Egypt: Thousands of refugees miss out on UNHCR living allowance*

Thousands of registered refugees in Cairo are no longer receiving a monthly US$33-66 per person living allowance from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) after Caritas, one of UNHCR’s service providers in Egypt, closed its office on 7 February.

Caritas, which assists UNHCR with the payment of allowances and health services, was forced into the move after the Egyptian government withheld its funds.

The Ministry of Social Solidarity reviews all incoming foreign funds destined for NGOs in Egypt. Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef believes there is a link between “administrative delays” faced by registered NGOs and the prosecution or investigation of NGOs allegedly receiving unregistered funds.

Many of the roughly 12,000 affected refugees, according to a community organization close to UNHCR, have been unable to buy their own food, and some face eviction.

“It’s a serious problem, and the fact that we’re already in March… We’re extremely concerned,” said Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR’s deputy commissioner in Cairo.

Emergency programmes have been set up to manage the crisis, with help ranging from food banks, to loans to certain families to enable them to pay their rent.

Tan said the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s funds review is normally a smooth procedure, but this year there had been delays. “I don’t have any answers as to why it’s happening now,” she said.

Morayef believed the NGOs most affected were those engaged in the promotion of democracy.

In December, riot police raided 17 NGOs in Cairo, and 43 domestic and international employees were put on trial accused of using illegal foreign funds. A travel ban imposed on the accused foreigners was lifted on 4 March.

Caritas seems to be the only humanitarian organization facing delays in accessing its funds, according to Tan and Morayef.

The Egyptian government bars refugees from seeking employment. The refugees are mainly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, and normally receive the allowance as soon as they are registered as refugees.

af/cb

*On 6 March IRIN learnt from UNHCR's Tan that the refugees had started receiving their allowances on 5 March after Caritas resumed operations, following an "interim arrangement" allowing Caritas to pay the refugees their monthly allowances "in a way that doesn't circumvent the Ministry's instructions". Core administrative issues with the Ministry of Social Solidarity were yet to be resolved, she stressed.

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