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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.