Co-ethnicity, security and host government engagement: Egypt as a non-traditional receiver of migrants and refugees by Kelsey P. Norman

Migrant and refugee women from various Horn of Africa countries chaperone at a festival for children held in the Cairo neighborhood of Ard el Lewa (2013, Kelsey Norman).

Migrant and refugee women from various Horn of Africa countries chaperone at a festival for children held in the Cairo neighborhood of Ard el Lewa (2013, Kelsey Norman).

KELSEY P. NORMAN  is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine where her work focuses on Middle East and North African states as countries of migrant settlement. The research for this paper was completed while Kelsey was a research fellow with the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo, and supported in part by a Kugelman Fellowship from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California Irvine. 


Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are generally considered transit countries or countries of emigration, though many have recently become countries of migrant settlement. Because ‘traditional’ migrant-receiving states like those in Europe and North America have found new means of fortifying their borders, countries that migrants and refugees once passed through en route to other locations are becoming destination countries. While this phenomenon is not unique to the Middle East and North Africa, the region’s proximity to Europe has meant that nearly all MENA states are experiencing this pattern to some extent. In many cases, migrants and refugees linger in so-called transit countries, often resulting in permanent residence and local integration in urban areas. What determines how these new host governments react to and engage with long-standing migrant populations, and should we expect these responses to be different than in traditional migrant host states?

This paper explores why the academic literature derived from traditional migrant-receiving states may not be entirely applicable for understanding how non-traditional countries of migrant settlement choose to engage with migrants and refugees. Using the case of Egypt and nineteen in-country interviews, this paper identifies and examines the factors by which Egyptian officials permit the presence of long-standing migrants and refugees. Egypt is host to both African and Arab migrants and refugees, but the Egyptian government chooses to actively engage only with certain groups when doing so is perceived as politically advantageous. Specifically, Syrian refugees who share co-ethnic and co-religious ties with the host population face either a more inclusive or more exclusive environment, depending on the domestic political context and the individual or group in power.

*Kelsey P. Norman is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine where her work focuses on Middle East and North African states as countries of migrant settlement. The research for this paper was completed while Kelsey was a research fellow with the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo, and supported in part by a Kugelman Fellowship from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California Irvine. 


Despite the focus within academic literature on immigration to Western states, approximately half of the world’s migration occurs between developing countries.[1] Many states that have traditionally been considered ‘immigrant-sending’ or ‘transit’ countries are actually migrant-receiving countries, or receiving countries by default. The focus on developed countries in immigration literature has resulted in scholars understanding much less about the factors shaping official and unofficial policies relating to migrants and their ability to access rights and services in developing countries.

This focus is partly due to the fact that scholarship and policies pertaining to migration in developing countries distinguish between refugees, who are assumed to be only temporarily residing in host states, and economic migrants, who are presumed to be seeking opportunities in Western countries. These scenarios, however, do not account for the several million refugees and migrants who find themselves lingering in transit states, often for decades. Frequently, these situations result in unplanned settlement in locations intended to be connection points in the larger migratory journey.[2]

The term ‘migrant’ in developing countries often serves as a blanket term for those who are neither asylum-seekers nor refugees. The category therefore contains individuals who have left their home countries to seek economic opportunities elsewhere (alternatively labelled as ‘economic migrants,’ ‘illegal migrants,’ ‘undocumented migrants’) as well as individuals who consider themselves refugees but do not meet the Officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) criteria for an official refugee designation (‘rejected refugee applicants’). Recognizing this issue of terminology,[3] the word migrant will be used in this study to encompass both refugees and economic or transit migrants, while the term refugee or asylum-seeker will only be used to refer to those who are recognized as either refugees or asylum-seekers by the UNHCR.

In seeking a better understand the process of integrating migrants who settle in host states, the literature on immigrant integration should, in theory, be more applicable than the literature that deals with temporary refugees or migrants. Yet the literature on immigrant integration focuses almost entirely on traditional migrant-receiving states in Europe and North America.[4] In this context, what are the factors that determine how a developing country’s government chooses to engage with the migrant populations residing on its territory, and under what conditions is the engagement inclusive or exclusionary?

