In light of World Refugee Day on the 20th of June, we reflect on the journey of Syrians across the world and how they find a home in other countries. To tell this story, Nawras Al Husein, a partner of The Hague Academy from Care Nederland shares his insights. Nawras Al Husein moved to the Netherlands in 2017 to study a Masters in International Development. Now he works as programme manager and focal point for the MENA region at Care Nederland. 

Even before the ongoing civil war, the situation in Syria was not an easy one. Although the country had good quality services and infrastructure, a series of sieges, internal conflicts, coups, droughts and corruption were some of the problems affecting the Syrian population at the time. As a child, Nawras often faced shortages of food and other basic commodities due to sieges, which still continue today.

Syria’s Civil War

After the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, Syrians called for change and took to the streets to demonstrate. For months, peaceful demonstrations were met with violent retaliation by the government. Eventually, demonstrators turned to violence. The escalation of events led to many deaths, mostly civilians, and intense bombing by the Syrian Army. This culminated in the indiscriminate bombing of entire neighbourhoods, with opposition groups turning on each other and the sudden presence of ISIS.

Refugee migration

With violence and destruction hitting directly people’s neighbourhoods, there was no choice for many Syrians but to flee their homes. People initially migrated to different areas within the country. However, as Nawras explains, “the lack of basic services, education or health services, together with the critical security situation made it nearly impossible for people to secure their basic needs”. For many, the only option left was fleeing to neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In 2015, with neighbouring countries overwhelmed by the refugee crisis, there was a shift towards Syrians migrating to Europe.

Europe’s mounting challenge to integrate refugees

Whilst many European countries such as the Netherlands have integration programmes in place, the existence of anti-refugee political parties and feelings of hostility amongst citizens in host countries can make the transition particularly difficult for refugees. Reflecting on this dilemma, Nawras says, “I would like people in Europe to understand the risks that Syrian refugees take to come to Europe. If they are willing to take such a high risk to migrate, it is because they feel that they are at a higher risk by staying in their own country”.

Nawras describes integration efforts as “helping refugees understand the values and culture of the host country without eliminating their own values and identity.

“There are lots of cultural struggles for refugees to find their identities within the new community. And this is not only a one-sided task for the refugees. Host communities also need to do their part.”

With refugees increasingly becoming part of the social fabric of a host country, Nawras strongly believes that integration programmes should, at a certain point, recognise refugees as citizens and stop labelling them as refugees.

Many Syrians around the world continue to positively impact the societies they live in, despite the overwhelming barriers they have to overcome. With psychological help to address the traumas they have faced, along with the support to rebuild their lives, Syrians can continue to prosper and build new homes. Despite the many falsehoods about the current safety situation in Syria and the many hurdles on the journey to integrate, Nawras remains positive that host countries will help refugees thrive in their new environments.

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The Hague Academy runs a course on Migration and Local Authorities. This course explores the role of local authorities in receiving and integrating migrants, asylum seekers and refugees. In the course, we address several dilemmas confronting local authorities, including how to mainstream the specific needs of migrants and refugees in local development planning, how to boost economic opportunities and maintain the delivery of inclusive services to both migrants as well as host communities (i.e. health care, education, housing, waste management), and how to create a safe environment where the host community and refugees can live safely together.

Are you interested in learning more about the implementation of local policies for refugees and migrants? Make sure to sign up before 24 September 2021, which takes place from 1 – 12 November 2021!