Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Blog

By: Alexander Matika
Summer 2013 Intern

“You feel much more like you’re in Egypt now,” said Father Michael Sorial, a priest at St. Mary and St. Antonios Coptic Orthodox Church in Ridgewood, Queens, New York City. After the ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011 and the ensuing power vacuum, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians have been migrating to the United States in large numbers. In 2012, 2,882 Egyptians were given asylum—9.8 percent of all individuals granted asylum—up from 1,026 in 2011 and 531 in 2010, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics (one must note that these statistics do not include religious affiliation). With this proliferation of asylum seekers, Egypt ranked second amongst nationalities granted asylum in the United States, behind only China. 

In order to qualify for asylum status, one must satisfy the definition of a refugee according to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 101(a)(42) of the INA defines a refugee as “a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Yet the reasons for emigration remain uncertain. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, Egypt’s unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2013 was 13.2 percent, or approximately 3,600,000 Egyptians (MENA average is 10.75, not including those who have decidedly withdrawn from searching for work). In today’s troubled economy, suppressed by a confluence of factors such as declining revenues, a burgeoning deficit and a devaluating currency, unemployment has risen in Egypt, exacerbated by various deficiencies that plague the labor market. These conditions have seemed to foster a desire to seek better conditions elsewhere. 

The increase in Egyptian immigrants has doubled membership at St. Mary and St. Antonios Church, eliciting similar sentiments as Father Sorial’s within the community. With these new congregants, the church often acts as more than simply a place of worship. The church has begun to provide social services. Such services now involve counseling new arrivals through school applications, applying for Social Security cards and Medicaid, translating documents, composing résumés and prepping for citizenship tests. The church also refers asylum seekers to lawyers and employs its network to aid newcomers in their search for housing and jobs. “It provides tutoring for adults and children, gives courses in English as a second language and provides classes in cultural assimilation in which volunteers explain important differences in laws and customs, particularly those surrounding matters like child abuse, domestic violence and the approach to education.”

With expectations for economic growth appearing bleak and immigration trends clearly on the rise, one can expect the Egyptian neighborhoods of New York to continue to swell, aided by the programs offered by the Coptic Church.

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