To explore this question using a case study,[5] this paper turns to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This region is of special interest because it has been immediately affected by Europe’s increased border securitization over the last two decades. With the exception of Israel, Libya and the Gulf states, all MENA countries are primarily migrant-sending states, and it is only during the last two decades that they have also become receiving states.[6]

This paper examines Egypt in particular, the most populous MENA country, and the host of a sizeable urban migrant population.[7] As acknowledged by a key respondent, the Egyptian government is wholly conscious of the proportion of migrants residing within its territory.[8] Egypt unofficially permits migrants’ continued presence through both its inability to successfully prevent migrants from entering the country and the fact that the vast majority of migrants are not deported. This pattern of increased immigration with relatively little repatriation or resettlement makes Egypt a typical case among developing states that are transforming from countries of transit into countries of settlement.[9]

To begin, the paper draws on studies of immigrant integration policy in order to examine why we may expect policies toward migrants in developing countries to differ from those in developed states. It identifies several potential explanations for exclusionary host state responses to migrants, including a lack of state institutional and economic capacity, a fear of increased political unrest or violence as a result of migrant home-state connections and conceptions of state membership distinct from liberal-democratic states.

The paper then turns to an in-depth case study of Egypt. In Egypt, migrant groups from the Horn of Africa—Sudanese refugees and migrants in particular—have been predominant since the 1990s.[10] Continuing conflict in the region and the Arab Spring, however, have also caused a sudden, intermittent rise in the number of migrants and refugees from Iraq, then Libya, and most recently Syria. Using nineteen in-country interviews conducted between October 1 and December 31, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt and three follow-up interviews conducted in January 2014, the paper examines what factors are important in determining how the Egyptian government engages with long-standing migrant and refugee populations residing on its territory and whether treatment toward co-ethnic/co-religious migrants and refugees varies from treatment toward other groups. In the Egyptian case, co-ethnic migrants are members of other Arab states (i.e. Iraqis, Libyans, Syrians) and co-religious migrants are Muslims, the religion of the vast majority of Egyptians. The paper finds that while the Egyptian policy toward its migrant populations reflects a general ambivalence, the Egyptian state may be willing to engage with co-ethnic/co-religious migrants in either an inclusive manner or exhibit exclusionary treatment, depending on the perceived political benefits.

A Review of Host Government Engagement: Traditional and Non-Traditional Receiving Countries

As host government engagement with migrant and refugee populations is the primary interest for this study, the term ‘engagement’ requires clarification. In most traditional migrant receiving states, engagement with government recognized immigrants and refugees entails a prescribed, standardized process, and newcomers are generally eligible for government-funded services such as language and cultural adaptation classes, assistance in finding housing and access to social and health care assistance.[11] The extant academic literature on migration and its relationship to citizenship is largely preoccupied with addressing why traditional migrant-receiving states have engagement approaches that are inclusive or exclusive and how these have changed over time.[12] In a review of immigrant incorporation across liberal-democratic states, Freeman argues that while differences exist among these states’ immigration programs, the differences appear to be declining. All are now engaged in “fierce competition for highly-skilled temporary workers”[13] and have developed immigration control apparatuses and policies for formalizing the status of resident aliens.[14] While much attention has been given to this set of liberal-democratic countries as migrant-receivers, we know very little about why non liberal-democratic, developing states choose to engage with their migrants or not.

One reason that responses to migrants in non-traditional countries of settlement may differ from traditional receiving states is that developing countries are more likely to experience political unrest, violence, or civil war.[15] In such events, minority groups may be seen as possible collaborators with neighboring enemies, particularly in cases where the minority is related to a neighboring state by ethnicity or religion, or where a minority is found on both sides of an international border.[16] States might also fear that migrants will bring with them the security problems of the regions they flee, creating new dynamics within the host society that lead to other security problems such as crime or the formation of gangs.[17]

Additionally, non-traditional migrant receiving countries may have different conceptions of state membership than those found in many liberal-democratic Western countries. These notions of membership may be based on kinship or ethnicity as opposed to civic membership within the nation-state, resulting in differential treatment toward minority groups or migrants.[18] In Arab states specifically, several levels of membership based on religion, tribal association and belonging within the nation-state overlap to determine an individual’s citizenship status.[19] In the last three decades most countries in the world have chosen to supplement traditional jus sanguinis citizenship (blood descent) with elements of jus soli citizenship (territorial descent) for the children of immigrants.[20] However, jus soli plays a very limited role in the attribution of nationality in the Arab world, and generally its acquisition by naturalization is restrictively controlled by legislation.[21] Parolin explains that in many Arab states citizenship is effectively closed if nationality (jinsiyah)[22] is not attributed by paternal descent.

