/ 23 July 2023

Sudan refugees face soaring rent prices in Cairo

Sudan Refugees
Hardship: People fleeing war-torn Sudan arrive at Qastal land port between Egypt and Sudan. Egypt’s economic crisis has resulted in rents soaring. Photo: Khaled Desouki/ Getty Images

Sudanese refugee Mohannad had been in Cairo for only a few weeks when his landlady said he would have to pay triple the rent if he wanted to keep his apartment.

He had arrived with his wife and three children in the Egyptian capital, 2 000km north of his home in Khartoum, two weeks after the brutal war between Sudan’s rival generals — Sudan’s army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Rapid Support Forces commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — broke out on 15 April.

When more than 250 000 people crossed into Egypt from Sudan — fleeing ceaseless air strikes, street battles, looting and sexual violence — property owners in Cairo saw an opportunity.

Mohannad signed a six-month lease for a furnished apartment for 6 000 Egyptian pounds ($195) a month, the average monthly income for an Egyptian family, according to official figures.

But “my landlady told me that the rent had gone up to 18 000 pounds,” said Mohannad, who gave only his first name to protect his privacy.

At the same time, he found out his home in the Sudanese capital had been broken into and looted.

When he refused to pay the increase, “she said she had other Sudanese takers who were willing to pay 25 000 pounds. She would cut off the electricity and water, and get her kids to throw things at us,” he said.

Fed up, Mohannad and his family packed up and left.

Many others reported similar ordeals in Egypt, where its worst-ever economic crisis has pushed property owners to squeeze a profit wherever they can, including from war refugees.

Inflation in Egypt hit a record high of 36.8% in June, and the pound has lost half its value against the US dollar since early last year. Purchasing power in the import-dependent economy has been slashed and families struggle to make ends meet.

New arrivals face the same hardships, with realtors reporting a sharp increase in demand in the satellite city of 6 October, west of Cairo. 

Sudanese families scramble to find housing there, near the offices of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Within weeks, “there was nothing left to rent, after a period of stagnation on the local market”, said Mohamed, an independent realtor who asked to be identified by first name only, fearing scrutiny by authorities. 

Rents have soared well above market prices.

“The average rent for a furnished apartment used to be 7 000 to 8 000 pounds, now it’s up to 10 000 and more the closer you are to the UNHCR offices,” the realtor said.

Another broker, who also requested anonymity, said rent prices in the traditionally well-off neighbourhood of Heliopolis in eastern Cairo used to be similar to 6 October rates before the influx of Sudanese refugees, but within months have climbed to 12 000 pounds.

Ashraf, a Sudanese man in his 40s, managed to rent an unfurnished apartment for his family of nine in Hadayek al-Ahram, a working-class neighbourhood near the Giza pyramids. But within a week of moving in, “prices for the same type of unit had gone up from 3 500 to 5 000 pounds”.

But the main cause of the surge in prices across Cairo is not the arrival of many Sudanese, according to real estate market analyst Mahmud al-Lithy Nassef.

“As residents of central Cairo move out of the city to new satellite cities, they’ve converted their old units to sources of revenue,” he said. 

The analyst pointed to past surges in demand. Iraqis, Yemenis and Syrians have all flocked to Egypt to escape conflicts in their countries, and yet the local market had always stabilised, he said. But until it does, some refugees are being left with nowhere to turn.

“I met a Sudanese woman who had been sleeping on the street with her children and her luggage,” said Mohannad, who found a flat in Hadayek al-Ahram.

“Her landlord raised the rent, she couldn’t afford it,” he said.According to Mohannad, the woman was waiting for her husband, who is one of thousands camped at a border crossing between Sudan and Egypt, waiting to be issued an entry visa. — AFP