Syrians Queueing to Escape
By: Anas Zarzar
Published Sunday, October 14, 2012
Damascus - “There is no safe place anywhere in Syria.” People of all persuasions repeat this phrase, whether they are loyalists or opponents of the regime that has not spared a single neighborhood.
Syrian towns and villages are witnessing a scenario of round the clock urban warfare and street fighting, between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and armed groups, on one side, and regular Syrian army battalions and security forces on the other.
A few days into each confrontation, official Syrian news media announced that “authorized forces have cleansed the military confrontations areas from the remnants of the terrorist gangs and crushed all their members, leaders, and masterminds behind them.”
Then a few days into the relative calm, FSA battalions and insurgents would try to regain some ground. The clashes would be renewed and the remaining residents would be turned into human sandbags, in between conflicting sides, neither of which seem to care about unarmed civilians.
This bloodshed has led to a huge wave of displacement in the last three months. People are running from snipers, gunfire, and artillery shells to far-away areas witnessing relative stability. But this does remain for too long.
Abu Mustafa, a 46-year-old construction worker explains, “My displacement with my family began from al-Hajar al-Aswad, to the Yarmouk Camp, and then to Jermana. When the Syrian army cleansed al-Hajar al-Aswad, I returned to my home, but it was destroyed and burned to the ground.”
“If I had enough money, I would have left Syria immediately, to anywhere in the world,” he continues. He is constantly searching for a safe place for his wife and five children.
“I just heard the Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem asking all Syrian refugees to return to their homeland and promising them security and safety.”
“I do not know where minister Muallem lives. But I am quite certain that it is far from the military confrontation zones and did not spend a single night under shelling and gunfire,” he adds.
In the last three months, most international media and satellite channels have focused on images of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. But none of them showed the images of tens of thousands of Syrians at the immigration departments.
“They are trying to get passports after deciding to leave their country looking for safer lands. It could also be an opportunity to find a job and improve their living situation.
At the doors of the Directorate of Immigration and Passports in al-Baramkeh, thousands of applicants form parallel waiting lines. “If they stood in one line, it would reach 1,500 meters,” according to Sami, an employee at the department distributing the passports.
“The capacity of our directorate does not exceed the preparation, printing, and delivery of 500 passports a day. This was raised to 750, which is more pressure and stress. There are hundreds of applicants who arrive in the early morning, but never make it inside the building due to the sheer daily number [of applicants],” he tells us.
To organize the work and reduce the pressure and congestion on their desks, Sami and his colleagues are distributing small pieces of paper indicating the expected delivery date of passports. It is now several days ahead, in order to control the number of daily applicants according to the department’s capacity.
Sami describes the new process: “The congestion is due to the large number who are waiting in vain. Most of them will not be able to complete the process within one working day. This way, we are reducing the congestion gradually.”
The majority of those in line are very young. Nidal, 29 years old, who was an accountant in an international home appliances company, summarizes the suffering and concerns of the young men awaiting their turn.
“I was discharged from my work when the company closed its offices in Syria due to the events. I have been without work for one year. Today, I see no other way but to travel. Anywhere,” he says.
Nidal is waiting for an invitation from relatives in France, Sweden, or Saudi Arabia. “I just want to get out of this hell. I became a burden on my family, in addition to the tough security situation.”
“I believe things will take more than 20 years to return to what they were before the events. That is if the killing, fighting, and violence stop today,” he adds.
Abu Sameh, 39, has a similar opinion. The important thing now is to renew his own passport and apply for ones for his wife and three children. This will be followed by a journey of begging for a visa, anywhere in the world.
“The saga does not end with getting a passport. Most embassies closed in the first months of the events. Applicants need to travel to Lebanon or Jordan. Just imagine an entire family traveling to another country just to spend an hour in an embassy,” he says.
Abu Sameh spent almost all his money traveling back and forth to Lebanon to present immigration documents or apply for a visa at an embassy there. He is now well known by the taxi drivers on the Beirut-Damascus route.
One driver, Simon, (37 years) told us earlier that most of his customers from Syria “go to European embassies in Beirut to apply for immigration or a visit visa.”
“Some of them trust me to follow-up their applications and sign a written authorization for me. I do this at a fair price. Applicants save the cost and trouble of constant travel to Lebanon with their families,” he added.
The Syrian regime does not seem aware of the current threat that thousands of its best and most promising people are leaving the country. They are looking for jobs to protect them from poverty and want and for shelter from the raging war in their towns.
Social researcher Mohammed Noureddine believes “it is Syria’s biggest loss and it is difficult, even impossible to replace.”
“We can rebuild everything that was destroyed during the war. But how can we compensate for the young potential that have left the country and will continue to do so in the coming days?” he asks.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.