Factors with the potential to mitigate exclusionary or hostile treatment toward non-nationals do exist. For example, many developing countries are guarantors to the same international treaties to which developed states are signatories, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Refugee Convention. The ability or willingness of developing states to uphold commitments to migrant rights via provision of state services, however, may be lower than in traditional migrant-receiving states due to a lack of institutional and economic capacity.[23] In addition, the majority of signatories to the 2003 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Their Families are developing countries, though assenting to the convention may be more of a means for developing countries to protect their emigrants abroad than to protect migrants residing on their territories.[24] Lastly, the past two decades have seen a growth in the number of international civil society groups that question the status of human rights for non-citizens globally, potentially putting pressure on governments to adopt inclusive policies toward migrants and refugees.[25]

From this review, several explanations can be derived for the behavior of non-traditional receiving countries toward migrant and refugee populations. These are: cultural/historical understandings of membership in the state, the host government’s international obligations, the presence of non-governmental organizations that provide services and advocate on migrants’ behalf, the political and social organization of the migrants themselves, and the host country’s domestic politics. While each of these aforementioned explanations has the potential to influence host government policies toward migrants, it is unclear which factors are more significant than others. As all the noted factors are present in the Egyptian case, this particular state offers an opportunity to examine the role each factor may have in a particular developing country context.

A Syrian family occupies an apartment on the outskirts of Alexandria (2014, Kelsey Norman).

A Syrian family occupies an apartment on the outskirts of Alexandria (2014, Kelsey Norman).


Data and Analysis: Egypt as a Migrant Receiving Country

Methodology in brief  

Data for this study was collected using nineteen in-country interviews.[26] The first set were conducted between October 1 and December 31, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt while former President Mohamed Morsi was in power, and three follow-up interviews were conducted in January 2014 following the Egyptian military coup.[27] The interview subjects included government officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which is responsible for the oversight of non-nationals in Egypt), policy planners at the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), directors and staff members at foreign and Egyptian-run NGOs, and migrant community leaders who are the elected heads of community-based organizations (CBOs). Initial interview subjects were established with the help of faculty and staff at the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies (CMRS) at the American University in Cairo, and snowball sampling was then used to acquire further contacts. Policy documents were also examined, specifically those located in the library of the CMRS, as a means to provide contextual background on the institutional history and recent legal framework guiding Egypt’s migrant and refugee protection sector.

Migrant Demographics

The actual number of migrants residing in Egypt is uncertain, as the number who officially register with the UNHCR is acknowledged to be only a small fraction of the actual total.

Table I: Most recent UNHCR figures (January 2015)


UNHCR Official Egyptian Figures
Type of Population Origin Total In Country Of Whom Assisted by UNHCR
Refugees Somalia 6,300 6,300
Sudan 15,000 15,000
Syria 140,000 140,000
Various 79,600 9,600
Asylum-Seekers Ethiopia 2,900 2,900
Somalia 1,800 1,800
Sudan 15,500 15,500
Various 6,700 6,700
Stateless 20 20
Total 267,820 197,820

 Note: The UNHCR publically lists the number of refugees/asylum-seekers residing in Egypt as well as those who are assisted by the UNHCR. The fact that these numbers almost perfectly correlate speaks to the fact that these counts only include those refugees who choose to register with the UNHCR and are therefore underestimates.
For example, though only 15,500 Sudanese refugees are officially registered with the UNHCR, the actual number of Sudanese migrants and refugees residing in the country is estimated to be in the several tens of thousands[28]. The vast majority of refugees and migrants reside in Cairo, though other coastal cities such as Alexandria have become popular locations for refugees hoping to be smuggled to Europe by boat.[29] An important element that makes Cairo an attractive destination for refugees is the existence of a large resettlement program, both through the UNHCR presence (the Middle East regional office and the Egyptian office) as well as private sponsorship programs to Canada, Australia, and the United States.[30] This support system constitutes a strong pull factor for those hoping to be resettled, though the numbers of resettled refugees are very small: an average of only 3,000 per year.[31] Due to this pattern of high inflow and low outflow, Cairo hosts a sizeable urban refugee population.

