Operation: Opération: Egypt



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Key Figures

2020 year-end results
97,216 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers were provided with winter assistance, including 3,003 unaccompanied and separated children
49,435 primary healthcare consultations and 8,578 referrals to secondary and tertiary healthcare were provided
45,791 children were reached with education grants
42,325 individuals were supported with monthly multipurpose cash grants to meet basic needs, in addition to 3,059 unaccompanied and separated children who received cash for protection
4,609 remote refugee status determination (RSD) interviews were conducted, and 9,724 RSD decisions were finalized (involving 17,485 individuals
1,353 refugees departed to nine countries through resettlement
2021 planning figures
78,373 refugee and asylum-seeker households will receive multipurpose cash assistance 
55,000 students or 20,328 refugee and asylum-seeker households with primary and secondary school-aged children will be provided with education grants
7,650 substantive status determination decisions will be taken
7,100 refugees and asylum-seekers will be referred to secondary and tertiary medical care 

People of Concern Personnes relevant de la compétence du HCR

Increase in
2020 329,322
2019 324,740
2018 314,937


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  • 2014
  • 2015
  • 2016
  • 2017
  • 2018
  • 2019
  • 2020
  • 2021

Operational context

A generally tolerant asylum environment was observed in Egypt throughout 2020, though COVID-19 heavily impacted the overall operational environment, limiting many refugees’ and asylum-seekers’ livelihood opportunities and increasing their reliance on humanitarian assistance. Protection risks increased, including threats of eviction, reported cases of gender-based violence, and child protection incidents.

In line with UNHCR’s global approach to “stay and deliver”, UNHCR adjusted its operating methods and delivery modalities to the COVID-19 situation while maintaining key strategic priorities. Support to most vulnerable groups was prioritized, while engagement with national institutions was maintained to enhance participation in refugee protection. UNHCR meanwhile stepped up advocacy for access to fair asylum procedures and prevention of detention and refoulement.

Egypt grants refugees and asylum-seekers access to public healthcare and provides them with COVID-19 related services on a par with Egyptian citizens. However, the public health system was overwhelmed during peak of the pandemic. UNHCR successfully advocated for continuous access to health services for refugees and asylum-seekers, bringing any reported access challenges to the attention of concerned authorities.   

Syrian, Sudanese, South Sudanese and Yemeni students continued to enjoy access to education in public schools, while students of other nationalities relied on informal education or private schooling.

Population trends

As of 31 December 2020, 259,292 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered with UNHCR in Egypt; among them were 4,051 unaccompanied and separated children. Syrians represented 50% of the registered population, with the rest predominately from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen. Most refugees and asylum-seekers resided in Greater Cairo, as well as along the northern coast. In addition, there are an estimated 70,000 Palestinian refugees in Egypt.

During 2020, UNHCR carried out fewer than 8,000 new registrations, compared to over 31,000 the year prior. This was not indicative of a substantial decrease in persons seeking international protection in Egypt, but was rather attributed to the pandemic and associated movement restrictions which resulted in UNHCR scaling down registration activities as of March 2020.

Key achievements

  • Communication methods were adapted to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions, with interviews for refugees and asylum-seekers taking place both remotely and in person, as needed. From mid-March to end-December 2020, UNHCR responded to over 160,000 calls through its info-line and newly established registration hotline, providing advice and information on UNHCR’s services and assistance, including registration.
  • In an effort to counter the effects of COVID-19, UNHCR extended temporary and one-off cash assistance to 4,490 vulnerable families, while more than 85,000 refugees and asylum-seekers were provided with hygiene items. Another 42,325 vulnerable individuals and 3,059 unaccompanied and separated children were supported through UNHCR’s regular programme with monthly multipurpose cash grants and cash for protection.
  • Following the partial suspension of registration activities due to the pandemic in March 2020, all newly identified at-risk children underwent protection screening and remained under close monitoring. At-risk children identified as having heightened vulnerabilities were referred for emergency registration. Child-sensitive procedures were maintained, with dedicated UNHCR child protection staff providing counselling and support.

