Egypt seen becoming hostile place for Syrian refugees

More than 300,000 Syrian refugees are estimated to be residing in Egypt

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When the peaceful uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turned bloody more than two and a half years ago, Egypt was a welcome safe haven for fleeing Syrian refugees. The welcome was short lived however when the host nation descended into turmoil of its own and quickly morphed into a hostile environment for refugees, experts said.

On Dec. 2 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) held a press conference at its Cairo headquarters to discuss the current status of Syrian refugees in Egypt.

During the conference, activists noted that Egyptian hospitality and sympathy towards Syrians had dwindled after July 3 when Egypt again fell to chaos which resulted in the ousting of its second elected president in two years.

The number of Syrian refugees registers or awaiting registration in Egypt as of September 2013 was 125,000, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. But more than 300,000 Syrian refugees are estimated to be residing in Egypt.

Following Muri’s ouster, there was a media campaign accusing Syrian refugees of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and of attacking those are against Mursi.

Controversial TV presenter Tawfiq Okasha gave Syrians a 48 hour ultimatum to stop supporting the Islamists or face deportation, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

“There has been a big shift in the politics, in the procedures, and in public sentiment towards the refugees,” Tamara Alrifai, advocacy and communications director for the Middle East and North Africa division of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told Al Arabiya News.

In July, the military-backed interim government tightened visa regulations for Syrians, trying to control the influx of refugees.

Syrians, who were previously exempt from the visa requirement, are now required to obtain a visa prior to arrival.

Besides Egyptian security forces have embarked on a series of arrests and unlawful detentions of refugees, Amnesty International reported.

On Sept. 17, 2013, the Egyptian border securities fired on a boat leaving Alexandria to Italy, carrying more than 100 Syrian and Palestinian refugees. Two of them, Omar Delol and Fadwa Taha, were killed, according to the International Federation for Human Rights.

Some refugees say the Egyptian public has become increasingly unsympathetic towards the refugee population, blaming them for the country’s economic ills. As a result, Syrians now face more obstacles in acquiring jobs, education and healthcare as the services have been restricted.

“At the beginning I had a job, even if I wasn’t getting paid a lot. I could live with what I earned,” but “things have changed,” 27-year-old refugee Emad Mansour told Al Arabiya News.

“We’re not treated the same way. People are scared to give us jobs, and look down on us,” he added.