International and Domestic Legal Frameworks in Egypt

In general migrants view the UNHCR as the body responsible for handling their affairs, regardless of whether they have official refugee status. Four of the five migrant community leaders interviewed did not believe that the Egyptian state is responsible for migrants, despite Egypt’s status as a signatory of numerous treaties promising to protect both refugees and migrants within its borders. When asked about whether the UNHCR was the best body to handle the affairs of migrants and refugees, or whether the Egyptian government might also play a role, one migrant community leader replied, “The government is for Egyptians, the UNHCR is for refugees,”[32] implying that the UNHCR is viewed as a parallel structure to the Egyptian government that serves non-nationals.

As a founding signatory to both the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Refugee Convention, Egypt has undertaken an international obligation to provide asylum and guarantee rights for refugees.[33] That the government allows the UNHCR and IOM (which sometimes assists in refugee resettlement activities) to operate in Egypt and carry out their organizational activities is in some sense evidence that the state recognizes its responsibilities in ratifying the conventions.[34] Additionally, Egypt’s assent has given those mandates teeth in terms of implementation in domestic courts. For instance, The Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights (EFRR), an organization founded in 2008 that provides legal aid to refugees in Egypt, claims that the 1951 Refugee Convention constitutes the basis for the majority of their anti-deportation cases.[35]

Nonetheless, refoulement and prolonged arbitrary detention remain substantial problems for both migrants and refugees with UNHCR-designated status. The EFRR maintains a network of lawyers throughout Egypt and it will dispatch one of them upon learning that a migrant or refugee has been arrested and taken to a police station. However, if the lawyer cannot reach the migrant or refugee in time, then they can be transferred from local police authority to the state security network and it then becomes more difficult to intervene on the individual’s behalf. According to the EFRR’s Director, “…the cases with the police are such that after one hour you don’t know where that person [the migrant or refugee] can go.”[36]

Egypt also entered into the 1951 Refugee Convention with careful restrictions, further limiting the rights of refugees. Egypt claimed reservations to Article 12.1, waiving the responsibility of determining the personal status of refugees, as well as Articles 20, 23 and 24, which claim that refugees should be afforded equal status to nationals in regards to rationing, public relief and assistance and labor laws/social security, respectively.[37] Egypt’s formal reservations make these articles inapplicable for refugees residing on its territory. However, Egypt did not place a reservation on Article 17 of the Convention, concerning wage-earning employment, meaning that refugees are legally allowed to seek employment in the formal sector.[38] Nonetheless, refugees and migrants are still subject to national labor laws that give preference to Egyptian nationals. The Director of one of Cairo’s refugee schools, St. Andrews School for Refugees, noted that,

“…it’s not accurate to say that refugees don’t have the right to work – they have the same rights as other foreigners in this country. But they have to prove that an Egyptian is not more qualified for the same job.”[39]

While such policies are not insurmountable barriers for those foreigners recruited to work in Egypt by employers, the country’s high unemployment rate[40] makes it effectively impossible for refugees and migrants to find work in the formal economy.[41]

NGOs, CBOs and Advocacy

In Egypt, both NGOs and CBOs provide migrants with the services they are unable to access as non-nationals and, in some cases, advocate on their behalf regarding the provision of four major services: education, health care, employment and legal aid. Nonetheless, a major factor hindering the reach of NGOs’ work is UNHCR funding regulations. Organizations receiving the majority of their core funding from the UNHCR are only able to service eligible refugees, a status that is ultimately determined by the Egyptian government. While the UNHCR conducts refugee status determination (RSD) procedures and resettles refugees with the assistance of IOM and individual embassies, it must have the agreement of the Egyptian government to designate which nationalities are eligible for asylum.[42] The Egyptian government is therefore partly responsible for determining which groups of refugees are eligible for UNHCR-funded services.

