GENEVA (AFP) – Rising anti-Syrian rhetoric and arbitrary arrests are pushing a growing number of Syrian war exiles in Egypt to seek UN protection, the world body's refugee agency said Friday.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters that there was "growing and disturbing anti-Syrian sentiment" in Egypt, raising fears among the refugee community.
Many Syrians who previously felt safe enough not to seek formal refugee status were now turning to the UNHCR for the protection afforded by official registration, Fleming said.
The number of Syrians approaching UNHCR to register jumped from around 200 per day before June 30 to over 1,000 currently.
As of July 23, over 78,000 Syrians were registered with UNHCR, and the cases of almost 21,000 were pending.
"This new climate began following allegations regarding participation of a few Syrians in protests and violent acts during July. There have also been numerous reports of xenophobic remarks and verbal attacks against Syrians," Fleming added.
Fleming said that was an extremely worrying trend in a country known for its generosity in providing a haven to an estimated 250,000-300,000 Syrian war refugees.
With the rumour mill working overtime in deeply divided Egypt, there have been a string of claims over Syrian involvement in rallies supporting ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Before he was overthrown by the military, Morsi, a vocal backer of Syria's rebellion, had cut diplomatic ties with Syria and urged President Bashar al-Assad to quit.
Egypt's new rulers have said they will re-examine the freeze, but insist they support the Syrian people in their aspirations.
But in what appeared to be a move to keep out Syrians deemed undesirable, on July 8 they imposed visa and security clearance requirements.
As a result, on July 9 and 10, some 400 Syrians were turned back on a handful of flights from their homeland, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, though the precise grounds were not clear, UNHCR staff said.
Fleming urged Egypt to at least waive the requirement for women, children and the elderly.
Concerns are also growing about arbitrary arrests of Syrians, UNHCR is pushing for access to 85 detained Syrians, and seeking assurances that they will not be deported to their war-ravaged homeland and will be treated fairly.
"These are the ones we know about," Fleming underlined.