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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs