Remembering Refugees During a Revolution

Since January 2011, the political uprising in Egypt has dominated the international news. The fall of President Hosni Mubarak has led to the formidable task of implementing a new democracy, which has seldom been smooth. Just this week, Egypt’s highest court dissolved the parliament and called for a new constitution, leaving the country’s leadership under military rule and inciting renewed protests in the capital.
Unfortunately, one important story has been overshadowed among the protests and recent elections, which is the plight of the nearly 60,0000 refugees and asylum seekers Egypt hosts. The political unrest in Egypt and throughout the Arab Spring has introduced new challenges for this already vulnerable population. Visibly distinct from the local population and lacking their familiar support networks, refugees are marginalized and often harassed in Egypt. They have little access to services or hope for their future.

In April 2011, RefugePoint deployed our first staff to Cairo to identify vulnerable refugees for resettlement. Since this time, our team has interviewed and counseled hundreds of people who have fled torture in Ethiopia, indiscriminate violence in Somalia, the conflict in Darfur and religious persecution in Eritrea and Iraq. Although diverse in nationalities, the refugee population shares one commonality among them; everyone wants to be in a place where they no longer worry each day about their safety and that of their children.

Recently during an interview with one family, our RefugePoint officer invited a young boy to draw pictures while she interviewed his mother. When the boy finished, he held up his artwork and a sea of stick figures appeared across the page. Asked about his drawing, the boy responded, “My mother and I went to an office downtown to get medical help. We had to pass through Tahrir Square. She held my hand tightly. Men with beards were yelling and pushing. They stared at me and I was scared. I never want to go to that office again.”
The boy then added that his mother cries a lot in Cairo and that he misses home.

Sadly, returning home is not an option for this young boy or the thousands of other refugee children like him. In fact, RefugePoint deliberately expanded our team in Cairo in March to assist the UNHCR with a special child protection project. Our team is currently conducting Best Interest Assessments for vulnerable refugee minors separated from their parents to identify appropriate services and long-term solutions. And while we join the world in observing Egypt during this important moment in the country’s history, we also call on the international community to remember the refugees who traveled to Cairo in search of safety, but once again find themselves in an unsafe place.