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A city in the making? Refugee governance presents ethical dilemmas

Posted by African Press International on November 4, 2013

A city in the making?

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Camp to be divided into 12 districts
  • Traditional leaders to take the helm
  • Opposition to UNHCR governance plans
  • Refugee governance presents ethical dilemmas

ZA’ATARI,  – “It has become very quiet”, says Kilian Kleinschmidt about recent months in Jordan’s Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees.

As the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) manager for the camp, which has now become the fourth largest population centre in Jordan, he has been tasked with bringing order to life here.

More than a year after the camp’s founding in July 2012, Kleinschmidt describes it as a settlement slowly transforming into something much more permanent.

But this transformation has consequences. One of the demands of an increasingly long-term operation is a greater focus by UNHCR on the camp’s governance – a sensitive area at the crossroads of politics and humanitarian relief.

Kleinschmidt has extensive plans for a governance structure: 12 districts with a variety of committees, assigned administration and humanitarian personnel per district, and a central administration headed by a Jordanian deputy governor.

“Traditional leaders” who have emerged from within the camp and are trusted by UNHCR and the Jordanian authorities may be integrated into some sort of representative camp committee.

But these plans have been met with fierce opposition by various self-appointed street leaders in Za’atari, who have long profited from the disorder and built their own power bases.

The clash highlights the challenge of trying to introduce governance structures to a refugee camp from above when there has already been something – unhealthy as it may be – forming at the grassroots.

Putting down roots

Size and time can present major challenges to UNHCR in managing camps, French anthropologist Michel Agier suggests in his critical book Managing the Undesirables: Refugee Camps and Humanitarian Government. As soon as the camps last beyond the emergency phase, they transform into spaces with which people begin to identify.

“In effect, while developing in material terms, and to a degree also economically, the refugee camps form themselves into social and political milieus,” Agier writes. He describes the “permanent paradox”, a life of refugees in camps “between an indefinite temporality and a space that is transformed because its occupants necessarily appropriate it in order to live in it.”

This is certainly the case in Za’atari.

“Some time ago, we had no idea who is who in the camp. There were protests and fights all the time,” Kleinschmidt explains, leaning back in his chair in the shadow of an awning between the containers of the so-called base camp, where humanitarian agencies have set up their offices. Now his focus is more on long-term administration and his plans to establish an all-encompassing electric grid in the camp, as well as a network of public transportation.

“In the end, what we see here is a temporary city in the making,” he says.

In the Sham-Élysées – the shopping street in the camp, named after the Champs-Élysées in Paris and a pun on the popular name for Syria: `al-Sham’ – businesses run into the wee hours of the night.

A young Syrian named Qassem proudly presents the construction site of his “shopping center”, comprising five white pre-fabricated containers, or “pre-fabs”. Soon it should be selling imported goods from Syria, he explains.

Some refugees have built themselves “mansions” by grouping together several pre-fabs, while one has even opened an improvised swimming pool to which he asks entry fees.

As Za’atari transforms from a hasty emergency response into a more permanent settlement, with no clear end on the horizon, many new challenges are surfacing for the camp’s management, among them politics and crime-control. The need for sustainable governance has become all the more clear.

Good and bad leaders

According to Liisa Malkki, an expert on refugee camps and an associate professor of anthropology at Stanford University, while old power structures often remain relevant, refugee settings also create opportunities for new people to become influential.

Some so-called street leaders have used the smuggling of humanitarian goods, and even amphetamines, to build their power base.

Some achieved authority as rebel leaders in the conflict in Syria, others established themselves by being among the first to arrive in Za’atari. “They came with their men and controlled local business and other things in the camp, often making a profit,” said Kleinschmidt.

Bulldozers are currently digging a deep ditch around the whole camp to clamp down on smuggling, which Kleinschmidt hopes will reduce the influence of some of the street leaders.

“The new leaders will be traditional Syrian authorities, sheikhs, who bring wisdom with them. They don’t need to scream in order to earn the people’s respect.”

Each of Za’tari’s planned 12 districts will accommodate around 10,000 residents. Leaders from each district should be represented in a yet-to-be finalized political structure. In addition, a new initiative funded by the US government will create a neighbourhood watch: out of 1,000 voluntary candidates, about 600 will be chosen in consultation with the “traditional” refugee leadership to patrol the streets, after background checks by the Jordanian police. They will work hand in hand with community police units, supported by Jordanian law, customary rules and camp rules.

These new security forces should “neutralize” and “isolate” the groups that have become instruments of corrupt and criminal structures dominating parts of the camp, whom Kleinschmidt accuses of extortion, theft and smuggling.

“The new leaders will be traditional Syrian authorities, sheikhs, who bring wisdom with them. They don’t need to scream in order to earn the people’s respect.”

One of them is an elderly man named Abu Wael, dressed in an ankle-long white garment, a `thawb’. “I don’t have time today; a delegation from the Jordanian prince is coming,” he said, passing by the base camp, rushing to the important meeting.

According to Kleinschmidt, just the day before, Abu Wael and some other elders sat together in one of the “mansions” in the camp and engaged in traditional conflict resolution, after an unmarried couple was caught sleeping together. They negotiated the matter between the families.

These new leaders should support UNHCR to build up a reliable structure of governance in the camp, while also helping to cut down on crime and delegitimizing the self-made leaders.

But the “old leaders” promise resistance. One of the more powerful leaders among them is Abu Hussein, 49, from the southern Syrian city of Dera’a and a former commander in the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA). For most in the camp he is known simply as `Aqed’, the “Colonel”.

The Colonel

From a side street just off Sham-Élysées, a metal door leads to an improvised garden with patches of artificial lawn spread over the sandy ground. It is surrounded by several inter-connected pre-fabs that form the space where Abu Hussein lives with his wife and children.

“I am against everything going wrong here in the camp,” he says, as his wife serves a plate of self-cooked mlehi (meat with yogurt sauce and bread). “Nothing inside this dish is from UNHCR, that’s for sure,” he says. “We don’t want to put anything from them in our pocket.”

The Colonel

Abu Hussein is respected by many in the district he rules. He is often seen walking into the main street at night, where groups of young men are waiting for him. He sends them to patrol side streets in pairs, organizes female guards in community kitchens and keeps everyone “safe”, he boasts. One of his self-assigned duties is to organize workers in the camp. For the few positions available with humanitarian organizations for camp residents, he determines how shifts rotate and who is allowed to fill the positions.

However, Kleinschmidt says many of these “bosses” in the camp are already on their way down.

“They have a chance if they cooperate. Otherwise the Jordanian authorities will deal with them accordingly,” he said.

The new system of governance should decrease the influence of people like Abu Hussein by giving other people in the camp a stronger voice.

Street politics

Abu Hussein oversees an entire district. One notch below him are “street-leaders” who deal with the everyday problems in the camp.

One of them is Abu Asim from the Syrian village of al-Sanamen, in Dera’a Governorate, from where he fled with his family after what he says was a massacre last May. His own house was destroyed by a bomb, he recalls.

Sitting on cushions between two containers, Abu Asim pours sticky tea into his cup and lights a cigarette.

“To be respected in this camp,” he said, “you need to be wise and politically strong.” Via phone calls and personal visits, he solves “all kinds of problems”, like quarrels, water disputes, distribution issues, or broken toilets.

He too has heard about the newly planned committees in the camp. “I think UNHCR has to keep its hands away from politics,” he cautioned.

