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Syrian expats face tough predicaments in Saudi Arabia

Published: Updated:

It has become a familiar scene to find crowds of people situated outside the Syrian Embassy in Riyadh as early as sunrise, waiting for its doors to open at 8:30 a.m.

Assemblies of men and women extend for meters, reaching the neighboring Korean Embassy. Those whose knees give in sit on the curbs, others find respite under the shade of a tree, young men smoke nervously, and women offer each other biscuits and small talk to help pass time.

All have tense faces and all are exhausted and disgruntled.

Basic and routine passport renewal services have become a time consuming and difficult trek, filled with obstacles, for Syrian expatriate.

Saudi Gazette collected several stories from people who have been filing in and out of the embassy for days and even weeks simply to renew their passports that have expired.

Lana (name changed) said: “I arrived at the Syrian embassy in Riyadh at 6 a.m. only to find a mass of people already waiting. I was told that I was lucky since there were only 300 people that day; on previous days there were far more. I waited patiently in line and filled out the required forms to renew my passport. When the doors of the embassy finally opened I was appalled to find large portraits of Bashar Al-Assad affixed on the walls.

“After the massacres, the death of more than 100,000 civilians, houses toppling on families, and children killed by chemical weapons, the embassy still had the audacity to parade Al-Assad’s pictures.

“I swallowed my anger and grief and stood quietly in line. After three hours of waiting I finally reached the window and was greeted by a disrespectful and ill-tempered representative.

“He took one quick look at my form and drew a large blue X on it. In response to my baffled look, he muttered that I wrote the month, day, and year in the box for my birth date whereas the Syrian passport only records the year.

“Due to my mistake, he deemed my form invalid, ordered me to prepare another form, and go back to the rear of the line.

“A kind family witnessed what had happened so they saved a spot for me, otherwise I would have been there for another three hours.”

Following Lana and countless other Syrians’ nerve-wracking ordeals, travel if they lived outside Riyadh, and money spent in renewal fees, there is another two weeks of waiting with no assurance that the new passports will indeed be issued.

Fadi came to pick his new passport up only to find the same dusty, expired, old one. His application was rejected.

Speculation has surfaced among Syrians that some are rejected because the passport holder has been living outside Syria for too long, others because they are active with the opposition against the regime, some just to make more money off of application fees, and others simply because of the inadequacy to keep up with all applications, since the Syrian consulate in Jeddah has closed.

Jena studied medicine at a private medical school in Jeddah, completed her internship, and is thoroughly preparing to take the Saudi licensing exam to practice medicine as a general physician in the Kingdom.

The date of her scheduled exam came and went and she was unable to take it. She is a legal resident in the Kingdom and her Iqama needs renewal but cannot be processed until her Syrian passport is renewed, which is why she was unable to sit for her exam.

While she is waiting for her Syrian passport, her friends of other nationalities have already taken the exam and are either working or applying for specialization at universities abroad.

A high school graduate, Taim, who was granted a full scholarship at a reputable university in Turkey, should be teeming with excitement but instead he carries a forlorn face and has lost his appetite for all of his previous interests.

His Syrian passport expired and still has not been renewed, preventing him from traveling to Turkey to start his undergraduate studies.

He worries about the possibility of missing this opportunity to enroll in university.

Despite these difficulties, Syrian expatriate are counting their blessings for living in the safety, security, and comfort of the Kingdom.

They only hope that solutions will be found to end these problems that are interfering with their opportunities in work, education, and healthcare, and that Bashar Al-Assad will be ousted before the bill of human lives and destruction of their homeland increases any further.