The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi, began his official two-day visit to the Arab Republic of Egypt on Sunday, 13 January, to discuss the refugee situation in the country and touch on a number of regional and global issues in light of Egypt's role as Egypt assumes the chairmanship of the African Union in 2019.
Egypt has been a lead example in the region in hosting refugees in an urban setting and providing services in the health and education sectors on equal footing as Egyptians. As of 31 November 2018, Egypt hosts more than 242,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers of 58 different countries including Syria (55%), Sudan (16.9%), Ethiopia (6.51%), Eritrea (6.27%), and South Sudan (5.88%).
On the first day of his visit, Mr Grandi met with the Ministers of Education and Interior, as well as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for African Affairs.
"Egypt continues to be a country of great importance in the region and an important partner for UNHCR, an influential country in both the League of the Arab States and the African Union and a country that is at the crossroads of so many population movements," said Mr Grandi. "This year marks an important series of milestones: Egypt chairing the African Union; the 50th anniversary of the 1969 OAU Convention on Refugees, and the 10th anniversary of the Kampala Convention," he added, citing the significance of his visit to the country.
The first stop of Mr Grandi's visit was the UNHCR refugee reception centre, where he spoke with refugees and asylum-seekers and observed a permanent refugee artisan exhibition, with pieces handmade by refugees and asylum-seekers of different nationalities residing across Egypt.
Mr Grandi then met with the Minister of Education, Dr Tarek Shawky, and thanked the Government of Egypt for granting Syrian, Sudanese, South Sudanese, and Yemeni refugees access to the public education system. The High Commissioner (HC) also discussed the ongoing cooperation with the Ministry and means to further enhance UNHCR's support. Both parties explored ways to enrich the culture of dialogue among refugees and Egyptians and integrate their culture and language in the classroom environment so that students can collectively benefit and interact together.
Following his meeting with the Minister of Education, Mr Grandi, UNHCR Regional Director Amin Awad and UNHCR Egypt senior management were invited to a working lunch hosted by Ambassador Hamdi Loza, Deputy Foreign Minister for African Affairs, together with high-level officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the meeting, the HC reiterated UNHCR's continued support to Egypt and praised the hospitality shown towards people fleeing persecution. He also highlighted UNHCR's strong support for Egypt, echoing its need for more funds among donor countries to maintain its level of support to refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
Later in the afternoon, the HC met with the Minister of Interior, General Mahmoud Tawfik, where he commended the role Egypt plays in extending a protection space to refugees and asylum-seekers. He emphasized UNHCR's earlier request to decentralize the process of issuing residency permits and extend their validity, which the Minister has reassured that this matter is under consideration.
Mr Grandi is scheduled to meet with the President of Egypt, the Secretary-General of the League of the Arab States, and ambassadors of donor and resettlement countries.
Mr Grandi's visit to Egypt is his first official visit for 2019, and his second official visit to the country since he assumed his position as UNHCR High Commissioner in 2016.
(With Inputs from APO)