Sudanese protests force UNHCR to close Cairo office

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has closed its head office in Egypt until further notice due to ongoing protests by Sudanese refugees demanding to be resettled outside Egypt.

The protests started about three weeks ago and escalated until aggressive confrontations between refugees and UNHCR personnel forced the organization to temporarily close the office on Tuesday — a decision not to be taken lightly considering the large number of refugees yet to be registered.

Sudanese refugees assert that Egypt’s revolution has amplified the insecurity and fear of a situation already made tense by refugees’ inability to obtain proper legal working status here, as well as severe racial discrimination.

The UNHCR is responsible for registering refugees in Egypt, and the Egyptian government has agreed to recognize those who have been registered. However, in practice such recognition has remained limited.

In 2005, approximately 2000 Sudanese refugees protested outside the old UNHCR office in Mohandessin, demanding relocation for similar reasons. The police raided the protest and killed at least 23 people, including children.

“We have few rights and are not welcomed into the community properly by the Egyptian government,” said Muhammed Suliman, a refugee who is championing the resettlement protest, told Al-Masry Al-Youm.

With Egypt now engulfed in a politically turbulent transitional period, many Sudanese refugees fear for their lives and are demanding that the UNHCR resettle them abroad.

“We come here [Egypt] as refugees to escape our own country,” said Suliman. “What is the point for me and my family to stay home all day afraid, never knowing what is going to come tomorrow. If we will be arrested or deported. It is not a good situation for my family to live in.”

UNHCR officials said they are unable to comment at the present time.

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