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Syrian refugees

Why Not?


Posted: 15 Jan 2016 10:58 AM PST

Switzerland joins Denmark in confiscating the assets of refugees. Why not? Go ahead, take everything. From Damascus to Berlin, the journey of a Syrian refugee, or any refugee, is to be exploited thoroughly. The road to sanctuary, dignity and self respect as a human being lies through a gauntlet of lies, abuse and degradation. Syrians have to debase themselves utterly before they are worthy of pity. Why not? It starts from home. It starts from a country where you are fleeced as soon as you start trying to make a living. As early as you can remember you are taught in Syria that to get by you have to bribe somebody. Nothing is impossible, and when something isn’t working properly, be it a university exam that you just can’t seem to pass, to a job or work transaction that seems to never progress, it’s all about finding the man at the choke point, the man who wants a favour.

In the days when Syrians could, only just, travel the world and return back, they were greeted by the fat security officials at the airport who would single a suitable “victim”, someone with a Syrian passport, of course. It wouldn’t do to show somebody with a real passport, a human being’s passport, how barbaric we are. No, that wouldn’t do at all. But a Syrian or Arab is OK, because he could be exploited.

“Have you any presents for us?” the official would ask, rubbing his hands. If you don’t understand what he means, he’ll make you understand. He’ll um and ah, at the things in your suitcase. “Oh this wouldn’t do at all. Oh this might need to be taxed. Oh this might be banned under the new security regulations”, he’d say. Then, out of sheer frustration, you would pay him. Something, anything. Cigarettes would do, anything. Just pay so you can be on your way.

You leave the stable called Syria behind, and you get people smugglers, you get corrupt soldiers on the border. If you aren’t driving an expensive car and look average, border police make you wait in the sun and keep you “in line” while beating you with rubber hoses – that’s what they did on the border crossings to Lebanon by the way. You make it somewhere else, like Turkey, and you pay somebody to find you a flat, you pay them extra, just a place, any place. They raise the prices. If somebody else pays them more, you get turfed out. Then you have to pay money for visas, for transport, for “arrangements”. It might pay off, it might not. You might end up as fish food in the sea, or your body turns into a leaky bag of skin and fluids after you suffocate in a refrigerator in wheels somewhere on a motorway in Austria.

Why not? Let’s exploit Syrians, everybody else has. These refugees are “rich”, “they have money”. They are all “coming to rape European women” after all. Besides, they have diseases, they “hide terrorists” amongst each other. Why not? Fleece them. Maybe next Europe can start putting refugees in specially walled off compounds, and force them to wear special badges – no, badges won’t do, it’ll be special identity cards or papers. To mark them as special, to watch, to keep an eye on. Why not? A people with no home, no sanctuary, no respect or dignity even from their own, why should anybody else respect them? Why not also force Syrians – because that’s what the word ‘refugee’ has become synonymous with – to walk barefoot across Europe, wearing sack cloth and with ash on their heads? That way everyone can be sure that they really are desperate and worthy of assistance.

Thousands of Syrians forgotten and stuck on the border

Prince Charles describes ‘horror’ of Syria’s refugee crisis

The Prince of Wales described the “horror” of Syria’s refugee crisis today as he visited a camp in Jordan for those who have fled the bloody civil war.

10:35AM GMT 13 Mar 2013

The Prince and the Duchess of Cornwall met victims of torture and families torn apart by the conflict who begged them to “Help us.”

The Duchess described the refugees’ plight as “harrowing” after hearing their stories during the visit to the King Abdullah Park refugee camp seven miles from the Syrian border.

It is home to 1,200 of the 440,000 Syrian refugees who have poured into Jordan over the past two years, and houses less than 24 hours’ worth of new arrivals in the country.

The Royal couple dropped in on one of the families living in prefabricated huts in the camp, where Naim, 55 (who did not want to give his surname for fear of reprisals) told the Prince he had been tortured.

“I was arrested twice in 2011 because I write poetry against the [Assad] regime,” he said. “They put out cigars and cigarettes on my body and arms.

“They would tie me up and blindfold me and started doing things to my body.”

He fled his village near the southern Syrian border with his wife and five children in July.

The Prince asked him: “Do you see any end to this horror?”

He replied: “It is with you. You have the solution. The Syrian people are everybody’s problem.” He added: “Help us.”

The Prince said: “Many of these children have been traumatised by the horrors of what they’ve witnessed before they got here.

“Some of them have lost their parents and had horrendous experiences and it is remarkable what all these wonderful [aid agencies] are doing to deal with this unbelievable and heartbreaking situation.”

