Syrian war refugees ask why Norway doesn’t want them
‘Why does affluent Norway oppose entry for so few of us’, Syrian war refugees are asking in Lebanon. Norway’s Minister for Immigration believes it’s easier to integrate them in Lebanon.
The war in Syria has continued for over six years. 400,000 people are thought to have died, and half the population of the country, at least 5 million people, have fled to neighboring countries, with 6.3 million on the move in Syria itself.
Lebanon, which is slightly larger than Rogaland County, had a population of approximately 4.5 million before the Syrian war of invasion. Today there are at least 1.5 million Syrian war refugees in Lebanon. Norway has taken in under 12,000 people, and immigration minister, Sylvi Listhaug of Fremskrittspartiet (Frp), believes that this is enough.
‘Lebanon is a neighbouring country, and far more like Syria than Norway is. It is much easier to integrate Syrian refugees in Lebanon’, she told NTB news agency.
Life in a tent
‘Isn’t Norway the world’s richest country?’ asked Ghassoun, when told how many Syrians have been granted asylum in Norway.
The 42 year old woman fled from Hama province in 2013. For the past three years, she’s lived in a tent in Semmaqiyeh, north of Lebanon, along with her husband and 13 year old son.
During winter, it rains heavily. The old blankets that cover the floor don’t prevent moisture, and cold, from penetrating its walls. In the summer, it is scorchingly hot.
In order to reach Lebanon, the small family had to sell both their house, and the father’s motorcycle, and also raise a loan of NOK 13,000 to pay the smugglers who helped them cross the border.
They don’t know how they’ll ever be able to repay the loan while living in Lebanon.
The man hunts for day jobs in villages in the area, but hasn’t been able to find work in three months. The vast number of Syrian refugees supply plenty of labour in the area, and the farmer who owns the land on which the tent stands has nothing to offer.
Nevertheless, he demands NOK 2,000 a year for the lease to the refugees, which is a lot of money for those who have nothing.
Lost a belief in peace
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) gives the family food, drinking water, and paraffin for heating and cooking. But it’s not enough, said Ghassoun.
‘It’s an eternal struggle,’ she said.
The dirty river that flows right behind the tent camp forms the border to the war-torn land they left. Ghassoun doesn’t think they’ll be able to cross it again anytime soon, maybe never.
‘We do not have anything to return home to, everything is destroyed. We’ve lost hope’, she said.
Somebody tented just above her is 27-year-old widow, Rabiaa, together with her two children of seven and eight years of age. Her husband was killed when war came to Baba Amr in Homs. She won’t talk about who killed him.
Homs was rebel and invader controlled during the first three years of the war, but was re-captured by Syrian government forces in 2014.
The family’s house was burned down, and they lost everything, said Rabiaa. For three years now, she and the children have lived in the tent camp in Semmaqiyeh.
‘It’s not good here, garbage is floating in the river and we’re sick all the time, but we can’t afford toys or medicines. Do you think Norway wants us? asked Rabiaa, who’s especially worried about the children.
‘Although the war in Syria stopped today, these refugees won’t return tomorrow,’ said Assem Chrain, of the Lebanese relief organization, LOST.
‘Many of them will never return, there’s no way to return home there,’ he said.
Listhaug maintains that Norway gets the most value for money by helping the Syrian war refugees where they are.
‘If we can aid Lebanon in helping them, it will make a difference to many more people than if we bring some extra thousand to Norway,’ said Listhaug. She thinks that Norway contributes a lot already in this way.
‘Norway is one of the countries that contributes the most. Last year we could give extra money because we saved money as fewer people came to Norway. Funds are channeled through various aid organizations’, she said.
© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today