Gaza, (DRAH.ps)-- As many as 9,000 Palestinian refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and seeking safety in Egypt have found that the host country is discriminating against them – a policy left over from the pre-revolution governments and upheld by the Morsi government.
The discrimination is realized in a few different ways and has an impact on the immediate safety of the refugees, as well as their longer-term status.
Currently, a Palestinian refugee from Syria may only enter Egypt if they arrive directly from Damascus at Cairo's airport – a condition that is highly unlikely to be met moving forward, as the Damascus airport has been routinely closed. Any Palestinian refugee arriving from Turkey or Lebanon or anywhere else is detained at the airport and pressure applied on them until they agree to return to Syria. When Egyptian authorities have forced these refugees onto planes back to Lebanon or Turkey, those authorities refuse entry and force them back to Egypt.
Once inside Egypt, however, Palestinian refugees from Syria are prevented from registering with UNHCR. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has claimed that the Palestinians fall under UNRWA's mandate, but Egypt is a territory over which UNRWA does not (and never has had) a mandate.
Thus, Palestinian refugees are ineligible for residency, health care, food aid and other services and support provided by UNHCR to other refugees in the country. Egypt is bound by the 1951 Convention on Refugees and the subsequent Organization of African Union convention related to refugees. Yet, in the case of Palestinians, these are set aside.
Sanaa Ibrahim (20 years old) and Khaled Ibrahim (29 years old) are the latest victims of this discrimination. Arriving via Turkey, the brother and sister were detained at the airport for 30 days. On two occasions Sanaa was flown to Lebanon, but the Lebanese authorities refused to allow her entry and sent her back to Cairo.
This morning Sanaa, Khald and 3 other Palestinian refugees from Syria stuck at the airport, including a minor, were sent to Karatin Prison in Cairo, where they are effectively in a black hole. UNHCR is not allowed to have any access to them.
Sanaa and Khaled have siblings who are citizens in Sweden and thus there is a strong case for emergency resettlement in Sweden. But because they are not permitted to register with UNHCR, there is no legal way to make the process begin for Sweden to consider resettlement.
Today, Sanaa and Khaled are finding themselves in a black hole, unable to avail of the most basic forms of protection that should be granted to refugees. But this story is not just about the brother and sister – all Palestinian refugees in Egypt are in legal limbo and remain outside any form of international protection that agencies like UNHCR and WFP are ready to provide. The standing policy of the government of Egypt is the roadblock.