He praised the “truly remarkable” generosity of the Jordanians, but said: “It’s putting more and more strain on food and hospitals, so clearly the Jordanians need more assistance and help to be able to cope with this immense challenge. It’s a desperate situation.”

The couple also visited a therapy session where children aged six to 14 are given help to overcome the trauma they have lived through by drawing happy memories of home to give them hope for the future.

Noraman, 13, who lost her father and two brothers when her village of Mahaja was attacked, drew apple and orange trees and told the Duchess: “This is the garden I remember in my house but I’m not sure it will be there when I get back.”

In the garden she drew were a flag of Syria and a flag of Jordan, reflecting her uncertain future.

Emira, 12, does not know if her father is alive or dead and said: “I’m not sure if I will see him again. My mother sometimes says he is dead and sometimes says he is in prison.”

Sava Mobaslat, 41, the programme director for Save the Children in Jordan, said the 600 children at the camp are bussed to local schools to continue their education but go to the children’s centre every day for therapy sessions.

“It is aimed at building coping mechanisms and providing resilience,” she said. “We use drawing, drama, music and arts as an alternative form of expression through which they can express their anxiety and frustration to help them get over it.

“They draw guns, bodies, a lot of red to begin with and gradually they go back to drawing the garden in their back yard.

“The time frame for their recovery varies from child to child, it takes longer for someone who has witnessed the death of a parent or sibling. We have one girl who was walking to school and saw it bombed with her siblings inside and it took her a long time to get over that image.”

After meeting women making knitted goods to raise money for the camp, the Duchess said: “Seeing all these children, some of whom have lost their parents and been adopted by others, I feel it’s quite heartbreaking.

“Some of their stories are so harrowing, but what I find so remarkable is their strength of spirit and the way they are so cheerful despite their circumstances.

“I think that is women for you. They have got their children to look after, they have to survive.

“But to think that many of them don’t even know whether their husbands are alive or dead…it is just awful.”

King Abdullah Park does not compare in scale to the Zaatari camp nearby which has 146,000 people in it, but security concerns meant the Royal couple could not go to the larger camp.

Andrew Harper, the humanitarian coordinator in Jordan for the UN High Commission for Refugees, said: “The desperation of the people in Syria is rising and we are not seeing any indications that the situation is going to get better any time soon.”

A million people have already fled Syria for neighbouring countries and Jordan alone could have a million within its borders by the end of 2013.

Mr Harper said: “I still think we are at the preliminary stages of a mass migration from Syria to Jordan.

“Jordan can’t continue to take hundreds of thousands or a million with nice words from the international community.

“We need significant support and investment. We are all running out of money. People expect us to do the impossible and we are facing a looming disaster.”

Later the Prince and the Duchess visited Jerash, one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world, where they were given a guided tour of the streets, temples and amphitheatre.

‘Don’t Forget Your Photo Albums!’: The Flight of Syria’s Middle Classes

By Ulrike Putz in Beirut

Photo Gallery: Syrian Refugees Suffer Winter Misery in Lebanon


They once were affluent, took vacations to Greece, purchased art and designer furniture. Now this Syrian family is on the run and forced to rely on charity. Their fate is typical of the exodus of the country’s large middle class.

Farah Schemi* wants to get something off her chest: in the event that readers of her story at some point in their lives have to flee their homeland, she wants them to take to heart her list of what to pack. “Passports, gold, bank records and deeds of property, very important,” she says. Almost more important are all the things that keep you warm. “Blankets, warm clothing, sturdy shoes,” says the 54-year-old. It’s best to wear a heavy coat, even in sweltering summer weather.



One thing Mrs. Schemi has learned: “You never return home as quickly as you’d hoped.” The first winter in a foreign land comes inevitably. And when all hope vanishes in those first cold nights and you accept the fact that everything is lost, warm feet are at least a small consolation. 

Mrs. Schemi never dreamed she one day would become an expert on the matter of escape luggage — back when her world was still in order.

Before the start of the revolution in Syria, she packed a suitcase only when the family was headed for a summer vacation on a Greek island or the Turkish coast. In her former life, Farah Schemi worked as a dietician, advising well-paying private patients on nutrition. She specialized in advising cancer patients on what to eat to assist the healing process.

A Cancer Patient Becomes a Victim of War

Two years and one war later, that is all just memories. Farah Schemi’s husband Helmi suffers from cancer but his Syrian health insurance doesn’t cover treatment in Lebanon, where the family has settled after fleeing the war in their homeland.

So the Schemis sit with their two adult daughters in the backroom of a Lebanese mosque and watch Helmi grow weaker by the day. He should be running his printing company in Damascus, but is destined to become another victim of the Syrian Civil War.

