By Noemi Jabois and Ana Maria Guzelian
Beirut, Mar 4 (EFE).- It took Syrian refugee Yahya 10 years and a perilous journey across the sea before he was finally granted asylum in Germany. He is one of 6.6 million people who fled Syria’s brutal civil war, many of whom feel a sense of injustice at how the international community has responded to Ukraine’s sudden exodus of people.
Months before the outbreak of the revolt against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in 2010, the young man, who opted to use a different name for security purposes, left Syria for Lebanon and remained in the neighboring country alongside his family until 2015.
Then, one day, his father decided to risk his life for a better future, Yahya tells Efe.
Yahya’s father embarked on a dangerous journey from Tripoli in northern Lebanon to Greece and then to Germany, where he stayed five years before he was able to take the rest of his five-member family with him.
Seven years after Europe’s migration crisis, Sahar Atrache from the Refugees International NGO says the number of Syrian refugees in most European countries, with the exception of Germany, remains “limited,” despite promises made by the EU member states to take in significant numbers of refugees.
“They continue to face significant hurdles and prejudice. Many have been stranded in refugee camps in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan under extremely dire circumstances, living in limbo with no end in sight.”
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine a week ago, over one million people have escaped to neighboring countries such as Poland, Romania and Moldova, leaving some members of the Syrian refugee community outraged at what they consider double standards.
A refugee who has been in Lebanon for 13 years and who preferred to remain anonymous wonders why he and his compatriots are still living in tents and mired in poverty more than a decade after the outbreak of the civil war in Syria.
“Unfortunately all countries closed their doors in our faces. If we compare with Ukraine, they have been at war for a few days now and all countries opened their doors for them, even Arab countries. Why? What’s the reason? Are they humans and we are not?” says the person in charge of one of the informal camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which houses an estimated number of 1.5 million people from the neighboring nation.
Lebanese president Michel Aoun has repeatedly called for a return of Syrian refugees to their country, amid the devastating economic crisis gripping Lebanon since the end of 2019.
According to the United Nations, the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon is one of the most vulnerable groups, with nine out of 10 residents suffering extreme poverty.
Another man from the southern Syrian province of Daraa claims that his application for asylum outside Lebanon was denied for not “meeting the requirements” after waiting for more than a year.
He tells Efe that he crossed the border after losing two of his children in the conflict and now lives in a tent next to a river in a Lebanese territory with nine members of his family, including five children.
“I just want to understand the difference between us and Ukraine. All countries opened their doors to them but not to us. We kept thinking about how we will escape and which road we should take even when our own country doesn’t accept us.
“Death is so much easier for us because we don’t know if we will reach the safe ground or die trying and here everyone wants to detain us, the Lebanese and Syrian authorities.”
Tobias Hautekiet, a legal representative of Refugee Legal Support in Greece, tells Efe that the first major difference is that, before the crisis, Ukrainians could travel visa-free throughout the EU’s Schengen Area for three months, which is why they can enter Poland or Romania by showing their passport.
But Syrian asylum seekers must first “cross the border, though it is generally not possible to do so legally with a visa, and then you have to register your claim,” Hautekiet points out.
“This can be difficult as the procedure for registering claims changes often and is currently severely restricted, it can now only be carried out in specific locations. … Once registered you can get an asylum ID and then in a matter of months or even years (timing ranges widely) you should get your interview – this can all easily take a very long time,” he adds.
Eventually, they could get a 3-year residence permit.