Sudanese refugee Mohannad had only been in Cairo a few weeks when his landlady told him 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 — 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) north of his home in Khartoum — two weeks after the brutal war between Sudan’s rival generals broke out on April 15.
As Egypt said more than 250,000 people crossed in from Sudan — fleeing ceaseless air strikes, street battles, rampant looting and sexual violence — property owners in Cairo saw an opportunity.
Mohannad, 35, signed a six-month lease for a furnished apartment for 6,000 Egyptian pounds ($195) per 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 like others interviewed by AFP gave only his first name to protect his privacy.
At around the same time, he found out his home in the Sudanese capital had been broken into and looted.
When he refused 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 eventually 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.
- ‘Nothing left to rent’ –
Inflation in Egypt hit a record high of 36.8 percent 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 as 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.
And rents have soared well above market prices.
“The average rent for a furnished apartment used to be 7,000-8,000 pounds, now it’s up to 10,000 and more the closer you are to the UNHCR offices,” the realtor told AFP.
Another broker, who also requested anonymity, said rent prices in the traditionally well-off neighborhood 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 neighborhood 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”, he told AFP.
- ‘On the street’ –
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 stabilized, 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 told AFP.
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.
©️ Agence France-Presse