CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition


1 On May 2020, the Al-Masry al-youm newspaper ran a headline “Egypt carried out 135 flights in one month to bring back 24,570 nationals stranded abroad”. [1] From 19 March 2020, the date of the closure of international borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Egyptian government commissioned many repatriation flights, [2] through the national airline Egyptair and its subsidiary Air Cairo. Among these Egyptian people stranded abroad, the youngest, who had left to study, saw their migratory path affected by the severity of health and geographical restrictions. They found themselves isolated in their host contexts, often for the first time in their lives, with no possibility of returning to the family home. Most often, as they thought of their stay as temporary and were still very much connected to their country of origin, Egypt, through regular returns (academic holidays, family events, etc.), they therefore experienced the crisis as a shock, a moment of crisis which led them to develop individual strategies for accepting reduced mobility and a new daily life.

2 Living in a highly connected transnational space (social networks, telephone, videoconferencing, etc.), they adapted their practice to negotiate their experience of the crisis in several areas: at health level, to position themselves in the face of their preventive practices or to access health institutions, and in their daily lives, keeping the link with their country of origin, in face of the administrative authorities of the host countries or country of origin, or on the contrary to accept their stay locked down in the host country.

3 This article will focus on describing the unprecedented dimension of experiencing a crisis for this Egyptian population “stranded” in France. More precisely, we are interested in their choices about their migration experiences: choosing to be repatriated or to remain, daily adaptation, and use of transnational Egyptian networks of sociability and solidarity. This was to observe the organisation and positioning process, collective and individual, which they faced from the announcement of lockdown on 17 March 2020 to the first easing of isolation measures in May 2020.

A Transnational Experience: Dual Presence and Experience of Crisis

4 The analysis is thus at the crossroads of work on the study of Egyptian migration in France, the sociology of student mobility, as well as the transnational experience of crisis, particularly in relation to the concept of “dual presence” of individuals between countries of origin and host countries (Dufoix, 2010; Diminescu, 2005).

5 In this research this is about articulating individual and collective experiences during this crisis, but also highlighting its transnational dimension between the host country and the country of origin. This leads us to formulate a central hypothesis regarding the experience of our respondents. This experience seems to us to result from a dual experience which could be described as “dual presence” — to adopt Dufoix’s concept — towards the health and administrative orders and national news in both contexts. Immigrant in France, emigrant from Egypt, this population physically lives in the host country and depends on its system, while also being involved in discussions about the management of the crisis and also emotionally — in the relationship to the circle of family and friends — in the country of origin. We will see how this crisis has in this way shaped an unprecedented experience for this population, specific to the time of crisis, and often close to a “dual presence.” (Diminescu, 2005; Dufoix, 2010)

6 To return to this concept of “dual presence,” Dufoix (2010) stresses that it would be wise to think of a “science of dual presence” in international migration as far as these migrations are now part of a “decoupling of space and time [which] has continued to grow and [in which] ubiquity is no longer absolutely impossible.” He states that this is not to claim a realistic description: “no migrant, no individual, has the gift of physical ubiquity,” (Dufoix, 2010: 28). On the other hand, the new means of communication and the support of States for their expatriates undoubtedly contribute to reducing the distance experienced between the host country and the country of origin (Dufoix, 2010). This approach converges with the transnationalist direction of the sociology of migration, initiated in the 1990s. (Potot, 2018) This school of thought posits a seamless “transnational social field” for these populations: “their lives transcend national borders and bring two societies into the same social field.” (Schiller et al., 1992).

7 The case of students seemed to us to be particularly heuristic to address this theoretical point of the sociology of international migration. Indeed, at any time, they experienced almost instantaneously the various phases of the health crisis in both countries: lockdown measures, curfew, travel arrangements, etc. They then calculated how to manage daily life — with distance learning or interrupted university courses — their choice about returning as a function of this dual presence, and finally their dual involvement, in both contexts. In this regard, the crisis situation led to this dual experience permeating, more widely than in a usual student migration situation, various areas of the lives of our respondents.

8 The argument which revolves around this hypothesis of dual experience of crisis therefore takes place in three phases: first, looking back at the situation of Egyptian people who had come to study in France, on the peculiarities and the historicity of this migration which inform us about how the crisis was experienced by our respondents. We will then discuss the question of repatriation, forcing individuals to navigate between both contexts and face the sometimes flagrant lack of international coordination regarding health restrictions and travel conditions during this first period of crisis. Then we will discuss dual presence in the daily lives “of here and there,” through which, in the face of social isolation, our respondents developed strategies of transnational bypassing, communication and mutual assistance.

Methodology and Panel Used

9 To carry out this investigation, [3] we conducted semi-structured in-depth interviews (n=12) — which could extend to two or three hours of recording and sometimes taking place in several sessions — between April and September 2020 with people of Egyptian nationality, the majority of whom were on one of the two main platforms for discussion and sociability specific to this migrant population in France: Adeef (Association des Étudiants Égyptiens en France) and Égyptiens Sans Frontières. These groups’ Facebook pages currently represent discussion spaces specific to this population of students and those who have been students. Former students often remain engaged because they are significant sociability networks for them, thus allowing them to share their experience with new students.

10 The aim was to talk to people from this little-studied population, who did not necessarily think of settling in France at the time of their arrival and experienced their stay as temporary. We assumed that the impact of the brutal cessation of international mobility would be all the more salient since these people found themselves “stranded” in a country where their ties with family and/or friends were fairly limited.

11 Six interviews were conducted in French and six others in Arabic. [4] All the names we use in the article are pseudonyms. Interviews are entirely anonymised.

12 Conducting this investigation in the early days of the crisis proved, moreover, to be complicated in several respects. Contacting people to interview was difficult when all research activities seemed to be suspended. Venues for non-virtual meetings were not accessible, for example the campus, universities, student association meetings, student residences, etc. Furthermore, many potential respondents were not available for discussions because they were in the thick of organising their post-lockdown lives (travel, relocation, return to France or Egypt, catching up with courses, etc.). Therefore, everything had to be possible remotely.

13 The lack of perspective on the situation also represented a methodological issue for developing interview schedules. We then concentrated on a fairly small panel to carry out very much in-depth interviews and thus address a wide variety of themes relating to their experience. This enabled us to bring out, through this inductive approach, the major concerns which confronted these young Egyptian people in France. The interviews therefore relate, in particular, to living conditions, the feelings of being locked down, the development of practice in times of crisis and the migration path as regards the question of repatriation — involving a more or less lengthy return depending on the case, or even the refusal to return.

14 Having come to France to study, the majority of our respondents are currently studying for their degree or masters in French universities and are aged between twenty and twenty-eight years. These students have been in France since at least September 2019. Three have just found a job or are in hybrid learning situations between studies and salaried employment (training contract). Our recruitment of the majority of our respondents happened by a “snowball effect”: each person recommended us to another who had found themselves “stranded” in France whom they had met in the context of studies in France — or who had followed a similar career which had brought them to France to study: some knew each other before their move. As the panel developed, we noticed that, except for one respondent, all respondents are on the Adeef and Égyptiens Sans Frontières groups and used these resources in their time in France. The only respondent who was an exception to this, Patrick, who used Christian religious networks more often, came to France to study at a younger age (after his baccalaureate). Of course, all Egyptian students who come to France do not necessarily join the student networks. However, when they have strong common experiences (French high school, studies in the major Egyptian cities before arriving in France, urban upper middle class, etc.), through acquaintances they are going to be attracted to follow the Facebook pages and groups of Adeef or Égyptiens Sans Frontières.

