While the coup regime in Egypt continues to set up paraphernalia to entrench itself as a true dictatorship complete with a Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi personality cult, the Egyptian government's xenophobic ideology and policies have hurt the most vulnerable: Syrian war refugees.
A recent Amnesty International report emphasizes that, "The Egyptian authorities have a duty to provide protection to anyone who has fled the conflict in Syria and is seeking safe refuge in their country." Sherif Elsayed Ali, Amnesty International's head of refugee and migrants' rights, said in a statement, "At present Egypt is failing abysmally to meet its international obligations to protect even the most vulnerable refugees.”
Not only is the Egyptian government arresting and turning away Syrian boat refugees, but it is also spreading rumors and conspiracy theories about refugees being Muslim Brotherhood members or sympathizers. Egyptian children are reportedly taunting and harassing Syrian refugee children in the streets.
BBC News reports that:
“The [Amnesty] report says the Egyptian navy has intercepted around 13 boats since August and according to the UN refugee agency, arrested 946 people, 724 of whom remain in detention. Several lawyers said they were prevented from representing refugees detained in police stations along the Mediterranean coast, the report said. Scores of Syrian children are being detained, many without their parents and some detainees have been held in unsanitary conditions in police stations without food or medical assistance, it said.
“ … Several detainees told Amnesty International that police threatened to transfer them to Al-Khalifa prison in Cairo unless they signed papers accepting deportation to countries in the region or back to Syria. Lawyers told researchers that in at least two instances, refugees were collectively deported back to Damascus, Amnesty says. Earlier this month a group of 36 mostly Palestinian refugees from Syria were deported to Damascus.”
Egyptian authorities are also now requiring Syrian refugees to arrive in Egypt with a security clearance and visas. Egypt has long dealt with countless refugees from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and many other parts of Africa. These new policies that violate international law are indications of the cold heartedness of the Sisi regime and the lengths it will go to in order to vilify the Muslim Brotherhood, its archenemy.
Sending war refugees back to the conflict environment is a major international law violation. It does not seem that the Sisi government cares. At a minimum, the Egyptian government could make a plea for humanitarian assistance from the UN and other Western allies, as Turkey and Jordan have done. But, this scenario has only led the Sisi regime to take advantage of yet another opportunity to spread its xenophobia, at the expense of the most vulnerable refugees.
This behavior illustrates that the rule of law in Egypt is in a sarcophagus buried far deeper than any of the pharaohs while the tragedies and injustices continue to pile up.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: “I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” Global refugees deserve such full rights.
Egypt's refugee policy pertaining to Syrian nationals is the equivalent of taking many steps backward, not to mention a terrible stain on Egypt's reputation.
Hayat Alvi, Ph.D., is an associate professor at the US Naval War College.
The views expressed are personal.