Many of the 120,000 Syrian official refugees hosted in Egypt await the right opportunity to move to Europe, whether legally or illegally, mainly eyeing Sweden and Germany, this newspaper has learnt.
Although many international organisations, including the UNHCR and the European Union, give a strong helping hand to the Egyptian authorities to cope with the daily developing situation, many of the refugees only see Egypt as a transitory place.
“My aim is to rejoin my brother in Sweden,” Hana, 18, who attends the EU-funded Syria al-Gad Educational Centre, in Obour, a satellite city outside Cairo, told the Times of Malta.
“I came here together with my mother and three young siblings five years ago. My sister and my mother witnessed my father’s killing at home. We had no other option but to run away and flee to Egypt.
“My mother passed away a few months ago as she got very sick and could not handle the trauma of my father’s killing. We are now trying to make ends meet and the help, even in cash, we are receiving from the EU is very important” she added.
She said her dream was to see all her siblings settled and living a better life. Her brother first went to Libya and eventually settled in Sweden after reaching the Italian coast. The family now wants to join him.
“We will do our utmost to get there whatever it takes,” she insisted.
Hana’s story mirrors the experience of many Syrians in Cairo and Alexandria, the most highly populated cities in the 93-million North African state.
They reached Egypt after experiencing horrific situations during the Syrian war. Mostly flew to Sudan and then paid illegal traffickers who transported them on Jeeps across the desert to Egypt.
“It costs some $250 per person to get on a pickup in Khartoum and cross the desert to Egypt with experienced traffickers. It’s an awful voyage,” Shawifa, a 39-year-old mother of two young girls and a teenager, said.
“When I have enough money, we will make the move to Europe, probably France, where my husband’s brother lives. I am trying to do this in a legal way applying through family reunification possibilities. If we don’t get it, there is always the illegal route option,” she added.
In a classroom containing about 25 Syrian teenagers in a youth centre in Alabour, outside Cairo, none of the girls have heard about Malta. Although a rather small number of Syrians did land on the island, even if by chance, they do not know anybody living in Malta and are not interested in living on a small island. Their aim is mainland Europe, they admitted.
Although the official number of Syrian refugees living in the suburbs of Cairo and Alexandria is put at 120,000, it is estimated that another 350,000 unregistered Syrians fled to Egypt because of the war.