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CAIRO – 1 March 2019: “In welcoming the refugees coming from those countries [countries where disasters are occurring], Egypt has been significant,” said IOM Egypt’s Chief of Mission, Mr. Laurent De Boeck, to Egypt Today.
With more than five million refugees in the country, Egypt has always played an important role and has worked hand-in-hand with the IOM and the UN. Egypt’s strategic location and the leadership position that it holds within the MENA region, and increasingly in Africa has also put it in a position where it is able to contribute to conflict resolution.
“Egyptian people also offered refuge and they welcomed the people; this is an indicator of Egypt’s hospitality, which we have seen through the years, in welcoming people in need. Egyptians welcome the people generally and they do contribute to, or to participate in the resolution of the conflict in international platforms in Syria or in Yemen. Also, Egypt is a quite important geographical position. So, when you look at Egypt [and the situation as a whole]: Egypt is becoming a safe space that attracts a lot of people,” IOM Egypt’s Chief of Mission explained to Egypt Today.
The role of Egypt is very important in the region, said the Chief, explaining that Egypt serves as a safe space and a safe zone for the region.
“Also, politically, there is an important commitment by the government of Egypt to manage migration. They showed this willingness internationally. For example, since 2016 during the discussions of the Global Compact, Egypt has been very active in the discussions to develop the paper. They have also taken a role more and more within the continent and within the region, as a peace-builder and a peace-keeper,” stated De Boeck.
He added, “I do not think that there is any country in the world that is totally accepting of immigrants because they are, at the end of the day, foreigners and so they are bringing new cultures, new ways of thinking and when you are facing competition, it is not seen as a good thing. But to the contrary, I think that Egypt has been very tolerant with immigrants. In Europe there is, by far, higher discrimination and rejection towards immigrations. So, Egypt, to me, remains a positive model of hospitality to other countries.”
When asked about how the IOM ensures that no tension exists between Egyptian people and refugees, the Chief said the following:
More and more people are coming and this might create some tension between the two communities: The immigrants and the Egyptians. In the sense that, there are difficulties that Egyptians are facing in terms of economic reforms that impact their daily lives, and the policy of the government is to integrate the people within the community and look towards the hospitality of the Egyptians towards people. This might become at stake at some point. It might lead to discrimination at some point.
This is why it is important for us to invest in social cohesion activities and to have programs to help the migrants. We always also support the community that is hosting them. For instance, if we are giving to migrants support for health; then, we do not give this support to migrants only, we also help the community to have better health services that then can be accessed by Egyptians and migrants. This helps Egyptians to see that migrants are bringing something positive into the community.
So, we have to see any program as an assessment to the needs of the community, whether Egyptians or migrants. This we do to avoid discrimination. Otherwise, it might create tensions and it is important to work on that.
Part of a campaign that we will do is how migrants are contributing positively to the society. If you look at Syrians here, you will see that they have produced—they have created—their own business here. They have done this for themselves and their community, and because some of them are now becoming big companies, they are also now employing Egyptians and paying taxes. This creates benefits and has an impact on the Egyptian society.
We have estimated about $1 billion in investment since 2015 but by discussing with the Chamber of Commerce of Egypt, they mentioned that the partnership between Egyptian and Syrian companies is much bigger; it is estimated at $6 billion. This is quite positive and it needs to be shared. It is a good example not just for Egypt but also for the world: Accepting refugees who are in a difficult crisis produces benefits for the host society.