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Gaza Strip Proves Uneven Refuge For Syrian Refugees


Some two million Syrians have fled the war in their homeland. Most have sought refuge in neighboring states - Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. But some have gone farther afield to a place few would consider a safe haven, the Gaza Strip. Emily Harris has that story.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Basil Shonar gives a customer change at his restaurant in Gaza City, the Damascan. A bright gas flame warms an open oven where bready treats, Syrian style, are baked fresh daily. Shonar left Syria last January, looked unsuccessfully for work in Cairo, and arrived in Gaza last May. With a Syrian partner, he opened this restaurant in June.

BASIL SHONAR: (Through translator) Business was excellent at first but then the economy got worse and everything's been affected.

HARRIS: Shonar's wife has family in Gaza, refugees from the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The creation of the state of Israel led to the 1948 war.]

Shonar's grandfather also became a refugee at that time but settled in Syria, where Shonar was born. Shonar misses Syria.

SHONAR: (Through translator) The chance to come here to even a small part of Palestine had always been our dream. But now I realize that your home is the place where you have friends, where your memories are. That is home. I think about Syria all the time. I would like to go back right now.

HARRIS: Roosters stroll the yard where another Palestinian refugee from Syria, Anid Batta, has found a place to live. A kind stranger offered his eight-member family a three-room apartment. Batta got to Gaza just over a year ago, a few weeks before Israel began an eight-day bombing campaign to stop rockets from the Gaza Strip.

ANID BATTA: (Through translator) During the war in Gaza, my kids said, if we are going to die anyway why did we come to Gaza? We came from Syria running away from death. We came here to find death in front of us. Better to die there with our dignity and among people we know.

HARRIS: Batta was also born in Syria, after his parents fled the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

BATTA: (Through translator) We came here to Gaza now because it's my country. It's my homeland. And when we got here, my kids and I kissed the ground. But now I'm damning the day I came to the Gaza Strip. We aren't supposed to be refugees here but officials treat us like a burden, like they're afraid we'll eat up all their food.

HARRIS: Batta says he was evicted from one apartment here over an unpaid electricity bill. He's also struggling to find the $100 necessary to pay for his daughter's university tuition.

BATTA: (Speaking foreign language)


HARRIS: The song on his cell phone interrupts conversation frequently. Batta acts as a community organizer, keeping track of other Syrian refugees in Gaza and networking to help them. Most came from the Yarmouk section of Damascus, a Palestinian area where thousands were forced to flee after intense fighting last December. Batta estimates that 3,000 people have come to Gaza from Syria.

A few are not Palestinian, like Nour(ph), who arrived with four young children.


NOUR: (Speaking foreign language)

HARRIS: Nour didn't want to publicize her last name because some relatives are still in Syria fighting. After her Palestinian husband was killed there, she fled to his relatives here.

NOUR: (Through translator) It's better here for my kids, although when they see the police, they still think it's the Syrian Army. But I feel safe. I can close my door. I can shop for food. I can send my daughter to school.

HARRIS: To survive, Nour found a new husband who took her as a second wife. Beyond Nour, he has no ties to Syria, but she hopes that when the war ends, he and his first family might go back to Damascus with her. Emily Harris, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 29, 2013 at 11:00 PM CDT
We incorrectly say that the 1948 war led to the creation of the state of Israel. In fact, it was the state's creation that led to the war.