UNHCR expresses concern over new restrictions for Syrian refugees in Egypt

Press Releases, 12 July 2013

Geneva, 12.07.2013

UNHCR is concerned about reports we have received this week of a number of flights carrying Syrians being turned back from airports in Egypt. Syrian nationals were returned to where their flight originated, including Damascus and Latakia in Syria.

This follows a decision on 8 July imposing new visa requirements, under which Syrian nationals are required to apply for a visa and security clearance prior to their travel to Egypt. UNHCR understands the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus does not have the capacity to issue visas at this time.

"I appeal to the Egyptian authorities, as I have to all other governments in the world, to admit and protect all Syrians seeking refuge in their country," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said. "I fully understand the challenges faced by Egypt at the present moment. But the traditional hospitality of the Egyptian people should not be denied to Syrians trying to flee the most devastating and dangerous conflict in the world today," he continued.

UNHCR has formally expressed its concern about this change in policy with the government, noting Egypt's great support since 2011, particularly in generously hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

We urge the Egyptian authorities to do their utmost to ensure the continued protection of all who are in need of international protection, and to refrain from returning Syrians without a proper assessment of their protection needs.

UNHCR has registered almost 72,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt. Around 18,000 individuals await registration and plans for mobile registration in Alexandria and Damietta are under way. The Egyptian government estimates that around 250,000 to 300,000 Syrian nationals currently reside in Egypt.

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On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

Crisis in Libya

UNHCR is working with the Tunisian and Egyptian authorities and aid groups to manage the dramatic influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing Libya. By the beginning of March, two weeks after the violence erupted in Libya, more than 140,000 people had fled to the neighbouring countries, while thousands more were waiting to cross. Most are Egyptian and Tunisian nationals, though small numbers of Libyans and other nationalities are managing to escape. UNHCR is particularly concerned about thousands of refugees and other foreigners trapped inside Libya, especially people from sub-Saharan Africa. The following photo essay gives a glimpse into what is happening at the borders.

Crisis in Libya

Stuck at the Egyptian border

Some three weeks after the Libyan displacement crisis erupted in mid-February, thousands of people were still stuck at the border between Libya and Egypt waiting for onward travel to their home countries. Many have arrived exhausted at the Sallum crossing after travelling for days without adequate food or water. Some told harrowing tales of armed men going door to door at night, forcing people from sub-Saharan Africa to leave after destroying their identity papers and taking their money.

More long-haul flights to Bangladesh and other Asian destinations are needed to decongest the border, although people from countries like Eritrea and Somalia cannot go home. As a result, many people have been stuck at the border for days, sleeping outside in the cold. UNHCR has provided blankets, plastic mats, food and water for those waiting to be repatriated.

More than 100,000 people have arrived at the Sallum border since the start of the Libyan uprising. The majority have been migrant workers from Egypt who were allowed through immigration and customs quickly, but many nationalities have also turned up at the border and having to wait.

Stuck at the Egyptian border

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