Accessibility links

Syrian Refugees Struggle in Cairo

  • Elizabeth Arrott

The turmoil in Egypt has had repercussions for the estimated several hundred thousand Syrians who had thought they would find refuge there.

Syrian refugee Wael Mustafa came to Cairo last year and within months, he had found work, a place to live and could support his extended family.

“Here everything is easy. The people are easy. To find a job is easy. To move here is easy,” he said.

It is not so easy anymore.

Two months after Mustafa last talked to VOA, President Mohamed Morsi, a strong supporter of Syria's opposition, was ousted from power. And everything changed.

“After Morsi go, I saw some Egyptian people look at us like we are not good people, we are bad people,” said Mustafa.

His business, he said, has suffered. And previous generosity from the government, access to health care and schooling, is under review.

Syrians were once welcomed as historic allies who backed a popular uprising much like Egypt's. Now they've become linked with Morsi in the military-led government's crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood.

Activist Haitham Maleh, of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, noted that hundreds of Syrians in Egypt have been arrested by police or beaten in the streets, while others have been deported. State media, he said, have just made things worse.

“Some media spoke in a very bad way against us. Some media say we are like Muslim Brotherhood - something terrorist. Free Syrian army are terrorists,” said Maleh.

Egypt's government has also adopted stringent new visa rules, making it harder for Syrians to find refuge here.

“Syrian people came to Egypt and their families will follow them. Now, [they] cannot, and [they] stay in Lebanon or Turkey or Syria. And some Syrian people go back to Syria,” said Mustafa.

And they are going even in the face of possible outside military intervention.

Mustafa, from the war-ravaged outskirts of Damascus, shied away from Syrian politics a few months ago. Now, he is desperate to see Syria's government fall.

“We need someone to come fix this problem. Maybe America can fix this. We don't know, but sure, we're scared. We are scared for [the] people. We are scared for the country,” he said.

Intervention or not, Mustafa has no intention of going back. And despite what he says are his very nice Egyptian neighbors, he does not plan on staying here either. He recently began applying for visas for the United States and Europe.