BEIRUT – A group of 204 Syrian refugees traveled to the Spanish capital city of Madrid from Libya on Thursday under a European Union relocation process set up to be able to cope with the humanitarian impact of Syria’s civil war.
Two families who had been scheduled to fly on Thursday were unable to travel, but would do so once they had the documents required, the International Organization for Migration told members of the media at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport.
“When they told me I had been selected to travel to Spain, I immediately started to try to learn the Spanish alphabet, even though they told us they would teach it to us there,” Batul, a 25-year-old resident of Aleppo, told EFE.
“I am happy and hope that I will be able to lead a normal life,” she said, adding that she wanted to be able to send her two children to school and hoped her husband would be able to work once he had learned Spanish.
Her family had a good life in Aleppo prior to the civil war, she said, but due to the bombardments decided to go to Lebanon in search of “a normal life.” However, her children were not going to school and her husband could only find temporary jobs.
Homs resident Salam Sabieh had mixed feelings, saying he was happy to be fleeing, but apprehensive about starting a new life in a foreign country.
Mother of two Quinda Mattar told EFE that in Lebanon she “spent the worst years of her life,” living in fear of being sent back to Syria or detained.
The selection of this group of refugees was made in May by a team from various Spanish government ministries and police, who traveled to Beirut.
A final resettlement of 350 refugees is planned for September, which would see Spain fulfilling its commitment to the EU to host some 1,449 refugees this year.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria, Spain received 40,000 asylum requests between 2015-16, and 16,000 so far this year.
However, the Mediterranean nation has so far taken 1,488 international protection applicants of the 17,337 it said it would grant asylum to, NGO Oxfam Intermon recently denounced.