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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora