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Refugees face integration challenges in Bulgaria

Ⓒ AFP – Dimitar DILKOFF – | Fahim Jaber (g) wanted to settle in the Bulgarian commune of Elin Pelin with his wife Fatima Batayi (c) and their younger son Ahmed, 23 years old. It was without counting on the opposition of the mayor and the handful of nationalist militants who came to protest against this family originating from Aleppo.

They hoped to rebuild their lives in Germany, France or Sweden, but for a few hundred Syrian refugees, the road to exile stopped in Bulgaria, where they can count only on themselves and on the solidarity of a few -uns to make a fresh start.

When he was translated the slogans of the demonstrators gathered in the square of Elin Pelin near Sofia, Fahim Jaber remained speechless: “They said + We resisted the Ottomans, we will not accept you,” says the Syrian Of 57 years.

His only mistake: having wanted to settle in this commune with his wife and their younger son Ahmed, aged 23 years. It was without counting on the opposition of the mayor and the handful of nationalist militants who came to protest against this family originating from Aleppo.

After this demonstration of hostility, which dates back to February, “we have not left our home for two months,” says Fatima Batayi, his wife, in the kitchen of their small apartment.

The armed struggle lasted until July, when the Jaber family, who arrived in June 2016, was finally issued by the mayor the necessary residence permit, after obtaining a humanitarian status.

Few refugees settle in Bulgaria, a country with a population of 7.1 million, where the standard of living is lowest in the European Union. As the EU’s entry point, more than 58,000 migrants have submitted an asylum application since 2013 … before, the vast majority of them, continue their journey to other more attractive countries.

– “Consensus anti-refugees” –

But a few hundred pack their bags every year, mainly Syrians and Iraqis. Most often, for lack of alternative, after the closing of the Balkan route in the spring of 2016. And sometimes by choice, as the Jaber family came to join the eldest son Mehmed, who arrived in late 2013 and who works in electronics.

The integration path is an obstacle course. The hostility encountered at Elin Pelin illustrates the “anti-refugee consensus” that is going through Bulgarian society, according to Yavor Siderov, an analyst and former government advisor.

“Fantasies of illness, terrorist migrants and thieves of jobs are conveyed, especially in the national media,” said the expert, for whom “these speeches generate fear in a country already anxious by its own demographic collapse, Fears a change of population “.

Nearly two million Bulgarians have emigrated since the end of communism, according to the Institute of Statistics, forced into exile for economic reasons. With direct consequences on the birth rate.

Since the spring, the conservative Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has ruled with several ministers from nationalist formations. But hostility towards refugees transcends parties, former communists on the right, observes Siderov.

Corolary of this climate: the absence of a global strategy of integration, demanded in vain by the humanitarian organizations. Alarmed, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), deplored in a recent report the fact that “no service intended to foster integration is provided by the State”.

– “Do it all alone” –

“Bilal Hasan, a 44-year-old Syrian who was stuck in Bulgaria because the ferryman who had to leave the country with his family, Their savings.

“My good fortune has been to make friends here without whom nothing would have been possible – housing, work, the whole administration,” says a law graduate in good English, who now works in a center In Sofia after obtaining humanitarian status.

For Kaled Deyab, a 36-year-old Syrian who speaks only Arabic, the obstacle course has only just begun, although it has the peculiarity of having arrived in Bulgaria through an official channel.

With his wife and two children, he is indeed one of the first 50 refugees “relocated” to Bulgaria from Greece, as part of a program to distribute asylum seekers between EU countries. Sofia has pledged to host a total of 1,000.

Like all the “relocated”, Kaled Deyab did not have the choice of his destination. After obtaining a right of residence, the family will have fifteen days to leave the camp of reception of Sofia, without knowing where it will go …

“We have been on the road for two years and the children have not been to school,” said the father of a family with a silhouette.

Analyst Yavor Siderov believes that migrants could be seen as a chance in a country undermined by mass emigration. “As it is not the Swiss and the Germans who will come to work here, we must look to other populations,” he said.

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