Alternatives to UNHCR-funded services exist in the form of privately and religiously funded organizations, but these organizations face a challenging political environment. The turbulence of the three years following the 2011 Egyptian Revolution has created an extremely challenging climate for foreign organizations attempting to work on behalf of non-Egyptians, as well as for migrants. This plays out in several ways. First, since the revolution the Egyptian government has become increasingly critical of foreign NGOs, a change from the years prior to the revolution, when a ‘laissez-faire’ approach toward such organizations was the norm. According to the director of a school for refugees, “Most NGOs operating in Egypt are unlicensed since the process to officially register with the Egyptian government can take multiple years.”[43] The directors of three NGOs attested that the post-revolution Egyptian government has been unwilling to register refugee-based organizations at all, thereby rendering them ineligible for funding.[44] As the director of Refugee Legal Aid Protection (RLAP) noted, “In this kind of environment, there is no space for advocacy, and particularly not for advocacy concerning non-nationals.”[45]

In addition to NGOs, CBOs – organized primarily by migrants themselves – are also prevalent in Cairo and often provide a physical location for community meetings and gatherings. They provide language-training, aid for those experiencing difficulties in obtaining service provisions or seeking informal work, and community activities, particularly for children.[46] Yet despite the presence of numerous CBOs, these organizations are fragmented and focused primarily on supporting the individual members of their national communities (i.e. Sudanese, South Sudanese, Eritrean, Central African Republic, etc.). Even for highly organized migrant communities like the Sudanese who have numerous community centers in Cairo for various Sudanese ethnic groups and strong intra-group relations, attempts at advocacy pertaining to status and rights in Egypt have largely been unsuccessful and even violent. In the most extreme case, twenty-six Sudanese refugees were killed by Egyptian security forces after refusing to disband their protest outside the UNHCR offices in the upper-class Cairo neighborhood of Mohandiseen in 2006.[47] Following this incident, the Egyptian government required that the UNHCR move its offices to a remote satellite city located on the outskirts of Cairo in order to avoid future incidents of confrontation and violence.

When Co-Ethnicity/Co-Religiosity Benefits, and When It Does Not

In Islamic states, religion and state overlap in various capacities.[48] With the exception of Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel, MENA countries declare Islam the state religion, and Islamic law serves as either a principle or a supplementary source of the national legal framework.[49] However, even in states where Islam is specifically mentioned in the constitution, the Islamic character of the state exists in tension with other schools of thinking in regards to membership and belonging; namely pan-Arabism and the modern, secular conception of the nation-state.[50] Abu-Sahlieh[51] argues that while the concept of the modern nation-state appears to have triumphed in regards to citizenship and residence, elements of the other two schools of thought are also present and persistently in tension with each other. In the Egyptian context, limited access to naturalization exemplifies this tension well. Only the children of foreigners born in Egypt who also have paternal Arab or Islamic lineage can be naturalized.[52] [53]

A preference for co-ethnic and co-religious migrants appeared to underlie the decisions made by the government of former President Mohamed Morsi at the time of initial interviews in late 2012. According to NGOs interviewed during this time period, such a preference was thought to be driving the government’s relatively warm reception of Syrian migrants in comparison to the longer-standing population of sub-Saharan African migrants.[54] When President Mohamed Morsi announced in September 2012 that all Syrian migrant children residing in Egypt would be granted enrollment in public schools regardless of UNHCR status and that Syrian families could access Egyptian public hospitals free of charge, the Field Office Manager of Catholic Relief Services noted that this is, “…certainly a service not extended to all migrant groups.”[55] If Egypt’s modus operandi toward other migrant groups is generally one of ambivalence, then this recognition and willingness to offer services to Syrians represented an anomalous break.

According to Parolin’s[56] logic, this preference for Syrian as opposed to traditional African migrants is related to the pervasive idea of a common Arab lineage. Yet former President Mohamed Morsi’s rhetoric regarding Syrians points to a sectarian ideology rather than co-ethnic or co-religious affinities. Morsi’s support of Syrian oppositional forces just prior to his ousting in July 2013 clearly demonstrated a sectarian ideology, as his support resulted in the cutting of diplomatic ties with the Syrian Bashar al-Assad government. On 15 June 2013, two weeks before the Egyptian military coup, Morsi announced at a mass rally in Cairo that he would be closing the Syrian embassy in Egypt and that, “…the Egyptian people and army are supporting the Syrian uprising.”[57] Those in support of the Syrian opposition’s use of violence also spoke at the rally, calling for jihad to combat the Syrian regime.[58] Vocalizing support for Syrians in Egypt who had fled the Assad state was therefore likely a means of bolstering Morsi’s own support among Islamic factions within Egypt.

