Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has directed further strong condemnation at European countries for the treatment of refugees, as the continent faces its biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
In a Tuesday press conference, ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said recent events have served as a wake-up call to the international community. He added that European countries should take in more refugees, considering their wealth and their consistent talk of human rights. Abu Zeid also highlighted the treatment of refugees in countries such as Hungary, where they have been forcibly placed into camps.
The comments come just days after the ministry expressed Egypt’s “grave concern” regarding the difficult humanitarian situation afflicting refugees in a number of European countries. The ministry also called upon EU countries to “live up to their responsibilities… in accordance with the principles of international humanitarian law”.
On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his the UK will resettle 20,000 refugees over a period of five years, which critics say amounts to very little.
However, Germany, which has been receiving thousands of refugees daily, has led the way in providing support for refugees. In August, the country announced it was suspending the Dublin Regulation, meaning that refugees arriving in any European state can apply for asylum in Germany, as opposed to the country they land in.
Abu Zeid said that Egypt is home to large numbers of Syrians, who “live like any Egyptian citizen” with access to housing, healthcare and education. Unlike countries such as Jordan, Egypt has not placed refugees in mass camps, but it has faced strong criticism for being a country difficult and hostile towards migrants.
Amnesty International puts the number of Syrians in Egypt at 300,000, although Abu Zeid says the figure is above 500,000. Similarly, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson criticised international media reports that Gulf states have failed in their obligations by taking no refugees in at all. He said that Saudi Arabia has, in fact, taken 1 million Syrian refugees.
Saudi Arabia has offered no asylum places for Syrian refugees, although 500,000, who have entered on working visas or to stay with family, are thought to be in the country.
“Over the past two years, the situation in Egypt has become increasingly precarious and refugees from Syria have faced discrimination and human rights violations,” wrote Amnesty International’s Egypt researcher Mohamed ElMessiry in an August report. “They have been subjected to verbal attacks and threats in the media and by public figures, to arbitrary arrests and detention and, in some case to forcible deportation to Syria or other neighbouring countries in the region.”
Many Syrians say that, after the July 2013 regime change, they were made out to support terrorism by the Egyptian media, which led to high levels of racism in society. Egypt has also been criticised for “shoot-to-stop” tactics to halt migrant convoys, deportations of refugees back to countries where they may face persecution, and arbitrary detentions.
In one example, 73 Syrian and Palestinian refugees were held at Karmooz police station in Alexandria for seven months after their boat, which left from Turkey for Italy, was taken to the Egyptian coast. In June, 42 were accepted by Germany, and the remaining 31 were taken by Sweden and France, after delegations from European countries visited the station and made the decision to help them.