Representatives of the Palestinian-Syrian refugees held a meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss what steps must be taken to ensure Palestinians fleeing the Syrian civil war are given adequate recognition of their refugee status in Egypt.
The meeting was called because Palestinian-Syrians continue to be denied recognition as refugees. Egypt does not recognise Palestinians as refugees and as such they are not entitled to any form of aid from the United Nations.
According to Hanine Hassan, the Palestinian Syrian Refugee Committee coordinator, the representatives are a newly-formed council elected by the refugees to hold discussions with the relevant authorities on the matter.
“They have called for the meeting tonight because the Palestinian embassy has failed to do anything for the refugees over the past year,” Hassan said. The refugees held a protest in April in front of the embassy to demand the Palestinian Authority help refugees in Egypt.
Hassan said she is not a member of the council but is working closely with them in the meetings.
“The council’s ten representatives are doctors, lawyers, engineers- educated people who understand the game,” Hassan said.
Hassan said the sit-in last month ended after the embassy promised it would hold talks with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
“They asked us to give them seven days to work on the issue and we agreed,” she said, adding that the embassy gave them a statement saying they have been providing some of the families with a monthly stipend and food. “The statement was a lie,” she said. “We confronted them and they have not done a single thing.”
As a result, Palestinian-Syrian representatives have decided to hold another sit-in at the embassy on Sunday 12 May, just days before the Nakba commemoration.
The Nakba is commemorated on 15 May, and translates to the “Day of Catastrophe”, a remembrance of the day on which Palestinians faced their first exodus after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
“This is the month when all Palestinians mark the loss of Palestine,” Hassan said. “Now there are third generation refugees, 65 years later, who are protesting to demand the right to be recognised as refugees.”
There is no exact figure on the number of Palestinian-Syrian refugees in Egypt. Hassan estimates the number now stands at 12,000.
A source from within the Palestinian embassy defended their actions, saying the embassy was doing all it could to provide support for Palestinians in Egypt. The embassy says it has been holding extensive dialogue with several departments from within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNRWA.
“The embassy has exerted every possible effort to fix the problem and we are still exerting efforts by speaking to all the relevant authorities,” the embassy employee said, adding that there may be a solution on the horizon which would allow UNRWA to operate in Egypt. “This is still dependant on the Egyptian decision to allow UNRWA to start operating.”
The traditional position in Egypt has been to not recognise Palestinians as refugees, unlike those fleeing from Libya, Jordan and Syria.
“UNRWA is aware that they must wait for the Egyptian side to give permission before they begin to work,” the embassy staff member stressed. “We have held meetings with the foreign ministry and have urged them to push the matter forward.”
The embassy warned over speculating on the number of Palestinian-Syrian refugees in Egypt, saying that there is no official count and by embassy estimates there may be 8,000 to 10,000 Palestinian-Syrian refugees in Egypt.
“Many have not registered with us and there is no way to say for sure how many there may be,” the embassy added.
UNRWA was not immediately available for comment, but an email sent to Hassan regarding the embassy’s attempts at dialogue was obtained by the Daily News Egypt. The statement, signed by UNRWA employee Manal Arnous, said a delegation from the UNRWA office met with the director of the Palestinian Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss what could be done to aid the refugees.
The statement added that the ministry is “our sole channel to any Egyptian official authority, ministry and even the presidency” due to “issues of protocol”.
“UNRWA should get prior approval for such activities because of its mandate that Egypt is not an area of UNRWA operations,” the statement continued. “All refugee issues are under the [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] mandate… the Egyptian authorities rejected raising this issue with UNHCR for political reasons,” the statement concluded.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not available for comment on the issue.
Prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war two years ago, there were over half a million Palestinians living in Syria. These Palestinians are mostly descendants of refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1967 Six Day War. After both wars hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled to neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Syria and Egypt.