Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Syrians Sell Hot Drinks in Cairo in Search for a Living

Syrians Sell Hot Drinks in Cairo in Search for a Living

Saturday, 1 December, 2018 - 06:45
A Syrian refugee prepares coffee at the back of an improvised food truck in the Egyptian capital Cairo on October 23, 2018. (AFP)
Cairo - London - Asharq Al-Awsat
At the wheel of his van, Syrian Abu Wadie criss-crossed a Cairo suburb in search of a discreet spot to hawk hot drinks far from the roving eyes of inspectors.

"Over there, in that street, I can set up shop -- and close the serving hatch quickly if I see the authorities," he told Agence France Presse, carefully scoping to left and right.

Espresso, Turkish coffee, tea -- a growing number of Syrian drinks pedlars are exploiting a niche in the Cairo market, albeit an illegal one, by selling hot drinks from mobile vans.

There are no official figures for these black-market entrepreneurs, who ply the streets of the October 6 suburb on the western edge of the capital.

But from small beginnings among a few dozen refugee families, ever more vans are taking to the streets of the Egyptian metropolis.

Over the past few weeks, city council staff have been deployed to rein in the Syrian refugees.

In May, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratified a law regulating mobile drinks vans, setting a license fee of 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($275, 245 euros) per year.

But in a blow for the refugees, only Egyptian citizens can obtain the license.

Since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, thousands of refugee families have created a Little Damascus in the October 6 suburb.

The more than 130,000 Syrians represent 55 percent of Egypt's UN-registered refugees. 

Many have invested in small businesses. Syrian restaurants and cake shops line the streets.

Those with less capital set up mobile drinks businesses, despite the legal obstacles.

Egyptians too run mobile vans, but theirs mainly serve fast food.

A few weeks after he set up shop, Hassan had his vehicle and goods seized.

He was lucky to pay just 4,000 Egyptian pounds to get his van back, a relatively modest fine but still a hefty amount for a refugee.

"I cause nobody any harm... I have a bin for the rubbish and I permanently clean up around me," the 48-year-old said wearily.

Hassan dreams of rejoining his wife and children, who are now in Germany.

"If I sell 200 cups of coffee, it leaves me with 400 or 500 Egyptian pounds after deducting expenses," he said, pouring the piping hot liquid into paper cups for passing motorists.

Editor Picks