The UN refugee agency on Friday expressed deep concern over a new Egyptian visa requirement for Syrians and reports that Syrian refugees were being returned to their war-ravaged country.
"I appeal to the Egyptian authorities, as I have to all other governments in the world, to admit and protect all Syrians seeking refuge in their country," UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
"I fully understand the challenges faced by Egypt at the present moment. But the traditional hospitality of the Egyptian people should not be denied to Syrians trying to flee the most devastating and dangerous conflict in the world today."
Guterres's comments came after Egypt earlier this week said it now requires all Syrians travelling to the country to apply for a visa at the Egyptian embassy -- a process Cairo said would take 10 to 15 days.
"UNHCR understands the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus does not have the capacity to issue visas at this time," the UN agency said Friday, decrying reports that a number of flights carrying Syrians had been turned back from airports in Egypt.
"Syrian nationals were returned to where their flight originated, including Damascus and Latakia in Syria," the agency said, adding that it had formally expressed its concern about the new visa rules to the interim authorities in Cairo.
Egypt, which has been facing soaring unrest since the military ousted president Mohamed Morsi on July 3 amid mass demonstrations, currently hosts nearly 90,000 Syrians registered or in the process of registering as refugees with the UNHCR.
But the actual number of Syrians who have sought refuge in Egypt is believed to be much higher, in part because the country did not require Syrians to have visas until this week.
Cairo estimates that up to 300,000 Syrians currently live in Egypt.