In the meantime, up to one million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries, according to estimates by the major aid organizations. Some 300,000 are said to have ended up in Lebanon. But because the Lebanese government has close ties with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, official agencies are reluctant to offer assistance to Syrian refugees. There are no refugee camps operated by aid organizations in Lebanon.

Those who are lucky stay with relatives or have enough money to rent an apartment. All of the other Syrian refugees in Lebanon are forced to rely on the help of strangers: on the mosques that open soup kitchens, on the farmers who let them sleep in their stables, on the owners of apartment buildings who let them set up tarpaulins on flat roofs. Medical care for the displaced is wholly inadequate.

Many Children Are Starving, All Are Freezing

The first stop for many refugees is the Lebanese border town of Majdal Anjar. Surrounded by snow-covered mountains and just an hour by car from Damascus, the small town was once a smugglers’ stronghold. Today it functions as a kind of reception camp: in recent months, tens of thousands of Syrians have taken their first rest here after fleeing over the border. Thousands have stayed. Since then, Majdal Anjar — like many other Lebanese cities — has operated under a state of emergency: water and electricity come only sporadically and are simply not enough for the sharply increasing population. Lessons in the schools are taught in two shifts: Lebanese children in the morning, Syrians in the afternoons.

The Schemis too made their first stop in Majdal Anjar, after they fled the Damascus district of Kutseija during a ceasefire last July. The parents, who were traveling with three of their four adult children (the eldest is studying at a university in the USA), turned to a mosque for help. The Muezzin said they could sleep in his office for one night. That one night has turned into six months. When a Levantine winter storm rolls over the mountains, temperatures in the room drop below freezing. When it clears up again, melted snow drips down the walls of their lodging.

“But we don’t want to complain. We still have it good. Many refugees live outdoors, with their children, in the middle of the snow,” says Mariam, who at 31 years old is the eldest daughter of the Shemis. She and her sister Rula, both teachers, have found work in a Lebanese school and use the wages to feed their family. After they finish work in the afternoons, they teach Syrian refugee children, without pay. “When I look at the children I can see how bad it must be for the parents,” says Mariam. Some of her students are highly aggressive, others apathetic about their war experiences.

In the beginning the Schemis thought that their exile would soon be over, that they would soon return home. But these hopes were soon dashed. Just a month after their flight, a neighbor called from Damascus: the apartment building where they had lived on the third floor had been set on fire. Moreover, soldiers had looted all the apartments.

Potential Sons-in-Law Have Fallen

Mariam and Rula managed to struggle their way back to Damascus. They wanted to bring the family’s possessions to safety — but there was nothing left to save. On her smartphone, Rula shows photos of the rubble that was once her home: the rooms were all blackened by soot. What wasn’t burned was smashed to pieces, and the computer had bullet holes in it. “On the first floor of the building, a doctor and a veterinarian had their practices,” says Rula. Both had apparently treated injured dissidents, and the army took revenge on the whole house. Aside from one neighboring family, all the residents of the building have fled the country: the exodus of the well-off and strikingly large Syrian middle class.

The Schemis and their neighbors are among those who had something to lose and lost it fast.

Rula also has other pictures on her cell phone, images of a happier time. One video shows the family at the father’s birthday two years ago: in a living room filled with antique furniture, aunts with blow-dried hair laugh into the camera, and children are being passed from arm to arm. There are cakes and bouquets of flowers on a mahogany dresser, under a modern painting. Suddenly Rula dances through the picture, her hair worn loose, her top low-cut and bright blue. “Another age,” she says and shut the cell phone. Today Rula and her sister wear tracksuits and don’t remove their white headscarves, even indoors — after all, they have to rely on the goodwill of the head of the mosque.


“Photos are among those things that you don’t think about at first,” says Farah Schemi. Not a single baby photo of any of her children still exists. Her wedding photo, school enrollments, birthdays — all gone. Her advice to anyone who must quickly pack the essentials: “Don’t forget your photo album!” 

The prospect that the war in Syria may shorten her husband’s life isn’t Mrs. Schemi only concern. She’s also worried about her daughters’ future. “The girls are at the age when they should marry and have children of their own,” she says. “But who should they marry?” Fifty thousand young men in Syria have died over the course of the revolution, 70,000 have been arrested. “The men my daughters should have married have fallen in the revolution.”

*All names have been changed by the editors.


Syrian Refugees A snapshot of the crisis – in the middle east and europe © Mohamed Salman

Syrian refugees in Hatay, Turkey

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