Education for Africans in Egypt

Sent On: 
Tue, 2018-07-17
Newsletter Number: 

The Center for Arab-West Understanding introduced American intern Samuel Nass to the STARS secondary refugee school in Cairo, Egypt. Since most refugees are Sudanese, they follow the Sudanese curriculum which, however, has little value in other countries. The Sudanese curriculum includes English and Arabic which makes it difficult for non-Arabic speaking Africans.

Non-Egyptians cannot attend Egyptian schools, and there are no secondary school alternatives for non-Arabic speaking Africans. The Center for Arab-West Understanding is therefore looking in setting up a learning center for non-Arabic speaking Africans who are in need of remedial secondary school education.


Cornelis Hulsman




All over the world, migrants and refugees flee their homelands with the hope of economic, social, and physical safety in new host countries. As of 2018, UNHCR recorded approximately 80,000 African refugees in Egypt, mostly hailing from Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. Some of these asylum seekers have established relatively good lives in Egypt by finding jobs and education prospects. Yet many struggle with a wide range of challenges relating to the fact that they are black foreigners in a non-black majority, economically faltering country, where anti-refugee sentiments are bound to take hold.


Many members of the African refugee community cite social ostracization as a primary concern. The exclusion experienced by black refugees is not simply a matter of being ignored by the greater Egyptian community; black refugees are often the victim of overt hostility and general rudeness. It is not uncommon for a black person to get stones or bananas hurled at them while walking down the wrong street at the wrong time. Black women have it even harder than the men, being at risk of groping by men and boys alike if they decide to walk alone.


Unsurprisingly, any attempt to involve the police in such frightening circumstances is likely to yield little result except more contempt. While getting my visa renewed for an extended stay in Egypt, I myself witnessed a group of black men waiting in line, unable to get the official’s attention so that she could process their papers. While ignoring them, the official took my papers – I’m a white man – in a mere 10 minutes. When I passed the line half an hour later, the same black men were still standing, as the official simply continued to ignore them.


The educational prospects for refugees and their children are similarly dismal. Their best hope is to be able to attend one of the schools set up by independent organizations for the sole purpose of educating African refugees. Though better than any other option, these schools often experience challenges related to funding and staffing. For the past six weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of instructing a senior English class at STARS refugee school in Maadi, Cairo. Aged between 16 and 19, I was surprised to see that my students were equipped with near–fluent English, and a strong drive to continue studying. But despite their aptitude for learning, I fear that conditions outside of the students’ and even the school’s control will severely limit their futures. For one, it is difficult for the school to retain teachers, most are volunteers, and many do not live in Egypt permanently, making the school a revolving door of faces unfamiliar to the students. Because of such inconsistency, it can be difficult to focus on a continuous subject in a class. Along with these day to day challenges, such refugee students have inferior prospects for higher education or professional jobs after high school.


STARS students analyze a chapter of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.


Egypt is a country with a rich and diverse history drawing from people and cultures throughout the world. Working to provide African refugees with better social and educational opportunities, along with allowing their integration into society would not only enrich their lives, but the lives of everyone in the country. Egypt claims a rich and diverse history drawing from peoples throughout the world, and welcoming those from outside Egypt would only continue Egypt’s multicultural legacy. However, due to the bleak economic conditions experienced by all of Egypt’s inhabitants, hospitality for refugees, especially black refugees, is unlikely in the near future. For now, human rights organizations and all those concerned with the plight of refugees should do their best to ameliorate the living standards of Egypt’s newest residents.


Cairo, July 17, 2018


Samuel Nass,

Intern at the Center for Arab-West Understanding between June 2 and July 11, 2018

Student of International Relations at the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland, USA