Friday 27, December 2013
WARSAW, December 27 (UNHCR) – A young Syrian family is impatiently waiting for the new year to come. In the first weeks of 2014, their new baby will be born and they also expect to receive the decision on their asylum claim.
Now that Rania, Hasan and their three-year-old daughter Dima* are finally settled in a one-room flat in Warsaw, things are to get better. “People can come to visit us. We are close to everywhere,” Hasan says though his wife does not seem completely convinced.
“I do not have a single (female) friend here,” she laments while admitting that in their previous flat in Marki, a quiet suburban town near Warsaw, she felt even more lonely. “In the evenings in Marki, you look out of the window and you see nothing but your own face in the darkness,” she sighs.
In Syria, Rania would go out accompanied by someone from the extended family. Here she goes out only with her husband or stays at home. Hasan is to start taking Polish classes in January. “I cannot join him. I will have my second baby soon,” she explains. “I hope for my children to be well educated, speak many languages, and integrate well into the Polish society.”
Rania feels her family’s life has been suspended since fleeing Syria for Lebanon in July 2012, after their neighbourhood in the southern suburbs of Damascus came under shelling. “We tried hard to make our living in Lebanon, but as there was more and more people from Syria coming, we felt that there is no place for us there,” she recalls their stay in the country, where the number of Syrian refugees – registered or awaiting registration with UNHCR – is now some 852,000.
She said they would not be able to send their daughter to a public kindergarten and later to school in Lebanon, as Hasan had no chances of finding a job. As the family’s savings were running out they decided to put them into a journey to a place, where their children will have a better future.
In early July this year, they took a flight from the Beirut airport. “We did not have a visa to Poland,” Hasan recalls. “I met a man… back in Lebanon. I had to pay him 12,000 dollars. All what we had. He fixed us a Beirut-Moscow flight with transfer in Poland. I could not risk the life of my wife and my daughter in some unseaworthy boat,” he says.
On reaching Warsaw airport, Hasan asked his wife if this is where they should try to build their new life. When she nodded he approached someone who looked like a policeman and told him that they were from Syria and wanted to claim asylum. Then, there was “endless questioning” recalls Rania as she describes her momentary feelings of regret and fear as a tough-looking female border guard questioned her.
She also remembers the asylum-seekers reception centre in Dębak, 25 km south-west of Warsaw, and how strange and uncomfortable it was at the beginning when they had to share a room with another family. “In our culture it is not normal for a woman to stay in one place with men that she is not related or married to,” she says.
Now eight-months-pregnant and more happily settled with her family in Warsaw Rania is being received by Doctor Salam Salti, a Syrian Palestinian gynaecologist, who speaks her native Syrian dialect. She used to go to a state hospital in Warsaw, where the lack of an interpreter and complete inability to communicate with the doctor was a huge source of stress.
“There are many challenges for the newcomers from Syria,” Doctor Salti explains in almost flawless Polish. Besides Rania and Hasan, he receives a few other newly arrived Syrian families expecting babies. “Everything here is new and strange to them, the culture, the way the society functions, but it is the language barrier that is the most disempowering for asylum-seekers and refugees,” he adds.
Doctor Salti has lived and practised in Poland for over twenty years now. He and other members of the local Syrian diaspora came here to in 1970s and 1980s to study at Polish universities. But Hassan and Rania are among growing trend of new arrivals to Poland fleeing civil war. There have been 253 asylum-applications from people fleeing Syria in 2013, compared to just 107 in 2012.
“They had to leave everything behind them. There are no clear perspectives in front of them. They feel very lost and we should give them our support. In order to integrate they need to learn the language, learn how this society functions. It will take time, but it is not impossible,” Salti reflects.
For now Rania cannot think of a future further than early next year. “My only wish is that we are accepted here, so we know that we can start putting down our roots here and feel safe. I do hope for it before the baby is born.”
* Names changed for protection reasons
By Magda Qandil in Warsaw, Poland