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.

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