July 28, 2013
Having fled their embattled country, Syrians in Egypt are increasingly facing accusations of interference in Egyptian political affairs and anti-Syrian vitriol on the media. The scapegoating is misplaced, says Human Rights Watch researcher Priyanka Motaparthy, adding that “for most Syrians, it’s not about politics, it’s about trying to rebuild some sort of home for themselves.”
From Egypt, Motaparthy tells Abdulrahman al-Masri that new travel restrictions for Syrians, which include pre-departure visas and security clearances, constitute a “great hardship for anyone trying to leave a warzone.” She explains that the Egyptian government’s new regulations are all about maintaining some stability in an already turbulent Egypt.
“National security comes above everything else,” she says.
Q. How do you see the situation now in Egypt and how has it affected Syrians after Morsi?
A. The situation has become very different for Syrians here in Egypt since President Morsi was removed from power. Local media has featured several commentators who have made comments suggesting or saying that Syrians were in Rabea’ Ala’adawia Square, that they are protesting with the Muslim Brotherhood or that they’re interfering in internal political struggles that they have no business in.
It’s unclear how much of this is based in fact, but what is clear that Egypt has a population of 90.000 Syrian who are registered with the UNHCR, and many, many more who are not registered with the UNHCR, and yet these few hundred thousand Syrians in Egypt are now going to be affected by the security climate and by this tense political climate and by the fear that national security comes above everything else.
In the past week, we’ve seen more than 80 Syrians detained at checkpoints on roads, as well as individual Syrians detained in public places.
Q. Why has the interim government of Egypt set a new law against the Syrians, especially the travel restrictions?
A. Now there’s a new entry visa restriction which requires any Syrian coming to Egypt to obtain a visa before they arrive, which means before they get on the plane, and also to obtain a security clearance from the embassy in the country that they’re coming from. Obviously this is a great hardship for anyone trying to flee a war zone, and for people who are fleeing conflict, struggling to make ends meet, struggling to get by. The reason given for this is national security, this is why the security clearance is needed before people can come here. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly said that this is a temporary measure, but of course a few planes have already been turned back, including some planes to Syria.
Q: What are you seeing on the street or in the media in the way of discrimination against Syrians?
A: In the media, certain presenters have taken a very anti-Syrian tone, they’ve accused Syrians of protesting with the Brotherhood, they’ve spread that Syrians are interfering in internal political affairs. There has been some arrest of Syrians even in the first few days after Morsi was removed from power. In terms of Syrians on the street, I really can’t comment about the presence of Syrians at any demonstration. I know that most Syrians are just trying to make ends meet, they’re struggling to survive. For most Syrians, it’s not about politics, it’s about trying to rebuild some sort of home for themselves after they’ve had to leave their own home country.
Q: Why is the media targeting Syrians in this way?
A: I really can’t say why they’re doing this, it’s not clear to me at all. This is just an environment of extreme tension between different political factions, and I can’t say why the media is scapegoating Syrians in particular. Its not just Syrians they’ve spoken out against, also Palestinian and Iraqi, but Syrians are currently the largest population of people from other Arab countries who are not Egyptian.