Refugee crisis

Refugees taken in by Spain: “We are looking for a new nation”

A group of Kurds and Syrians that has been resettled by the Spanish government say they are looking to normalize their lives

Refugees meet the press in Spain on Thursday.
Refugees meet the press in Spain on Thursday.David Asensio

One of the first words that the children from the Bedredín family wanted to learn in Spanish was “gracias.” Since Tuesday, they have not stopped saying it to the staff and the police officers that greeted them at Madrid’s Adolfo Suárez-Barajas Airport. “We feel safe here,” explained Nafia Bedredín, the head of this Kurdish family consisting of two parents and four children – the youngest, just five months old – and who have been taken in as asylum seekers in Zaragoza, far from their native Iraq, which has been destroyed by a bloody civil war.

The father explained how they arrived “exhausted” after many hours of travel, but were “happy and grateful,” two terms that have also been repeated on a number of occasions by three young Syrian refugees who, together with Nafia, took part in a press conference on Thursday in the capital of Aragón, where they are being assisted by the Red Cross and ACCEM, an NGO that works with refugees.

The father explained how they arrived “exhausted” after many hours of travel, but were “happy and grateful”

All of them form part of a group of 20 Syrians and Iraqis who arrived in Madrid from Greece, and who were also sent to centers and apartments in Seville and Barcelona. They are an advance group of a total of 586 asylum seekers that the Interior Ministry announced would be resettled from Greece, Italy, Lebanon and Turkey to Spain before the end of June, as part of the European relocation program created to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis. It’s just the first step in a journey with a long way left to run: Spain has committed to taking in around 16,000 people from these countries between 2016 and 2017.

Of the three Syrians, aged 21, 23 and 27, two are from Aleppo (Merzan and Yousef) and the third from Damascus (Ghair). All have the same plan: first learn the language, so that they can later find a job. Before fleeing from their countries they worked in trades as painting or carpentry, among others. They want to stay in Spain, and for it to become their country.

However, not all refugees, from the few that have been resettled in Spain until now, are happy with their destination: on Wednesday, another group arrived who, according to Interior Ministry plans, were going to include 27 Eritreans. But at the last minute, five of them refused to make the journey.

Before fleeing from their countries they worked in trades as painting or carpentry, among others. They want to stay in Spain, and for it to become their country

Álvaro Carmona, from the refugee program at the Red Cross, explained that “the lives of these people have been put on hold, and they are very keen to start all over again.” Carmona, who was at Madrid airport when they arrived, saw the first moments of the Bedredín family close up. They arrived without much luggage, and the next day, awoke very keen to start doing things and to go out and explore the city that has taken them in. According to the Red Cross worker, they asked for a map of Zaragoza, while the children from the family wanted to know when they could start going to school.

Meanwhile, Julia Ortega, coordinator from ACCEM, was in charge of accompanying the three Syrians. She explained how they had chosen to go to Spain because they like the country’s soccer clubs – “and even knew of Zaragoza’s team.”

Now they must complete their applications for asylum, which is a complicated process. The heads of the NGOs explained that all refugees must go through three stages: reception, integration and autonomy. The duration of the process can vary from case to case, but usually takes between 18 and 24 months, during which time they receive Spanish classes, legal support and orientation. The objective is that at the end of the process they can fend for themselves.

The first thing that the three youngsters asked for, the NGO reported, was a way to contact the family members and friends they left behind

The first thing that the three youngsters asked for, the NGO reported, was a way to contact the family members and friends they left behind. The more talkative of the three, Ghair, reiterated his “thanks to the Spanish people,” and pointed out that the situation is very complicated in the Greek refugee camps, given that they had to live in rickety tents and that there “wasn’t enough food.”

In his case, his family is still in Syria: they only had enough money to send one of their number far from the war. He called for the government to continue to bring more refugees to Spain, given that the country is “safe” and the people are “kind and welcoming.” He concluded saying: “Our countries are already lost, we are looking for a new nation and we would like it to be Spain.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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