Textual and visual representations of the Syrian refugee crisis have flooded international media outlets and the press releases of aid organisations since the Syrian uprising first erupted on March 2011.
By the end of 2011, approximately 800,000 people decided to seek refuge in Egypt, according to Qasem Al-Khatib, Head of the Syrian Coalition in Egypt. Syrian journalist Zaki Al-Doruby contests this claim, and says the total number of Syrians that have come to Egypt since 2011 is 370,000.
The United Nations figures point to 136,717 refugees registered with the organisation in Egypt. After the military ouster of July 2013, the number of Syrians in Egypt decreased drastically to around 100,00, according to Al-Doruby.
After 30 June 2013, there was a severe media campaign against Syrians, he added. The media referred to Syrians as terrorists and this affected their everyday lives as the outlook of their Egyptian counterparts towards them began to change.
Before 30 June, it was relatively easy for Syrians to get into Egypt. They did not need visas or any additional paperwork. Now, visas and paperwork for residency are essential and the state has been tightening security measures on Syrians. There are Syrians outside the country who cannot visit their relatives inside Egypt because they are unable to obtain visas.
Despite the fact that Egypt is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the rights of refugees are significantly constrained and there is a general lack in the implementation of refugee legislation, according to the scholar Kataryzna Grabska.
While refugees are required to obtain work permits in order to work in Egypt, securing these permits is an expensive, lengthy and complicated process. It requires both that an employer sponsor the refugee, and that there be no competition from a similarly qualified Egyptian candidate.
Refugees are thus more likely to work in unregulated sectors and occupations with few protections. In addition, no refugees have the right to acquire citizenship. According to Al-Khatib, most refugees in Egypt began their own businesses, primarily opening restaurants and other jobs.
The remaining refugee population is centred in 6th of October City, Rehab City, and the 10th of Ramadan City.
According Al-Doruby, United Nations sponsored programmes “provide aid” for some the Syrian families that have no sources of income, but this aid amounts to only EGP 125 per month. According to him, while Syrians used to be treated as “first-class citizens”, living in Egypt has now become a plight for them.