Thursday, September 24, 2015

Faking It

"What we see here has nothing to do with seeking refuge and safety. It is nothing but opportunism."
Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Austrian interior minister

"Look at these people, what are they doing here? We are the ones who are fleeing from war and slaughter, and now these men are taking away our space."
"I don't understand -- we thought the Europeans invited Syrians like us to come."
Mustafa, 62-year-old Syrian

"I am illegal, not refugee. In my country, the only thing you can do there is either drugs or crimes. So I was in prison several times for drugs, also for trying to kill another guy."
"We [himself and companions] flew to Istanbul and then took a bus to Izmir. There we destroyed our passports and just mixed with the Syrian refugees. We then took the boat from Izmir to Greece. From there to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and now we are in Vienna."
"So when someone asks us, where do you live? We say Damascus. Where are you from? Answer: Syria."
Hamza, 27, Algerian

"There are people who are trying to benefit from the situation. I've met Egyptians who claimed they were Syrians, but the dialect is Egyptian. I've also met people from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia or Libya who all are now flying to Istanbul and then go to Izmir where they destroy passports."
"I've also met Palestinians who live in camps in Lebanon and now claim they were from Yarmouk camp in Syria. Many of them said they have family in Germany and just use this situation to finally get asylum."
"Most of these people say they've lost their passports. The sad thing is that those Syrians who really are fleeing war will be the ones paying the price."
Hisham Fares, Libyan interpreter aiding asylum seekers

Curious reporters have been doing some investigative journalism, questioning some among the tens of thousands of refugees claiming to be Syrians escaping the civil war that has destroyed Syria and created millions of internally homeless and additional millions of refugees. They come across legitimate Syrian war refugees passing through the traffic hubs of Europe. But they have also met Iranians who claim to be persecuted Yazidis.

Indians unable to speak Arabic claiming they are from Damascus are among the 'refugees'. Among them are also Pakistanis, Albanians, Egyptians, Kosovars, Somalis and Tunisians. Countries where poverty is endemic, as is violence, but absent war. All seek the reward that perseverance and temporary privation promises at the end of their imagined rainbow: the pot of gold that German welfare and economic opportunity promises.

German authorities may state they are prepared to welcome legitimate refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, but they warn all others they will be rejected. Aid workers and journalists learn the realities; they are initially informed that those they speak with are from Syria knowing full well the welcome mat is out for Syrians, not Kosovars. Those not from Syria take care to destroy their real passports once in Turkey.


Other passports are available, however, for a price. A forged Syrian passport can be had for between $200 and $200 in Turkey. A black market thrives in Croatia, Serbia, Hungary and Austria as well, for Syrian documentation. Syrian refugees are well aware of the threat to their being able to claim refugee status if places are taken up by pseudo Syrians. Irrespective of where the men lined up at ticket windows are from they claim "We are from Syria".

One group of men at the train station in Austria, in line for free food, spoke English among themselves with an Indian accent. "Hassan" identified himself. "We grew up in Syria, our fathers worked there for many years." Hassan himself, he said, had worked in Syria, in a bank in Damascus. Spoken to in Arabic by a reporter the men smiled and responded: "No Arabic, only English." When asked where in Damascus they had lived, they became vague, excused themselves and wandered off.

But, claims Ewa Moncure, speaking for Frontex, the European Union border agency, they're on top of things, deploying interpreters assessing accents, using geographic and other questions to identify pretenders. "If someone claims to be from Syria and he can't say what the currency is or what the main street is in Damascus, there are going to be questions about his claim". And that will work for only so long as the false claimants discover what's going on, and then inform themselves adequately.

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