” These solutions are voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement in a third country, based on the refugee situation.

Madaen confirmed that they receive funds and donations to support their budget because it is vital to UNHCR. They also provide main services and basic needs for refugees. She stressed that Egypt is one of the Arab countries that have received large numbers of Sudanese and Syrians and allowed Syrian children to enroll in schools and enter hospitals just like Egyptian children, without discrimination.