Humanitarian governance

The power struggles in Za’atari reflect the ethical dilemmas involved in the transformation from humanitarian emergency response to long-term refugee crisis. In his book, Agier writes that refugee camps – and humanitarianism more broadly – have become part of a global system to “manage” what are often seen as “undesirable” refugee populations and separate them from the general public.

“Humanitarian intervention borders on policing,” he writes. “There is no care without control.” This “humanitarian government”, as he calls it, deprives refugees of the practice of citizenship.

Although refugee self-governance always occurs when people live in settlements long enough, the official position of the humanitarian community has long been that such politics do not take place, Malkki, the Stanford researcher, told IRIN.

But Kleinschmidt is different. He has long advocated treating Za’atari like any other city in Jordan. “The humanitarian practice has long been to manage a camp for 20-30 years in more or less the same [short-term] way, instead of building up sustainable service delivery and governance.”

The Ministry of Interior’s Syrian Refugee Camp Directorate did not respond to IRIN’s request for an interview.

However, according to Oraib Rantwai, head of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in the capital Amman, the Jordanian government has been cautious in accepting any permanent structures being built in Za’atari for fear of angering its local population, which is suffering from strained services as a result of the refugee presence.

“People in Jordan ask themselves: how long will these refugees stay?”

ah/ha/cb/oa  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Norway welcomes UN statement on the humanitarian crisis in Syria

Posted by African Press International on October 4, 2013

Norway is pleased that the UN Security Council has finally reached agreement on a strong statement that condemns the serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Syria, and calls for unhindered humanitarian access,” said Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.

The Security Council issued a presidential statement today concerning the lack of respect for international humanitarian law and the grave human rights violations in Syria.

“I am glad that the Security Council has urged the Syrian authorities and the various armed groups to implement concrete actions in a number of areas to ensure that civilians are given protection and assistance,” Mr Eide said.

The Security Council statement condemns the obstacles and impediments put in the way of humanitarian aid deliveries by the Syrian authorities and various armed groups. It calls for unhindered humanitarian access across conflict lines and across national borders when necessary. The lack of access granted to UN and other humanitarian actors seeking to bring help to those in need is currently the greatest humanitarian problem in Syria. The statement also condemns the widespread sexual and gender-based abuse and violence, and focuses particularly on the protection of children.

“It is crucial to demilitarise schools and hospitals, and to combat sexual and gender-based violence, especially to protect the very weakest groups in Syria, including children,” Foreign Minister Eide said.

 

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Norway welcomes UN Security Council agreement on Syria

Posted by African Press International on October 3, 2013

“I am very pleased that the UN Security Council and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have finally managed to reach agreement on a robust resolution about the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” said Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide. The resolution that was adopted by the UN Security Council today determines that the use of chemical weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security.

For the past week there has been intense diplomatic activity in the UN to reach agreement on a joint resolution in the UN Security Council on Syria’s chemical weapons. The resolution requests the UN Secretary-General to report to the UN Security Council on a regular basis, and gives the OPCW a particular responsibility for ensuring that the Syrian chemical weapons are removed and destroyed.

In advance of the Security Council’s decision, the OPCW Executive, of which Norway is a member, agreed on a plan for Syria’s chemical weapons. Syria is required to destroy these weapons within nine months.

“I hope these decisions by the OPCW and the Security Council will pave the way for practical steps to eliminate Syria’s stocks of chemical weapons as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Foreign Minister Eide said. Norway is considering how we can contribute to this work.

For some time now Norway has been calling for a robust, binding resolution in the Security Council on the conflict in Syria.

“This is a diplomatic breakthrough which I hope will be the first step in a political process that in time can help create peace and bring to an end the terrible suffering in Syria. The civil war in Syria can only be solved by political means, not military action,” said Mr Eide.

 

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Norway to take in 1 000 Syrian refugees

Posted by African Press International on September 23, 2013

 

“The Government decided today to accept 1 000 Syrian refugees for resettlement to Norway. The war in Syria has led to an acute refugee situation. Syria’s neighbouring countries have taken in close to two million refugees. The capacity of these countries is at breaking point and the UNHCR has appealed to other countries to help,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

There is no immediate solution to the conflict in Syria in sight. So far the conflict has led to massive flows of refugees to Syria’s neighbouring countries. In mid-September some 730 000 Syrian refugees were registered in Lebanon, 520 000 were registered in Jordan, 464 000 in Turkey, 117 000 in Iraq and 117 000 in Egypt. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Syria’s neighbouring countries have appealed to countries outside the region to resettle some of the refugees currently living in Syria’s neighbouring countries as a matter of urgency.

“Syria’s neighbouring countries have displayed an enormous sense of responsibility for the refugees from Syria. One in every four people in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee. Syria’s neighbouring countries, in particular Lebanon and Jordan, are reaching the limit of what they can cope with. If nothing is done, they may choose to close their borders. It is therefore crucial that Norway and other like-minded countries show solidarity and take in Syrian refugees,” Mr Eide said.

Following calls from UNHCR, Norway has provided substantial aid to help Syrian refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries. Since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, Norway has provided a total of NOK 850 million in humanitarian aid.

The further quota of 1 000 refugees from Syria will come in addition to Norway’s annual UNHCR resettlement quota of approximately 1 200 refugees.

“Norway has a tradition of doing what it can in response to major international refugee crises and of providing a safe haven for refugees. This time is no exception. We know that Norwegian municipalities will make every effort to take in and integrate these refugees. As a country we can be proud of this and we will do everything we can to support the municipalities in this process,” said Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion Inga Marte Thorkildsen.

The additional resettlement quota that the Government has decided to establish is reserved for refugees from Syria who are recognised by UNHCR, preferably those living in Lebanon and Jordan. The total cost of the quota is estimated to be approximately NOK 770 million.

 

 

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“Urgent” needs widely ignored

Posted by African Press International on September 20, 2013

TAALABAYA, 6 September 2013 (IRIN) – One August morning, Khadijeh Sayyid Ahmad, 65, sits in a rooftop room of a half-constructed building in Lebanon while she waits for her husband to return from prayers. The sun filters through the pink tarpaulin that serves as a ceiling, creating a glow over her wizened face. 

She shifts from side to side on a mattress as her relatives try to console her. Reports of an alleged chemical attack in her Syrian hometown of Muadhamiya have just spread to her refugee gathering, and she is barely able to control her tears.“The problem is that when she gets distressed, her blood pressure starts to rise. This makes us very afraid for her heart condition,” says her son Ahmad.

Khadijeh is one of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are over 60 and quietly suffering from a host of health and psychological problems. Elderly Syrian refugees elsewhere in the region face similar challenges. The humanitarian community has struggled to cater for the special needs of the age group, which is disproportionately affected by the violence and displacement.

“Older refugees have so many needs, which are not yet a priority to the humanitarian aid actors responding to this crisis,” the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) wrote in a 27 August report, which described the elderly as an “often forgotten population of refugees… whose needs have been widely ignored in this crisis…

“We know from experience,” the report went on, “that older persons suffer in silence, quietly stepping aside so that younger members of their families can access services and aid.”

While according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), 6 percent of the Syrian population was above the age of 60 before the conflict, only 2.5 percent of refugees in Lebanon are that age. Elderly people struggle to register with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) because they cannot reach the registration centres easily.

That was one of the findings of a quick assessment of 70 elderly refugees in May by Claire Catherinet, an inclusion advisor with HelpAge, on secondment to Handicap International in Lebanon. It echoed the findings of CMLC: Many elderly cannot afford their medication, and most are dependent on humanitarian assistance for things as basic as food because they have no livelihood opportunities, said Catherinet

“They benefit from all the humanitarian assistance, but there is no special attention [given to elderly people], as there is for women and children,” she told IRIN. “As among the most vulnerable people in times of emergencies, older persons are neglected.”