15 It is notable that various geographical and social groups can be distinguished among all respondents, and the social circles they discuss in interview, depending on the subject they study. Indeed, there are many students in the humanities (in economics, political science and law) who studied at the University of Cairo before coming to Paris. Others in French provincial cities (Lyon, Grenoble, Toulouse) study hard sciences such as engineering schools, aviation, applied physics, etc. Here, a gender split — quite classic — also applies since women respondents are more likely to be in the humanities and men in engineering or computer studies.

16 The geographical diversity in our panel is linked to the context of lockdown. Indeed, only two interviews were held face-to-face in Toulouse, whereas the others were conducted remotely. This finally enabled access to a wider variety of profiles residing in various regions of France.

17 In parallel with these interviews, we monitored the activities and assistance on offer from Égyptiens Sans Frontières and Adeef to students. An institutional monitoring focused on the official statements of the Egyptian authorities in France [5] was also carried out to understand better the management of repatriation by the Egyptian authorities and their use of the institutional category of those “stranded abroad”, which as we will see included these students, not, however, without ambiguity.

18 This corpus was also enriched by our respective experiences in the field in Egypt and France in our doctoral research. Indeed, as each of us work on the Egyptian context, we benefited from facilitated access to our respondents, many of whom belonged to our networks of acquaintances.

The Situation of Egyptians who Came to Study in France: Temporary Migration Paths?

19 Egyptian emigration is historically quite recent. Indeed, for a long time, it was far from encouraged by the Egyptian authorities (Tsourapas, 2018). It was in the 1970s that it began to develop due to oil shocks, then intensified in the 1990s (Zohry, 2013). Although Egyptian emigration is mainly directed to the Gulf countries [6] and, according to a 2011 survey of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), this choice remains dominant among younger generations, Europe remains an increasingly attractive destination for those with means. (Zohry, 2013; Zohry and Priyanka, 2010; Campus France, 2017)  [7]

20 Furthermore, several studies point out the existence of a multi-faceted mesh of transnational Egyptian networks (cyber-activism, transnational associations, transnational political participation) specific to French territory and growing since the 2011 revolution (Dazey and Zederman, 2017; Lamblin, 2015; Müller-Funk, 2014; Pagès-El Karoui, 2015). This phenomenon can also be observed in the Egyptian student community, since 2011 constitutes the date of the establishment of the official association network of Adeef, which we will see plays a central role at institutional level, presenting itself as representing “Egyptian students in France in order to make their voices heard by Egyptian and French authorities.”  [8]

21 The French example is thus already a case study with regard to Egyptian migration, whether it is work on migrant workers, sometimes “illegals”, or the study of the Egyptian religious diasporas — Coptic, Jewish and Nubian (Baussant, 2017; Beinin, 1998; Delhaye, 2008; Kaddal, 2021; Pagès-El Karoui, 2012). On the other hand, among these many profiles of Egyptian emigration, the case of students has been little studied.

22 Defined as “international students” or “internationally mobile students,” [9] our respondents belong to a relatively small migrant population in OECD countries, but one that is constantly increasing through the support of States and institutions, (Ballatore, 2010; Xavier de Brito and Agulhon, 2009) and because of economic and geopolitical contexts encouraging departures for studies abroad (Garneau and Mazzella, 2013). Compared to those of other countries — such as student migration from China, India and even Germany, which are among the most mobile student populations ( Terrier, 2009), student mobility of Egyptian people is certainly quite a minority in numerical terms, since the latest figures from Campus France, in 2017, show no more than 25,000 Egyptian students studying abroad. However, their number has steadily increased since 2010, an increase of the order of 74% between 2010 and 2017 (Campus France, 2017). Moreover, in 2015, France is the fourth most popular destination for Egyptian students abroad (after the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the United States). It is, therefore, the top destination in Europe (Campus France, 2017) even ahead of the United Kingdom, which, in terms of undifferentiated Egyptian migration, registers a larger number of Egyptian nationals: 250,000 in the United Kingdom, compared to 160,000 in France in 2011 [10]. This situation demonstrates the fact that France is of particular importance to Egyptian student populations who have the means to travel for their studies. And this is particularly due to the historical prestige of Francophone education in Egypt, particularly in Alexandria and Cairo (Abécassis, 2003; Doss, 2004). In this regard Lamblin (2015: 3) states that “the choice of France, for many, reflects a long-term education in French in prestigious schools in Egypt as well as an education which can be described as liberal”. This student population sets up its own support networks, its own historicity and special social characteristics in France, whether it is through social class or the Francophone identity acquired during education.

23 There is another reason, a financial one, for choosing France: from the urban upper middle classes (Lamblin, 2015), these students are not part of the wealthiest Egyptian elite and choose France rather than an Anglo-Saxon country where the costs of academic education are higher. They then arrive in France via facilities such as Campus France, Erasmus, scholarships issued by the French or Egyptian governments, or, since 2019, Adeef scholarships.

24 Their path, like that of any international student, is indeed very dependent on exchange and scholarship programmes upstream (Coulon and Paivandi, 2003; Erlich, 2012) and implies passing through “social selection logics.” (Jamid et al., 2020: 28) This is our case study: selection takes the form of a compulsory appearance, prior to departure, before the French agency, Campus France. [11] The latter then assesses the student’s application [12] and decides whether a scholarship is awarded or not. [13] As such, social origin and the fact of having gone through this selection process allows us to understand our respondents’ search for the best material balance between the host society and the society of origin.

25 The arrangements for integrating into France, due to the social characteristics of these wealthy populations, are thus far from the experience of other Egyptian migrants. Patrick, son of doctors in Egypt, who arrived in France after his baccalauréat and is completing his engineering studies, is a good example. He refuses to identify himself as an “immigrant” and explains by this refusal the need to distinguish himself from immigrant workers:


When I arrived, it wasn’t to migrate, it was for my studies. [...] For me, migration is about people who do not speak the language, and who have nothing, and who come to make a start. That is to say that there are many Egyptians who come, for example, because life in Egypt is unpleasant, and stuff like that. ” [14]

27 This differentiation, tinged with a certain class contempt for immigrant workers, is intended to mark his migratory path with a superior description: as an international student. In this respect, Xavier de Brito speaks of a certain “migrant habitus” in students, characterised by a sense of superiority towards other forms of migration (Xavier de Brito and Agulhon, 2009: 19). The issues of Patrick’s student mobility then shape his social experience in the host society.

28 The sociological characteristics of this population, namely high social origins — specific to international students (Xavier de Brito and Agulhon, 2009) from urban upper middle classes (Lamblin, 2015) —, explain to a significant degree the possibility of such a migration path, as well as their frequent return visits, financed most of the time by family economic capital. Furthermore, continuing studies abroad appear to be subject to “international goodwill” (Nogueira and Aguiar, 2008) constructed in the society of origin in various socialisation bodies (private schools, universities, families, etc.). For example, all respondents have, to pick up Delpierre’s expression (2017), a strong “early international socialisation”: speaking several languages, they have mostly already holidayed in Europe or America during their childhood, etc. Their mobility is therefore part of an enrichment process of what Wagner (2007) calls “international capital”, i.e. enhancing “the international dimension of cultural capital, the importance of which increases with the push for globalisation processes”. (Nogueira and Aguiar, 2008: 107) Indeed, it is increasingly valued in the country of origin to have been educated abroad and to speak several languages. Egypt is no exception to this, it is even particularly involved in the phenomenon of globalisation of the labour market, due to the large number of foreign stakeholders employers on its territory (major international companies, international institutions, etc.), but also due to the importance of direct foreign investment in its economy (Mohamed Taha, 2012).

