18October2017

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATION IN SPECIAL CONSULTATIVE STATUS WITH THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL OF THE UNITED NATIONS

Human Traffickers Exploiting Syria War

THE PLIGHT OF SYRIA’S REFUGEES EXPLOITED BY HUMAN TRAFFICKERS:

A NEGLECTED PHENOMENON OF SYRIAN WAR

 

A Christian family’s attempt to flee from war-torn Syria resulted in the drowning of their five-year-old child at sea off Turkey’s coast. This is another tragic example of the desperation of Christian families who have found themselves in the unsafe arms of human traffickers, especially from Turkey. The WCA calls for attention to this issue.

1 Photo: AFP

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As the Syrian war continues in its third year, thousands of civilians continue to flee their homeland on a daily basis. Since March 2011, the economy of Syria has strongly deteriorated and leaves its people without the necessary means to sustain their families. The daily needs are not always available. Often they are only accessible in the areas which the Christians do not dare to enter, because of the growing fundamentalist groups and mindset in such places. Christians are not even safe in their own homes anymore, as Salafists incite hatred and violence against all those who are seen as supporters of the government or branded as infidels.

The fatwa declared last month by a Saudi sheikh, which as yet awaits international media attention and condemnation, has led to the raping of four Christian women in Aleppo in front of their families. This was the final straw for some 500 Aramean families living in the city who endeavored to seek refuge at the Syriac Orthodox churches and monasteries in Southeast Turkey. With no chances of education for their children in Syria, Christians are getting increasingly determined to find refuge with their relatives in Europe. They desire to return to their homes one day, but now they want their children to be safe and continue their education.

However, Europe has closed its borders for all Syrians seeking shelter. With no future in Syria under the current circumstances and Europe unwilling to provide Aramean Christians with temporary citizenship, they are forced to take matters into their own hands. Desperate times call for desperate measures. They have become prey to human traffickers. They collect all their savings or borrow money in order to pay smugglers who claim to take them to Europe, usually to Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium. It often turns out, though, that West-Europe is not where many of them end up. Traffickers deceive the refugees and leave them in a foreign country they never chose to go to. Stories of families being misled, arrested and kept for months at detention centers in Greece and Eastern Europe emerge every day and sometimes have tragic results, as the following recent case shows.

Just last week a young family with two infant daughters accompanied by two other relatives had taken the risk to pay large sums of money to human traffickers to get them from Turkey to Belgium. The trafficker gathered 21 refugees in a small rubber boat, which otherwise has a maximum capacity of only 9 persons. He promised to take them from the Turkish coast near Izmir via Greece into Europe. Once the Greek Naval Service discovered the boat, he punctured the boat and left the refugees without safety vests. During this horrible scenario in the Aegean Sea, the eldest daughter drowned. After extensive searches by the Water Police, they were able to retrieve the lifeless body of the five-year-old Sinella, whose parents were forced to bury their firstborn child in a foreign country in which they do not intend to stay.

Sinella’s story is one of the many victims of the Syrian war who take great risks to escape their country. In order to combat human trafficking, a widespread phenomenon of the war which remains unaddressed, and to provide the Christians of Syria the opportunity to remain in or close to their homeland, the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs) calls upon the EU and its member states to pay heed to the following recommendations made earlier this year after a senior delegation visited about 250 refugees in Greece, Turkey and Lebanon (see http://www.wca-ngo.org/humanrightsfiles/the-syria-crises/412-report-syria-christians-refugees-greece-turkey-lebanon):

  1. The influx of refugees into neighboring countries can be halted, if not prevented, by providing more funds, job opportunities and projects for those who still remain in Syria, above all the IDPs. We ask governments to invest in initiatives of this nature.
  2. The refugees who reside in Lebanon, Turkey and Greece must be stimulated and supported to remain there until the situation in their homeland has been stabilized. Otherwise most of these previously Syrian citizens will inevitably seek asylum and citizenship in one of the European countries.
  3. The Aramean Christians are going through the same nightmare as they have experienced in the last decade in Iraq. Unlike Muslims, Christians can only seek asylum in Western countries to join their relatives. Muslim countries like Saudi-Arabia and several others are no option for them, but they are a serious option for Muslims. Many of the countries of the Middle East do not even have the resources or the will to assist Christian refugees. Western Governments must dare to address this unfortunate reality with the Arab League. As a stateless and vulnerable people, the Aramean Christians ask for understanding and leniency in the application of international and national law.

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