The Northern Africa Route
Cairo, Egypt | Tel Aviv, Israel
Refugees from conflict areas in East Africa—such as South Sudan and Somalia—move north, often converging in Cairo which has become both a transit hub for onward migration, and a host to tens of thousands of sub-Saharan migrants. Only a very small number of refugees in Cairo are ever resettled in Europe, the United States, or another safe host country. The majority find ways to manage, working in the cash-based informal economy, clustering residences in co-national enclaves, founding schools, and creating ways to avoid harassment on the streets.
However, facing few job opportunities and pervasive racism in Egypt, some of these migrants continue onward irregularly from Cairo hoping to reach countries in the EU like Germany or Denmark. Many of these hopefuls are caught during smuggling/trafficking via Libya, while others are caught in “hotspots” in Italy before they can reach Northern Europe. In 2008, several thousand sub-Saharan refugees headed northeast instead, making the dangerous crossing from Egypt’s Sinai into Israel, and have since settled in diverse neighborhoods like south Tel Aviv, meeting a mixture of national-level antagonism to migrants and local-level welcoming from Israeli activists.
Our RIT cases in Cairo and Tel Aviv tell only a small part of this expansive story, but provide individual- and neighborhood-level views of the struggles and resilience of refugees along the route, and how despite widespread hostility, some parts of these cities have managed de facto integration of thousands of new arrivals.