News / Middle East

Syrian Refugees Despair as Europe Closes Door

Border fence separating Morocco and Spain's north African enclave Melilla runs all the way to the sea, Dec. 3, 2013.
Border fence separating Morocco and Spain's north African enclave Melilla runs all the way to the sea, Dec. 3, 2013.
Reuters
Yahya Khedr has traveled for more than two years, through five countries and with six forged passports to get his family from the war-ravaged Syrian city of Homs to Europe.
 
But now that his wife and five children have reached Melilla, a small Spanish enclave on Morocco's Mediterranean coast, their chance of a European life seems as remote as ever.
 
Border fence separating Morocco and Spain's north African enclave Melilla is seen along a road in the 12.5-square-kilometer territory, Dec. 4, 2013.Border fence separating Morocco and Spain's north African enclave Melilla is seen along a road in the 12.5-square-kilometer territory, Dec. 4, 2013.
x
Border fence separating Morocco and Spain's north African enclave Melilla is seen along a road in the 12.5-square-kilometer territory, Dec. 4, 2013.
Border fence separating Morocco and Spain's north African enclave Melilla is seen along a road in the 12.5-square-kilometer territory, Dec. 4, 2013.
“People make it to Melilla hoping to find Europe,” said Khedr, who before his country's war owned a successful European truck-parts import business. “But here, it's an open-air jail.”
 
Armed guards and razor wire lining the 12-km (7.5-mile) frontier around the town have long discouraged Africans fleeing poverty and conflict from seeing Melilla as a gateway to Europe, 180 km (110 miles) away across open water.
 
But desperation has driven hundreds of Syrians like Khedr to brave long journeys — and Moroccan crime gangs that prey on migrants — to fetch up at the gates, turning the port town of 80,000 into a new pressure point for waves of destitute people struggling to reach the safety and prosperity of Europe.
 
As the United Nations marked International Migrants Day on Wednesday, drawing attention to governments' obligations toward people on the move, European Union leaders were preparing for a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday that is likely to approve tougher ways to keep immigrants out.
 
That will disappoint Spain, Italy and Greece, whose hope of persuading northern neighbors to share the burden of taking in those fleeing across the Mediterranean have been undermined by hostility among voters feeling the pinch of austerity policies.
 
Before an EU summit in October more than 360 people drowned within sight of Lampedusa, an Italian island off Tunisia that has long been a magnet for migrants. But talks on a more coordinated, EU-wide solution have made little progress.
 
“There is no master plan," said Ana Terron, an adviser to the EU home affairs commissioner and a former Spanish immigration minister. "It is an international problem that should be dealt with at a European level but there is a lack of will.”
 
Spain says that in the first half of this year it took in some 3,000 illegal migrants, twice the number in the first half of 2012. Most came via Melilla and its other main African enclave, Ceuta, where detention centers send asylum-seekers over to the Spanish mainland once they become too overcrowded.
 
About 2,300 have made it into Melilla so far this year.
 
The EU found over 72,000 people entering the bloc illegally last year, including a fivefold rise in Syrians, to 8,000.
 
Southern exposure
 
People fleeing conflict in the Middle East have long taken northern routes through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans in the hope of making it to richer states like Germany, Sweden or Britain. But tighter policing, especially around Greece and Italy, has driven more to head along more southerly routes.
 
This month, 74 Syrians were detained in Lisbon after flying in on fake passports from Guinea-Bissau, Morocco, and elsewhere.
 
Others push along the North African coast, through Libya and Algeria to Morocco and, they hope, into Melilla and Ceuta.
 
“Immigration is like water. It always seeks a way to flow,” says Jose Palazon, a Melilla teacher who heads Prodein, an organization that helps immigrants, especially the children who hide around the town's docks in the hope of sneaking aboard ferries and other ships heading for mainland Spain.
 
“If you close all waterways, the level goes up, like on a dam. Until it spills over,” Palazon said, likening that to the way migrants who camp out in the woods and hills around Melilla periodically try to rush the security fence to get inside.
 
While the likes of Yahya Khedr managed to sneak his family into the town, and so to its hostel for refugees, by using fake passports, hundreds of less well-off people, mostly Africans from south of the Sahara, camp outside, looking for a chance.
 
“In our countries, we live with less than one dollar a day,” said Serge, 30, from Cameroon, who has been surviving on the hillside outside Melilla for months. “Africa needs to be fixed if the immigration is to slow down. If nothing is done, it will only increase.”
 
Spain, where more than one worker in four is out of a job, has responded by reinforcing Melilla's six-meter (20-foot) border fence with razor wire. That drew criticism from human rights groups when migrants trying to climb over it were left slashed and hanging on the barrier.
 
The Spanish government representative in Melilla, Abdelmalik El Barkani, defended the measures as necessary and noted that few refugees wanted to register for asylum in the enclave, preferring to count on a transfer to mainland Europe.
 
Madrid has also stepped up cooperation with Moroccan police in the hope they can prevent people approaching the border.
 
Forged passports, fake tears
 
Yahya Khedr is despairing of ever getting there, however.
 
Three years ago, Khedr, now 43, was living well from his business importing European truck parts to Syria. He would spend several months a year in Murcia, in southern Spain, where he also owned a bar and ran his trading business.
 
He traveled elsewhere in Europe, too, taking his family to Disneyland in Paris or visiting a daughter who lives in Italy.
 
Now, much of his home city of Homs is rubble. Some of the first bombing of the civil war in 2011 destroyed his house and Khedr joined a Syrian refugee exodus now 2.3 million strong.
 
Holding a Spanish residence permit for himself only, he and the family flew and drove via Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and Algeria to Morocco. There he bought forged Moroccan passports for his wife and children to get them into Melilla in mid-October under Spanish rules that allow entry to Moroccans living nearby.
 
Typically, Syrian refugees say, Moroccan gangs charge $1,500 or more for a passport. Khedr did not say what he paid.
 
His family now lives with about 900 other migrants in the low-rise compound that forms Melilla's immigration holding center — designed to house little more than half that number.
 
He himself saves money by living for $12 a day in a hotel in the nearby Moroccan town of Nador. Using his Spanish permit, he is able to travel every week to visit his family in Melilla.
 
With no sign of being allowed to cross over to the Spanish mainland, however, Khedr now wonders whether he might even start heading back home.

“It's a catastrophe,” he said. “The Europeans say they're weeping for Syria but it's all fake.”

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs