Europe-bound Syrians use social media to ease journey

Updated 19 August 2015

Europe-bound Syrians use social media to ease journey

KOS, Greece: When Wael and his relatives from Syria climbed into an inflatable boat in the dead of night to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece, they abandoned all their belongings — except their smartphones.
“Our phones and power banks are more important for our journey than anything, even more important than food,” said Wael, a 32-year-old from the devastated Syrian city Homs who reached the Greek resort island of Kos on Thursday morning.
Refugees are using Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members to share photographs and experiences, find smugglers’ phone numbers, map their route from Turkey to Greece and onward to northern Europe, and to calculate expenses.
They use WhatsApp to help the coast guard pinpoint their location once their boats have reached Greek waters, and Viber to let their families know they have landed safely.
“We couldn’t take anything with us on the boat, we were all so crammed. But these phones are our most precious belongings,” said Wael, who fled Syria with his green-eyed wife and 12 relatives, including three children.
They are among more than 135,000 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Greece this year, amid Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II.
“I wrapped my phone up in a resealable plastic bag to protect it from the water,” said the olive-skinned man.
In Kos, Syrians can be seen taking photographs of each other on the beach using their smartphones, and ordering coffee at local cafes where they can connect to Internet.
“We have taken photos of every step of our journey and sent them to our families,” said Wael’s cousin Raed, 30, adding that social media is a “vital” resource for refugees who have no legal way to reach Europe.
“No one gives us visas, so we have to find alternatives. On Facebook, we Syrians help each other and give each other advice,” said Raed, who left behind his wife and six-month-old, ill daughter. He hopes to reach Germany, and once there apply to be reunified with his family.
“There are entire conversations about which country is best for each person. For instance, Germany is good for family reunification. Sweden is good because you get your papers immediately,” he said, citing information he found on social media.
“That helps each of us set our target,” Raed said, adding that he has looked up photographs and articles online about Berlin, “a nice city where people have rights.”
Aside from Lebanon, where he lived in misery with his family as a refugee for some 18 months, Raed had never left Syria before going to Turkey and then Greece.
“Asylum and migration in all Europe” and “Asylum in Sweden, Holland, Norway, Germany, Britain, Austria and Switzerland” are just two of dozens of Facebook groups that Syrians are operating and using to learn about the perilous, in some cases deadly journey to Europe.
A fourth, closed group called “Bus stop for the lost ones” is one of the most popular, boasting more than 42,000 members. Several Syrians in Kos told AFP they had used this page to map their route.
The questions and ensuing conversations are varied and detailed.
“Guys, in which German federal state should I hand myself over to the police? Where will I get a residence permit the quickest?” asks one user.
“Thank God... We have arrived on the (Greek) island of Chios,” wrote another user, posting a picture of himself and two other young men, one of them flashing a victory sign.
“We want to help our fellow Syrians so no one gets cheated by smugglers. So whenever someone finds a smuggler who charges less, his phone number gets passed around,” Said, a 22-year-old computer engineering student, said.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.