Egypt: UNHCR concerned over detention of Syrian refugees amid anti-Syrian sentiment

Briefing Notes, 26 July 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is concerned that Egyptian military and security personnel have been arbitrarily arresting and detaining an increasing number of Syrians, including several minors and people registered with UNHCR, amid growing anti-Syrian sentiment.

UNHCR has been requesting access to 85 detained Syrians and assurances that they are not returned to Syria, stressing that they should be afforded fair and due process of law in Egypt.

This new climate began following allegations regarding participation of a few Syrians in protests and violent acts during July. There have also been numerous reports of xenophobic remarks and verbal attacks against Syrians, including disturbing statements made through certain media outlets.

Since the start of the Syrian conflict, Syrians enjoyed an extremely hospitable environment in Egypt. The Government granted unrestricted visas and residence permits and has provided full access to public services. Syrians had not felt the urgency to renew expired residency permits as required. Now, a growing number of Syrians are expressing their fear of being arrested if they circulate in public.

This hostile environment has led to a notable increase in the number of Syrians approaching UNHCR to register. The Government estimates that there are some 250,000 to 300,000 Syrians currently residing in Egypt. 80,000 are registered with UNHCR as of 25 July, while around 28,800 have secured appointments for registration in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the Government has recently introduced entry requirements for Syrians, including visa and security clearance issuance prior to travel to Egypt. A number of flights carrying Syrians have been turned back from airports in Egypt to where their flight originated, including Damascus and Latakia in Syria. Some 476 Syrians have been deported or denied entrance to Egypt since these new measures were put in place on 8 July. UNHCR has appealed to the Government to consider at least allowing women, children and the elderly to enter the country without the visa restrictions.

UNHCR appreciates the Egyptian Government's affirmation that Syrians are welcome in Egypt. We call upon the Government to ensure that any precautionary measures in light of the current security situation in the country do not infringe upon fundamental human rights principles and the country's international responsibilities to provide asylum and protection to refugees.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Abu Dhabi: Mohammed Abu Asaker (Arabic) on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva: Melissa Fleming on office no. +41 22 739 79 65
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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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