Parolin’s[59] co-religious/co-ethnic thesis also fails to explain why, following the Egyptian military coup in July 2013, Syrians in Egypt became the subject of a government-organized media campaign that referred to the group as terrorists allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and former President Mohamed Morsi’s supporters. While the special treatment – healthcare and access to primary education – extended to Syrian refugees under former President Mohamed Morsi in 2012 and early 2013 was upheld by the subsequent military government, the de facto treatment of Syrians changed dramatically after the June 30, 2013 coup d’état. Amr El Shora, the Medical Coordinator of the Refugee Solidarity Movement, an advocacy body for Syrian refugees, assisted in opening a clinic to assist Syrians requiring medical treatment who were unable to visit Egyptian public hospitals due to harassment or fear of arrest following the military coup.[60] However, beginning in November 2013, the clinic came under attack from Egyptian state security, and El Shora and other staff members were threatened that they would be arrested if they did not shut down the operation.[61]

As a result of the increasingly hostile treatment of Syrians in Egypt, Amnesty International documented a sharp increase in the number of Syrian refugees attempting to escape to Europe.[62] From January to August 2013, an estimated six thousand Syrian refugees managed to reach Italy by boat from Egypt, a figure that spiked to over three thousand during the period from September to mid-October 2013. Further, Human Rights Watch documented over 1,500 cases of prolonged detainment of Syrian refugees between July and December 2013 in Egypt, as well as hundreds of cases of refoulement to Syria.[63]

Nader G. Attar, a co-founder of the Refugees Solidarity Movement, explained in a January 2014 interview that Syrians have become an “easy target” through which the military government can bolster its security state.[64] Attar explained, “Syrian [migrants] are now like the Muslim Brotherhood, the anti-coup protestors and the other revolutionary activists. All of these are groups that the [Egyptian] state has labeled as security threats so that it can expand its policing apparatus.”[65]

Both Morsi and the military leadership’s treatment of Syrian refugees underscores the importance of a host government’s relationship with a migrant’s country of origin and the means by which policies toward migrants can be used for political gain. Importantly, in the case of Syrians in Egypt, it also demonstrates that co-ethnic and co-religious relations with the host population do not always benefit migrants, and that during times of domestic instability these affinities can in fact be harmful.                                          .

There are factors present in the Egyptian context that might contribute to the inclusive treatment of migrants and refugees; treaty obligations and the presence of international migration bodies, non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations. However, the Egyptian government’s current policy toward migrants and refugees reflects a political climate of distributive interest. In other words, the evidence supplied by this case study suggests that the government will recognize and engage with migrant groups only when doing so is perceived as politically advantageous.

The findings of this paper contribute to the small but growing literature that examines whether or not theoretical understandings of the treatment of migrants, derived predominantly from the experiences of Western Europe and North America, are applicable in the developing country context.[66] The case of Egypt suggests that the extant academic literature may not be entirely applicable for understanding how non-traditional, developing countries choose to engage with migrants and refugees. For example, while the literature on immigrant integration tells us that co-ethnic migrants receive more welcoming or accommodating treatment from the state and its host population,[67] this paper shows that the reverse can also be true. Indeed, co-ethnic or co-religious migrants – in this case Syrians– may actually be at greater risk of exclusionary treatment depending on the domestic political situation. This finding coincides with the recent work of Adida,[68] who also explores migrant treatment and reception in a developing state context. Adida shows that in West Africa cultural similarities between migrant minorities and host communities offer no advantage for integration, and may even heighten the potential for migrant scapegoating and exclusion.

The findings presented in this paper may help to inform our theoretical understanding of host government responses to migrant populations in other developing countries, particularly neighboring Arab states. In order to test the findings presented in this paper and to develop a more nuanced understanding of how host government behavior toward migrants in developing countries functions, further studies of Egypt and other non-traditional receiving states are needed.




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Salih, Assad Khalid. 2006. Sudanese Demonstration in Cairo: Different Stands and Different Opinions. In: Sudanese Refugee Protest in Cairo: Community Dynamics and Broader Implications, The 4th Annual Forced Migration Postgraduate Student Conference University of East London, March 18-19, 2006. London: University of East London.

Soysal, Yasemin Nuhoglu, 1994. The Limits of Citizenship: Migrants and Postnational Membership in Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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List of Interview Subjects Cited

**The names of those interviewed for this research that have uncertain migrant status in Egypt were changed in order to protect their identity. Additionally, the names of any government officials interviewed were also changed given the current security and political situation.

