Eritrean refugees awaiting Federal Court decision suffer acute hardship in Cairo

Canadian Council for Refugees
Media Release

For immediate release
5 April 2011

Eritrean refugees awaiting Federal Court decision suffer acute hardship in Cairo


Eritrean refugees unfairly refused by Canada struggle to survive in Cairo, reported the Canadian Council for Refugees today.  A year and a half after their rejection by Canada’s Cairo office, their cases will finally be heard this week by the Federal Court in Toronto.

Seventeen refused applicants were interviewed recently about their lives in Cairo since being refused by Canada. Among the problems they highlighted were:

  • Problems in earning a living. Domestic work is almost the only work available to refugees.
  • Routine racial discrimination, in some cases involving assault.
  • Sexual harassment and violence.
  • Lack of access to health care.
  • Arrest and harassment by authorities, and limited legal rights.
  • Increased vulnerability since the unrest in Egypt.
  • Lack of hope for the future.

“I am at permanent risk of being arrested and deported, and I cannot work here,” said a single mother. “There is no hope here, I have no right to work, no legal status and am depending only on the charity of others. I cannot stay here with no hope to integrate and I cannot return to my country, I am stuck and distressed, with no light to look at.”

“Being a refugee in Cairo is like being trapped, you have no ability to travel so you cannot go anywhere, but you cannot do anything here because you have no real legal documentation,” said a 32-year old Eritrean man. “Receiving a rejection from the Canadian embassy was not only extremely difficult because it meant that I had to stay in this situation longer, but also because I knew it was an unfair decision, it was not an objective and merited decision.”

In March 2010 the CCR released a report analyzing decisions made at Cairo in this group of cases. The report revealed serious problems with decision-making, including lack of basic knowledge of realities in the refugees’ country of origin, basic errors in applying the refugee definition, and multiple flaws in credibility assessments.

The Federal Court recognized in January that there are serious issues with these refusals, granting leave to the group that now includes over 40 cases. The Court will be hearing three lead cases from the group on April 6 and 7. Lawyers representing the Eritreans will be highlighting the visa officer’s inadequate analysis of the applicants’ religious beliefs and a failure to take into account country conditions in Eritrea, especially related to women, political prisoners and those fleeing forced military service.

“We are particularly concerned at the officer’s apparent lack of understanding of what refugees from Eritrea have actually been through,” said Tim Wichert, one of the lawyers representing the Eritrean applicants. “We hope and expect that officers deciding refugees’ fate – whether they will receive protection in Canada – will be properly trained and informed, especially since there is so little oversight of their decisions.”

Contact: Colleen French, CCR Communications Coordinator, (514) 277-7223 ext. 1,

To read what the Eritreans interviewed said about their situation:

Backgrounder, Eritrean refugees awaiting Federal Court decision suffer acute hardship in Cairo, 5 April 2011

For more information:

Media Release, Refugees overseas denied a fair hearing, CCR report shows, 25 March 2010
Report, Concerns with refugee decision-making at Cairo, 31 January 2010