Syria's Christian refugees seeking European future
Christian refugees from Syria have not been in Lebanon for very long. Or at least, you don’t hear much from them, as many are averse to reporters. Off the record, one refugee explained that Syrian Christians are often accused of bias in favor of President Bashar al-Assad.
Walid Hasbani, one such refugee, said that he had been reluctant to leave home and move to Lebanon, “but life in Syria became impossible.” Hasbani said, “I lived in a suburb of Damascus. Because my family and I are Christians, we started feeling afraid at checkpoints or even walking in the street.”
Life in Lebanon has not been easy for Hasbani. He resides in a Christian region “because it is safer and calmer, and the traditions and customs are similar.”
The exact number of Syrian Christians who have settled in Lebanon is unknown, as many do not register with NGOs.
Many of the younger Syrians see Lebanon as just a stopping point on their way to other countries, where they can finish their university education or find jobs. These youths now know the locations of foreign embassies by heart given their frequent visits to complete visa application processes. Rami is one such young Syrian.
Rami, which is not his real name, began travelling between Damascus and Beirut more than five months ago. Before the conflict in Syria escalated dramatically, he was able to travel freely between the two capitals to follow up on his application at the French embassy in Beirut.
Nearly two months ago, Rami, who has a degree in business administration, relocated to Beirut to find a job. “I try not to get involved in any protests, with or against the regime in Syria, and I do not state my political opinions explicitly to anyone. I am determined to go to France. I want to complete my studies and I believe in my future.”
Rami chose France “because I’m Christian. This makes the whole process easier.” When he was asked why was that so, he answered, “Because Syrian Christians are peaceful and are not involved with the parties or in terrorism.”
Many obstacles stand between young Syrians and European capitals, despite continuous appeals by the Syrian opposition to help these youths. For one thing, the visa procedures are very complicated.
Hiba was able to get a British visa, but her sister Zeina remains in Beirut. “I believe that I will get the visa since my sister did. I now have a bigger chance to realize my dream and get out of the nightmare of the Middle East and the Arab Spring. But the paperwork takes a long time,” she said.
Meanwhile, things are different for the refugee families. They simply dream of returning to Syria and repairing what’s left of their homes.