Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday issued a statement about the new entry policy for Syrians applied this week by the Egyptian government.
“Egypt should allow those fleeing Syria full access to the UN refugee agency and to have their asylum claims properly examined; it should also allow Syrians already registered with the UN body to re-enter the country after periods abroad,” the HRW statement read.
On 8 July, the Egyptian government changed its policy regarding Syrian nationals arriving in Egypt – including those registered with the UNCHR – by requiring them to obtain visas and security clearances.
The decision has already affected the entry of fleeing Syrians into the country. Last week, Egypt refused entry to over 200 Syrian refugees, forcing them to return to the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.
Previously, Syrians entering Egypt had not been required to obtain visas or security clearances.
The ministry of foreign affairs stated on its official Facebook page last Tuesday that the new procedures were only temporarily.
“The official spokesperson of the ministry of foreign affairs has assured us that the Egyptian authorities’ decision to impose entry visas on Syrian citizens was related to the current and temporary circumstances Egypt currently faces,” read a ministry statement.
It added: “This decision does not affect the initial Egyptian position supporting the Syrian revolution and the aspiration for a pluralistic democracy that supports the rights of all Syrians.”
The official spokesperson also demanded that Syrians who are either staying in Egypt or who want to come reside legally understand the current security circumstances in Egypt.
The change in procedure comes at a time of mounting anti-Syrian sentiment in the Egyptian media.
Rumours have already spread about Syrian expatriates joining the two-week-old sit-in in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo’s Nasr City district in exchange for money. These rumours were reinforced when a Syrian citizen was arrested on 30 June during clashes in Tahrir Square.
Egyptian media also published the “confessions” of a Syrian citizen arrested who said that he and other Syrians, as well as a group of Palestinians, had been hired by members of the Muslim Brotherhood for LE500 to attack anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters.
TV hosts at private television channels like CBC, ONtv and Al-Fareen called on the members of the public to report Syrians and Palestinians to the authorities.
TV host Youssef El-Hossainy created a controversy online among social networks after attacking – in particularly harsh tones – what he referred to as “the Muslim Brotherhood’s Syrian supporters.”
“Why did you escape from your country if you want to support the Muslim Brotherhood? Go back and be men and solve your problem in your country,” El-Hossainy said on the Wednesday episode of his show, going on to warn against foreign meddling in Egypt’s affairs.
ONtv later apologised to Syrian refugees on its Twitter account for what it called a “misunderstanding.”
“ONtv and ONtv Live apologise to Syrian refugees in Egypt for what was considered incitement; we assert our respect and appreciation for the Syrian revolution,” the network stated.
El-Hossainy, for his part, later insisted that he had only meant “some Syrians.”
In light of mounting incitement against Syrian refugees, the Syrian community in Egypt issued a statement insisting that the community had not mobilised behind any Egyptian political groups or currents.
“We urge all political parties and powers not to involve the Syrian community in Egypt in what is happening in the country now because of some individual act,” the statement read, calling on Syrians to avoid demonstrations.
The local Syrian community also asked Egyptians not to raise the Syria flag of independence at Egyptian protests.
The number of Syrian refugees officially registered in Egypt as refugees stood at 88,460 as of 8 July. The total number of Syrian nationals now in the country is currently estimated by the Egyptian Syrian community at some 350,000.
Syrian refugees in Egypt are scattered throughout several governorates, including Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and Damietta. They have a particularly heavy presence in Cairo’s 6 October and New Cairo districts.