29 Many young students emigrate with the idea of improving their recruitment chances when they return to Egypt and therefore think of their move as temporary. Youssef, the one of our respondents who finally stayed for the longest time in France (nine years), and who has just found a position as an engineer in France, says:


I don’t feel in my head that I’m going to stay here. [...] Unconsciously, I am a visitor here, even if I have been here for years, and even if this period is extended and becomes twenty years. Deep down, I am here for a specific period. ” [15]

31 The mobility of Egyptian students thus is made up of individual paths, disconnected from those of other migrant groups, which is therefore interesting to document. Studying the wealthy classes — although students are also likely to fall rapidly into insecurity and thus have a dual dimension — in migration terms, also broadens the sociology of migration which often has a decided attraction to vulnerable migrants. Here, two sides of a transnational field document the diversity of the migratory experience and the way in which social relations turn into migration, while building on the basis of relationships from the society of origin (Blum et al., 1985; Bréant, 2016; Erlich, 2012; Potot, 2018). Moreover, these students are in fact very mobile, it is in fact the main axis on which their community networks focus: to facilitate their travel and temporary settlement (see section on solidarity networks). Thus, in a context of the abrupt disruption of international connections, it is actually one of the central characteristics specific to their migration which is challenged.

32 For these various reasons, we were keen to conduct interviews exclusively with people who had migrated to France to study. Among them, two have just started working, but their material and social condition remain close to their previous student situation. For this reason it was also interesting to question people who had decided to extend their stay in France after their studies and to see how the health crisis has affected their migration paths and their choice to stay or leave in March 2020.

A Repatriation Difficult to Negotiate during the Health Crisis: Navigating between Two Crisis Contexts

33 Faced with the health crisis, a new category entered state discourse: those “stranded abroad” or “stuck abroad” depending on the translations. [16] Developed from an international vocabulary, from the English word “stranded” and previously used in cases of humanitarian crises or civil wars involving massive repatriations, or in the context of international migration (Chetail and Braeunlich, 2013) — this category is beginning to be studied in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (McDermid et al., 2022; Youssef et al., 2021). Egypt is no exception to this rhetoric, in its public discourse, official statements referring to the ‘âlikîn (the stranded/stuck). In this article, we mainly use the word “stranded” for the sake of clarity and because of the strong image this word sends when referring to foreign people affected by the health crisis. It also systematically refers to the translation of the Arabic word “âlikîn” (which means being suspended on hold, and implies a block of some kind) and was used in Arabic by our respondents or sometimes translated by them into French as “bloqués” [stuck].

34 Shaped by the statements of political and administrative authorities during the first wave of international health restrictions, this category of “‘âlikîn” led to the establishment of a genuine selection process for repatriation, with severe socio-economic and mental health consequences for rejected individuals. The question of repatriation was also part of a media process [17] to legitimise national health management by the Egyptian authorities. Bringing back its nationals fitted into this as a demonstration of national sovereignty. In the end, this term was taken up by the Egyptian press until it ended up entering everyday language. On Twitter, for example, this was the case with the hashtag “احنا_في_ضهرك# ” (ihnâ fî dahrak), meaning literally “we are at your back”, in other words, “we are there for you / we have got your back”. This movement — started by a group of Egyptian expatriates on Facebook — aimed to offer assistance, services, and to activate solidarity networks between those “stranded” abroad [18]. The term “stranded” — which, at the beginning of the crisis, seemed to encompass any Egyptian person abroad — then fully became a feature of the pandemic situation of 2020 and from the outset went beyond state discourse to be used in civil society and the transnational Egyptian community. However, as regards repatriation, only some Egyptians abroad were able to negotiate a return.

For the Egyptian State, Who were the “Stranded”? Diplomatic and Statutory Issues

35 To benefit from repatriation, the “stranded” people had to be distinguished from those resident abroad, which implied the adoption of an official definition of their situation.

36 In early March, the Egyptian authorities at first used a simple formula to describe any Egyptian person affected by the closure of borders, the suspension of flights or any other measure taken to curb the spread of the virus, as shown by a statement of 9 March 2020. [19] The authorities then distinguished only two groups: on one hand “Egyptians stranded abroad,” [20] who are there “temporarily” and “want to return home” [21] to Egypt, and on the other hand those who are “stranded inside”, therefore in Egypt and who were unable to return to the country where they lived, due to international health measures  [22]. In other words, those stuck in Egypt and those stuck outside Egypt.

37 Faced with a strong demand to return, and following the suspension of flights from 19 March, this definition was tightened up: it was now really necessary to be “stranded” abroad, in an emergency situation. In this context, speaking of the “stranded” was intended, if the development of official rhetoric is analysed, to progressively distinguish between people in temporary situations and those with “a stable situation” in the host country at the time of the crisis. However, no statement reflected on the concept of a stable situation nor defined its terms.

38 The uncertainty of this categorisation will be observed in the cases of our respondents, most of whom had either a student residence permit for varied periods (often a year, but which could be three years in the case of a doctorate), or had just been issued a work residence permit. In addition, all our respondents had accommodation in France where they could stay during the pandemic: seven lived in a university residence and the others in apartments, either shared or alone. How to understand the qualifier “temporary” in this context of crisis? No clear de facto criteria were indicated by the Egyptian authorities. Yet students seem to fit right into this category of those “stranded abroad” and are mentioned as such in several statements as people targeted for return. This nevertheless presupposes proving the temporary nature of the student stay, even if the person is now in a long process of study and residence in France.

39 This repatriation scheme would allow two of our respondents, Youssra, studying for a Ph.D. in the Paris region, and Ali, at the engineering school in Grenoble, to take the first repatriation flight on 1 April 2020 from Paris. Nevertheless, this return in both cases was subject to negotiations with the authorities. Youssra’s story clearly illustrates this negotiation of status in an uncertain context after the first two weeks of lockdown. A Ph.D. student, she has a multi-year student residence permit which she had not yet changed for a “research” residence permit, which here played to her advantage. She explained that if she had a “research” residence permit, the Egyptian authorities might have considered her to be more of a researcher than a student. Before the start of lockdown she hesitated about leaving and finally decided to stay despite the announcements suspending flights. She was locked down in her studio on the university campus and tried to work on her thesis. However, suffering from her isolation and the uncertainty of the situation, a month later she decided to return to Cairo. Although she was a paid Ph.D. student and had already been in France for almost two years, she emphasised her status as a student “stranded” abroad to the Consulate to get her repatriation. She then implemented an individual strategy to meet the required criteria and, faced with the Consulate’s requests for supporting evidence regarding her situation as a student and her accommodation, she did not specify her doctoral salary in order “not to confuse the official.”  [23]

40 Finally, after a month of lockdown, on 13 April, the eligibility criteria for repatriation were even further restricted and suddenly excluded many of those “stranded” from the process, including a large number of students (cf. Figure 1). Those who could request repatriation then became the following:


“Any Egyptian who was on a temporary visit abroad, on a tourist trip, a therapeutic trip, a work mission, a commercial or cultural activity, a symposium abroad, a student abroad whose university campus has been closed and could not return to Cairo because of the cessation of air flights.” [24]

42 This new definition of the stranded continued the ambiguities, particularly regarding what constitutes a “university campus”: does this only mean university residences? Or the whole campus? As such, all universities were then closed in France and the classes were conducted remotely. This vagueness then accentuated the difficulty of negotiating the eligibility criteria for those who wanted to return. Furthermore, the criteria had been thought out in a general manner, without taking into account the particularities of each country, the term “university campus” or “residence” might seem inconsistent in some national contexts. For example, comparing the format of an Anglo-Saxon university campus (where everything is gathered in a single place) to that of a campus in the Paris region (scattered throughout the city and its urban periphery) or even that of a French provincial city. In this regard, the national and regional differences of higher educational institutions reinforced the difficulty of access to repatriation.

