Dozens of Palestinians refugees fleeing violence in Syria protested at the Palestinian embassy in Cairo, demanding better treatment from Palestinian and Egyptian authorities.
Gathering under a banner reading “don’t kill us twice,” Palestinian refugees began their open ended sit-in before the Palestinian embassy in Egypt on Tuesday morning, demanding to be recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Children held signs spelling out the slogan while protestors broke out in various chants, including "down with the Ambassador." In the afternoon, protestors said they were threatened by police, who told them that “thugs” in the neighbourhood might attack them. Embassy bodyguards also secured the perimeters.
Frustrated over being denied refugee status by UNCHR, protestors, who previously lived in refugee camps in Syria, say that they should be given the same rights as Syrian refugees in Egypt.
“They [protestors] cannot register themselves as refugees. They can't put their children in schools. They’re not given healthcare nor do they have any kind of humanitarian services,” Hanine Hassan, organiser and Palestinian human rights activist said at the sit-in.
UNHCR cannot register the refugees because the Egyptian government does not officially recognise them as such. The agency refused to comment, saying that the matter lies entirely with Egyptian authorities.
Protesters say the embassy has failed to provide them with any help, except for a financial stipend provided once to families a few months ago through the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. Protestors called on the embassy to provide them with medical, food, and financial aid.
“What is being practiced is a closed door policy towards Palestinians. The ambassador, who is the sole person responsible for these people, is actually applying a divide-and-conquer policy to escape responsibility,” Hassan said.
Abdel Jabar Belal, a lawyer in his fourties and member of the Palestinian-Syrian refugee committee, told Ahram Online at the sit-in that he has tried to negotiate with the UN agencies, which he claims are being hampered by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Hassan adds that the ambassador should be engaging in talks with the presidency, rather than the ministry, which was part of a regime that despised Palestinians.
Fleeing Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria, Palestinian refugees had to leave refugee camps all over Syria, including the Yarmouk camp, and head to Egypt.
They have also fled to Jordon, Turkey, and Lebanon in the course of the uprising; a reported 100,000 refugees have fled to Jordon so far, and soon to reach the one million mark by the end of the year.
Wife and mother of five children, Rania El-Dahak, who came to Egypt via Lebanon, says her family was split because she was Syrian while her husband and children were Palestinians, and therefore were treated unequally.
At the Syrian-Lebanese border, she was given entry almost immediately, while the rest of her family spent six hours waiting.
When she came to Egypt, she faced a greater issue when the UNHCR was willing to register her alone without her family. She refused.
While living on the bare minimum, she had to enroll her four children in private schools, shelling out LE20,000 for their fees, as this was the only way to gain an Egyptian residency permit.
There are around 10,000 Palestinian-Syrian refugees in Egypt, according to Hassan.
Belal says, however, that he has only counted 3,000-4,000 refugees, stating that the embassy refuses to disclose original lists of the refugees, which are vital to distributing aid.
“These people are trapped in a political limbo of policies from UNHCR, from the Egyptian government, and from the Palestinian government,” Hassan says. "In the end, as you see, these mothers and children…are fleeing a war.”
Should a solution not be reached, protestors will up the demand to the dismissal of the Palestinian Ambassador, Barakat Al-Farra.
Erecting tents Tuesday evening, the protesting refugees plan an open-ended strike until their demands are met.