In a statement to IRIN, UNHCR said it would like to “do more than we currently do” for refugees with special needs, “but because of lack of funds and capacity, we are not able to meet all the needs and give the assistance they would deserve.”

Khadijeh Sayyid Ahmad tells of family members killed in Syria.

Limited mobility

In its study, conducted in coordination with Johns Hopkins University, CLMC interviewed 175 elderly Syrian refugees (in addition to 45 elderly Palestinian refugees from Syria) and drew on 10 years of experience working with older people at Palestinian refugee camps.

The impetus of the study came during a visit to one of the tented settlements in eastern Lebanon. One of CLMC’s staff members was shocked to find an elderly woman staring at him from under a blanket in the mud. Her family said they had grown tired of moving her frail body from her mattress to the home-made latrine outside. So they decided to leave her lying next to her toilet, to answer calls of nature without their help.

CLMC has since purchased a wheelchair for the family and secured a tent for them near a concrete toilet, but there are many other families with elderly people that do not receive this kind of assistance.

Akram al-Kilani, 63, who sought refuge in Lebanon’s eastern Beka’a Valley, said the biggest problem he has faced since arriving in Taalabaya several weeks ago is the public bathroom. He must walk for nearly five minutes to reach it.

“We’re very grateful to the people providing for us here. But tap water in the tents and nearby toilets are absolute necessities for us,” said al-Kilani.

“Urgent” needs

According to CLMC’s findings, the elderly’s needs are widespread and urgent. Sixty-six percent of the elderly surveyed described their overall health status as bad or very bad, with most respondents having multiple chronic illnesses.

Of the elderly refugees surveyed by Caritas:
87 percent could not afford the medication they require
74 percent depended on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs
60 percent had hypertension
47 percent had diabetes
30 percent had some form of heart disease
10 percent were physically unable to leave their homes
4 percent were bedridden
“Significant proportions” sensed they were a burden to their families

Catherinet said the inability to afford their medication had resulted in swollen limbs, difficulty breathing and walking, and in some cases, an inability to leave their beds. Many people resorted to returning to Syria to get medication for elderly members of their family, she said.

The health status of the elderly is often linked to their state of mind, said Hessen Sayah, coordinator for Syrian refugee projects at CLMC, who has extensive experience with elderly Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. When CLMC’s psychosocial programmes in the Palestinian camps had run their course, she said, the elderly community saw a sharp increase in diabetes.

Prioritizing younger people

Undergirding the issues faced by elderly refugees is an expectation that they must suffer in silence so that younger people may fulfil their needs first.

The CLMC survey found that malnutrition among the elderly was prevalent due to reductions in meal sizes and insufficient intake of fruit, vegetables and meat, with the intention of leaving more to younger people.

Khadijeh serves as a case in point. She refuses to seek treatment for her heart palpitations, preferring to use the family’s limited money on healthcare for her son, who recently broke his arm.

“There’s just no point in me going to the hospital,” she told IRIN. “There is nothing left for me but death.”

Um Lateef*, 63, is unsure about whether to replenish her dwindling medical supplies because she does not want to endure “the humiliation” of asking humanitarian groups for help.

Elderly can play a role

But CLMC is now hard at work to prove that there is indeed a point to keeping the elderly healthy. CLMC espouses alleviating the problem by changing the way we view the elderly, who tend to be more effective negotiators with host communities because of the respect garnered by their age. They can also offer stability to a household overwrought by the stress of displacement.

“When we give the elderly their value, they are able to intervene in problems, domestic or otherwise… and this in turn improves their health,” Sayah said.

With over 722,000 refugees in Lebanon, there are widespread reports of growing resentment between the refugees and their Lebanese hosts. The presence of refugees in some 1,400 localities around the country has chipped away at government-funded pharmaceutical stocks, as well as increased competition in the job market and raised housing prices.

CLMC says older people can provide a calm and sagacious face for the refugee community, helping to soothe tensions with their hosts. However, refugees and humanitarian workers must recognize the elderly’s capacity to fill this role.

“We try as much as possible to involve [the] elderly in [the] community center’s activities, also to use their advisory role with youth and other community members,” UNHCR said in its statement. “The challenge is sometimes the fact that [the] elderly need special logistics assistance for transportation to the centers and unfortunately we do not have enough funds and capacity to transport many of them.”

Ahmad Dattouf wishes he could go fight in Syria, even at his age.

Ahmad Dattouf, 63, breaks into sobs as he talks about the alleged chemical attacks on eastern Damascus suburbs that morning. “What is happening these days has never been seen before. The situation is still very bad,” he says.

He is racked with guilt about whiling away his days between four grey concrete walls in Lebanon.

“Even at this age, my body urges me to go fight with those heroes [in Syria].”

HelpAge and Handicap International will be conducting a more detailed assessment of elderly Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in the coming weeks, with findings to be ready in the fall.

*not a real name

tq/ha/cb/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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My decision to leave Syria came in a hurry, prompted by the sight of my mother after I was released from two weeks of detention.

Posted by African Press International on September 19, 2013

DAMASCUS, – The writer is a recent graduate of the University of Damascus from a well-to-do family belonging to a Syrian minority. For security reasons he prefers to stay anonymous. In this diary entry, he describes being arrested and his subsequent departure from Syria.

My decision to leave Syria came in a hurry, prompted by the sight of my mother after I was released from two weeks of detention.

I had been politically active for some time, but because I belong to one of Syria’s many religious minorities, I was left alone, aside from a few inquiries by the authorities. They contacted my grandfather, a high-ranking regime party member, and asked him to “put me in line”.

That was the extent of it – until one day in July 2012. I was arrested at a demonstration in the Rukn el-Deen neighbourhood of the capital, where singing and chanting protesters were dispersed with live ammunition. I spent two weeks in solitary confinement in a basement, immune to the maltreatment others have suffered because of my minority status. Still, my stint at the department of state security’s branch in Kafar Souseh ended with a clear warning. “I know you want to go to Spain to study,” one officer told me. “I suggest you go now.”

I didn’t care much for what he said until I got home and saw my mother. She was not the elegant mid-40s woman I knew. After two weeks of not knowing where I was or how long they would keep me, she was barely alive. Her lips were cracked, her eyes swollen from crying, her already thin frame 15kg lighter. I knew she would not survive another bout of her only son in prison, or worse, killed.

I decided then and there to pack my bags. But I wasn’t psychologically prepared to leave so much history behind with little time to say goodbye. I was overwhelmed with emotion as friends streamed through a café to wish me off. So many friendships, built over years, were about to come to an end.

I spent my last hours in Damascus with a friend and my sister, visiting the sites one last time. First stop was the spice market in the old city of Damascus. At night, it is a magical place, its scent a breeze of paradise. You can stand there for hours without saying a word, just taking it in. Then we watched the sun rise from the Omayyad Mosque, also a unique Damascus experience.

I packed my bags with clothes, books and a few souvenirs, then sat down for a last morning coffee with my parents, telling jokes to try to make them laugh.

My mother tried to stay resolute, but because she and I do not have a convention mother-son relationship – instead we are good friends – I could sense her deep feelings of injustice. She felt I was being kicked out of my country. But she did not say a word. Instead, she wished me luck, told me to take care of myself, instructed me to come back as soon as possible, and insisted I not worry about anything else.