43 This was the case for Samia who had to grapple with the very informal and arbitrary nature of the category of the “stranded.” Indeed, having passed her Masters 2 degree in Poitiers, Samia was part of a programme for young graduates which enabled her to access a training contract endorsed by her school. She then worked for an airline with this contract, equivalent to a fixed-term contract. Samia was expecting to be hired after this contract, but because of the suspension of all recruitment in the context of the crisis, her contract had to be stopped after the three months planned (February-April 2020). She then contacted the Consulate to book a seat on the special flights. But her request was refused because she was no longer in a student residence (she had moved to Paris to be closer to her work), even though she was on a training contract endorsed by her school. She explained,


They said that it was just for those who were... who were stranded in France, that it was not for those who were in residence. In fact, they said permanent residences. But […] I know that there was a student friend who was in Strasbourg, who was in a student residence and they refused because she had a student residence. I know another one, she had a residence too, but they let her go. I tried several times, I sent e-mails. I sent crying emoticons. [laughs]. […] And they told me no: I was stuck until normal flights resumed.” [25]

45 Samia succeeded, after several negotiations and calls to the Consulate, in booking a flight. Furthermore, she then managed to get a flight from Lyon, although she lived in Paris. Going to Lyon despite the suspension of most rail transport, she discovered on her arrival that her flight was cancelled and then was doubly stuck in Lyon, far from her accommodation in Paris. She ended up being locked down at the home of an Egyptian friend who lives in the suburbs of Lyon.

46 This story illustrates a last form of indirect geographical selection for returning. Some people who lived far from the towns from which repatriation started did not necessarily have, unlike Samia, the opportunity of moving under full lockdown.

47 Furthermore, navigating the restrictions of both countries was a challenge in negotiating repatriation. For example, one had to know how to deal with the restrictions on leaving home, on transport and know when to leave depending on the official guidelines of both countries.

The Mismatch in Time Frames of the Crisis

48 Between France and Egypt, there was eventually a dual chronology of events and state decision-making (cf. Figure 1) which synchronously and diachronically configured the experience of the group of people studied. From 16 March, our respondents saw France adopting restrictive measures, much earlier than Egypt. They then faced a choice: either returning immediately, before the beginning of lockdown, at very high prices, or staying, at the risk of being stuck and not subsequently eligible for repatriation. [26] Then on 19 March 2020, it was the turn of the Egyptian Prime Minister, Mostafa Madbouly, to announce the suspension of international flights. [27]

Figure 1: Chronology of Official Measures in France and Egypt, Aimed at Combating the Spread of COVID-19 from March to July 2020

Figure 0

Figure 1: Chronology of Official Measures in France and Egypt, Aimed at Combating the Spread of COVID-19 from March to July 2020

Design and production: S. Boisson and M. Madbouly.

49 Grappling with two systems, two administrations, two crisis management arrangements, with an entanglement of measures and their often contradictory content (cf. Figure 1), this population found itself in a climate of permanent uncertainty about their surroundings. Indeed, it was a real mismatch in time that could be observed between the two national situations. The time of lockdown in France, for example, began in mid-March, however, the first repatriation measures taken by the Egyptian authorities were only beginning to be formulated from 31 March. Moreover, in Egypt no complete lockdown was implemented, only a curfew was established from April.

50 The first flight to Egypt took place on 1 April. However, it was announced quite late, as one respondent, Youssra, a Ph.D. student in France, explained:


I remember on 16 March, the decision was made that there would be a total lockdown. And at that time I hesitated a bit. I thought do I leave or do I stay? And there was only one remaining flight. I hesitated. And I spoke to my parents. I told them, ‘I don’t know what to do’. So I stayed in France for exactly two weeks. And then I decided that if I found a flight, I’d go straight home. It was a bit hard, you know, it was a bit depressing … You are all alone, you have nothing to do. While I lived on campus, I could see people, but, all the same, it wasn’t... I wasn’t comfortable. I felt shut in... I had trouble working, I felt that I had no motivation and so it was quite hard. So at that time, I felt that it was going to last a while. Because at the beginning, they said two weeks and after two weeks, the situation deteriorated and I felt it would be more than a month. So I thought, it would be better for me to return and spend this lockdown period with my parents. It would be better for me, I would have more motivation and all that.” [28]

52 This mismatch played a large role in making a decision: there was a fear of taking the virus back to Egypt: “I was scared of infecting my parents. It seemed that it [the virus] was not much in evidence in Egypt.” [29] At the same time, there was pressure from the family to return at the beginning of lockdown because of this mismatch in the measures and the spread of the epidemic. “In Egypt, it’s safer because there are fewer cases. Come back!’ they told me.” [30]

53 Faced with the health crisis, the lack of clarity in this uncertain context also made the decisions to be taken more complicated: leave, stay, move. Add to that the lack of access to a whole set of services (prefecture, university and health institutions) which would in normal times support them in the host country, as in the country of origin. Several respondents thus expressed their fear of leaving and not being able to return because of their residence documents. Indeed, despite the extension of 180-day permits (following the orders of 25 March 2020 and 22 April 2020), [31] several were worried about leaving with this extension certificate which might not be considered at their return.

54 Faced with this turbulent context for making decisions, our respondents were then forced to “calculate” their room for manoeuvre on a daily basis. Several describe long calls to their relatives in Egypt to find out whether it made more sense to return or stay, to negotiate with their families about the costs of returning, they also describe their intensive monitoring of press releases, and Egyptian state declarations on repatriation, to understand the conditions for return. The question of the financial cost of returning seemed to be very important actually in requesting repatriation.

The Cost of Returning

55 The deterioration of material and immaterial living conditions for students, resulting from the health crisis, reinforced the financial difficulties of our respondents who were already “vulnerable as a result of their legal status, considered to be provisional and conditional.” (Bolzman, 2016: 101) Most then experienced “a contagious and structural vulnerability” [32] (Bolzman et al., 2002) which was expressed at several levels (accommodation, tuition fees, travel expenses, etc.). Compared to Egypt, they were often more vulnerable in France where they had no income — or low allowances — despite family resources. Indeed, because of the difference in living standards and costs [33] between Egypt and France, parents often took care of the accommodation and living costs of their student children at some financial expense. Coming into line with French prices was an effort — more or less significant depending on family situations, but never negligible in comparing relative costs between the two national contexts — for students.

56 Furthermore, the announcement of the imminent closure of European borders on 17 March had the effect of significantly increasing the prices of an airline ticket to Egypt — by double. Therefore those who wanted to leave before the beginning of lockdown had to take this parameter into account in their choice. Furthermore, from 31 March, quarantine in specific locations (Cairo airport hotels) was made compulsory in Egypt. The cost of the fortnight (nearly €1,000) to be borne by returnees, then caused some controversy in the media and social networks. Some returnees were not even aware beforehand and/or had already booked their tickets before this decision was announced. Faced with the controversy, President El-Sissi asked the Vive l’Égypte fund (sudûq Tahia Masr) [34] to take care of these accommodation costs for people on the 1 April flight. [35] From the following flight, the costs were again to be borne by passengers. This amount, too expensive for many of our respondents, hindered their move.

57 Furthermore, a distinction was made in quarantine arrangements for those returning from the Gulf states and its region and those from Europe: whereas the former did not have to pay, or subsequently could go to less expensive establishments, the latter had to go to the most expensive hotels. Undoubtedly perceived as “richer”, they were considered to be the most suitable to pay for expensive quarantine facilities. For students from France, this measure was nevertheless penalising since they did not have a European salary. These quarantine arrangements thus supported repatriation, before being replaced by quarantine at home on 3 June in Egypt. And by that date lockdown in France had already been lifted. Most of our respondents finally chose to stay in France for material reasons, while they had many emotional reasons to return.

