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Egyptians are stranded in Ukraine, and the Embassy does not fulfil its duties

KYIV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 27: Ukrainian servicemen patrol during a curfew as Russian forces continue to advance on the fourth day in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 27, 2022. ( Aytaç Ünal - Anadolu Agency )
Ukrainian servicemen patrol during a curfew as Russian forces continue to advance on the fourth day in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 27, 2022. [Aytaç Ünal - Anadolu Agency]

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many Egyptians have found themselves amidst a war in which they could not have even a camel so they could begin their escape journey! Still, they were stuck due to the suspension of air traffic, and they had no choice but to call for help in their country to save them, but they did not find the help they had hoped for.

Among about 6,000 Egyptians in Ukraine, are students (3,964 students) who have travelled to study in Ukrainian universities, which do not require high degrees at the pre-university level to enrol in. Therefore, they are cheaper than their private Egyptian counterparts.

Mustafa, who has been studying medicine in Ukraine for four years, says that he was planning to flee Ukraine with the growing threats of war.  His travel was delayed because he had to extract official papers from the university proving that he had studied medicine for four years in order to preserve his future, in anticipation of not returning to Ukraine to complete his studies.

Mustafa's flight was supposed to arrive at Sharm el-Sheikh airport in Egypt, on the Thursday of the war. Then, his loss doubled because he was asked to hand over the key to his house, according to the escape scenario that the Russian bombing took by surprise. In a tiny apartment in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine, he was stuck with two of his fellow Egyptians and three other Palestinians.

Russian-Ukrainian war: How does it affect Egypt?

Mustafa holds the Egyptian Embassy responsible for his situation, saying that it left him and other students without evacuation plans or helping them, adding that his travel procedures took a month, "in which he did not find any support from the Embassy".

Due to the outbreak of war, Mustafa's plan to leave Ukraine has failed because of no alternative plan. Instead, he has to adapt to his situation as a stranded Egyptian: "What I care about is food and drink, trying to use my savings for as long as possible, because of money transfer difficulties."

It was similar for Mina, an Egyptian student who had not completed his first year at a Ukrainian university in Kharkiv. He remains in hiding in the subway stations near his residence. He is preparing for a dangerous journey to western Ukraine near the Polish border, relying on the financial transfer he received from his family; just before the outbreak of the war, he would stay in any hotel there to determine what he would do next.

Stranded students' families complained about the inability of their children to move to the Ukrainian borders and the inefficient communication with the Egyptian Embassy in Kyiv, calling on the Egyptian government to intervene effectively in the crisis.

Travel groups are overwhelmed with requests from Egyptians stranded in different parts of Ukraine for help, whether for getting food and drink, transportation, a safe place to hide or transportation to the Ukrainian/Polish border.

Dozens of Egyptians in Poland and Romania announced their readiness to receive their brothers at the borders, who have been displaced from Ukraine, transfer them to safe places and provide for their needs, which happened with those who succeeded in crossing the borders.

Embassy advice: stay at home or go to the border

The Egyptian Embassy in Ukraine has asked citizens in Kharkiv and eastern cities to stay in their homes or hideouts as it negotiated a safe path for their exit. At the same time, it advised Egyptians who are in western towns and can head to the Polish border, to do so in order to return to their homeland.

Nabila Makram, Minister of State for Immigration and Egyptian Affairs Abroad said that the Ministry had formed an operations room to follow up on the situation of the Egyptian community in Ukraine and is communicating with the heads of the community to keep track of the problem. The Ministry added that it coordinates with the relevant ministries on alternative solutions for students and directs them to stay away from dangerous areas.

In theory, this is fine, but in practice, it is different. Despite the government's claims that it is working to end the suffering of the stranded, it did not even announce the provision of flights to transport them from the countries surrounding Ukraine to Egypt. The Embassy did not even send delegates near the crossings with Poland (to which many Egyptians flee) to facilitate the entry of stranded Egyptians, content with saying that "coordination is being carried out through the Egyptian Embassy in Warsaw with the Polish authorities."

The government's handling of the crisis of Egyptians stranded in Ukraine reminds us of what happened with those stranded at the beginning of the Corona pandemic in early 2020, when thousands of Egyptians remained stuck in many countries in the midst of the closure procedures. Unfortunately, the government did not do its part to save them, so they found no need to rely on the government to return home but, in the case of Ukraine, it is even more dangerous as it is a country at war.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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