I resisted getting into the cab that would take me to Lebanon. My departure was now more real than ever. Within the hour, I would be out of Syria.

It amazes me how much taxi drivers can yap. It upset me at first. I needed a little peace to brood as I took one last look at Damascus. But by the time we crossed the Damascus-Beirut Highway, I found myself grateful for his distracting conversation.

It took us a long time to cross the border because there were so many people there, entire families that had packed all they could carry and delved into the unknown completely unprepared. I saw one woman wearing shoes that did not match. She must have left in an even bigger hurry than I had. I was about to enter a life of refuge.

 

Source http://www.irinnews.org

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Good news: Syria has announced that it will join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Posted by African Press International on September 18, 2013

Welcome agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons

“I welcome the agreement reached by Russia and the US on the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons. This is a breakthrough for diplomacy in what has been a deadlocked conflict. Russia and the US must be commended for their efforts to achieve this agreement. I hope this will be the first step in a new diplomatic initiative to bring the civil war in Syria to an end,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

The US and Russia announced on Saturday that they had reached agreement on how the Syrian regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons is to be destroyed. Under the deal, Syria has to provide details of its chemical weapons, including where they are located, within a week. Failure on the part of the Assad regime to comply could lead to a UN Security Council resolution that opens up for the use of force.

Norway, together with the rest of the world, has condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria. At the same time, we have emphasised that it is the Security Council’s responsibility to respond to serious violations of international law. This agreement makes it very clear that the use of chemical weapons will not be accepted by the international community. And the fact that the US and Russia have agreed that further steps must be endorsed by the Security Council is important in itself,” said Mr Eide.

Syria announced Friday (13th of september) that it will join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“Syria already had extensive obligations under international law. All the same, it is a positive sign that Syria has now announced that it wants to join the Convention, and it is one of the last countries to do so. It is crucial that the Syrian authorities now cooperate fully with the international community to reach a rapid solution to the present situation. This also applies to other issues in addition to the obligations Syria is taking on under the Chemical Weapons Convention,” commented Mr Eide.

 

As a member of the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Norway will continue its efforts to persuade the small number of states that still have not joined the convention to do so as soon as possible.

 

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Additional NOK 350 million to be allocated to humanitarian crises

Posted by African Press International on August 26, 2013

The Government intends to increase the humanitarian budget by NOK 350 million. The funds will primarily be channelled to Syria, but the crisis in South Sudan and the area around the Great Lakes in Africa will also receive Norwegian support. “There is an acute need for additional funds to alleviate several of the grave humanitarian crises in the world. The Government has therefore presented a proposition to the Storting today, proposing a NOK 350 million increase in the humanitarian budget. Of this sum, NOK 275 million will go to the crisis in Syria,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

The humanitarian situation in Syria is deteriorating steadily. The conflict in Syria began in March 2011. According to UN reports, more than 100 000 people have been killed. The number of refugees fleeing to Syria’s neighbouring countries has exceeded 1.9 million, and there are 4.25 million internally displaced. At least 6.8 million Syrians are dependent on humanitarian aid. “The situation in Syria is becoming increasingly brutal. Both the population in Syria and the refugees in neighbouring countries need our help.

 

In addition, the pressure being exerted on Syria’s neighbouring countries by the flow of refugees is a major problem. It is crucial that the international community helps the neighbouring countries to address this situation,” Mr Eide said. The additional NOK 275 million will bring Norway’s total humanitarian contribution to the crisis in Syria in 2013 to NOK 635 million. Norway will then have provided a total of NOK 850 million since the onset of the conflict in 2011.

“The crisis in Syria is the most rapidly escalating crisis in the world today. We must not, however, forget the humanitarian needs in other crises that are less in the media spotlight. The Government will therefore also provide an additional NOK 75 million to South Sudan and the area around the Great Lakes in Africa,” said Mr Eide. End

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Norway condemns terrorist attacks in Lebanon

Posted by African Press International on August 24, 2013

The terrorist attacks in Tripoli this week and in Beirut last week have killed dozens of people and wounded several hundred more. “Norway condemns the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Lebanon over the past weeks. Our thoughts go to those who have been affected and their families,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

The civil war in Syria has placed great strain on Lebanon and other countries in the region, in the form of large numbers of refugees, rising sectarian tensions and an increased risk of violent conflict.

“I am deeply concerned by the increase in violence in Lebanon. It will be a tragedy if the conflict in Syria takes hold in Lebanon too. Lebanon has a recent history of sectarian violence. It is now crucial that all parties refrain from acts that could heighten tensions in Lebanese society,” Mr Eide said.

 

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Conflicts causing deaths presents another data dilemma for mortality statisticians.

Posted by African Press International on August 18, 2013

BANGKOK, 16 August 2013 (IRIN) – Varied death tolls emerging from Egypt’s latest clashes are a reminder that obtaining mortality statistics in emergencies is still a disputed, complicated and, at times, politicized task. But tallied correctly, researchers say mortality data can b oost aid efficacy and improve funding decisions.

“Funding to save people, in the aftermath, is driven by death tolls,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir, director of the Brussels-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), noting that death tolls are also a good indicator for survivors who need life-saving assistance.

Unlike mortality data from natural disasters, the number of dead from armed conflict can be used for political purposes and thus become subject to manipulation or misuse, according to CRED, which has maintained an “emergency events” database on the occurrence and effects of more than 18,000 mass disasters worldwide from 1900 to the present.

The politics of numbers

In Egypt’s current political crisis, death tolls have differed wildly depending on the source. In the hours following the forcible clearing of a mass sit-in of Muslim Brotherhood supporters by government forces on 14 August, the Brotherhood’s initial death toll was 500, while state TV said four people had been killed.

The government’s toll has since risen to more than 600 while the opposition’s toll is more than three times as high.

Many of the dead in Egypt were taken to makeshift hospitals run by the Brotherhood movement itself, which made outside verification of the figures difficult. The official death count is based only on bodies that passed through a hospital.

Darfur

Sudan’s Darfur conflict, which broke out 10 years ago and for which a ceasefire was signed in 2010, has generated a significant debate on death counts. The UN estimates some 300,000 died, while Khartoum puts the number closer to 10,000. In 2006 the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) published an analysis of mortality estimates from Darfur to examine the methodology behind death tallies.

In Darfur lack of access to some regions of the conflict, inaccurate population data and varied manipulations of baseline mortality rates (death rates in times of non-crisis) led to data shortcomings and disputed death estimates, the analysis concluded.

The US Department of State reported that between March 2003 and January 2005 a total of 98,000 to 181,000 people died, while five other studies produced estimates ranging up to nearly 400,000 people between February 2003 and August 2005. The GAO study judged none of the death tolls accurate, although it noted some estimates were more reliable than others.

A recent analysis (2010) of mortality estimates in Darfur based on retrospective mortality surveys estimated that the overall number of “excess” deaths (those attributable to crisis conditions and not just direct conflict) in Darfur between early 2003 and end of 2008 was some 300,000 people.

However, the authors acknowledged that the limits of data and problems over its interpretation that plagued earlier death tolls, persisted in theirs.

Syria

The Syrian conflict presents another data dilemma for mortality statisticians.

In a complex armed conflict as is the case of Syria, fatalities can be at the centre of political controversy with each party to the conflict wanting to downplay civilian deaths.

In August 2011 the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate human rights and international law violations in Syria. But lack of access hampered the commission’s efforts, whose investigations have been forced to rely primarily on interviews with people in camps and hospitals in countries neighbouring Syria.

