Syrians living in France react to the Paris attacks: “It breaks my heart”

People light candles as they pay tribute to the victims of Friday’s attacks in Paris, at the Old Harbour in Marseille, France, November 14, 2015.
People light candles as they pay tribute to the victims of Friday’s attacks in Paris, at the Old Harbour in Marseille, France, November 14, 2015.
Image: Reuters/Jean-Paul
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For the many Syrian refugees living in France, Friday night’s attacks were a bitter reminder of the conflict and bloodshed they fled at home. That feeling only became stronger when French president Francois Hollande blamed ISIL for the attacks, and the Islamist extremist group, which has laid claim to broad swathes of Syria and Iraq, claimed credit for the atrocities.

Paris police reportedly found a Syrian passport on the body of one of the attackers, and Greece officials traced the document to a man who entered Europe through the island of Leros on Oct. 3, according to Reuters But not everyone with a Syrian passport is Syrian: during the recent migrant and refugee exodus Europe, many people have begun trafficking in stolen and fake documents. Syrian credentials are among the most sought-after.

There are an estimated 6,700 Syrian refugees in France, according to a September report by CNN.  Quartz spoke with several of them after the attacks, including one man who was at the Estade de France stadium when several suicide bombers tried to gain entry:

Haya Jamal Al-Ali, 26, from the ISIL capital of Al-Raqqa

“This is why Syrians are fleeing the country,” said Ali, who fled to Paris this year and videos footage shot undercover in ISIS territory aired on France 24 earlier this year. “We fled Syria because of ISIS. I am a Syrian, Muslim, and Sunni. These terrorists have been killing and beheading my friends since 2013. I came to France seeking safety. ISIS are not Syrians. And we are all fighting terrorism.”

“It breaks my heart to see people blaming Syrians, forgetting that we are the first country who suffered from ISIS and its terrorism,” said Ali. “I am sure this will affect the Syrian refugees in France. And again, we will be paying the price, even though we ran away from the same terrorists.”

Recalling the horror of last night, Ali told Quartz that she was terrified: “I have not felt this threatened since I left Syria. I started to think, if I had to leave and flee again, where I am supposed to go?”

“When I read the news about the Syrian passport, I wondered if those people who are fleeing ISIS are gonna be able to reach Europe. However, the world should know that you can get a fake Syrian passport for less than $150.”

Sara Laila, 27, a Syrian-Kurdish refugee

“The French government are not stupid [enough] to put all the blames on Syrians,” said Laila, who lives in Lyon. “And the Syrian refugees are treated very well in France. They are being treated well and hopefully we won’t be discriminated [against]. And it’s not possible to support the enemy that we fled from. France has restrictions over everyone. Everyone’s bags are being checked, French and Arabs.”

Aref Haj Yousef, a photographer who covered the Syrian Civil War

Yousef had to flee from both ISIL and the Syrian regime and now lives in Paris. Last night, he was in the Estad de France stadium when alleged ISIS militants attacked. He witnessed the horror and the chaos firsthand.

“We did not know what’s going on,” Aref said. “We saw an announcement on the screen guiding us to use specific door to exist the stadium. When we first heard the explosion, we thought it was fire crackers. I had no idea that it was a huge attack.”

“We suffered from terrorism and ISIS. We are here because of ISIS and Assad. French people know that we have more than 4,000 French fighters in Syria who joined ISIS,” he added. “The French government is aware that extremists do exist in France. We can’t be blamed for this, even if one of the attacker had a Syrian passport. Fake Syrian passport are being sold in Turkey for whoever wants to claim asylum in Europe.”

Follow Quartz’s coverage of the Paris attacks