Parallels
3:00 am
Fri January 10, 2014

Despite Dim Prospects, Syrian Exodus To Germany Continues

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 12:45 pm

Human rights officials say the Syrian civil war is creating Europe's biggest refugee crisis in decades, but that countries across the continent are doing little about it.

Most European nations are refusing to take in Syrian refugees, choosing instead to send money to the United Nations and other international agencies. The few EU countries like Germany that are welcoming Syrians only offer refuge to a few thousand out of the more than 2 million Syrians who have fled their homeland.

But the cool reception isn't stopping Syrians from risking their lives to get to Europe.

There are many smiling faces at the Friedland transit camp in the German state of Lower Saxony. There, Syrian refugee children play outside pristine barracks on a warm winter day.

A few Syrian men unwind nearby with an informal game of soccer.

One of those kicking the ball around is 23-year-old Ibrahim.

The sports teacher, who doesn't want to give his last name, says he spent everything he had and borrowed a lot more to pay smugglers $7,000 to get him here from the Syrian capital Damascus.

He says he traveled by boat from Turkey to Greece, where the police beat him and other refugees.

Ibrahim got away. He says he later traveled by train from Italy to the German city of Dortmund, where he turned himself in to police and asked for asylum.

Like many at the camp, Ibrahim is relieved to be among the lucky few who made it to Germany. And like them, he fears his luck will turn and that he'll be sent back to Syria.

"We hear a lot of good things about Germany and how they treat refugees. I'd like to work here and continue my university studies," Ibrahim says. "But of course I'm worried they are going to kick me out."

His concern is understandable. Germany is one of 14 European countries that deported dozens of Syrian asylum seekers last year. Officials say that's because of a treaty that requires migrants seeking entry to Europe to be processed by the first EU country they arrive in.

Most of them ended up in Bulgaria, which lacks the means to handle the influx and is widely accused of mistreating Syrian refugees.

UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva, is one of a growing number of groups calling on European governments to stop deporting refugees, even if they arrive illegally.

"What we want here is for Europe to ensure that those Syrians who are fleeing persecution, fleeing the desperate situation and the war in Syria, are given the protection that they need," says Dan McNorton, a UNHCR spokesman.

Building New Lives Amid Worries

Back at the German camp, even Syrians who came here legally through programs managed by the U.N. express fear about being sent back.

Kassm al-Kady is one of them. He arrived from Beirut the night before with his wife and four of his children on a chartered plane with other Syrian refugees. The packed planes are coming to Germany every other week.

He says he was told in Beirut that his family would be allowed to stay in Germany for two years, but had to agree to leave earlier if asked by German authorities to do so.

The 58-year-old engineer says he and his family try not to dwell on fear and are focusing instead on their new life.

That life begins here at Friedland, where refugees take German language classes. They also receive meals and medical care, as well as a small allowance they use to shop in the local village.

The camp was originally set up by British Allied forces at the end of World War II to deal with German refugees and prisoners of war returning from Eastern Europe.

Since then, it's handled hundreds of thousands of refugees from subsequent wars, including in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Camp coordinator Heinrich Hoernschemeyer says Friedland is currently home to 500 refugees from 10 countries, the largest group being Syrian.

About half of the 10,000 Syrian refugees Germany has agreed to resettle will pass through Friedland.

Hoernschemeyer says that number is not enough. He likens it to trying to cool a hot stone with a single drop of water.

"My parents experienced war, and there were many Germans at the time who were happy to find refuge in other countries," he says. "We should remember that."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Countries in Europe are struggling with the same controversy, though they've already taken in far more Syrians than the United States. That's making for what experts say is the largest refugee crisis in Europe in decades. Like the United States, some European leaders would rather take in fewer refugees. But Europe's cool reception is not stopping Syrians from risking their lives to get there. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIDS PLAYING)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: There are many smiling faces at the Friedland transit camp for refugees in lower Saxony, where Syrian children play outside pristine barracks on a warm winter day. A few Syrian men unwind nearby with an informal game of soccer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER GAME)

NELSON: One of those kicking the ball around is 23-year-old Ibrahim.

IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The sports teacher, who doesn't want to give his last name, says he spent everything he had and borrowed a lot more to pay smugglers $7,000 to get him here from Damascus. He says he traveled by boat from Turkey to Greece, where he and other refugees were beaten by police. Ibrahim got away.

He says he later traveled by train from Italy to the German city of Dortmund, where he turned himself into police and asked for asylum. Like many at the camp, Ibrahim is relieved to be among the lucky few who made it to Germany. And like them, he fears his luck will turn and that he'll be sent back to Syria.

IBRAHIM: (through translator) We hear a lot of good things about Germany and how they treat refugees. I'd like to work here and continue my university studies. But of course I'm worried they are going to kick me out.

NELSON: His concern is understandable. Germany is one of 14 European countries that last year deported dozens of Syrian asylum seekers. Officials cited a treaty that requires migrants seeking entry to Europe to be processed by the first EU country they arrive in. Most of them ended up in Bulgaria, which lacks the means to handle the influx and is widely accused of mistreating Syrian refugees. Dan McNorton is a UNHCR spokesman.

DAN MCNORTON: What we want here at the U.N. refugee agenc, to see, is for Europe to ensure that those people, those Syrians who are fleeing persecution, fleeing the desperate situation and the war in Syria, are given the protection that they need.

NELSON: Back at the German camp, even Syrians who came here legally through programs managed by the U.N. express fear about being sent back. One is Kassm al Kady, who arrived from Beirut the night before with his wife and four of his children on a chartered plane with other Syrian refugees. The packed planes are coming to Germany every other week.

KASSM AL KADY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says he was told in Beirut that his family would be allowed to stay in Germany for two years, but had to agree to leave earlier if asked by German authorities to do so. The 58 year old engineer says he and his family try not to dwell on fear and are focusing instead on their new life.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN CLASS)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (speaking German)

NELSON: That life begins here at Friedland, where refugees take German language classes. They also receive meals and medical care, as well as a small allowance they use to shop in the local village. The camp was originally set up by British allied forces at the end of World War II to deal with German refugees and prisoners of war returning from Eastern Europe. Since then, it's handled hundreds of thousands of refugees from subsequent wars, including in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan.

HEINRICH HOERNSCHEMEYER: (speaks German)

NELSON: Camp coordinator Heinrich Hoernschemeyer says at the moment, Friedland is home to 500 refugees from 10 countries, the largest group being Syrian. About half of the 10,000 Syrian refugees Germany has agreed to resettle will pass through here.

HOERNSCHEMEYER: (German spoken)

NELSON: Hoernschemeyer says that number is not enough. He likens it to trying to cool a hot stone with a single drop of water. Hoernschemeyer adds: My parents experienced war, and there were many Germans at the time who were happy to find refuge in other countries. We should remember that. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.