“Initially, we adopted a methodology that required one of two things for us to count the casualty, A) our eye-witness actually saw the deceased and knew his/her name or, B) our witness was a family member, and knew that his/her family member was deceased,” said Vic Ullom, legal adviser of the Commission of Inquiry (COI).

“For us, that was an appropriately high bar to get over those accounts that are fabricated or exaggerated. However, we only received a small percentage of the overall numbers of casualties, because we could only interview a small percentage of the refugee population,” he added.

According to the Centre for Documentation of Violations in Syria, an opposition website, the fatalities since the beginning of the conflict number some 69,000 people while the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, run by a Syrian who fled 13 years ago who is now based in the UK, puts the conflict’s casualties closer to 106,000 people. Both networks report on casualties from both sides and say they gather their information from human rights groups and activists in Syria.

However, experts warn that in a conflict like Syria’s, while a reliable network on the ground can provide decent statistics, it can also be challenging.

“They’ve got to be active and mobile, and they themselves [must] have good networks in the area that they cover. Being on the ground during a war, they will be very susceptible to all kinds of pressure, including to manipulate the numbers in favour of their political objectives,” said Ullom of COI, who added that it will be “extremely” difficult for such monitors to have access, but not favour either side.

Standard death toll tallying

In humanitarian emergencies, proper gathering, interpretation and use of mortality data can save lives as this database is the basis on which to plan a humanitarian response, say researchers.

Mortality rate is defined “as the number of deaths occurring in a given population at risk during a specified time period, also known as the recall period”. In emergencies it is usually expressed as deaths per 10,000 persons per day.

Crude mortality rate (CMR) and under five mortality rate (U5MR) are important indicators to assess and monitor the severity of an emergency situation, and are expressed per day.

CMR refers to the number of deaths among all age groups and due to all causes, while U5MR refers to the deaths of children under five years of age, out of 1,000 live births during a specified year.

According to the humanitarian guidelines known as SPHERE standards a CMR or an U5MR that is double the pre-crisis mortality rate indicates a “significant” public health emergency.

But one longstanding challenge of tallying death tolls in armed conflicts is whether to count deaths from “war-related causes”, including starvation due to lack of access to farmland in the line of fire, or from treatable diseases and minor wounds when patients cannot get treatment.

Several efforts have been made to standardize methodologies including the Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART), a network of organizations and humanitarian practitioners that has published a protocol for nutrition and mortality assessments.

But getting practitioners on the ground to apply these standards under duress is another matter.

Scarce resources, security concerns hamper data collection

CRED’s Guha-Sapir added: “At this time, there is no agreed-on methodology or even guidelines that could help operational workers who are on the ground to estimate the dead.”

The Harvard Project on monitoring, reporting and fact finding has been researching for the past two years guidelines on a common investigative methodology for mortality statistics. The project targets the work of fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry mandated by the UN and entities such as the European Union.

A major challenge for such missions is they do not compile raw data, but rather, rely on often unreliable casualty statistics compiled by other organizations.

“Commissions of inquiry frequently operate under broad mandates under scarce resource and time constraints,” Rob Grace, program associate at the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at the School of Public Health at Harvard University, told IRIN.

“For this reason, they tend to lack the capacity to undertake a comprehensive examination of all incidents that have occurred in the relevant context. Most commissions of inquiry mandated to gather information about violations of human rights endeavour to gather information about certain incidents that are emblematic of the patterns of violations that have occurred. The task of gathering accurate quantitative information about fatalities is not typically included in mandates for commissions of inquiry.”

Security restrictions are another added worry.

“Other challenges involve lack of territorial access in situations in which the host country has not granted the commission on-the-ground access, and ad hoc territorial access restrictions imposed, for example, by armed groups that control territory,” said Grace.

For Guha-Sapir, a systematic review of how governments and organizations, including the Red Cross and UN, calculate their death tolls is crucial.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) does not conduct mortality surveys during conflict, but rather relies on mortality data from health centres it supports, according to its health unit. For non-conflict mortality data, it relies on national health authorities, local civil society groups, and both national and international NGOs.

“They [governments and organizations] undoubtedly do their best in very chaotic conditions but it is first important to know how they do it. This can give some important insights into what the constraints are and also build from experience,” Guha-Sapir said.

fm/pt/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Anger, lost hope and sometimes newfound happiness

Posted by African Press International on August 6, 2013

Children stretch before class at Najda Now

SHATILA CAMP, LEBANON, 30 July 2013 (IRIN) – The conflict in Syria has killed more than 6,500 children, turned nearly one million into refugees, and left three million inside Syria in need of aid. Some have been disabled, mutilated, sexually abused, tortured in government detention and recruited by armed groups, at as young as age 12. Many have been deprived of their education. Many more have witnessed violence.

“Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict.” – Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director

After a recent trip to Syria and its neighbouring countries, Leila Zerrougui, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said she was “overwhelmed” by what she saw.

“Children in Syria not only are affected [by the violence on a] daily basis – they have lost their family, they have lost their house – but they lost … hope. They are full of anger. And if this continues, we will face a generation of illiterates,” she told a press conference.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) worries Syria’s children could become “a lost generation”.

In Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands have sought refuge, the NGO Najda Now helps children recover from trauma through theatre and art. Usually, children’s drawings are dark in colour and theme when they first arrive; they become more colorful and positive over time. Most of the time, children draw two things: what they want and what they are afraid of.

IRIN visited Najda Now’s ‘s psychosocial support centre “Tomorrow is Ours”. Here are a few of the children we met.

Ahmed, nine, left Homs because of intense air bombing. He spent some two years in Syria amid the conflict; and this environment became normal for him. He talked about it as if it was just a movie. He was lucky enough not to have seen any violence himself, but had some temporary trauma when he arrived in Lebanon one month ago, psychologists said, mostly linked to noises. In Syria, he lived in a village in the countryside, with vast open spaces. Now, he lives in the crowded Shatila camp for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Ahmed drew what he wants: a spacious house, a dog, and the sea.

Ahmed

IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Ahmed: Because of the war.

What happened?
They hit with planes and cannons.

Do you have friends here in Lebanon?
Ahmad does not answer; he seems stressed by the question.

How do you like it here?
I prefer Syria, because in Syria I have a lot of friends.

What do you remember from Syria?
Before, when there was no war, I could go wherever I wanted and I liked it. Here in Lebanon, when I go out, my Mum is stressed. Before, when there was no war in Syria, and I went out, I had freedom.

***

Sohah, 12, says she is happy in Lebanon. The centre’s theatre classes have helped her decompress from the stress of seeing guns being shot in the air and people being transported by ambulances. Her Palestinian parents settled in the southern Syrian town of Dera’a when they sought refuge themselves decades earlier. Now, they are displaced once more. She arrived in Lebanon four months ago.

Sohah

IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Sohah: There were a lot of problems.

Which kind of problems?
A lot of bombs and clashes with guns.

What do you like to do here in the centre?
I like to draw; I like to do theatre; I like to study. What I like the most is the theatre.

Tell us about your drawing.
This is us when we were acting. Me and my friends are singing. I wrote the song that we were singing.

What is the song about?
It says we want peace; we want to go back to our country; we don’t want war any more.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be an actress, famous around the whole world.

***

When Ashraf, eight, arrived at the centre from Hama six months ago, he was aggressive and fought with other children. Psychologists attribute this to what he saw and heard in Syria and stress likely passed down from his parents. Ashraf has not drawn anything; instead he is making a worm out of playdough.

