Established by Fathi Ibrahim Bayoud 2005 - Homs

Syria's gypsies take benefit from war as old habits continue

Features | 2018-03-25 14:33:38
Syria's gypsies take benefit from war as old habits continue
(Eqtsad)- “Oh good people, we are Syrians, we have no money to buy food to eat, we live on the street, we are a big family, and we have children with us, our homes have been destroyed and we have been displaced,” says a woman in her seventies dressed in rural style clothes on Metro No 13 in Paris. She roams up and down the train her voice sounding out among the passengers as people refrain from offering assistance. She gets off of the metro after cursing the passengers and some of them smile so she knows they are Arabs and understood her. 

The scene does not elicit any comments from passengers on the subway, it seems they are accustomed to it. And Paris it can be said must be considered as the city hosting the most beggars in a manner that outstrips the numbers found on the streets of our Arab cities. In Paris, beggars have developed much of their techniques, and they no longer rely on the expressions of distress and complaint but use music, dance and singing. Some of them reveal promising talents that are unrelated to the profession of begging prompting pedestrians to give them some money for the price of the spectacle and the pleasure it gave them.

A Syrian friend who has been living in Paris from before the migration wave said, “If I gave them large sums of money and allocated them salaries and houses, they would continue to beg because begging is a professional for them and not a need.” He meant specifically their begging on the basis they are Syrian. 

“Don’t bother to feel a sense of jealousy about your Syrian-ness when you see those beggars because you will exhaust yourself, they are dispersed everywhere in France, and no one knows their true nationality ... People have begun to understand that they have nothing to do with Syria, and most think they are Nawar (Roma),” he continued. 

I responded to him saying, “But they are, to tell the truth, Syrian Nawar. They are fluent in the Syrian dialect, and some of them claim to come from a well-known city in Syria, and are fluent in its [the city’s] dialect, which means that the person is Syrian.”

How did the Syrian Roma (Nawar) reach Europe?

It is known about Nawar that few carry official papers or nationality documents, even if they have lived in a country for decades and they often refuse to obtain such papers, to avoid responsibility and ensure their freedom of movement. But in Europe, it looked different. They want these papers which gave them the right to a home and a monthly salary, but they face difficulty getting these papers because they have no documents proving that they are Syrians, save for their accents.

But the confusing question remains, how did they reach Europe? Some of them moved from Egypt to Libya, Algeria and Morocco and then entered Spain, France and other European countries without carrying any official Syrian document.

While researching this issue, I met a member of this group who had decided to distance himself from begging and homelessness. He narrated the details of his and his large family’s migration to Europe via the Spanish route. He said, “More than 20 years ago, I came to Europe and stayed in Germany for five years without carrying any official papers, and then I returned to Syria.”

“When events started in Syria and the situation developed to the point of mass destruction, I and my family which consists of my mother, my wife and children, my brothers and their wives and children, so more than thirty people altogether, we decided to leave the country .. Jordan was our destination and we then went to Saudi Arabia, then to Sudan and Egypt, where we were able to obtain forged Syrian papers in exchange for a large amount of money. This is how we were allowed to enter Libya and from there continue to Algeria,” he explained. The road continued from Algeria as he said, “We have relatives there from the Roma (Nawar) [there], who ensured that we arrived in Spain via Morocco and very easily.”

This man and all the members of his family suffer from the issue of being granted asylum in France. Their asylum applications were rejected because they could not prove that they were Syrians, especially after the French authorities discovered that the Syrian papers in their possession were forged. This man did not voice his concern or fear as any other Syrian caught in this situation would, but quite the opposite appears indifferent at many times although he knows that at any moment, he might find himself and his family out on the street, without any assistance.

On this issue, he commented, “The last thing a Roma thinks of is settling ... I feel that the entire world is my possession and open to me.”

What about the begging? 

“Not all of the Roma are beggars as some think, but some of them work in certain occupations, such as installing the teeth which they have mastered,” the man explained, “But in Europe, it is hard for them to practice this profession.”

“There is a misconception among Syrians that the Roma are atheists and have no religion, but a large section of them are Muslim, religiously observant and perform [religious] duties to the letter.”

Regarding those who do beg, he said, “They are precisely those who do not intend to settle in Europe and are trying to raise a certain amount of money to move to Latin America, where they believe they originate from, and they have relatives and the remains of relatives from hundreds of years ago.”

“Those are precisely the ones who do not believe in any religion and Islam has not entered their hearts.”

However, the fundamental idea persists that there are those who beg in the name of Syrians, who are fluent in their dialect and have built relations with the new society on the basis they are Syrian. For many Syrians, what makes them sadder is that it is not only Syrian Roma who are begging but also other Syrians who use social media to claim they are ill or wounded from the war. Some women write posts on Facebook groups claiming they are “the wife of a martyr living in Turkey with her children who she cannot provide for and for whom she is requesting assistance.” Many of us have seen such posts and claims on Facebook, but that is a topic we will discuss another time.
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