Unmet needs

  • By the end of the year, 32% of the total registered population in Egypt (54,386 cases/81,943 individuals) held expired UNHCR documents, in addition to approximately 6,418 requests for new registration. This was due to COVID-19 related restrictions and continuously adapted working modalities in 2020, including a five-month suspension of registration services during which only emergency cases were attended to. From August 2020, the Office gradually resumed certain activities with new modalities in place. Based on these new procedures, UNHCR developed a plan to further scale up registration activities and began re-modelling interview rooms and reception areas. This paved the way for a significantly increased processing capacity in 2021, going beyond the capacity pre-COVID-19, to clear the accumulated backlog. 
  • In the education sector, children did not have adequate access to digital learning materials to study remotely during periods of school closures.
  • Due to funding constraints, over 38,000 families in need of basic needs support did not have access to any humanitarian cash assistance. 

Use of flexible funding (unearmarked or softly earmarked funding)

In 2020, flexible funding allowed UNHCR to focus on priority needs in Egypt and to fill funding gaps in certain sectors, particularly in registration, RSD, health, education, persons with specific needs and multipurpose cash assistance.
UNHCR also received flexible funding for its COVID-19 response in Egypt, without any earmarking towards specific nationalities or groups. This flexibility enabled UNHCR to prioritize the immediate needs of refugees and asylum-seekers, regardless of their background.

Examples of use of flexible funds:
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, a high number of refugees and asylum-seekers lost their livelihoods and were unable to afford rent. UNHCR worked with partners to identify those most in need, assisting 2,535 cases (comprising 10,454 individuals) with emergency housing support. This served to avoid a reliance on harmful coping mechanisms and worked to prevent homelessness. In addition, 708 survivors of gender-based violence were relocated to safer accommodation due to protection risks in their living arrangements.
  • Following the periodic closure of schools, UNHCR provided all vulnerable registered refugee and asylum-seeking children with small cash grants of USD 20 to enable internet access and continue their learning online, benefiting over 43,909 students during the year. 

Working environment

UNHCR carries out registration, documentation and refugee status determination (RSD) under its 1954 Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Egypt. The protection environment remains generally favourable, with UNHCR engaged in constructive dialogue with the Government of Egypt on the management of asylum.

Refugees and asylum-seekers in Egypt are predominantly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) and Yemen, living in urban areas alongside local communities.
The government grants refugees and asylum-seekers of all nationalities access to primary and secondary health care at par with Egyptian nationals. Moreover, Syrian, Sudanese and Yemeni refugees and asylum-seekers are granted full access to public education. In 2020, these achievements are expected to continue.

Egypt’s economic reforms since 2016 have impacted the daily life of ordinary people, in particular the most vulnerable. Refugees and asylum-seekers’ self-reliance has been impacted by a significant rise in the cost of living, increasing their vulnerabilities and dependence on assistance. This is expected to continue in 2020.

Egypt’s location between the Middle East, Africa and Europe makes it a key transit and destination country in terms of mixed population movements. Despite this, in recent years, the Government of Egypt has prevented any irregular mixed movements from the Northern Coast of Egypt across the Mediterranean.

In 2020, the Office will continue to engage with the Government of Egypt to lead on the implementation of the 3RP for the Syria crisis and the Egypt Response Plan for refugees and asylum-seekers from sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq and Yemen, in close coordination with UN and NGO partners.


Key priorities

In 2020, UNHCR will focus on:
  • Engaging with the Government in asylum management, including possible joint activities in areas of registration and documentation. Working closely with the Egyptian authorities to ensure the preservation of the protection space, enhanced access to asylum and prevention of refoulement.
  • Providing quality and timely registration and documentation, and optimizing the strategic use of refugee status determination (RSD).
  • Lobbying for access to people of concern in detention and advocating for their release, promoting alternatives to detention, and encouraging the issuance of longer residency permits and regularization.
  • Engaging actively in mixed movement discussions at all levels; documenting and analysing onward movements and responding accordingly; preventing detention and deportations.
  • Harmonizing assistance to refugees of different nationalities through a “one refugee approach” further. Enhancing child protection, youth programming, SGBV and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse, in light of the increased number of UASC.
  • Building on the progress made with the League of Arab States over the past years through fostering political support for UNHCR’s work and strengthening the protection agenda of refugees and other people of concern in the region. This includes the conclusion of an Arab Convention specific to the refugee situation, the drafting of a Convention on protection and assistance to IDPs, the adoption of Arab strategies on SGBV and public health, in addition to prevention and reduction of statelessness risks in line with the #IBelong campaign.
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