58 Generally, these young Egyptian students found themselves shocked by the crisis, they had to change their expectations regarding their stay in France (extended studies, repeating a year, interrupted internships, etc.), and sometimes developed, independent of the official nomenclature, a real feeling of being stranded abroad, a feeling copiously fed by dissonance and the mismatch with the Egyptian context where no strict lockdown happened.

Dual Presence on a Daily Basis of Here and There: Faced with Social Isolation Transnational Strategies were Developed

59 The inability to return to Egypt, to be with the family — especially during the Ramadan period for Muslim people — to find themselves in their country of origin during this pandemic context — caused some of our respondents real “mental distress” (Rees and Fischer, 2020: 415). In reality this could accentuate the difficulties encountered in the host country, to which the feeling of isolation and being confined was added, especially for people locked down alone in small spaces, a feeling sometimes stronger than for people living in their country of origin. More generally, a discourse of questioning their move to Europe could be noted, as in the cases of Youssra and Ali who, weary, absolutely wanted to go home, or radically challenged long-term migration paths.

60 This was also the case for Asmaa who had finished her doctorate and found herself unemployed with no possibility of seeking a job in France because of the crisis. For her, locked down alone in Grenoble, the health restrictions had emphasised her complicated relationship to the host society. Unable to work on her studies, she mentioned the possibility of returning permanently because of the situation. Other parameters appeared in her discourse, which seemed to be exacerbated by the health crisis. She confided:


I feel I have no place here [silence]. Whatever I do, I don’t know how to fit into society [...]. Since I am a Muslim and wear a veil, I have a label here, and French people give me this label and “highlight” it all the time […] I am tired of it. I don’t want to live in a society where I spend my whole life “justifying myself,”... All I do is struggle. I have no more energy...” [36]

62 Samia, who had just completed her training contract, also found herself with no prospects and envisaged returning because of “the uncertain situation”. Finally, several others interviewed mentioned the difficulty of following online classes remotely, as well as them possibly repeating a year or extending studies to write a thesis or to do an internship. In this case, it was more the possibility of a prolonged stay which emerged, in the face of the stagnation lockdown caused. In these moments of doubt, what could be called adaptation and negotiation strategies to emerge from social and spatial isolation were implemented.

A Dual Daily Life Online to Escape Social Isolation in the Host Country

63 What justifies this increase in the transfer of most links (social, news monitoring, etc.) towards the country of origin was ultimately linked to the harsh isolation in the host society, the students interviewed often living with other Egyptian people, either in university residences or in flat-shares. Many saw their friends returning to Egypt or didn’t dare meet too much in the corridors for fear of becoming infected.

64 They ended up living a dual daily life since in parallel with social isolation in France — where a physical presence was undeniable: shopping had to be done, restrictions had to be respected, sometimes health centres had to be accessed — all our respondents were actually participating, to varying degrees, in everyday life in Egypt. They communicated with their relatives and closely followed the Egyptian health situation, more or as much as the French situation:


Every time there was a declaration or something like that in Egypt, it was right there on Facebook. And even if I were busy in my day, I immediately realised that there was something I understood. I searched, I contacted people, the articles. Inevitably I kept informed. And otherwise I contacted my mother: what’s going on today? She told me, she explained to me. Just now, that’s all I do...” [37]

66 In this regard, the use of new communication technologies — text messages, social networks, etc. — opened the possibility for this population to show a kind of virtual ubiquity (Dufoix, 2010) in the face of the COVID crisis. The link they had to the society of origin was indeed already very significant before the outbreak of the health crisis. Several respondents told us, indeed, that in normal times they spoke with their families daily, making several telephone calls a day. These communication habits became systematic with lockdown and also had the effect of stretching over time: a meal was now shared remotely, they cooked together via video-conferencing.

67 Similarly, with the circle of friends, the use of some applications such as House Party, Messenger or even Zoom allowed those living abroad and who normally kept away from meeting friends who were still in Egypt, to re-join these social circles. As to current affairs, involvement seems, for most respondents, almost systematically oriented to the society of origin, monitoring the French situation limited to the “essential”. On the other hand, although remotely, it is undeniable that they experienced the situation from the Egyptian perspective.

Social and Self-Help Networks via Online Spaces

68 In this population of young Egyptians who had undertaken higher education the use of online technologies to deal with restrictions and sometimes circumvent them was ultimately very prominent (Müller-Funk, 2014; Pagès-El Karoui, 2012). Indeed, these online technologies had been booming in the Egyptian diaspora — if it can be so called despite the limited coordination and connections between the various social groups that make it up (Lamblin, 2015; Pagès-El Karoui, 2012) — since the revolution in 2011. 2011 crystallised a movement of democratisation building on the use of new media: cyber-activism, online discussion groups, etc. Of course, these various Egyptian networks and discussion platforms did not always overlap with each other and, in the case of student networks, had no political aims. As previously mentioned, migrant students and young executives rarely meet on the same Facebook groups or in the same community networks as their migrant compatriots.

69 The health crisis therefore stressed the role played by inter-acquaintance and self-help networks for Egyptian people in France. In the case of students, as we mentioned in the introduction, there were two groups: Adeef and Égyptiens Sans Frontières. [38] These digital platforms establish socialising spaces through which members share feedback from experiences: search for flights, administrative questions such as their residence card (visa validation, renewal of the residence card and/or change of student status) and others (accommodation allowances, bank account, tax declaration, etc.), search for internships, search for Arab grocery stores during lockdown, cheap grocery stores, reading advice, sports video, etc.

70 As most of our respondents mentioned, these groups ultimately provided them with information which related to their experience and their status as students in France. In addition to these forms of mutual assistance a social environment emerged through outings and cultural events which were organised from time to time. The two networks, indeed, do not have the same functions for students who are often on both:


Adeef is really very good because they often put the news up and if anyone needs to find out about something, they help. If new decisions are made during this period which affect us, they put it up [...]. Adeef is the main group, it is more formal. Égyptiens Sans Frontières is new. I look at Adeef more often. Both anyway... I take advantage of them.” [39]

72 Adeef is a central community space for Egyptian students. The association was formally established in 2011 (Association Law 1901), but only started its reception and solidarity activities in 2013. It also took on the role of a conduit with the Egyptian authorities in the student expatriation process. This stakeholder, which became central in student migration, now offers scholarships, information, as well as help with banking procedures, accommodation reservations or airline tickets. For these services, students can benefit from preferential rates negotiated by the association.

73 According to figures posted on its site, the year of COVID ultimately generated an increase in the number of its members, which currently stands at 2,300. [40] Another notable fact for the year of COVID, a number of new “partners” joined forces with Adeef. Among them, Egyptair which facilitates travel and a direct link for students to booking their airline ticket, or even to benefit from a reduction. [41]

74 For some, these groups played an important role during the crisis. Zoom meetings were organised to mitigate the effects of isolation, as well as Facebook live broadcasts on funny topics. Adeef was particularly involved in disseminating information after each announcement about lockdown and re-opening in France, as well as the suspension and resumption of flights to Egypt. Adeef’s Facebook groups, organised into various sub-groups by large city, whose members do not all know each other personally, contributed to the formation of car-sharing networks so that people who did not live in the capital or Lyon (the cities of departure for repatriation) could get to their flights. Ali explained, for example, that through the Adeef network, he found a car to take him from Lyon to Paris to get his flight.


