In Egypt, Sudan's Single Moms Resist Resettlement

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Refugees from South Sudan who are living in Egypt have both a newly independent homeland and a host country that has become harsher since the January revolution. For single moms, the future still looks brighter where they are.

CAIRO, Egypt (WOMENSENEWS)--As South Sudan celebrates its long-awaited sovereignty, refugees from that region who have been living here aren't sure whether to stay or go.

For single mothers with children to consider--and some aid workers here say they represent the majority of the refugee population in Egypt--the quandary is particularly acute. While they worry about deteriorating conditions in Egypt since the Jan. 25 revolution, they still doubt their newly independent homeland is a better bargain, especially for their children.

One of these women is 55-year-old Cecilia Lukusalg, who has lived in Cairo since 2005 with her six children.

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Lukusalg says she is reluctant to return to a country where there might not be any work, where infrastructure is lacking and where her family suffered through ethnic warfare.

On the other hand, since Egypt's Jan. 25 revolution employment has gotten worse for foreign-born domestic housekeepers such as herself.

The Egyptian government prohibits official employment of refugees or migrant workers unless they can prove to have skills that cannot be found in Egypt. Few Sudanese arrive with much education and most join the informal sector as domestic workers or laborers.

Since the revolution, however, many wealthy foreigners have left the country, leaving their Sudanese housekeepers jobless. Lukusalg was lucky enough to pick up some shifts as a cleaner and assistant at a local refugee aid organization.

For another single Sudanese mother, Mandera Sabina, a key concern is schooling for her children.

It's difficult for refugees to get into Egyptian schools, but at least schools exist here and offer well-trained teachers. Nothing like that can be found in South Sudan, she fears.

Better Than Homeland Schools

Egypt also has an established network of faith-based groups that run their own private schools and charge nothing. All of that is better than what Sabina would find in her homeland, if she were to join a U.N. repatriation program operating since 2006.

"It's affecting my life because if they don't study, their future is in the darkness," said Sabina. She too has six children and her husband died many years ago.

She says at the moment they plan to stay in Egypt for at least two years so her children can continue their education. "If things are all right in South, that will be the time to go back," Sabina said.

Any hopes of going to a third country are constrained by long waiting periods and uncertainty.

The number of yearly resettlement slots for Egypt has been raised to 2,000 this year to account for the country's instability, up from 900 previously.

Victims of trauma and people under 18 and over 50 who have relatives in resettlement countries take priority, followed by women at risk and single mothers who are looking after many children.

The U.N. could not provide data on the number of slots that go to single mothers in particular.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesperson Nayana Bose said that the average time to determine a refugee's resettlement options is six months.

Sabina said the word among refugees is that it takes close to a year to find out what will become of you.

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