Ashraf

IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Ashraf: The government attacked the revolutionaries at the entrance of the town. We knew that the others [the rebels] would be upset and answer, and that they [the government] would attack the whole city. And that’s what ended up happening.

What do you miss about Syria?
In Syria, I played with the computer.

But here in the centre there is a computer room.
Yes, but in Syria I had a computer at home and I could play.

And here, what do you like to play?
Hide-and-seek

Do you have a drawing to show us?
No, I don’t like to draw. I don’t like playdough either. I like to play ball.

***

Faysal’s mother is a nurse. She used to treat people in their home in Rural Damascus. So by the time the 11-year-old came to Lebanon nine months ago, he had seen many corpses, including his uncle who was shot dead by a sniper on a rooftop.

Faysal

IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Faysal: I came to Lebanon because there were attacks in my village.

Who do you live with?
My grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, my aunt, my other aunt and her husband, my other grandfather. My uncle was a martyr. Also there are two children on my dead uncle’s side, and two children on my other uncle’s side. I have a little sister. She’s three years old and when she is big enough, I want her to join me at school.

What do you miss about Syria?
My friends, my house, and my uncle.

What do you prefer: Syria or Lebanon?
I grew up in Syria, I prefer Damascus, but here I like the theatre. I prefer here for the theatre because there it didn’t exist. In Damascus, I didn’t know how to sing. Now, I can rap.

Can you tell us about your drawing?
I drew it based on a picture; we copied a photo. My drawings were in an exhibition and I sold two of my three drawings. The girl, she’s a princess.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be a painter.

ar/ha/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

End

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The Syrians fleeing creating refugee problem in northern Iraq

Posted by African Press International on July 28, 2013

ERBIL,  – On an empty plot of land in northern Iraq next to a beauty salon and opposite a hotel on Erbil’s busy Shoresh Street, Mohammed Hassan sits on a patch of crumpled purple carpet with his wife and their two-year-old son.

Above their heads is a sloping roof of cardboard and blankets, draped over sticks. It offers scant shade from the searing midday sun and their faces are flushed.

Gesturing to a pair of metal crutches on the floor, 24-year-old Hassan peels back his left trouser leg to reveal a reddened, scarred stump.

“I was hit by a bomb in Aleppo,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I had the amputation surgery there and then we decided to leave to come to Iraq. There was nothing left and too much violence.”

Hassan, who travelled with his brother and family in a group of 11, has joined 153,000 Syrians who have fled across the border to the northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Many have settled at Domiz Camp, around 60km from the border.

But beyond the gates of Domiz, there are an estimated 100,000 Syrian refugees living in towns and cities, around one third of whom live in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil.

More than two years into the Syrian crisis, the cost of rent in Erbil is soaring due to demand from both refugees and expatriate oil workers, and savings and job opportunities are dwindling. As a result, some refugees are being pushed out onto the streets – creating an urban refugee problem that aid agencies warn needs an urgent response before it gets out of hand.

Overcrowded camp

Close to the city of Duhok, Domiz Camp was initially planned for 25,000 people but is now home to more than 60,000, testing sanitation and other services to the limit.

Due to the overcrowded conditions at Domiz, even those in the most desperate conditions in Erbil say they do not want to go back to the camp.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in some ways enables this by offering its Syrian refugees renewable six-month work and residency permits. This gives the new arrivals permission to work, access to public health care and education, and freedom of movement, so they are legally allowed to settle in regular communities.

Many of the Syrians arriving in Kurdistan are professionals and most have found work, enabling them to pay for accommodation, or they have found lodgings with friends and family.

Begging for scraps

But according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), in Erbil alone there are around 650 families living rough in partly-constructed buildings and makeshift shelters. Many more are sharing rooms in small apartments, bed-hopping between shifts.

“We have people living in unfinished houses, with no doors, walls, windows or roofs, and sometimes there are three families in each room,” explained Wiyra Jawhar Ahmed, the manager of the Protection Assistance Reintegration Centre (PARC) in Erbil, run by Swedish NGO Qandil, but mainly funded by UNHCR.

“They are collecting rotten food from outside shops and begging at restaurants for scraps. They are also being in some cases exploited by people here who are giving them work but for very low wages,” he added.

Hassan’s brother, whose wife and five children occupy a similar stick and blanket shelter 100m away, has found work on a construction site. But Hassan, who was also a labourer in Syria, says he cannot work because of his leg.

For now he is relying on charity from host communities, who on the whole have responded generously to TV and radio campaigns by supporting the refugees with food and bedding.

A KRG official acknowledged that some of the urban refugees may have been equally vulnerable in Syria, but he said they still had the same right to assistance as other refugees.

Stop-gap solutions

A new refugee camp was supposed to have opened just outside Erbil in May to accommodate people like Hassan and his family, but funding and planning bottlenecks mean it is not likely to be ready until September.

In the meantime, UNHCR, in conjunction with Qandil, is compiling a database of the most vulnerable urban refugees to whom one-time cash payments of US$225 (paid in two separate installments) are being made available.

So far, of the 250 Erbil refugee families classified as “extremely vulnerable”, due to physical disability, chronic illness and other problems, 156 have received money to help pay for healthcare and other basic needs.

Acknowledging this is only a temporary stop-gap, Qandil’s Ahmed told IRIN: “It is critical that we get these families into a camp as soon as possible so we can provide them with food, shelter and health care.”

He added: “We already have other groups of internally displaced persons (IDPs) here, many from the disputed Nineveh Province, and there are growing tensions with people begging.”

Oil-rich Kurdistan?

Rizgar Mustafa, mayor of Khabat, the district where the new camp will be located, blamed a lack of money for the delayed opening. He said the central government of Iraq in Baghdad had failed to support KRG and that international donor funding had also been slow to arrive.

“There is an assumption that Kurdistan is rich in oil and therefore rich in resources so we can provide for the refugees ourselves,” he sighed.

Kurdistan’s economy is booming, thanks to a raft of new oil discoveries and a rush of foreign investment, but the oil industry itself is yet to earn money for KRG, amid a long-running dispute about revenue rights with the central government in Baghdad. Kurdistan’s current oil production – around 200,000 barrels per day – is one tenth of Nigeria’s.

As such, Khabat said, KRG needs donor funding like any other country dealing with the spillover of the Syrian crisis: “The voice of our government is not as strong as that of Turkey and other established states and we have not received the same response as other places,” he said.

As of 22 July, the aid operation in Iraq had received 22 percent of needed funding, compared to 22 percent in Egypt, 25 percent in Turkey, 36 percent in Lebanon and 45 percent in Jordan, according to the latest funding update.

Strategic approach

But funding is just one part of the picture. Both KRG and UNHCR have come in for criticism for how they have responded to Iraq’s urban refugees.

In a report published last month, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) warned that while Iraqi Kurdistan started with a “positive, durable approach” to protect and integrate Syrian refugees, the lack of funding and political and technical support was “presenting substantial economic and social challenges”.

Sara Eliasi, a protection and advocacy adviser with NRC, told IRIN: “The government was very willing to receive these refugees but they didn’t necessarily envisage or understand the implications and the commitment that it would imply.

“They didn’t prepare and they didn’t plan for it and unfortunately the international community and international NGOs did not come in and fill that gap and provide a strategic approach.”

Prioritizing urban refugees

One UNHCR staff member admitted privately: “Urban refugees were not seen as a priority, even though they numbered far more than those in camps, but now we are all working together on a new strategy going forward to address the issues.”