There is a guy who lives in Grenoble who told me he could go through Lyon and he also stopped to pick up another guy on the way too. And then we went to Paris finally to get the flight [Laughter]. We did a Tour de France. We left around 4 in the morning and we arrived at 1 p.m. in Paris [for the flight].” [42]

76 This type of social and community networking particularly allowed the development of easy solidarity and shared socialisation for Egyptian students in France during the crisis. Youssra told in her interview about her relationship with students repatriated on the same plane as her:


Well, the students, I knew them a bit. Because you always know each other a bit with the Egyptian community. In fact, we have a Facebook group which brings together all Egyptian students in France. And everyone in the group knows each other a bit, so when we met, we asked each other, ‘Oh, are you students?’ Even on the plane, we stayed together. We asked to stay together. And we became friends later.” [43]

78 This daily experience, as well as the trials of repatriation, was eased by the use of these networks. Several respondents approached old acquaintances, posted requests on Facebook groups, followed Adeef’s support podcasts. These are significant transnational resources for migration, an intermediary to the society of origin. These groups also distributed lists of doctors during the health crisis, Arabic-speaking, often Egyptian, who could support these Egyptian students if they fell ill or had doubts about their symptoms. In the middle of a health crisis, the difficulties of access to healthcare in the host country could be an issue for these people, who sometimes even turned to the health resources of the country of origin in a remote way (for advice, opinions, etc.).

Strategic Positioning between Two Health Systems: Complementarity or Contradiction of Health Standards?

79 This aspect also reveals the difficulty of exposure to conflicting health demands between the two countries and thus confronting a dual experience in perceptions of health and the health risk of the disease.

80 Several findings can be drawn here. First, the COVID situation gave rise to a migration challenge: access to the health system in the host society (O’Donnell, 2018). Indeed, few respondents said that they had already visited a doctor in France, even though they had all already lived there, for more than two years on average. Several respondents indicated, indeed, that the system is “too difficult to understand” and ultimately preferred to go to see doctors in Egypt on their return.

81 Furthermore, faced with the discovery of symptoms, several had the reflex of contacting Egyptian health professionals, in Egypt, rather than calling 15. This was the case for Samia and her Egyptian flat-mate during lockdown. She tells about their first shared reaction to the start of fever and a cough.


We have a friend who is a doctor in Egypt, so we talked to him. We explained to him. He said that he didn’t think it was the virus. But he said, ‘We’re going to work out a schedule as a precaution.’ Taking the temperature: once in the evening, once in the morning. I had to drink I don’t know how many litres of water. And then we were fine.” [44]

83 The majority of respondents, however, expressed, at the same time, great reservations about the Egyptian health system: “Moreover, with the increase in the number of people infected, it would overrun the medical infrastructure in Egypt which... how would you say? Is already non-existent”. [45] By digging a little, it can be understood that most of these reservations apply to the Egyptian public medical sector, which implies that most of our respondents are accustomed to turning to the private sector and have the necessary means.

84 Generally, at the beginning of the crisis, a widespread idea was that in principle France and the other European countries had “good measures” for health. This idea bore the stamp of a certain order in the distribution of wealth, power and knowledge, including at the symbolic level. However, the spread of the virus pushed some of our respondents to express their astonishment: wasn’t the spread the result of bad health decisions? This then led them to adopt essentialising, nationalist rhetoric which overestimated Egypt’s actions at the beginning of the crisis.

85 A dual presence was also evident in the way each individual assessed the surrounding risks on a daily basis to determine the scope of their activity. The differences in perception in terms of risk between the two societies, and in the experience of a remote crisis, generated conflicting relationships. This was the case, for example, as regards health standards with relatives who stayed in the country of origin. One respondent who regularly called her family explained, for example, that she got to the point of “preaching” to them because were not respecting the rules on social distancing. Another explained: “I saw my friends were going round to each others’ and everything, that they were going out. Corona what?”. [46] For those who had been able to get home, over-commitment to health standards as well as restrictive measures were implemented in their daily lives in Egypt. Ali locked himself down, after a fortnight in quarantine, in the family house for a week after his arrival, which showed increased attention in the country of origin. Even on return, an echo of his first becoming aware of the health crisis in France, he remained very careful and was somewhat apart from his country’s practices.


When I came back, even after fourteen days in the hotel, I also wanted to add a few precautionary days, not to get too close to my family, to ensure 100% that there was no health problem with me. [...] I had to be sure, all the same, that there was no risk. […] Because there were grandmothers and everything.” [47]

87 Confronting dual health orders also led to tensions in the family group:


I think my family didn’t wear masks and everything. But my mother, on the other hand, would not stop telling me: ‘you have to buy a mask and gloves’. Because, in fact, in their minds it was more dangerous here, it was everywhere. But it wasn’t in Egypt. And every time I started to criticise their behaviour, they straight away said, no, it’s not like at your place.” [48]

89 The parents of the respondent issued a call to order on their daughter about the differential experience in each country and also a kind of claim of independence with respect to “Western” health standards, such as those in France. Of course, the main explanation remained the mismatch of timescales of this crisis and the “peaks” of cases between the different national contexts.

90 Conversely, adopting not a moralistic attitude, but rather putting it into perspective, or even criticising European health standards, some respondents told us that in France, “it was not the same, people were afraid” and because of that went “too far.” In other words, in Egypt, COVID-19 compared with other risks caused less fear than in France. This difference is part of a relationship to pandemics which varies historically in the two countries. Egypt has indeed, during its contemporary history, had to face several very virulent epidemics such as Cholera or Hepatitis C, as well as, further back, late episodes of plague (Chiffoleau, 2019). Its people thus tend to put the health context more into perspective, or even feel more resistant to infectious diseases. This is what Saliha, holder of a Masters 2 in Social Sciences, described, stressing, for example that, “Europeans”, according to her are, “more stressed,” “hypochondriacs” and that they resisted diseases less well. Egypt was presented as more resilient to the crisis, having already experienced epidemics. The health crisis therefore set in motion rhetorical processes of cultural and biological essentialisation of Egyptian people in terms of health. Saliha questioned North-South representations about the health context and the logic of essentialising differentiation in the health of populations:


Actually, we have this idea. I don’t know if it was necessarily proven or not... That we are robust... [...] not only in Egypt, I think also in the Arab world. It’s also linked to north/south opposition: the northern countries, Europe and the West are the richest and therefore they exaggerate. They take many more precautions than necessary and therefore they are consequently much more fragile and weaker. And that we ultimately put up with more than them, we are exposed to pollution, etc. [...] You have your Egyptian or Arab genes which protect you. I’m not saying that... I believe it a bit.” [49]

92 This perception can also be mapped over to the chronology of the moment, since it mostly goes back to the beginning of May, when Egypt seemed to be coming out of the epidemic better than France. We now know that this was more about a time lag in the spread of the virus.

Conclusion: A Strengthened Dual Presence in Time of Crisis

93 Thus, this survey leads to a reflection on migration in an a situation of international crisis and shows the undeniable impact of globalisation — explored by transnationalist work since the 1980s and work on travel since the 1990s (Dufoix, 2021) — and the democratisation of communication technologies on the experience of crisis which maintain a stronger presence in the context of origin. Faced with a lack of preparedness, both institutional and individual, with such a geographical and health blockage, our respondents sought strategies to work around the daily isolation and difficulties by using resources from their country of origin. They thus revealed their ability to negotiate with migration regulations to make the best out of their lockdown.

94 This case study contributes to the development of a literature on dual presence in a crisis situation. It underlines the importance of thinking in terms of a continuous and transnational social field (Glick Schiller and Salazar, 2013), between the context of origin and that of the host, when international migration is confronted with an international health crisis. This transnational social field covers administrative and political aspects around mobility and movement, health issues, and, of course, social relationships which mark the paths of individuals who came to study, seeking to distinguish themselves from other migrants and to fulfil themselves intellectually, or even professionally, in their time in France. This phenomenon seems to us to be worthy of observation. The context of crisis ultimately made transnational mechanisms stand out and led to the reconfiguration of some mechanisms.

