CAIRO – The minute professional diver Mohammed Ibrahim, a Syrian, heard that Egypt's president had cut relations with Syria and closed its embassy, he jumped into a bus and traveled hundreds of kilometers (miles) from a Red Sea resort city to Cairo to try to get official papers for his long-planned emigration to the United States.
Standing with his luggage Sunday in front of the now sealed Syrian Embassy, Ibrahim joined two dozen other Syrians who were taken by surprise by President Mohammed Morsi's decision on Saturday.
"They could cut the diplomatic relations, but why close the embassy?" asked Ibrahim, 27. "They are not helping us."
Morsi explained that he cut diplomatic ties partly over the involvement of Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah fighters in the Syrian civil war in support of President Bashar Assad.
The decision created an additional hardship for thousands of Syrian refugees who have found shelter in Egypt, many hoping to go on to third countries, and others hoping to return home someday.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 77,000 Syrian refugees have made their way to Egypt.
The break in relations means the refugees have nowhere to turn for consular services like renewing passports and obtaining official documents.
Syrians stranded in front of the embassy said that they were notified it will keep functioning until Thursday, but only to complete its current administrative work, and it will not begin new procedures.
Another refugee, who gave her name only as Nermine because of fear of retribution, said her passport and those of her four children were stolen in Cairo. The 40-year-old teacher said she asked the embassy for new ones, but "I got only three of them. They are telling me to send someone in Syria to get the two others, but I have nobody there anymore."
She complained, "Morsi's decision is negatively impacting the Syrian people, not the regime. You can cut off diplomatic relations, but you need to have some kind of an administration that takes care of our problems."