Shaza Manla (2003), Syrië
Shaza’s father is an actor and journalist. In Syria he voices his discontent with the regime of President Assad, which is known for arresting, torturing and even killing opponents. In 2012 the family decides to flee. First to Egypt and Turkey, and later to the Netherlands. Shaza and her sister can attend school in Egypt, but standards are much lower and they cannot play outdoors. Shaza’s parents become increasingly concerned. Returning to Syria is impossible because of the civil war. But hopes of a bright future in Egypt are limited, and their savings are slowly dwindling.
When Shaza’s mother hears that a friend of hers wants to reach Europe by boat, she decides to join her. While waiting for her mother’s residence permit, Shaza and her father and sister Jawa move to Turkey. The girls are musical. In Syria they often performed with the oud and qanun, a type of Syrian guitar and harp. In Turkey they find a music teacher and can attend school. But after a while they have to return to Egypt because Turkey is too expensive. Jawa cannot travel with them because her visa has expired, and so she stays behind. Shaza and her father return to Egypt together. Another year passes before, at long last, her mother phones with the good news: she has received a residence permit in the Netherlands. Family reunification means that Shaza, Jawa and their father can join her.
Situation in Syria
In March 2011 the Syrian people demonstrated peacefully for more democracy. The regime of President Bashar al-Assad brutally suppressed the demonstrations, provoking various opposition groups to take up arms. What started as civilian demonstrations developed into a civil war that involved surrounding countries and western countries.
Russia, Iran and the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah supported the regime of Assad. In 2014 the Islamic State (IS) also became involved in the war, and proclaimed the caliphate in large parts of Syria and Iraq. IS soon gained notoriety for its often gruesome reprisals against Shiites, Christians and Sunnites holding different views, and its acts of terrorism in the west, such as the attacks in Paris in November 2015. Western countries formed a coalition to halt this violent movement and were thus dragged into the conflict.
In 2016 — five years after the war — 80% of the population lives in poverty. There are almost no schools or hospitals. At least 400,000 people have been killed and roughly 11 million people have fled; 4 million of those have left the country. Most refugees end up in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. As long as the war continues and the chance of returning to their own country declines, more and more people decide to flee to Europe in search of a better life.
Asylum for refugees 'in the region'
Most refugees do not come to Europe but find asylum in their region of origin. They flee to other parts of their own country (internally displaced persons) or to neighboring countries. There they end up in refugee camps run by the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, or live in big cities, often in poor districts.
For years the main asylum countries have been located ‘in the region’. In 2016 they are: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Jordan, Ethiopia and Lebanon. Providing asylum for hundreds of thousands of refugees puts a huge burden on these often underdeveloped countries. For example, almost a quarter of the Lebanese population is made up of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who need accommodation, medical care and education. But as cheap workers, they also compete with Lebanese people for jobs.
Therefore ‘shelter in the region’ is provided on a large scale. But it is not enough. The UNHCR and other relief organizations have limited budgets. Refugees in the region often have limited or no access to healthcare, education and work. People who hire a house in a city disappear off the radar of relief organizations. If their conditions deteriorate, for example because their savings run out, they are no longer able to seek help. They then have little hope of a bright future. And so some people flee again. To Europe.
Feelings started to run very high in Europe in 2014-2015 when the number of refugees arriving in Europe rose sharply. Some politicians and citizens argued that too many refugees were arriving. They feared a decline in wealth if a lot of money needed to be spent on housing and integrating refugees. Or they feared cultural and religious differences. They argued in favor of providing relief for refugees near Syria, despite the problems there.