95 When looking at this population in a difficult position, the COVID-19 crisis must be considered as a point in time which revealed normative, political and health dissonances among nations. The health crisis accentuated the phenomena causing this group to be insecure in France. This moment then was marked in the migration paths of those interviewed in a very significant manner, showing the importance of their more or less extensive understanding of the institutions of the host society, which were always mirrored by Egyptian institutions. In this respect, it is likely that the refusal by the Egyptian authorities to allow a return, a return trip or even forced isolation in France will have long-term impacts on the migration paths of these people. We have continued to track the careers of our respondents informally. Several have already given up, in the face of the crisis, on staying in the host country because of the lack of prospects and visibility. Others, on the contrary, hardly ever return to their country of origin, fearing that they will again be stuck and have to stop their studies. These concerns are evident in the various discussions feeding back on experience where those who experienced the March 2020 lockdown advise new students to consider their choice of city according to a possible further lockdown. [50] In other words, it is no longer about choosing the best university at the academic level, but the one with a living environment which will be most bearable depending on the health situation. To date, too little data exists to highlight global trends and understand the extent of reconfigurations of the demand from Egyptians who migrate to study — and other types of migration — in relation to COVID-19. It would be interesting, in this regard, to extend these initial survey results by longitudinal studies measuring the impact of the health crisis on migration paths in the long term.

96 Generally, this survey reveals some of the many issues related to the situation of people migrating to study and the difficulties they continue to face. Several countries still apply restrictive measures on international movements (quarantine, isolation at home, etc.) or enact new measures to address the emergence of new variants of the virus. These measures also contributed to single out on a socio-economic level this foreign population which had come to study. This case opens up, on one hand, more general reflections on migration for study at times of crisis. On the other hand, there are specific features to see in the Egyptian political and historical context which directly influence the way this population experienced COVID-19. This is the case for solidarity networks, but also for differences in perception of risk, and also in the expression of a certain collective hindsight towards crisis situations related to recent historical upheavals in Egypt — the 2011 revolution as well as other pandemic experiences.

We would like to thank Catherine Dorison and Valérie Erlich for their proofreading and valuable comments on the previous versions of this article. We also thank the various people who agreed to answer our questions despite the mental burden of the health crisis. Finally, we thank our funders, namely CNRS and CEDEJ, as well as the research team in which we conducted this investigation, as part of the collective project COCOMASR.


  • [1]
    Mena (2020) Egypt operated 135 flights in a month to bring 24,750 nationals stranded abroad, Egypt today (Al-Masri al-youm/المصري اليوم), 22 May, [online] last checked on 05/11/2021. URL:
  • [2]
    Known as “exceptional flights” (rahlât istithnâ’iya), these were widely featured in the media to highlight the role the State played in managing the crisis at national and international level.
  • [3]
    This research is part of a collective COCOMASR investigation (Collective of observation of COVID in Egypt: CO = collective CO = COVID and MASR = Egypt, in Egyptian Arabic) carried out within CEDEJ in Cairo and coordinated by Marie Vannetzel. The collective was set up in April 2020 and has already presented a part of its research work at the SOCOSMA (Séminaire d’Observation du COVID-19 dans les sociétés du Monde Arabe) seminar, including a communication relating to the theme of this article “Stranded Abroad”: case study on Egyptians in France during the COVID-19 crisis (cf.:
  • [4]
    This linguistic particularity lies in a difference of position between the two investigators as regards the terrain. It was interesting because of the variation of themes and vocabulary depending on the language used in the interview, as well as the positionality of the investigators (one Egyptian and one French).
  • [5]
    Egyptian Consulate, Embassy, Ministry of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs (Wizârat el-higra w shu’ûn el-masryîn bel-khârig), [online] last checked on 14/05/2021. URL:
  • [6]
    There is very little literature or figures on this subject. Even very recent work on these themes like that of Samari (2021) are based on data collected between 2006 and 2010. The production of statistical data on migration and other fields is very complicated in Egypt because of the political context and administrative operations.
  • [7]
    A destination which feeds “dreams” of climbing the social ladder and success for many Egyptians, picking up on the work of the anthropologist Schielke (2020) on the experience of migrant workers in the Gulf countries.
  • [8] (last checked on 10/11/2021).
  • [9]
    This label emerged in the statistical reports of the OECD and the ISU (UNESCO) in the late 1990s, in parallel with the first research on migrations for study which highlighted the increasing internationalisation of study. It denotes any student in a foreign country, who is not a permanent resident and is characterised by transnational geographic mobility (OECD, 2004). This nomenclature has been picked up by the Welcome Desk of universities in France.
  • [10]
    These figures from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs are available in Zohry (2013).
  • [11]
    This is the “public institution responsible for promoting French higher education abroad and the reception of foreign students and researchers in France. It encourages international mobility, manages scholarship Programmes and alumni networks”. Cf. the official site of Campus France: (last checked on 17/05/2021).
  • [12]
    Present in more than forty countries, this French institution mainly takes care of facilitating the reception of foreign students in the French higher education system and has a central place in Egypt in relations between the two countries. In particular, it carries out selection and application review interviews before students request their visa. Even when students leave with other arrangements like Erasmus, Campus France is the key organ for obtaining a student visa for France. For further information on the stages students go through with Campus France, cf. (last checked on 14/05/2021).
  • [13]
    For further information on scholarships offered by the French Institute in Egypt, cf. (last checked on 14/05/2021).
  • [14]
    Interview with Patrick conducted 20 June 2020.
  • [15]
    Interview with Youssef conducted 28 September 2020.
  • [16]
    Both terms recur in French in the press as in official statements, as well as in our respondents’ narratives. The word “stranded” was more often used by Belgian authorities during the 2020 health crisis.
  • [17]
    Just by monitoring the headlines of the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masri al-youm, between March and June a whole series of official declarations emerged relating to the number of repatriation flights commissioned by the government, supporting those repatriated, etc. More than thirty articles and news items dealt with this question between March and May 2020 just in this one newspaper.
  • [18]
    For example, an Egyptian living in France, in Avignon, published a tweet on 17 March 2020: “For Egyptians in France in the Avignon area, if you have an emergency, I am here, I will do anything to help #EhnafiDahrk”. Cf. further information on this movement in this Al Jazeera article:احنا-في-ضهرك-حملة-إلكترونية-لدعم
  • [19]
    The Ministry of Immigration and Expatriate Egyptian Affairs also distributed in this statement a link to a Google form, an e-mail address and WhatsApp numbers so that those concerned could send their questions and requests.
  • [20]
    The Ministry listed several cases of Egyptians stranded at the beginning of the crisis, based on complaints and requests it had received via digital platforms. Cf. the press release of 13 March 2020: (last checked on 26/06/2020).
  • [21]
    Translation of “yarghabûn fî al-‘awda lil-watan.” Cf. the press release of 09 mars 2020: (last checked on 26/06/2020).
  • [22]
    Cf. the press releases of 09 and 11 March 2020: (last checked on 26/06/2020).
  • [23]
    Interview with Youssra conducted 28 May 2020.
  • [24]
    Cf. the official page Facebook of the Council of Ministers: (last checked on 25/06/2020).
  • [25]
    Interview with Samia conducted 30 May 2020.
  • [26]
    It was previously seen that this could be the case with the change from 13 April which narrowed the eligibility criteria.
  • [27]
    Cf. the official YouTube page of Al Nahar TV, posted 16 March 2020: (last checked on 25/06/2020).
  • [28]
    Interview with Youssra conducted 28 May 2020.
  • [29]
    Interview with Youssra conducted 28 May 2020.
  • [30]
    Interview with Saliha conducted 14 May 2020.
  • [31]
    For further information on these orders, cf. (last checked on 02/05/2021).
  • [32]
    This is a structural vulnerability which affects the professional career and is shared with “a part of the national population” (Bolzman, 2016: 101). This is linked to “specific structural constraints” (Ibid.) which sometimes limit access to certain professions (because of nationality), and sometimes consist of passing through administrative procedures before beginning a job (work permit, change of status, etc.).
  • [33]
    Take for example the cost of an apartment in Paris (around €750 in 2020 in a student residence) which represents on average eight times that of accommodation in Cairo. Indeed, rental for a student room in halls of residence or an apartment in the centre of Cairo in a flat-share, is generally less than €200 per month (between 2,500 and 4,500 Egyptian pounds). Furthermore, several respondents who came directly from Cairo previously had the advantage, in the city where they studied, of the family home. It is uncommon in Egypt (except when parents live far from the city where students study) to rent a room or studio for children studying. These are therefore significant additional costs.
  • [34]
    The idea of the Vive l’Égypte fund goes back to 2014 when President El-Sissi decided to give up half of his salary and property to respond to the economic crisis and encourage others to do the same. The fund was then created on this financial basis, then became institutionalised to the point where it is an important organisation, collecting donations and carrying out Egyptian and development projects aimed at the poorest groups. For further information, cf. (last checked on le 24/01/2022).
  • [35]
    Magued Tamraz (2020) The Minister of Communication: the Vive l’Égypte funds take care only of the cost of quarantine for those who have returned from abroad (in Arabic: Wazir el E’lam: sandouk tahya masr yatahamal taklefat el hagr el sehy lemane ‘adou men al khareg hatta al’an fakat), Youm 7, [online] last checked on 01/06/2020. URL :
  • [36]
    Interview with Asmaa conducted 27 May 2020.
  • [37]
    Interview with Saliha, conducted 14 May 2020.
  • [38]
    As “Egyptians Sans Frontières” is still a recent group, fairly unstructured, little information exists online about their activities. Mainly, everything goes through their Facebook page. It is intended to be a free and fairly informal discussion platform.
  • [39]
    Interview with Saliha conducted 14 May 2020.
  • [40]
    This is the official figure on their website, but it seems to correspond in fact to the number of members on Facebook.
  • [41]
    According to information on the Adeef site, students can take advantage of a reduction of 10 to 12% of Egyptair air tickets (Cf.
  • [42]
    Interview with Ali conducted 04 June 2020.
  • [43]
    Interview with Youssra conducted 28 May 2020.
  • [44]
    Interview with Samia conducted 30 May 2020.
  • [45]
    Interview with Pouna conducted 23 May 2020.
  • [46]
    Interview with Amine conducted 27 July 2020.
  • [47]
    Interview with Ali conducted 04 June 2020.
  • [48]
    Interview with Saliha conducted 14 May 2020.
  • [49]
  • [50]
    Henceforth, arriving in France has to be thought about depending on the health crisis. Old hands recommend that newcomers pay attention to how schools and universities reacted during the first lockdowns, to think about the environmental and urban setting of the city they choose (having green space, having good accommodation), etc.

