A new report from the United Nations Development Programme suggests that Syrian refugees have had an immensely positive impact on Egypt’s economy. Since 2011, over five million refugees have fled Syria and settled in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. In Egypt, despite only having 120,000 people registered, official sources estimate the actual figure is closer to half a million. The influx of people, but also private capital and expertise has fueled the growth of businesses in the country, with over $800 million injected to the Egyptian economy through investment, technical skills, and business acumen.

The UNDP report, compiled with the assistance of the International Labor Organization and the World Food Programme, describes at length the economic footprints Syrian refugees are leaving on their host countries - as well as their struggles. In Egypt, 54 percent of Syrian refugees are living under the poverty line, and about 20 percent are unemployed. The prohibitively expensive and complicated process of obtaining legal permission to live and work in Egypt puts Syrian refugees at a major disadvantage when it comes to finding employment, as Egyptian employers are often reluctant to hire refugees with unstable legal standing.

Financially, lack of access to credit and banking options inhibits many Syrians from opening or expanding their own businesses. Syrian refugees are unable to collateralise loans because of their lack of land and property in Egypt. Moreover, would-be entrepreneurs are challenged due to microfinance organisations’ reluctance to lend to foreigners. Furthermore, the complexities of business regulations in Egypt make it difficult for startups to expand; Syrians often cannot register their businesses in their own names, and cannot travel abroad for business on refugee visas or import skilled labor from home. But Syrians have risen above the challenges of their situation and created positive ripples in the Egyptian economy.

So how are they doing it?

A large part of the equation is that Syrians are helping each other through Syrian-managed organisations. The Syrian Business Association in Egypt has helped entrepreneurial refugees establish their own businesses by providing guidance and counseling to new ventures regarding official rules and regulations, market trends, asset management, and networking with helpful government officials. Syrian business people are also establishing partnerships with Egyptian business owners to help alleviate some of the burdens placed on their ventures by the complexities of bureaucracy. Syrian businesses in Egypt have invigorated new sectors and hired both Egyptians and Syrians. Despite the numerous challenges facing Syrian refugees in Egypt, there is increasing evidence that they are contributing positively to the economy.

The full details of the UNDP report can be accessed here

Main Image: Bashar, a Syrian salesman in Cairo’s Little Damascus.

Photo Credit: @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.

Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.