Aurvasi Patel, acting head of UNHCR’s North of Iraq office, said: “In consultation with the Kurdish authorities, we implemented a joint response to the refugees living in camps as a strategic priority…

“However, in recognition of the fact that the needs get bigger and that the non-camp refugees were as vulnerable as those living in camps, we started to proportionally direct assistance to ensure an equal response.”

Border closures

Since mid-May, according to UNHCR, the main river crossing point into Iraqi Kurdistan at Peshkapor has been largely restricted.

Dindar Zebari, a senior KRG Foreign Ministry representative, denied the unofficial crossing was totally closed but admitted security had been enhanced.

“There must be clear evidence; those who are crossing the border are very much in need of protection and support,” he said.

Al-Qa’im border crossing, controlled by the central government based in Baghdad, has been closed for months.

The closures have sparked outrage from rights groups but officials at Domiz camp have quietly welcomed the time to catch up with camp extension plans that had been constantly on the back foot due to the sheer volume of daily arrivals.

The new camp, known as Dara Shakran, is about 30 minutes’ drive north of Erbil and will have an initial capacity of around 10,000, though the final details are still being worked out.

Mayor Mustafa insisted the camp will have no fences and is aimed at providing basic services, not containing the refugees. But some urban refugees may want to stay put.

Community workers have warned this may test the patience of host communities that are increasingly unhappy about the rise in begging and other harmful coping responses such as sex work.

Hassan’s sister-in-law, Sharda, a mother of five with the youngest just three months, told IRIN: “If my husband has work here in Erbil, then I won’t go to the camp.”

lr/ha/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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Syrians are accused of taking part in pro-Morsi demonstrations

Posted by African Press International on July 23, 2013

CAIRO,  – A thin wall was all that separated Syrian refugee Ahmed Al Hemsi from his 62-year-old father at Cairo International Airport when immigration officers told his father he would not be allowed into Egypt.

“He was crying when he talked to me on the phone,” Al Hemsi, 26, told IRIN. “This was the first time in my life I heard my father crying.”

Al Hemsi’s father, who had just arrived from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is one of thousands of Syrians affected by a new set of security measures enacted by Egyptian authorities following the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi and bloody clashes between Morsi’s supporters and opponents.

Government supporters accuse Syrian refugees of participating in the clashes and taking part in attacks against anti-Morsi demonstrators in several Egyptian cities.

The new security measures include the requirement that Syrian refugees and asylum seekers get entry visas to Egypt from an Egyptian embassy, as well as security approval.

But many Syrians say, given that Egypt severed its diplomatic relations with Syria, getting an entry visa to Egypt from Damascus is impossible, and that the process is difficult at embassies in other countries.

“Our understanding of the new measures is that we are no longer welcome in Egypt,” said Arkan Abulkheir, a Syrian community leader in Cairo. “The fact that some Syrians had committed violations by getting involved in Egypt’s politics does not mean that Egypt should punish all Syrians.”

There are between 250,000 and 300,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt now, according to the Egyptian government.

“He was crying when he talked to me on the phone. This was the first time in my life I heard my father crying.”

The conflict in Syria has created the world’s worst refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said this week, noting that more than 6,000 people were fleeing every day.

Nearly 1.8 million refugees from Syria are registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Tighter checks in Egypt

The government’s new tougher line includes tighter security checks for Syrian refugees in Egypt, with the threat of deportation for Syrians who do not have residence permits.

Previously, Syrians were able to get a three-month visa when they entered Egypt for the first time. After that visa expired, the Syrians could then apply for a one-year residence, but this is no longer the case.

A security official told the newspaper Al Watan on 11 July that police have orders to arrest Syrians and check them.

Abulkheir was stopped by a policeman on the street a few days ago. The policeman asked about his passport and his residence permit.

“He told me that he would have sent me back to Syria if my residence permit was not valid,” Abulkheir said. “Thanks are to God, the permit was valid for six more months.”

Syrian refugees say they are afraid to go out lest they be arrested or deported.

Before the change of government and these new security measures, Syrian refugees already faced a variety of challenges, but the new measures are making life even harder.

When they came to Cairo two months ago, Al Hemsi, his mother and his younger brother had to leave their father behind in the Syrian city of Daraa because they did not have enough money to buy him a plane ticket.

He finally travelled to Cairo on 8 July after the family raised US$250 for the flight. Since he was refused to entry to Egypt, he has been living in a mosque in Beirut.

“We do not know how he eats or lives his life,” Al Hemsi said. “He does not have any money. He is also too frail to work.”

School’s out

Another change has come in the education sector. Syrian refugees were previously allowed to enrol their children in state-run schools and universities, and were given equal treatment with Egyptians when it came to fees. This is no longer the case.

Abu Mustafa, a Syrian refugee in his mid-forties, went to a school in 6 October, a neighbourhood southwest of Cairo, a few days ago to enrol his three children for the new academic year, which is expected to start in September. He was told by the headmaster that Syrians are no longer allowed at state-run schools, which have lower fees than private schools.

“He said I should enrol them in a private school,” Abu Mustafa said. “But this is very difficult for me to do.”

To enrol his children in a private school, Abu Mustafa would have to pay a minimum of 7,000 Egyptian pounds (US$958) for each of them. Unemployed and living on charity, this is too much money for him, and for the tens of thousands of other Syrian refugees in the country.

Political tension

The new measures against Syrians coincide with a fierce campaign against them by some of Egypt’s politicians and opinion-makers, who accuse them of harbouring support for the deposed president and of contributing to Egypt’s current turmoil.

An Egyptian politician recently called for the execution of Syrians and Palestinians if they are arrested while taking part in protests or fights on the streets.

UNHCR in Egypt has called for refugees to receive proper protection.

“We call on the government to ensure that any precautionary measures in the light of the current security situation do not infringe on humanitarian principles and Egypt’s responsibilities to provide asylum and protection to refugees,” Edward Leposky, an associate reporting officer at UNHCR Egypt, told IRIN.

He said the Syrian community had expressed anxiety over the current environment, with some Syrians subjected to verbal threats, heightened scrutiny and temporary detentions.

“All this has led to a notable increase in the number of Syrians approaching UNHCR for registration,” Leposky said.

As of 16 July, around 75,000 Syrian refugees were registered with UNHCR in Egypt.

ae/jj/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

———-

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Syria’s forgotten sanitation crisis

Posted by African Press International on July 7, 2013

A baby plays in a tub of water at Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan

DUBAI,  – Bombs, clashes and airstrikes have killed at least 92,000 in Syria, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. But millions of people – and more still across the region – are at risk due to something much less discussed: sanitation.

Summer heat, shortages of clean water, a crumbling health system, breakdowns in waste management services, and overcrowded conditions in common shelters have led to a rise in potentially life-threatening diseases.

As summer temperatures rise, poor hygiene and sanitation are an increasing concern. The World Health Organization wrote last month: “outbreaks are inevitable.”

Up to 8,000 Syrians leave every day, often for overcrowded camps in neighbouring countries. The scale of population movement means that the threat is not just confined to Syria. Already, diseases have appeared in Turkey and Jordan that had not been seen for years, if not decades, before the Syrian crisis.

“The international community must now seriously view the ever worsening humanitarian and health situation as a threat to regional security and their own national interests,” public health doctors Adam Coutts and Fouad M. Fouad wrote in The Lancet medical journal on 29 June.

ha/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Sectarian violence triggers Sunni-Alawi segregation

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2013

Before the conflict, many Syrian towns and villages were home to a mix of religious sects. This is beginning to change

HIGHLIGHTS

  • People moving away from mixed areas
  • Alawis fear reprisals
  • Foreign fighters contribute to sectarian polarization
  • Segregation could have lasting impact for years to come

DUBAI,  – A few months ago, when rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) pushed further into the suburbs of Damascus, Modar* started noticing rapid changes in his home city.

