In Face of the Refugee Crisis: Basmeh and Zeitooneh and The Syrian Civil Coalition (Tamas) organize an intensive workshop titled: “Syrian Refugee Crisis: Response and Coordination”.
Over the past few weeks, the Syrian refugee crisis has quickly become one of the most prominent issues discussed by the European union, Syria’s neighboring countries, and especially the Turkish government. Due to the large influx of Syrian refugees in Europe, Turkish and European officals are now developing an action plan to reduce the flow of refugees from Turkey to the European Union.
Over thirty-five participants attended a workshop titled “The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Response and Coordination” . The participants consisted of activists, representatives of institutions working in the refugee crisis, representatives of human rights and relief organizations, those working in the field of development, as well as academic from various countries including: Syria , Turkey, the Netherlands, Norway , Lebanon, Italy , Hungary, Macedonia , Croatia and Sweden. In addtion, representatives of the European Union, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Oxfam, and the European Commission for Refugees (ECRE) also attended the workshop.
Over the course of the workshop, the discussion mainly focused on two main points: The first was the development of policy recommendations for the European Union, Turkey and international organizations regarding the Syrian refugee crisis. The second was encouraging increased coordination between Syrian civil society organizations, the governments of countries dealing with the refugee crisis, and international organizations. This discussion focused on proposing practical pathways for collaboration amongst these actors including: the creation of communication mechanisms through which Syrian refugees can access support. One proposed mechanism was to establish a hotline for refugees to facilitate their access to legal aid and services. The second discussed setting up a media platform which would provide Syrian refugees with accurate, needed information; such a service could be comprised of a specialized website, which would include, for example, all the decisions and instructions issued by the European Union and countries neighboring Syria.
Fadi Hallisso, CEO and Co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, discusses the strife of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Fadi Hallisso, the CEO of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, explains that during the course of the workshop the participants were divided into two working groups: A Follow-Up committee and an Advocacy committee. The former will follow up on the plans discussed during the course of the workshop, and the latter will defend the rights of Syrian refugees in Europe and in Syria’s neighboring countries, through advocacy campaigns that will raise awareness of the refugee’s conditions.
Hallisso also explained that the recommendations prepared during the workshop would be collated in a joint statement issued by the participants of the workshop. The document will subsequently be circulated amongst other organizations that may be interested in adopting it. In the final stages, the statement will be submitted to the European Union, the United Nations, and other international non-governmental organizations, to persuade them to implement the largest number of the recommendations proposed by the workshop participants.
Mazen Ghraybeh, the Director of Programs at the Local Administration Councils Unit in Syria, added that the “recommendations will be made to the Turkish government” to encourage them to maintain open borders with Syria, or at least to facilitate the process of crossing the border. He also mentioned that the document will emphasize the importance of simplifying procedures for obtaining residency permits, allowing the refugees to get work permits, to change their legal status, and to recognize their rights as refugees. In addition, Ghraybeh highlighted the importance of providing Syrian refugees with “travel documents to facilitate their movement, as is the case for refugees in the European Union”.
Dr. Rim Turkmani and Mazen Ghraybeh during their opening remarks at the workshop.
During her opening remarks at the workshop, Dr. Rim Turkmani highlighted the importance of recognizing the role of Syrian civil society in representing and voicing the interests of the Syrian people to all decision-making entities involved in the crisis. She stressed that given the absence of a single body that represents the public interest of Syrians, the voice of Syrian citizens should be heard through the civil society organizations which have emerged from amongst them.
Ghraybeh also shed light upon the positive role of European civil society organizations, as well as the role of European activists, who stood alongside the Syrian refugees during these challenging times. He also noted that the global action we are currently witnessing towards the Syrian refugee crisis will inevitably lead to new decisions, and changes to the current practices. Ghraybeh also expressed that “as Syrian and European organizations concerned with the Syrian crisis, we felt the need to take initiative, and voice our opinions about the decisions that have been made in this regard. Accordingly, we organized this conference and invited European organizations that are concerned with refugees, especially Syrian refugees, in addition to the individuals who have volunteered and made tremendous efforts to help the refugees in Europe.”
Ghraybeh also added that: “Throughout the workshop we discussed the situation of Syrian refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries, during which Turkish university professor and activist Chennai Ozden provided an overview of the Turkish government’s response to the refugee crisis. She also provided insight into the practices the government should adopt in the future, to ensure the stability of the refugee situation in Turkey. In addition, a representative from European Union provided insight into the legal condtions pertaining to Syrians in the European Union. Activists from Macedonia outlined the poor conditions that Syrian refugees are withstanding, and the strategies that can be used to confront officials and improve their conditions. The Hungarian activitists spoke of the difficulties faced by both the refugees and activists in dealing with the government and police.”
Meanwhile Amy Rogers, a Dutch activist volunteering in Hungary, drew attention to the suffering of refugees at the Hungary-Serbia border and the Hungary-Croatia border. Rogers pointed to the fact that thus far, Budapest has used the refugee crisis as political and economical leverage, while ignoring the humanitarian aspect of the issue. She also spoke of the detention and imprisonment of refugees for crossing the border illegally. In reference to the workshop, Rogers stressed the importance of holding this “distinguished workshop” which successfully brought together Syrian and European international organizations, activists as well as volunteers to the table to discuss the conditions of refugees. She added that that this is an opportunity to shed light on the crisis within Syria, it’s neighboring countries, and Europe, and to form a group to pressure political actors and improve the conditions for refugees.
Lebanese activist Bissan Faqih discussed the difficulties that Syrian refugees face obtaining work permits in Lebanon, where the government only issues work permits for specific vocations. More specifically, Bissan discussed the “crisis of Palestinian-Syrians in Lebanon”, who are currently residing in the country and deprived of their basic rights. Faqih added that most Palestinian-Syrians have sought refuge in Palestinian refugee camps and, owing to their lack of both work permits and travel documents, are unable to move inside Lebanon or travel abroad. Faqih also added “truthfully their conditions are very bad. We can describe them as trapped in the places where they reside, and accordingly, we are trying to propose solutions to the Lebanese government. The Lebanese government receives funding from multiple entities, including the European Union. We can communicate these concerns to the European Union in hopes of that they will pressure Beirut to address the problems faced by Palestinian-Syrians.”
A member of the Syrian opposition, Walid al-Bunni, commented on his participation in the workshop stating: ” I do not belong to a non-governmental organization, but I would like to thank the organizers of this workshop for inviting me, because I have benefited greatly. I learned new details about issues that I was formerly unaware of as a politician, such as the way these organizations operate and how they provide refugees with services. “
Academic Chenay Ozden discusses the conditions of Syrian refugees in Turkey.
The Director of Program in the Middle East at the Norwegian Refugee Council participates in the workshop.
Legal Expert Amy Rogers discusses provides a briefing of the proposed policies developed by the working group for the European Union.
Samer Taha, a member of Sinna’ Al Basmeh, discusses the plight of Syrian refugees in refugee camps at the Turkish-Syrian border and the need to transform these camps into communities that are not solely dependent on aid as well as the need for establishing schools within these camps.
Yasmin Kayyali from Basmeh and Zeitooneh discusses the suffering of Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Professor Boldizsár, an expert in refugee law, discusses the legal aspects of Syrian refuge in European Union.