UN: 90 percent of Egypt’s Syrian refugees living in poverty

UN: 90 percent of Egypt’s Syrian refugees living in povertyimage

02 Nov 2015

Refugee agency documents obtained by Middle East Eye show thousands who sought safety in Egypt lack resources to ‘live a dignified life’

The majority of registered Syrian refugees in Egypt are now classed as severely vulnerable by the United Nations’ refugee agency, according to donor briefing documents obtained exclusively by Middle East Eye.

The findings, which document need up until September 2015, are part of a recent study launched by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to target dwindling funds to assist those most in need.

The report, which has not yet been released, presents a stark picture of Egypt’s Syrian refugee population, which is often regarded as better off than those in other countries in the region, such as Lebanon.

According to the documents, 59.65 percent of Syrian refugees surveyed (61,683 people, or 70 percent of the total registered population) are classed as “severe vulnerable”.

A further 27.72 percent (22,879 people) are classed as “high vulnerable”. This means that close to 90 percent of the Syrians surveyed are effectively living on or below the poverty line set by UNHCR.

The UNHCR estimates that Syrians living in Egypt need a minimum of LE592.40 (around $75) per capita per month to meet basic needs.

Syrian refugees classed as “severe vulnerable”, only have access to between 0 to 50 percent of that, meaning that their income is a maximum of $37.50 a month.

“High vulnerable” refugees have access to between 51 and 99 percent of the UNHCR’s target minimum needed to “live a dignified life”.

UN: 90 percent of Egypt’s Syrian refugees living in poverty

Ranghild Ek, who heads the communications team at UNHCR’s office in Cairo, said the results had left UNHCR feeling “quite apprehensive”.

However, as refugees interviewed at the beginning of the ongoing study are re-assessed, there are fears that the numbers could get even worse.

“We’re [now] assessing each registered Syrian family so that funding can be more targeted,” Ek told MEE, while admitting that funding shortfalls and economic realities were forcing UNCHR towards “stricter targeting” despite the fact many Syrian refugees in Egypt were in need of assistance.

“What is clear is that the situation is dire for many. We have a very large amount of either severely or highly vulnerable people. I think our fear in many ways is that when they do the re-assessment, the results will be even worse.”

Egyptian officials meanwhile have repeatedly claimed that Syrians in Egypt can “live like any Egyptian citizen” – a claim that human rights groups have argued ignores Egypt’s record of arbitrary arrests, deportations and administrative detention of refugees.

Naela Gabr chairs the National Coordinating Committee for Combatting and Preventing Illegal Immigration (NCCPIM), which comprises 18 government bodies and recently drafted a migration bill expected to be passed soon.

“We are not a rich country, but we are not doing terrible things to [refugees],” Gabr told Middle East Eye in September, claiming that Egypt hosts 300,000 Syrian refugees despite the country’s economic problems. “We never made a show or publicity out of that, unlike many European countries.”

“We are trying to help,” she added, “but we are not rich and we don’t have the facilities to host them.”