News / Europe

Syrian Refugees Face Another Battle Through French Bureaucracy

Syrian refugees sit outside their tent at their camp in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 23, 2013.
Syrian refugees sit outside their tent at their camp in Amman, Jordan, Dec. 23, 2013.
Lisa Bryant
Rights group Amnesty International has sharply criticized the European Union this month for not widening its welcome mat for Syrian refugees. It says only 10 out of the EU's 28 members plan to take in Syrian refugees - even as the United Nations is calling for Western countries to admit up to 30,000 Syrian refugees in 2014. But arriving in Europe is only part of the challenge.

The sign posted on the door of the small office simply says "Syria." Inside, Sabreen Al Rassace is helping one of her clients - a 56-year-old Syrian doctor called Fares Egho - through a complicated French government form.

A tiny woman with a shock of curly hair, Al Rassace works for Revivre, a French nongovernmental organization that welcomes Syrians arriving in France and helps them through the bureaucracy of applying for asylum here. Neither job is easy.

"This office is not just a technical step. It's also an office to take time to listen to the Syrian refugees because for the first time [since] they fled from their country," she said. "They've been traumatized. They've been tortured. So at least at this office we need to take the time [to listen to them]. Even it it's more than one hour. It's a duty. "

The Syrians who arrive in France are the lucky ones. Rights group Amnesty International has sharply criticized the European Union for taking in what it calls "paltry numbers" of Syrians fleeing their war-torn country. While Germany plans to admit 9,000 Syrians, Amnesty notes that some countries like Britain are not offering any places. France plans to take in only 500 refugees.

EU members say they are instead helping Syrians inside Syria and in neighboring countries. In December, for example, the EU announced more aid for Syrians totaling $244 million.

But Frederique Calandra, the mayor of Paris' 20th arrondissement agrees with Amnesty's criticism.

Mayor Calandra says European and other Western countries should be more welcoming to Syrians, who she says are living through a massacre. She believes their scars will take a long time to heal - and Syrians may later feel deep bitterness toward countries that appeared indifferent to their suffering.

Mayor Calandra offers up meeting rooms to Syrian opposition members when they meet in France. Her city hall has also lent an office to Revivre to welcome asylum seekers like the doctor, Fares Egho.

Egho fled his home in the Syrian city of Aleppo with his family, arriving in France over a year ago. But his troubles are far from over. Today, Egho still doesn't have the legal papers to work and live in France as a refugee. It's taken him half a day just to fill out one form - with help from Revivre's Sabreen Al Rassace.

"At the first meeting we have to explain to them that you are safe here but at the same time you have to deal with the French system which will be very tough, very long, so it will take a lot of energy, a lot of time, so you have to be patient," she said.

Even so, she says, many Syrians are shocked by the long lines, the endless appointments and the sometimes shoddy treatment they receive from French officials.

"When they were in Syria there wasn't freedom of expression there wasn't freedom of conscience or freedom of association," she said. "But they had a roof, they had a place. So they had their dignity. But when they came to France, they were traumatized a second time, because they lost their dignity. And they use the term in Arabic very strongly - [gives term in Arabic] - which is a shock. It's a great shock."

Still, Egho for one, is grateful to be sheltered in France. His children are enrolled in French schools. He is studying to pass French medical exams to work as a doctor here.

But Egho says his heart lies in Syria. He's attached to his culture, his language, his community - even if his fellow Syrians can't agree on their political future. But for now, the doctor cannot look ahead. And he thinks it will be a long time before his two young daughters return to their homeland.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid