SHAFAQNA – Tens of thousands of war refugees of late have attempted the crossing into Europe, desperate to flee the violence of war, and the terror ISIL militants have wielded against all religious minorities — Shiites, Sufis, Alawis , Yazidis, Sunni moderates, Christians etc … An open sectarian wound, both Syria and Iraq have been turn into a sanglant battlefield, reminiscent of the Crusades, only this time, all faiths stand to be burnt to the pyre of radicalism, as Wahhabism ambitions to absolutely impose its views.
Faced with the oppressive rule of ISIL, entire communities chose exile, opting for a life on the run rather than forced indoctrination and slavery under the Black Flag army.
But who are those refugees of war, and what are their stories?
Today war refugees have been criminalized – tagged as undesirables as clashes and reports of crimes began to surface in Europe. Earlier this January migrants were blamed for a series of attacks in Cologne, Germany, involving sexual violence. While experts, amongst whom Vanessa Beeley, an expert on the military and humanitarian complex, have warned against such broad generalization of war refugees on account such rhetoric only serves to fan tensions, media, and politicians have nevertheless played profiling to the tune of racist ideology.
“Lumping war refugees to violence, and to an extent the assumption that migrants are potential terror threats, will only further push Europe’s social and political narrative further right. This devolution and erosion of our humanitarian values are what will create a increasingly fascist, and therefore intolerant society,” said Vanessa Beeley.
For the most part refugees are really just that – refugees, desperate people looking for a safe haven away from the cruelties of war.
Leenah Mohammad Haddad – Leenah was 18 when she reached Germany with her mother, father, two sisters and three cousins from Syria. Today she has resettled in the Netherlands where she hoped to become a doctor. “I want to get an education and be in a position where I could help others. Eventually we will all return to Syria, and our homeland will need to be reconstructed from the bottom up. I want to contribute to THAT future, I want to be part of the reconstruction movement and erase ISIL footprints from my land,” she said.
But if Leenah is safely home with her extended family, her crossing into Germany and eventually the Netherlands was not exactly smooth sailing.
After Leenah and her family managed to cross onto Turkey – not without difficulty as Turkish police has been closely monitoring potential refugee movements, her group managed nevertheless to perform the journey safely.
“Crossing into Turkey was actually the section of the journey where I felt most scared. Stories have been circulating amod Syrians that Turkish police has gave up Christians and Shiites to ISIL militants in exchange for cash. I heard that women and children have been sold into slavery, and so for us it was about avoiding any Turkish soldiers or security services … We also decided we would avoid Turkey’s refugee camps. There too abuses and violence are rampant and my dad said we could not afford to stop, not until we reach Europe.
Once in Turkey we traveled to Bodrum and then from there we took a boat to Greece. We were extremely lucky because the crossing went by without much incident. I’m not saying I wasn’t scared because I was … I was terrified. But then again I liked that for every meter we were taking ISIL was getting further and further away. We are Shiites you see … my mum is Christian, but my dad is a Shiite Muslim. ISIL militants would have us all killed if they find us because they will say we are half-breed … they kill everyone.”
Thousands of people set out on perilous journeys across the sea or overland everyday, and a few lucky ones like Khaled make it to their destination. According to the UN refugee agency’s Europe director, Vincent Cochetel, 124,000 refugees, mostly Syrians, have arrived in Greece since the start of this year, with 50,000 refugees arriving in July 2015 alone.
For Syrian refugees, arriving at one of the many Greek islands in the Mediterranean means a foothold in Europe.
More importantly Greece has offered both humanitarian reprieve and a sense of normality as the authorities have granted refugees documents that permit them to travel freely within Greece for six months. Most have used such freedom of movement to relocate elsewhere in Europe – in search of a job, family members and new prospects.
The UN estimates that currently around 3,000 refugees and migrants cross from Greece into Macedonia every day on their way to northern Europe. Furthermore the UN refugee agency estimates that 80 percent of people waiting to cross into the Macedonian border town of Gevgelija are Syrians.
The route to Europe taken by a Syrian refugee vary greatly depending upon people’s financial means. Leenah for example whose family is rather well-off was able to reach Greece, rather than attempt the journey through Italy.
From Greece, Leenah and her family made their way to Germany, and then onwards to the Netherlands, where distant cousins offered to help.
Now properly registered an asylum seeker, Leenah is taking Dutch classes as she wants to reintegrate the educational system and further her studies.
Leenah was lucky! But at the same time there are thousands, tens of thousands of families, like her own, whose ambitions are not generate violence, cause frictions, or even play the system to get a free ride … what most refugees want desperately is to regain a sense of normalcy.
“I miss my life in Syria … I miss my school, and I miss my friends … I don’t even know if they are still alive. Daddy says we will be back soon, back home! At least now we’re safe and we’re together. i worry sometimes though when I hear ISIL militants might be trying to get to Europe. I don’t know where we will run if they come here. I pray everyday that they disappear. Everyday I pray for ISIL to be defeated and for Syria to be free.”
By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies.