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Syrian Refugee Wave Washes Over Egypt

The Syrian refugee crisis has spilled over into countries farther from the fighting, as tens of thousands seek refuge in Egypt and other North African countries, Ben Gittleson reports from Cairo.
People shout slogans against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while holding a Syrian opposition flag after Friday prayers led by Egyptian Cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, at Al Azhar mosque in old Cairo December 28, 2012. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST RELIGION)

CAIRO — When Hazem learned last month that the Syrian military would draft him on New Year’s Day, he did not wait around to see whether the regime would keep its word. The 23-year-old law student from Damascus drove to the Lebanese border, bribed a soldier and hopped on one of the next planes from Beirut to Cairo. In doing so, he joined tens of thousands of his compatriots — including his brother, who had previously fled conscription — who have fled the fighting at home for countries increasingly far from Syria.

The vast majority of the 576,000 Syrian refugees registered or awaiting appointments with the UN’s refugee agency are concentrated in nations bordering Syria — particularly Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon — but thousands more are seeking refuge in Egypt and other North African countries. Across the region, thousands remain unregistered.

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