Most Syrian Refugees Are Too Poor to Flee to Europe

A tender moment between Bassem al-Alyan, 30, and his son, Yazan, 3, who suffers from a blood disorder. (PHOTO CREDIT: Tamara Abdul Hadi/For The Washington Post)
A tender moment between Bassem al-Alyan, 30, and his son, Yazan, 3, who suffers from a blood disorder. (PHOTO CREDIT: Tamara Abdul Hadi/For The Washington Post)

Images of his countrymen streaming into Europe inspired Bassem al-Alyan to make the journey. But like many other Syrian refugees, he faces a significant obstacle. Alyan is too poor to go.

In August, he said, he paid a smuggler $1,500 that he managed to raise by selling his children’s beds, his pregnant wife’s jewelry and their refrigerator. After he and his sickly son reached Germany, the plan was to bring over the rest of the family from a destitute refugee camp in Lebanon’s capital.

But it all fell through after the smuggler disappeared with Alyan’s cash, he said.

“I don’t know what to do. I’ve lost everything,” Alyan, a 30-year-old native of the Syrian city of Daraa, said from Beirut’s Bourj el-Barajneh camp.

Many of the more than 4 million Syrian refugees, who mostly live in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, appear to be joining the exodus to Europe. But many others are unable to leave.

Poverty is a major reason.

After years of rising living costs and falling support in international aid, savings have evaporated. Complicating matters are tightened restrictions on employment and residency permits that have made life even more unbearable.

Nowhere is the effect of this more visible than in Lebanon, a country of 4.2 million people that has taken in more than 1 million Syrians. Most refuse to return to a homeland still convulsed by a four-year-old civil war that has killed 250,000 people. But even as Syrians here scramble to borrow money and sell off belongings, smuggling fees for a Europe-bound trek may still be too pricey, U.N. officials, aid workers and Syrians said.

Some of them, as a result, seem resigned to the misery of life as refugees.

“Europe? I can’t even feed my children,” said Mohammed Mhana, 48, who moved to one of the many informal refugee encampments in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley area after fleeing Aleppo several years ago. He has more than a dozen children, he said, but receives only about $100 a month in aid from the United Nations.

He and his family struggle to find work as day laborers on nearby vegetable farms to pay the $200 monthly rent for their tin shack, he said.

Others, however, see the coming weeks as a make-or-break moment for leaving, citing concerns about heightened border restrictions in Europe and the onset of winter.

“I have to find a way,” said Khaled al-Sud, 23, who fled Damascus for refuge in the Bekaa Valley four years ago. He fears that his work as a freelance car repairman won’t generate enough money for the thousands of dollars in smuggling fees required to take his wife and two young children to Europe.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Hugh Naylor and Suzan Haidamous