During a visit to Cairo by the IDC MENA team in June 2019, we had the opportunity to interview two young people who arrived in Cairo without their family members. The meeting was facilitated  by caseworkers who support those young people and also migrant parents who have taken these unaccompanied youth into their homes, as part of the Community Hosting Programme in Cairo run by St. Andrews Refugee Services (StARS)


StARS provides high-quality services meeting unaddressed needs of refugees, and provides a safe and inclusive space for displaced people to come together as a community.


At the present time, the programme includes 32 community hosts who are hosting a total of 53 Unaccompanied Children and Youth from 4 nationalities. Before hosting the Unaccompanied Children and Youth, the community hosts undergo a two-day training programme run by psychosocial workers which gives them some tools and insights into how best to host a child who is not part of their original family unit. So far, these trainings have been facilitated in four different languages native to the hosts and guests participating in the programme. The Community Hosts and Unaccompanied Children and Youth (UCY) who will be admitted into their households are matched based on their nationality, language, religion, and culture. According to the programme participants whom we met, this is a good way to ensure harmony in the household and decrease the risk of misunderstanding at home.

When asked about whether they felt like part of a family, one of the young girls recounted how prior to being admitted to the Community Hosting Programme she was having severe mental health issues, was left hopeless and seriously considered taking her own life. “I wanted to kill myself, I had no financial assistance and no one in this country to help me” she explained. However, now that she is being hosted by a family from her own country, she shared that she feels supported and protected by them.  She added, “they [the StARS case workers] put me in touch with a host, and I entered a more stable life”

The Community Hosts shared a similar view to the youth, regarding their feeling like part of a family.

There is no difference between her and my child … I see her as my own”, one of the hosts said.

Although the Community Hosts we interviewed seemed to be eager from the start to host unaccompanied children and raise them as their own, we are well aware that it is very challenging to find families who are willing to host for a multitude of reasons, some of which may be misconceptions. As such, we asked the hosts to explain how they would encourage others to extend the same hospitality as they did. One of the Ethiopian Community Hosts replied:

“According to our traditions, if you help a vulnerable man, you gain blessings from God and from society… As an Ethiopian, we have good culture to help a person, and with this training we are gaining more experience and understanding as to how to help a refugee.”

The young people being interviewed had a similarly positive opinion of the Community Hosting Programme. One of the girls explained that she feels safer now whenever she leaves the house in Cairo, because she knows she has a family waiting for her when she gets back. This reduces the risk of being apprehended and then lost in the detention system, with no one to follow up on her whereabouts. Another boy expressed the importance of treating the hosts as his own family and said that he usually communicates with them directly whenever he needs anything or when there is an issue at home to be resolved.

When asked about what they envisioned for their future, one of the young people said that he would like to launch and then be the director of a community-based organisation, in order to help other children and vulnerable adults. Another girl said:

“…My future is looking bright; I have good hopes. My caseworker is asking me what I need, what I want to do in the future. I am listened to.” 

The children collectively agreed that Community Hosting was far more desirable than a closed shelter where their needs are less likely to be met and their voices seldom heard. Also, the Community Hosts and the children all expressed the importance of having a caseworker following-up on their cases on a regular basis, which they said helps them resolve any issues and feel supported by the programme.

Regarding their protection concerns in the host country, one of the interviewees explained “We have no guarantees to live in this country. Without residence permit, you can be arrested and detained.” Another host added, “those without ID cards… they have serious problems to live normally and survive.” One of the hosts also expressed concern about female migrant domestic workers from his country, saying “Our girls are working as house maids in Egyptian households, and after a whole month of working, sometimes they are not paid. If they complain, the bosses call the police. There is no safety.”

Of course, Community Hosting is not the only solution for the many protection concerns that unaccompanied children, youth, vulnerable adults, and entire refugee and migrant populations face in countries in the MENA region. But at the IDC, we believe that it is the most desirable placement option for vulnerable migrants.

The expressions of goodwill by the hosts also demonstrate what is possible when all stakeholders work together to support displaced people. Such programmes do not solely rely on host governments and non-governmental organisations, but on the generosity of refugees and migrants themselves, who are more established than others in their communities, to help and support their own.


For more information about alternatives to detention and community hosting in the Middle East & North Africa, please contact IDC Africa & Middle East Regional Coordinator, Junita Calder: [email protected]