As a young Syrian man was picking up his friend, who was returning from Germany, from the Beirut airport, he relayed the story of how he migrated to Egypt, returned, and then was banned from traveling there again.
He said that when he decided to flee Syria, he came straight to the Beirut airport, and then moved to Cairo with his small family — consisting of his wife and child — after his mother, siblings and in-laws had moved there before him.
He lived in Cairo for a while and opened a restaurant and coffee shop to help his brothers, who had worked for him in Syria. Then, for work, he traveled from Egypt to Turkey for 15 days, then to Lebanon to return to Egypt and live there with his family. He applied for a visa at the Egyptian embassy in Beirut immediately after the Eid al-Fitr holiday. However, until now, he has not obtained the visa. Every time he asks about it, the embassy employees tell him that he has to check back in a couple of days. Later, a female employee told him in secret, “There’s no use trying. Syrians are now banned from entering Egypt. You will not get the visa.”
Based on estimates, there are around 300,000 displaced Syrians in Egypt. This is the first time since Syria’s union with Egypt in 1958, as the United Arab Republic, that Egyptian authorities have taken measures that require Syrians to obtain visas and security approval before entering Egypt. Such measures were not even taken amid the political crisis between Egypt and Syria following the signing of the Camp David Accords.
This decision was issued after several Syrians participated in pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests. However, its effective result is the ban on Syrians from entering Egypt, at a time when they are in dire need of safe haven.
Sources in the Egyptian embassy in Beirut clarified that the visa applications are sent to Cairo for examination and approval. When asked about the reason behind not granting Syrians visas, the embassy cited the current situation in Egypt. Meanwhile, sources close to the Syrian embassy noted that the new measures were taken by the Egyptian authorities, and they reiterated that Arabs do not need visas to enter Syria.
It seems that the multiple crises in Egypt and Syria have prioritized the situation of displaced citizens. The measures have separated displaced families, with some members in Lebanon and others in Egypt. Moreover, Syrians who have deposited their money in Egyptian banks are worried because money transfers to Lebanese banks are very difficult, if not impossible, due to strict American controls.
The Syrian man noted that he holds a master’s degree in economics and has experience in the trade sector. He currently works as manager of a company in Lebanon, but he wants to live with his wife and parents in Cairo. He says that he has a huge bank account at an Egyptian bank, and he had to give his wife power of attorney after his attempt to transfer money to Lebanon failed. He is confused about what to do, and found himself stuck amid political and financial measures against Syrians. He is unable to travel to Egypt, but also can’t bring his wife and daughter to Lebanon while leaving his money there.
He is currently looking for a third alternative through his cousins living in Dubai. With their help, he intends to open a bank account in Dubai and move there with his wife and daughter.
He left behind a storage warehouse in Damascus, along with seven residential apartments that he had intended to sell. His only hope is that his properties are not destroyed.
The displaced Syrians we met indicated that among all the Gulf states, they are only allowed to travel to Qatar and Dubai after obtaining visas, while they are banned from entering Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The latter two are merely “focused on sending weapons [to the Syrian opposition].”
Back to Quneitra and Damascus
For displaced Syrians, Middle East Airlines (MEA) and Egyptian Airlines are the only means of travel between Beirut and Cairo. At the Beirut airport, an MEA plane lands two and a half hours late. Upon landing, strict inspections begin. Passengers deplane at intervals, in a country not their own, with no relatives or loved ones waiting for them.
All of the passengers we encounter explain that they are going back to Syria and will not be residing in Lebanon, perhaps because they are tired of this nomadic life.
A woman says she returned to Syria because her husband was unable to travel from Lebanon to Cairo. She adds that Syrians currently residing in Egypt are allowed to stay there, but if they ever leave, the authorities will notify them that they are banned from returning.
Another Syrian man explains that he was staying in Assiut and obtained a residence permit for three months. Yet, he left Egypt aware that he would not be able to return. He says that the Egyptian authorities are not expelling the displaced Syrians residing in Assiut, but the local residents are accusing Syrians of participating in pro-Brotherhood protests. This, as usual, will affect all Syrians.
The man and his family had arrived in Beirut at a quarter past seven in the evening, and it was too late for them to go to Syria. Thus, they decide to stay overnight in a hotel and to leave in the morning. He explained that the Egyptian authorities expelled Syrian men arrested while taking part in the Rabia al-Adawiya protests in support of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Yet another young man tells the story of how he fled Syria with his family to Nasr City in Cairo before the June 30 Revolution. He points out that the number of Syrian families residing in this part of Cairo does not exceed seven, but that unfortunately for them, the June 30 Revolution happened and the Muslim Brotherhood staged a sit-in Rabia al-Adawiya.
As-Safir’s correspondent in Cairo reported that numerous displaced Syrians were deported from Egypt after the revolution. They were asked to choose their destination, but was there any choice other than Lebanon? The only other solution was returning to Syria, since there were few possibilities in Turkey and Jordan and no chances at all in the Gulf.