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Belgium helps 244 Christians escape Syria Open in fullscreen

The New Arab & agencies

Belgium helps 244 Christians escape Syria

More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011 [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 July, 2015

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Brussels hopes to set an example to the rest of Europe with its latest humanitarian operation to rescue some of Syria's most vulnerable people.
A reported 244 Syrian Christians, mostly families with children, have been given refugee status in Belgium, after Brussels officials helped them escape the war-torn country.
 
The humanitarian operation began in May to "save" some of the most vulnerable people in Aleppo, Syria's second city where Islamist rebels are gaining ground, Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

The minority Christians were selected by a citizen "action committee" run by a Belgian diplomat and a psychiatrist with a network of contacts in the country.
     The Christian Syrians are to receive training, and help to find jobs after gaining their refugee status in Belgium

They left Aleppo in small groups in seven phases. They reached the Lebanese border "on their own, crossing very dangerous areas of Syria", then received support from the Belgian embassy in Beirut, which arranged for refugee visas after a "very precise screening" by the intelligence services, Reynders said.

The minister said the operation was just "a drop" in the ocean of Europe's migration crisis, but he expressed hope that it could set an example to other countries.

Belgium wants to boost its image as a welcoming country for those fleeing war, while a debate rages between EU members on the distribution of 40,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in Italy and Greece after dangerous Mediterranean crossings.

The Christian Syrians are to receive training, particularly in language skills, and help to find jobs after gaining their refugee status in Belgium.

"They will receive permanent protection status" allowing them to "rebuild a future in Belgium", said Theo Francken, Secretary of State for Asylum Policy and Migration.

"I can tell you that the last thing they want is to be dependent on social security," said Francken, a member of the nationalist New Flemish Alliance.

About 5,500 Syrian refugees of all faiths have been welcomed in Belgium since the war broke out in 2011, according to the Belgian government, which says "98 percent" of the Syrians who request refugee status get it.

More than 230,000 people have been killed in Syria since anti-government protests erupted in March 2011, precipitating a civil war pitting pro-regime forces, rebels and extremist groups against each other.

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