In 2015, the Syrian refugee crisis became one of the most complex issues on the agenda of EU leaders, as well as the governments of Syria's neighboring countries, particularly the Turkish government who is currently discussing with European officials a plan of action to reduce the flow of Refugees from Turkey to EU countries while the flow is still ongoing.
More than 35 researchers, activists and representatives of human rights, relief and development institutions’ representatives and universities from different countries including Syria, Turkey, the Netherlands, Norway, Lebanon, Italy, Hungary, Macedonia, Croatia and Swedenattended the workshop. Participants included representatives from the European Union, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Oxfam and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles(ECRE). Discussions at the workshop focused on two main aspects:
FadiHelisu, Director of Basmeh&Zeitooneh, explained that during the workshop “the participants were divided into two working groups, the follow-up committee, which will follow up and develop the results we reached at this workshop and the Advocacy Committee, which will defend the cause and rights of refugees in Europe and the neighboring Syrian countries and the establishment of campaigns to raise awareness of their cause.” He adds: “The proposals we have reached will be the substance of a joint statement by the organizations participating in the workshop, which will be sent to other organizations to join and sign, to be issued to the European Union, the United Nations and other international non-governmental organizations in order to pressure these parties in the hope of implementing as much as possible of these proposals.”
Mazin Gharibeh, programs director for the Local Councils Unit in Syria, points out that they have also reached“Proposals they will send to the Turkish government, including opening the border with Syria, or at least providing facilities to cross the border, as well as facilitating the procedures for obtaining residency, the need to issue work permits for Syrians, changing their legal status and thus recognizing their rights as refugees, as it the case in EU countries."
Dr. Rim Turkmani, Tamas representative,discussed, at the inauguration of the workshop, the importance of Syrian civil society to convey the voice of Syrian interest to all decision makers in Syrian issues after there is no single entity responsible for Syrian public interests.
Gharibeh also spoke of the positive role played by European civil society organizations and activists who stood by Syrian refugees in their difficult circumstances. He also pointed out that there is a current international movement in the Syrian refugees case and that new decisions will be issuedwhile others will be amended. He said: “We, Syrian organizations and European institutions involved, felt the need to initiate and move to express our point of view in all decisions taken in this regard. We organized the workshop by inviting European institutions involved in refugees’ cases, especially Syrians, as well as individuals who volunteered and made great efforts to assist refugees in Europe.”
“During the workshop, we discussedrefugeessituation in Syria's neighboring countries. Academic and Turkish activist Chennai Ozden provided a summary of what the Turkish government has done to the Syrian refugees and what the government should do in the future to ensure the stability of the refugees situation there. The representative of the European Union also spoke about the legal aspect of the situation of Syrians in EU countries. Activists from Macedonia also described the poor situation of Syrians there and how they faced government policies to improve refugees’ conditions. While activists from Hungary talked about the difficulties faced by refugees there, as well as the difficulties they face as activists in their dealings with the government or with the police.”
Amy Rodgers, a Dutch volunteer in Hungary, drew attention to the suffering faced by refugees at the border between Hungary and Serbia and between Hungary and Croatia, explaining that the government in Budapest has worked to use the refugees’ issue politically and economically without paying attention to the humanitarian aspect. In addition to arresting refugees and putting them in detention for crossing the borders illegally. Rodgers emphasized the importance of this “distinctive workshop” bringing together representatives of Syrian, European and international organizations, as well as activists and volunteers on refugee issues, adding that this is an opportunity to present details of the situation in Syria and the neighboring countries of Syria and Europe, Pressure on active governments to improve refugees’conditions.
The Lebanese activist Bisan Fakih discussed the issue of work permits needed by Syrian refugees in Lebanon, where the government grants work permits for some professions only. And she focused on “the crisis of Syrian Palestinians in Lebanon, who have no rights and many of them live in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and cannot move inside Lebanon or leave the country because theydon’t have travel documents or work permits.”Faqih added: “These people live under very bad conditions, it is as if they are trapped in their places of residence in Lebanon, and here we are trying to present proposals to the Lebanese government in this regard.Lebanese government receives funding from various parties, especially the European Union and here we can communicate with the Union in the hope of pressure on Beirut in order to address the problems experienced by the Syrian Palestinians.”
“I am not member of any NGO but I’d like to thank the organizers of this workshop for inviting me, because I have learned many details that I was not familiar with as a politician, such as NGO’s work processes and the way they provide help to refugees.”