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Private Egyptian plane carrying Syrian refugees held in Sweden

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Badr Abdel Atty said Egyptian authorities are in talks with the Swedish government to facilitate the return of two Egyptian pilots, who are being held in Sweden after flying a plane carrying ten Syrian refugees, state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

Roshdy Zakareya, the head of Smart Aviation company, a corporate airline operator affiliated with the Ministry of Aviation, told the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) that the plane was rented by an Arab businessman to take the ten Syrians from Lebanon to Sweden. The Foreign Ministry said the contractor who rented the plane was not Egyptian.

The plane was held by Swedish authorities when it landed early Wednesday at Malmo airport, after the Syrians onboard were found with fake Swedish visas, according to MENA. They applied for political asylum upon landing.

Swedish authorities continue to hold the Syrians, along with the two Egyptian pilots.

Smart Aviation asked the Egyptian ambassador in Sweden to give the pilots and crew support, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported. 

The independently owned newspaper added that Zakareya said the stopping of the plane has nothing to do with the company or crew, but the businessman who contracted their services and the passengers on board.  

The Swedish Embassy in Cairo told Mada Masr that it has no information on the incident.

Smart Aviation Company, which is partially owned by EgyptAir and has five small planes, launched its services in 2007, mostly providing flights for businessmen and other civilian clients.

In October, Lebanon closed its doors to Syrian refugees after they surpassed one million, as reported by the UNHCR in April. The UNHCR’s report said Lebanon was struggling to accommodate the influx of Syrian refugees, which started at the beginning of the conflict three years ago. News and rights organizations have reported on difficult conditions for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

CARITAS director Soheir Fawzy told Mada Masr that it is customary for the Ministry of Interior to investigate incoming refugees with no prior permits, and that once they have been cleared, the receiving country’s Foreign Ministry, in collaboration with the UNHCR, handles the case.

She said that the arrival of refugees on a private plane with no prior visa is unorthodox, adding that any receiving country would not want to encourage this practice.