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Ambivalence as Policy: Consequences for Refugees in Egypt

Kelsey P. Norman
p. 27-45


This paper argues that when considering migration to developing countries, the scholarship on migration and refugee policy mistakes the absence of formal policy for neglect. Using a qualitative case study approach, I examine the case of Egypt, the most populous country in the region and the host of a sizeable urban refugee population. As the evidence offered in this paper will illustrate, the Egyptian government is fully aware of the number of refugees residing in its territory, but chooses to pursue a policy of ambivalence toward them. I address ambivalence from the viewpoint of refugees, and ask how refugees cope in a host country that adopts this type of policy. Using original data collected in Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt in 2014, I illustrate how both formal and informal rules constrain certain behaviours towards refugees living under this type of regime and permit others. The findings of this paper have important implications for the literature on migration and refugees, and provide a starting point from which to consider how refugees in other developing host states manage under a policy of ambivalence.

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Misconceptions of Migrants and Refugees in Developing Host States
Migration into Egypt
Employment & Economic Participation
Political Participation & Advocacy
Cultural Adaptation
Domestic Security
Discussion & Conclusion

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Many refugees travel to countries such as Egypt with the intention of passing through on their way to Europe or other Western states. In reality though, only a small fraction manage to do so successfully; the majority find themselves remaining, perhaps indefinitely, in transit states that are rapidly becoming countries of migrants and refugee settlement. As this paper will explain, the Egyptian government is fully aware of the refugee groups residing in its territory and has unofficially permitted their continued presence due to both its inability to successfully prevent them from entering the country and the fact that the vast majority of these groups have not been deported. Why does Egypt permit refugees to remain indefinitely, and what determines whether the government treats these groups inclusively or exclusively, or with what I will term ‘ambivalence’?

In this context, ambivalence refers to inaction on the part of the host state, and can be analytically distinguis...

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Electronic reference

Kelsey P. Norman, « Ambivalence as Policy: Consequences for Refugees in Egypt », Égypte/Monde arabe,Troisième série, 15 | 2017, Online since 05 June 2019, connection on 18 January 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ema.3663

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About the author

Kelsey P. Norman

Kelsey P. Norman is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, where she researches migration and citizenship. She has spent the past four years conducting interviews for her research on migrant and refugee settlement in several locations across the Middle East and North Africa. While carrying out research in Egypt, she was an affiliate with the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo, and was supported by a Doctoral Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, a research grant from the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS), and a Kugelman Fellowship from the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at UC Irvine.

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