Cairo Prepares for More Refugees

September 3, 2013

A Syrian refugee boy stands near people using containers to collect water at the Arbat refugee camp in the northern Iraqi province of Sulaimaniya. Photo: REUTERS/Yahya Ahmad, courtesy

A Syrian refugee boy stands near people using containers to collect water at the Arbat refugee camp in the northern Iraqi province of Sulaimaniya. Photo: REUTERS/Yahya Ahmad, courtesy

Reporters and editors- experts on displacement available for interview

With the number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration in Egypt now at more than 100,000 and expected to continue to grow in the face of intensified military action, humanitarian agency Church World Service joins local efforts in Cairo to provide basic services, education and protection.

Drawing upon its decades of experience resettling refugees in the United States, CWS is poised to implement a program to help ease the transition to a new society for the Syrians who continue to flee to Egypt to escape the conflict in their home country, and for the country’s already robust population of refugees from other countries.

“We recognize the tenuous situation in Syria at the same time Egypt faces incredible political strain, which is why we are called to help,” says the Rev. John McCullough, President and CEO of CWS. “We are hopeful for a nonviolent solution in Syria and for a calming of tensions in Egypt. Recognizing the incredible needs in the region right now, we must respond.”

The recent influx of Syrians is further straining the capacity and resources of Egypt, a country that also is host to tens of thousands of refugees from several countries, including Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq and Eritrea. The influx comes at a time of incredible strife in Egypt, “which is why CWS must join the effort to provide assistance to people in need,” McCullough said.

Most of Egypt’s refugees have resettled in Cairo, the largest city in the Arab world and Africa.  The challenge for refugee assistance agencies like CWS is to provide access to services and protection in large congested, competitive and sometimes unwelcoming cities like Cairo.

“The fate of refugees arriving in urban areas is very uncertain.  They find it very difficult to integrate into cities that are often less than welcoming, difficult to forge community relationships and difficult to identify and take advantage of whatever services are available to them,” explains Erol Kekic, who heads the CWS immigration and refugee program.

CWS, which has resettled more than 500,000 refugees and 300,000 Cuban and Haitian entrants to the U.S. in the last 67 years, provides refugee support services around the world. In Egypt, CWS will offer expertise and work with local agencies to provide direct services in education, protection, legal aid and other supports for refugees in Cairo. About 15 percent of the refugees served will be Syrian and 85 percent non-Syrian. The Egyptian government provides no assistance beyond recognizing the refugees as lawful residents.

Earlier this year CWS published findings from a study of relations between urban refugees, who flee to cities rather than to refugee camps, and the communities that receive them in large cities located in Cameroon, Indonesia and Pakistan.

“We found that improving relations between refugees and hosts makes it easier for refugees to access services in urban areas and that this improved access, importantly, also strengthens relations between the refugees and their host communities.  So it is imperative that we assist in this process of integration,” Kekic says.

The new refugee assistance program, scheduled to begin this week, is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.  CWS will implement the program in partnership with St. Andrew’s Refugee Services, which already provides assistance to the refugee community.