July 25, 2021

Bayan Al Fadel: “If a Syrian woman goes to jail, it is a shame for the family”

-Do you remember the day you fled from Syria?

-Of course. It was May 7, 2013. First we went with my mother to Lebanon and then we stayed for a year and a half in Turkey until we moved permanently to Paris.

-There are 5.6 million Syrian refugees abroad.

-The figure is much higher when counting the displaced who live mainly in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, and who do not have refugee status. An estimated 12 million people have had to leave their homes because of the war.

-Is there something that unites this diaspora beyond its origin?

-I think that what we lack as a community is to be more connected, not only with each other but also with the host society. There is talk of integration, but it would be necessary to change our view of the refugees and for that we must know their situation.

-What image do we have of the refugees?

-When they talk about them in the media, it is almost always in a context of death and they are also seen as a threat because aid and jobs remain. It is true that refugees need help, but at the same time they could do much more if they were allowed to.

-Your life experience is very valuable.

-They are people who have overcome a situation that threatened their life, who have put their principles to the test and that means they have a lot of potential and many things to offer to society.

-But the system does not make it easy.

-No, because to support yourself you need state aid and to qualify for aid you have to be actively looking for work. But they won’t give you the job if you don’t have a degree. And if you start studying to get your degree, they take away your aid.

-It’s a loop.

-I am very grateful to France for hosting me and my mother, but the system is so complicated that many people leave.

-What does abandoning mean?

-The university degrees issued in Syria are not valid in France, they must be validated and it is a complex process because there is also the language barrier. This forces Syrian doctors to go to the black market to pay for the validation process and to be able to practice or to accept other jobs for the minimum wage. From an economic point of view it is a mistake to waste all these people who have already paid for their training.

-In spite of everything, you have managed to continue with your studies.

-I studied law in Syria, but I cannot practice as a lawyer. I spent all my savings in Turkey and could not study in France because the scholarships are for under 26s. In the end, a private Syrian company, Chalhoub, financed me for three years of study and I was able to do a master’s degree.

-Now he is studying a doctorate in Global Law and Human Security at the UAB.

-Through the Extreme Violence Prevention program of the Fundació Autònoma Solidària I got a scholarship for the first year of the doctorate. But I still don’t know how I’m going to support myself for the two years I have left. It is always a struggle and for women it is harder.

-He worked precisely with women and children before leaving Syria.

-I collaborated with organizations that deal with imprisoned and tortured women, it does not matter under whose authority. They are locked up pregnant and some have even given birth behind bars. The trauma for them is greater because it is a humiliation for the family. For example, if a brother and sister go to prison, he is a hero but she is an embarrassment to the family.

-It’s a double sentence.

-It is as if society closed them up again. Women hide their time in prison, while men speak openly about their experience and claim their rights. These women coming out of jail need empowerment and mental health services that we don’t have.

-What are the main problems faced by Syrian women in Europe?

-Before, a paragraph would have to be made. These women come from a country where the law itself does not protect them, where if a man sees that his sister is in an unapproved relationship, he can kill her. In Syria we still have the problem of child marriages and polygamy is legal.

-The contrast when they arrive in Europe is brutal.

-They go to countries with freedom of expression, where you can dress however you want, where equality is promoted … Many NGOs are busier spreading the stories of these women to obtain funds than offering them the services they really need.

-What kind of services?

-Of psychological support, personal development, language learning … We need more projects that help young women to know what they want to be in life and that facilitate their education.

-In this line, you participate in a podcast project of the NGO Jusoor.

-It is a series made by and for young Syrians that seeks to empower and educate through stories, interviews and debates about the experience of the diaspora, emphasizing female references. Ten years after the start of the conflict, the future is still uncertain and the podcast aims to virtually unite Syrians from the diaspora with the young people who still live there.


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