More than 100 refugees from Syria arrive in the city of Hanover on Wednesday as part of a German program to take in 5,000 people displaced by the civil war.
Khairiye, her husband and their three daughters are among the first group of Syrian refugees scheduled to arrive Wednesday (11.09.2013) in Hanover on a flight from the Lebanese capital, Beirut. They will be taken first to the Friedland transit center.
Khairiye is hopeful that her new, temporary home will be a good place to be. "Germany is a civilized country where people are respected," she says. Khairiye, whose name has been changed for this article, comes from the central Syrian city of Homs. After one of her daughters suffered a head wound during fighting there, the family fled to neighboring Lebanon. The daughter has never recovered from her injury and remains paralyzed.
Before leaving for Germany the family, along with the other refugees, have been cared for and medically treated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
"We organize meetings with the German authorities and take care of the travel documents," explained Samantha Donkin from the IOM. Staff members try to answer questions about life in Germany to prepare the refugees for the abrupt change that awaits them.
The 109 men, women and children arriving in Hanover have all met the conditions required by the interior ministry for a temporary stay in Germany, including having been registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Beirut by March 31, 2013.
Furthermore, the interior ministry set out a list of priorities for refugees, which include a need for protection, family members already in Germany and work qualifications that can be expanded in Germany.
As of March 31, 2013, more than half a million Syrians were registered in Beirut with the UNHCR, and of those 4,000 were selected. Another 1,000 will be selected from applications filled out on the website of the UNHCR's German section by refugees who have relatives living in Germany.
The selection process in Beirut, according to Dana Sleiman, the UNHCR press spokeswoman in the Lebanese capital, is not yet completed and is proving very difficult because most of the refugees fulfil the prerequisite of requiring a "need for protection."
"The majority of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who have registered with us, are doing poorly. They are living under difficult conditions and need support," Sleiman said.
The UNHCR is evaluating hardship cases, in particular, orphans, single mothers with children, or refugees with health problems - all factors that apply to Khairiye and her family.
Another criteria used by the German interior ministry is the religious persecution of minorities. But Sleiman notes that belonging to a minority alone is not reason enough. Samantha Donkin of the IOM says that many in the first group coming to Germany belong to minorities, but that was only one of the criteria.
Lack of information
Many Syrians have been puzzled by the German refugee program. They have complained that too little information is available from the UNHCR and the German embassy in Beirut. On their websites there are no details about the program, which is supposed to let refugees know if they have been selected.
NGOs working with refugees have criticized the information policies. Abed Al Aziz Aidy, director of the Beirut office of the German-Syrian aid organization, Najda Now, wonders why he has not been contacted by the German authorities. His group works with Syrian refugees every day and knows the situation. "We could recommend hardship cases," Aidy said.
Aidy welcomes the German program for Syrian refugees, but in view of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people, the 5,000 destined for Germany is a very small number, he says. He is worried that many more may try to make their way to Europe illegally.