by Beatrice Khadige
by Beatrice Khadige
ALGIERS, July 30, 2012 (AFP) – “We fled the war, destruction and death. It has nothing to do with politics,” says Borhan, a 45-year-old father from Syria’s ravaged central city of Homs.
Sitting in a square in central Algiers, along with dozens of other fugitive Syrian families, he chooses his words carefully, still afraid of the Syrian intelligence services (mukhabarat), and in a country that continues to support Damascus.
According to Nidal Debbah, a lawyer and one of the leaders of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), those who have fled to Algeria can
be divided into three categories — families, mukhabarat, and members of the opposition.
The often-traumatised families “fear infiltration by the mukhabarat,” says Mohammed, a builder who worked for years in Lebanon, where he left his own family behind.
Algiers, a longtime ally of Damascus, last week expressed “reservations” about an Arab League call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, saying that it should be a “sovereign decision for the brotherly Syrian people.”
Borhan’s journey from Homs, with his wife and two children, began a year ago, not long after after protests against Assad’s rule broke out in southern Syria and quickly spread to other parts of the country.
“First we left for Lebanon, then we returned to Syria, where the situation was not improving. From there we went to Jordan, but we didn’t manage to settle. We have been trying our luck here for the past 15 days,” the clothes merchant told AFP.
No visas are required for Syrians to enter Algeria but there are high costs to be borne by those seeking refuge from the conflict.
“The hotel costs 3,500 dinars per day (around 35 euros) and I’m just ignoring how long I can afford it,” said Borhan, who doubts peace will return to his country any time soon, with the government intent on crushing the rebels.
According to the interior ministry, in the past month some 12,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Algiers and other cities in the North African nation.
Syrian opposition sources put the number as high as 20,000.
Algeria has sought to rein in the exodus by reducing the number of weekly Air Algerie flights between Damascus and Algiers from three to one.
— ‘Touched’ by generoisty —
Walid, 30, who arrived with his family last week via Beirut after fleeing the northwestern city of Idlib, another battleground in the Syria conflict,
confirms why so many of his compatriots headed for Algeria.
“We came here because we don’t need a visa.
“We had no choice, the army shelled our house,” said the farmer, adding that he expected the war to be long and to spread elsewhere.
“There are about 200 families here from Idlib,” some of whom have been housed by Algerians, Walid says.
“But we sleep here,” he adds, referring to Port Said Square, which overlooks the capital’s sweeping bay, and where dozens of Syrian families sit on the grass in the shade of the palm trees.
Sheltered from the blazing sun by a bush, surrounded by her three children, Walid’s wife Samira remains silent.
Their eldest, Khator, occasionally goes off to beg from passers-by. Then she rejoins the other Syrian children playing in the park.
They say they have been “very touched” by the generosity of the Algerian people, who have given them clothes and money.
Local aid groups collect donations, one of them, the Network for the Defence of Freedom and Dignity, bringing the Syrian families iftar, the evening meal when observant Muslims break their daytime Ramadan fast.
“We have been preparing, since the third day of the holy month (July 22), around 150 servings,” the organisation’s Nessima Guettal was quoted as saying in the Algerian daily El Watan.
The interior ministry has said it will “take charge of the Syrians seeking refuge in Algeria,” and may use schools that are closed for the summer to house those stranded in the capital.