Syrian refugees in Egypt

15-07-2013 11:28 AM

Maged Moussa

For Arabs, Egypt has always been the ‘elder sister’ who embraced them with love and generosity. Over the centuries, she has been a place to which people in dire circumstances rushed for refuge. Whether fleeing war

For Arabs, Egypt has always been the ‘elder sister’ who embraced them with love and generosity. Over the centuries, she has been a place to which people in dire circumstances rushed for refuge. Whether fleeing war, economic hardship, injustice, or persecution, Egypt was always a safe haven. 
In recent years, Egypt hosted Kuwaitis during the Iraqi invasion in the early 1990s; Lebanese during the prolonged civil war in their country from 1975 to 1990; Iraqis who fled the US occupation, Sudanese during the war between North and South which ran from 1983 to 2005; and Tunisians, Libyans, and Syrians in the wake of ‘Arab Spring’ turmoil in their respective countries. 
Shooting at Egyptians
The recent years especially saw an influx of Syrian and Palestinians who came into Egypt, despite the grinding economic conditions and the political unrest which swept the country. Instead of carrying on peacefully, however, these two groups managed to build for themselves a reputation of treachery against the Egyptian people who resented their taking up arms against them. The Palestinians were essential elements in Islamist terrorist attacks against Egypt and Egyptians, most notorious among which was the bombing of the Church of the Saints in Alexandria on New Year Eve 2011 which blew to smithereens 24 persons and left dozens injured; and the deadly attacks against the Egyptian security forces and civilians in Sinai. 
Recently, Syrians were caught shooting at Egyptians during the wide-scale demonstrations waged to oust the Islamist ruling regime at the head of which was ex-President Muhammad Mursi. The Cairo topmost new site reported the arrest of a Syrian who was caught near the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir Square on the evening of Friday 28 June shooting at anti-Mursi protestors. He told the prosecutor Amr Awad of Qasr al-Nil prosecution that he had been paid by the Muslim Brothers (MB) to do so. He said he had fled Syria to Cairo where a friend named Ahmed al-Suri met him and took him to live with other Syrians in a flat in the west Cairo satellite town of 6 October. The Syrians there were used by the MB to amass demonstrators. He said he was given money and a gun, and travelled to Alexandria and Sharqiya where he shot at anti-MB demonstrators.
In the wake of the mass protests of 30 June, the Egyptian Interior Ministry issued a statement requesting Arabs from Syria and Palestine not to take any part in the protests, especially if they were armed.
Turning Syrians back
Following the ousting of Mursi and his Islamist regime on 3 July, a new regulation was issued revoking the one issued by the Islamist regime which allowed Syrians to enter Egypt without entry visa or security check, treating them as Egyptian citizens. Now Syrians travelling to Egypt must apply for a visa, wait for some 10 days or two weeks till authorities in Cairo look into the application and make a security check and grant the visa, for them to enter the country.  
The new regulations have caused Cairo airport authorities to turn back Syrian who arrived with no visas.  On 8 July, a planeful of 95 Syrian passengers that had arrived from Latakia was turned back.
The UN says nearly 90,000 Syrians have registered with the High Commissioner for Refugees in Egypt. But the actual number of Syrians who have sought refuge in Egypt is believed to be much higher, in part because Syrians were not required to have visas till lately.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights meanwhile said some Egyptian private television reports have recently vilified the Syrian refugee community in the country. “We would like to remind Egyptians that Syrian participation in any incident (related to the country’s unrest) does not mean that all Syrians stand with this or that party,” said the Britain-based group.
The UNHCR urged Egypt to rethink its visa policy regarding Syrians. Egypt, for its part said, through its foreign Ministry, that the regulations were temporary, owing to the state of unrest in the country.
Drug trafficking
Watani talked to Ahmed Hassan Abdel-Megid, head of Cairo Airport customs. Along the past few months, Mr Megid said, the customs authorities seized large amounts of heroin smuggled into Egypt by passengers, the large majority of them Syrian. The managing director of the airport customs authority, Ghareeb Shaarawi, caught a Syrian passenger who was attempting to smuggle 8kg of heroin in a secret compartment at the bottom of his suitcase. Shaarawi called the drug police who were able to track the passenger’s friends in Egypt, who had been awaiting his arrival. The result was the arrest of a drug trafficking gang of Palestinians stationed in the town of Rafah on the Egypt Gaza border. 
The more common crime, according to Mr Hassan, is forgery; several Syrians have been caught trying to enter Egypt with fake passports. 
Mr Hassan stresses, however, that the majority of passengers from Syria are honourable individuals, and the airport authorities deal with them as such. 
But mainstream Egyptians view Syrians rather dubiously. Especially that many of the Syrians are in dire need of cash, thus resort to taking part in operations against Egyptian, begging on the streets or, in case of women, getting into unofficial urfi marriages where they become second or third wives to Egyptian men.
The photos show material seized from Syrian passengers at cairo airport
Watani International 
14 July 2013
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