Abd Alraheem, Abdalla. 2012. Director, Sudanese Contemporary Center. Personal Interview, November 23, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Ablahi Abdikarim, Amiin. 2012. Somali Community Leader. Personal Interview, December 6, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Abou El Rous, Mervat. 2012. RSC Deputy Manager at the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Personal Interview, October 6, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Attar, Nader G. 2014. Co-Founder of the Refugee Solidarity Movement. Personal Interview, January 4, 2014 in Cairo, Egypt.

Ayoubi, Ziad. 2012. Livelihood Officer, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Personal Interview, October 17, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Badawy, Ahmed. 2012. Chairman, Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights, Personal Interview, October 28, 2012 in Cairo Egypt.

Baron, Nancy. 2012. Director of the Psychosocial Training Institute of Cairo. Personal Interview, October 9, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Bayoumi, Mohamed. 2012. Executive Director, Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights. Personal Interview, October 28, 2012 in Cairo Egypt.

Bristow, Shane. 2012. Director, Refugee Legal Aid Project (RLAP). Personal Interview, December 3, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Cameron, Fiona. 2012. Director of St. Andrews School for Refugees. Personal Interview, October 8, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Ezzat, Sherine. 2012. Field Office Manager, Catholic Relief Services. Personal Interview, November 8, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Maloof, Nour. 2014. Coordinator at the Tadamon 6th of October Center. Personal Interview. January 8, 2014 in Cairo, Egypt.

Mansour, Talaat. 2012. Director of Foreigners Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, December 13, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Mayer, Rachel. 2012. Unaccompanied Children and Youth Senior Officer, AMERA. Personal Interview, November 5, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Ousmane, Abdoul-Raouf. 2012. Center Coordinator of Student Action for Refugees (STAR). Personal Interview, October 1, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

El Shora, Amr. 2014. Medical Coordinator of the Refugee Solidarity Movement. Personal Interview, January 5, 2014 in Cairo, Egypt.

Simojoki, Siobhan. 2012. Project Development Officer at the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Personal Interview, October 6, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Suliman, Mahmoud. 2012. Director, Refugees United for a Peaceful Solution. Personal Interview, November 12, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.

Turland, Jonathan. 2012. Superintendent at African Hope Learning Center. Personal Interview, October 8, 2012 in Cairo, Egypt.


[1] OECD 2011.

[2] Hoeffler 2013.

[3] Since the 1990s some migration scholars and international migration bodies have begun advocating for the term ‘mixed migration’ (Betts 2011). This is because the ‘root causes’ of migration, such as conflict and poverty, are interrelated, and because it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between forced and economic migrants in certain movements (Castles and Van Heart 2011). Some individuals will also ‘jump’ categories in order to obtain work or as they acquire new information concerning legal categories, and both refugees and migrants may use the same networks and smugglers to reach their destinations (Ibid). However, because the legal definition of refugee remains one based on political as opposed to economic reasons for fleeing a home state, economic migrants generally do not qualify as refugees (Zolberg et al 1989; de Hass 2007).

[4] Sadiq 2009; Adida 2014.

[5] George and Bennett 2005.

[6] Fargues 2009.

[7] Zohry and Harrell-Bond 2003; Jacobsen, Ayoub and Johnson 2011.

[8] Author Interview: Mansour 2012.

[9] Hoeffler 2013.

[10] Kagan 2002.

[11] Castles and Miller 2003; Freeman 2004; Joppke 2010.

[12] Brubaker 1992; Soysal 1994; Koopmans and Stratham 1999; Hansen 2009, Wallace-Goodman 2014.

[13] Freeman 2004:951.

[14] Ibid.

[15] The relationship between a country’s development as measured by indicators like GDP or infant mortality rate and conflict is a highly debated one (see, for example, Holtermann 2012), and not the focus of this paper. Nonetheless, it is recognized that civil conflicts occur disproportionally often in developing countries.

[16] Weiner 2005; Mamdani 2002; Keller 2014.

[17] Adamson 2006.

[18] Kymlicka 2010.

[19] Parolin 2009.

[20] Sadiq 2009; Joppke 2010.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Parolin 2009. In Arabic the word jinsiyah literally translates to ‘nationality,’ though it can be used to denote legal membership in the state in the same way that ‘citizenship’ is used in English.

[23] Sadiq 2009; Rice and Patrick 2008.

[24] Cholewinski 2005.

