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Most Syrians want to return to their homes, but many of them will stay in Europe for a long time

08 September 2015 / 19:09:30  GRReporter
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I am not a Muslim but if I had to choose to go to Saudi Arabia or Germany, I would certainly choose the latter. These countries could not be identified as suitable places to which refugees would set off.

Shiites and Christians cannot go there because they are firmly Sunni. Sunnis are leaving Syria expelled from the Islamic state, which is largely financed by Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region. The situation is very confused and we can accept as a fact the unwillingness of refugees to go there.

Iran is a totally different case, primarily because of religion. Furthermore, it is a Shiite country without a common border with Syria. Moreover, the Iranian economy has not been doing well in recent years because of the embargo imposed by the West in response to the country's nuclear programme. Indeed, the standard of living is quite high, society is quite developed compared to others in the region, restrictions on human rights are much more moderate than their extreme manifestations in Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden to drive cars, for example. However, Iran is not a country where a person would easily go, in view of its deteriorating economy in recent years.

We must not forget the "urban legends" that are spread among refugees. A widely spread notion is that countries like Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands are paradises. During the crisis involving the refugees who were protesting in Syntagma Square in November last year we tried to explain to them that they would not automatically obtain refugee status upon arriving in Sweden. We told them that they would have to submit applications which should then be considered and that the climatic conditions there would be difficult for them. They seemed slightly surprised because they had created a highly idealized notion of these countries. Therefore, the widespread tendency among them is to be able to go to northern Europe, which they consider a paradise.

Do you think these people can integrate into European societies?

This would be very difficult. But we have to divide the different categories.

Let us start with another group of immigrants, namely the Afghans. They come from a society that has no contact with Christians or people of another religion. As a result, they cannot understand the way of dressing of women in the West and the norms of behaviour established in Western society. It is extremely difficult for these people to integrate.

Syrians come from a multi-religious society. Although Shiites and Christians were a minority in it, they lived together. That is why they are more tolerant towards other cultures. However, their integration will continue to be difficult and will cause serious problems in European societies in the long term.

Do not forget that racist phenomena have recently become apparent in a very tolerant society such as that of the Netherlands. This shows that the country has opened to cultures that are not compatible with its own culture. This leads to a parallel existence and to an inherent conflict at some point.

Syrian refugees are already in Europe. How do you think things will develop from now on?

From the moment they become refugees, Europe is obliged to grant them asylum and protection. This will continue as long as the war in Syria continues. This crisis will not last forever.

Then a division will have to be made between the people who have managed to, or who are willing to, integrate and the rest.

With regard to economic migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, the attitude towards them should be quite different. The system that was in force in Greece until this January should be applied in this case, namely to accommodate them at reception centres and to return them to their countries with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration.

Therefore, my assessment of integration difficulties refers to refugees. Assumingly, economic immigrants should be returned to their countries.

An international human trafficking network is operating behind the refugee wave. The cases of Bulgarians involved in it have recently become more frequent. How should it be opposed?

The border between Bulgaria and Greece has many mountain regions. The people who are moving in this region know how to transfer the victims of such trafficking through them.

This phenomenon is largely logical. Let us look at the participants: police data indicate that they are Syrians, some of whom have lived in Greece for years and others who have arrived recently. Kurds who speak Kurdish with many Syrians are also involved as well as people from Bulgaria and Macedonia, who transport them from one border to the other. This scheme is illegal but logical, because there is a demand.

The fact is that it involves TIR truck, buses, taxi owners. It is clear that they will be available in the presence of such large flows of refugees and people who are determined to pay.

What a taxi driver in Athens told me a few days ago is significant. Syrians got into his taxi in Piraeus and told him that they wanted to go to the border. He replied that he could take them there against the sum of 650 euro and did so. At that point, I thought that it would have been more logical to take them to the bus station to board a bus and go to the border for a much smaller amount. However, the taxi driver had seen the opportunity to earn some money.

The question is how countries can cooperate to stop this network.

The situation in the Schengen Area has changed following the opened corridor Athens - Budapest. Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen Area but it is an EU member and border controls are pretty loose.

Tags: SocietySyrian refugeesEconomic migrantsEuropeGreeceIllegal humantrafficking networkBulgaria
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