The first phase of the COVID-19 health crisis, between March and July 2020, inaugurated an unprecedented international situation in terms of the movement of people. The issue of those “stranded abroad” became widespread in the field of international migration, at the level of the management of national states, but also in their double experience of crisis between the host context and the context of origin: between physical presence and distanced experience. This article proposes a case study on how this first phase of health measures was experienced by Egyptian students and young professionals living in France at the time of the outbreak of the epidemic. We question the meaning of being “stranded abroad” for this population — who most often conceive their migration as temporary — in terms of their experience. We also wanted to show how this was an issue for the Egyptian government when it had to organise repatriation in this brutal context of international mobility. This aspect also reveals the difficulty of exposure to contradictory health and administrative injunctions between both countries, where strategies of adaptation and negotiation must be developed in the face of national contexts and authorities, while at the same time holding on to the transnational links available to this population which has come to study in France.

  • migration
  • Egypt
  • COVID-19
  • studies
  • risk perception

Être jeune « coincé·e à l’étranger » : le cas des Égyptien·ne·s venu·e·s étudier en France et leur vécu de la crise de la COVID-19

La première phase de la crise sanitaire de la COVID-19, entre mars et juillet 2020, a inauguré une situation internationale inédite en termes de circulation des personnes. S’est alors généralisée dans le champ des migrations internationales la question des « coincé·e·s à l’étranger », au niveau de la gestion des États nationaux, mais également dans leur double vécu de crise entre le contexte d’accueil et le contexte d’origine : entre présence physique et vécu distancié. Cet article propose une étude de cas autour de la façon dont cette première phase de mesures sanitaires a été vécue par des étudiant·e·s et jeunes professionnel·le·s égyptien·ne·s vivant en France au moment du déclenchement de l’épidémie. Nous nous interrogeons sur la signification d’être « coincé·e·s à l’étranger » pour cette population — dont les membres conçoivent le plus souvent leur migration comme temporaire — au niveau de leur vécu. Nous avons voulu également montrer en quoi cela avait été un enjeu pour le gouvernement égyptien lorsqu’il a fallu organiser le rapatriement dans ce contexte brutal de mobilités internationales. Cet aspect révèle la difficulté d’une exposition à des injonctions sanitaires et administratives contradictoires entre les deux pays, amenant les individus à développer des stratégies d’adaptation et de négociation face aux contextes et aux autorités nationales, tout en se raccrochant à différents liens transnationaux disponibles pour cette population venue étudier en France.

  • migration
  • crise
  • COVID-19
  • études
  • perception de risque

Ser joven «varado en el extranjero»: el caso de los egipcios que vinieron a estudiar a Francia y su doble experiencia de la crisis de COVID-19

La primera fase de la crisis sanitaria de COVID-19, entre marzo y julio de 2020, inauguró una situación internacional sin precedentes en cuanto a la circulación de personas. La cuestión de los «varados» en el extranjero se generalizó en el ámbito de las migraciones internacionales, a nivel de la gestión de los Estados nacionales, pero también en su doble experiencia de crisis entre el contexto de acogida y el de origen: entre la presencia física y la experiencia distanciada. Este artículo propone un estudio de caso sobre cómo vivieron esta primera fase de medidas sanitarias los estudiantes y jóvenes profesionales egipcios que residían en Francia en el momento del estallido de la epidemia. Nos preguntamos qué significa estar «varado en el extranjero» para esta población — que suele concebir su migración como algo temporal — en función de su experiencia. También hemos querido mostrar cómo esto fue un desafío para el gobierno egipcio cuando tuvo que organizar la repatriación en este contexto brutal de movilidad internacional. Este aspecto revela también la dificultad de la exposición a los mandatos sanitarios y administrativos contradictorios entre ambos países, donde hay que desarrollar estrategias de adaptación y de negociación frente a los contextos y las autoridades nacionales, al tiempo que se mantienen los vínculos transnacionales de los que dispone esta población que vino a estudiar a Francia.

  • migración
  • Egipto
  • crisis
  • COVID-19
  • estudios
  • percepción del riesgo
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Sarah Boisson
Doctoral student of Sociology, Université Côte d’Azur, URMIS (Unité de Recherche Migrations et Sociétés), Doctoral Student Fellow of the Institut Convergences Migrations (ICM), associate of CEDEJ-Le Caire, MSHS Sud Est, Pôle universitaire St Jean d’Angély, 24 avenue des Diables Bleus, 06300 Nice; sarah.boisson[at]
Mayada Madbouly
Doctoral student in Political Science (Political Sociology), Université Paris Nanterre, ISP (Institut des sciences Sociales du Politique), associate of CEDEJ-Le Caire, site Nanterre, Maison Max Weber, 200 avenue de la République, 92001 Nanterre Cedex; mayada.madbouly[at]
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 23/02/2023
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