[25] Taran 2001; Tactaquin 2013.

[26] Institutional Review Board approval was obtained for this project on October 3, 2012 (HS# 2012-9054).

[27] A full list of interview subjects is available in Appendix A. Interviews were semi-structured and conducted primarily in English with supplementary Egyptian Arabic when required. With the exception of three interviews, interviews were not tape-recorded at the interview subject’s request. Notes were taken during the interview as well as shortly thereafter in a separate location. Interviews lasted between half an hour and two hours.

[28] Jacoben, Ayoub and Johnson (2011) cite another unpublished CMRS working paper that places the number of Sudanese migrants and refugees in Egypt at 55-65,000. See also Grabska 2006; Jacobson, Ayoub and Johnson 2012.

[29] Kingsley 2014.

[30] Grabska 2006; Author Interview: Ayoubi 2012, Simojoki 2012.

[31] Kagan 2011.

[32] Author Interview: Abd Alraheem 2012.

[33] Kagan 2011.

[34] Author Interview: Ayoubi 2012, Simojoki 2012.

[35] Author Interview: Bayoumi 2012

[36] Ibid.

[37] Zohry and Harrell-Bond 2003.

[38] Jacobsen, Ayoub and Johnson 2011.

[39] Author Interview: Cameron 2012.

[40] According to the International Labor Organization the unemployment rate (measured as the share of the labor force that is without work but available for and seeking employment) in Egypt was 9.0% in 2010, 12.0% in 2011, and 12.7% in 2012 and 2013.

[41] However, some migrants and refugees have been able to find work in the informal economy. A UNHCR representative interviewed stated that migrants and refugees are known to work in the garment, food, artisanal and industrial sectors, in addition to others who do domestic work in wealthy Egyptian households as cleaners, nannies and drivers (Author Interview: Ayoui 2012).

[42] Author Interview: Simojoki 2012.

[43] Author Interview: Turland 2012.

[44] Author Interview: Turland 2012, Bristow 2012, Cameron 2012.

[45] Author Interview: Bristow 2012.

[46] Author Interview: Abd Alraheem 2012, Suliman 2012.

[47] Salih 2006. The protest was organized in objection to the long wait times at the UNHCR regarding Refugee Status Determination (RSD) and resettlement.

[48] Brown 2002; Hirschl 2010.

[49] Brown et al 2006.

[50] Pan-Arabism refers to the idea that each individual Arab country belongs to a larger ‘Arab nation,’ and was a prominent ideology at various points and in various forms throughout the twentieth century (Dawisha 2003). Conversely, the idea of ‘regionalism’ rejects the idea of pan-Arabism and asserts that the modern division of the Arab world into nation-states, and the subsequent rise of individual country-level nationalism (for example ‘Egyptian-ness’), is the defining feature of modern Arab countries (Abu-Sahlieh 1996). These different conceptions have implications for groups of migrants residing in MENA countries. As Abu-Sahlieh (1996) asserts, if a purely Islamic conception of the state is adopted then each Muslim is part of the Islamic ummah (‘nation’) and can travel wherever he or she wants in dar al-islam (the land of Islam), benefiting from the same rights as other Muslims. If the concept of pan-Arabismism is adopted, then Arab citizens benefit from rights that non-Arabs cannot have since they are considered to be foreigners. Lastly, if the concept of the nation-state is adopted, only the citizens of the state can benefit from all the rights while the others are considered as foreigners whatever their religion (Abu-Sahlieh 1996).

[51] Abu-Sahlieh 1996.

[52] National Legislative Bodies 1975.

[53] It is also officially possible for foreigners who have resided in Egypt for ten consecutive years and who meet several stringent requirements including a legal means of ‘earning a living’ to apply for naturalization from the Ministry of the Interior, though this process has never been successfully attempted by an African migrant or refugee (Author Interview: Cameron 2012).

[54] Author Interview: Ezzat 2012, Turland 2012.

[55] Author Interview: Ezzat 2012.

[56] Parolin 2009.

[57] Al-Ahram 2013.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Parolin 2009.

[60] Author Interview: Shora 2014.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Amnesty International 2013.

[63] Human Rights Watch 2013.

[64] Author Interview: Attar 2014.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Sadiq 2009, Jayal 2013, Adida 2014.

[67] See, for example, Sniderman et al. 2004.

[68] Adida 2014.