“We used to have mixed neighbourhoods, but not any more,” he told IRIN.

Modar, a student, lives in Yarmouk, a Sunni-majority district, home to Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, which the FSA first entered this spring and has since come to control.

“There were some Alawis here, but they are gone now,” said Modar. “They left for the coast or to specific areas in Damascus like Mezze 86 or Ish al Warwar.” Both are districts almost exclusively inhabited by Alawis on the hillside in the western outskirts near the presidential palace.

The violence in Syria has triggered an increasing internal migration in the areas affected by the conflict, mirroring broader divisions in society, residents and activists in different cities said.

“Where there is fighting, there is segregation,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the widely read blog Syria Comment. “Particularly in Damascus, the Alawis have no doubt moved into the Alawi neighbourhoods.”

Sectarian tensions have been on the rise since the beginning of the conflict as the Sunni majority forms the backbone of an opposition trying to overthrow the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, who belongs to the Alawi minority. The sect, a branch of Shiite Islam originating from the mountainous area near the coastline, also fills the ranks of the regime’s security apparatus.

Analysts warn that it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which war crimes and human rights violations, including forced displacement, are driven by sectarianism. Many of the motivations remain simply political or military. But the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has noted increasingly sectarian overtones to the conflict. And a string of sectarian massacres has accelerated the segregation, driving Sunnis and Alawis apart.

In early May, regime forces were accused of two mass killings which left more than 200 people dead in Baniyas, a Sunni-majority town bordering predominantly Alawi areas in western Syria, and in the nearby Sunni village of Bayda. The attacks followed a pattern of previous killings, fuelling suspicions that the regime is trying to drive Sunnis out of the area in preparation for a breakaway Alawi state.

The opposition has also been accused of sectarian violence. In early June, rebels allegedly killed at least 30 people in a raid on the Shiite village Hatla in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, scorching houses and decrying Shiite “dogs” and “apostates”.

Both sides have positioned bases within their respective supportive communities, the Commission said in its latest report released this month. Both sides have also been accused of forcibly displacing members of the opposite sect from areas they control.

More than two years into the conflict, at least 4.25 million people are internally displaced within the country. Their motivations for fleeing – which range from general violence to lack of basic services – are often hard to track.

Modar, the student, said some Alawi residents left Yarmouk because they felt generally unsafe due to the nearby fighting.

“Others were threatened after the FSA moved in. Somebody knocked on their door or left a note saying: You are not welcome any more.”

In Damascus, some Christians and Druze, belonging to an offshoot of Shia Islam that incorporates mystical and other beliefs, have also been encouraged by friends and family to move to Suweida, where they would be safer among their “co-religionists” (though some have refused, on principle).

But not all migration follows sectarian fault lines.

“There is an interesting counter-movement,” Landis said. Many Sunnis have fled to Alawi-dominated cities that have been less affected by the violence, like Lattakia or even Qadmous, deep in the Alawi mountains, introducing a new heterogeneity in some parts of the Alawi heartland.

“The picture is in some ways contradictory,” he said. “There is ethnic cleansing in some places, while in others, there is more mixing than before. People are terrified of each other, but they are still coexisting.”

For the moment, Landis said, Alawis are still renting apartments to displaced Sunnis living in predominantly Alawi areas along the coast.

But the Sunnis’ presence could become precarious if Alawis feel threatened. For example, “if Islamist militias penetrate into this area, things could change fast for the [displaced families] because the [Alawis] will see them as a danger,” he said.

Fear of “Genocide”

According to residents and activists from both communities, fear of retribution is rising among Alawis, who make up around 12 percent of the population. The regime has been relying heavily on the support of militia death squads known as Shabiha which are mainly recruited from the Alawi sect. In December UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng warned of a growing risk that civilian communities, including Alawite and other minorities perceived to be associated with the government, could be subject to large-scale reprisal attacks.

“There is a fear of genocide,” said Rami*, an Alawi student from the coastal town Baniyas, now living in Damascus, and one of the few Alawis supporting the opposition. As a result, the community keeps retreating further, he said, even leaving their strongholds in the capital. “Thousands of families left Mezze 86 and went back to the coast. My relatives left, too.”

Residents in Zarzour, a predominantly Sunni village with a small Shia population in Idlib Governorate, told Human Rights Watch that their Shia neighbours had fled because they feared retaliation by opposition forces because, in their opinion, the local Shias had been supportive of government forces.

In the Ghab plain in Western Syria, an area dotted with Sunni and Alawi villages stretching between the city of Hama and the coast, FSA units and regime troops have been fighting for control. The region has witnessed displacement on both sides, said Majid*, a local Sunni activist. “Sunnis are leaving because they are scared. All regime supporters are armed now, and they fight along with the army.”

The Alawi community has been increasingly militarized, according to media reports, as the regime has stepped up the recruitment of fighters from the minority sect.

“When clashes break out near their villages, the men stay behind,” said Majid, “but they usually send away their families to safer areas further west.”

The rising number of sectarian tit-for-tat killings and kidnappings has also been spurring the flight of residents from heterogeneous regions.

“People are now separated from each other,” said Majid. “We are unfortunately on the road to sectarian war.”

Elizabeth O’Bagy, a political analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington who has repeatedly travelled to Syria, says the scale of sectarian displacement generally reflects the level of fighting in each individual area. The most prominent places, she said, are pockets of Aleppo and the Ghab area in Hama Governorate, “where sectarian displacement is happening systematically… People are purposely moving away from mixed areas, isolating themselves within their own community.”

Standstill

In Homs, which has been subjected to a devastating army siege since last year and is one of the areas most affected by the conflict, the interaction between Sunnis and Alawis has come to a complete standstill, residents said.

“We used to go shopping in their districts,” said a local Sunni activist who goes by the nickname Abu Emad. “I used to have Alawi girlfriends.”

Before the conflict started, there were four mixed suburbs, he said, all of which are now under government control and heavily guarded by Shabiha. Now, most Sunnis have left these areas, either because they were expelled by force, or because they were too scared to stay, he and others said.

“A mixed city like Homs has virtually lost its capacity to normalize relations between different communities,” said Peter Harling, Middle East analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG). “The social fabric of the city has been broken, and it will be very difficult to reconcile the various groups.”

Aid workers and analysts warn that this type of segregation could affect the region for years to come.

“Frankly speaking, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to coexist with the Alawis again,” Abu Emad said. “I personally don’t want them to live in Syria any more.”

Overlapping motives

However, Harling and others caution against overstating the extent of sectarian-motivated displacement, as motives often overlap, with safety and accessibility generally playing a more important role than religious affiliation.

“The areas that have produced most refugees, the ones that have encountered the most extensive violence, are predominantly Sunni,” he said. “And the majority of people go to areas which are most safe and convenient.”


The composition of the Iraqi capital Baghdad in 2003, before the US invasion, and in 2007, after nearly two years of sectarian violence

Still, the increasingly sectarian nature of displacement in Syria has raised the spectre of the 2006-7 violence in Iraq, where sectarian strife resulted in what some called “ethnic cleansing”, as Sunni and Shiite militias killed thousands of members of the rival community and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes – leaving a demographic legacy until this day.

Regional dimension

Syria has not reached that level yet, but more than 90,000 people have died and the conflict has taken on regional dimensions, reinforcing a broader Sunni-Shiite power struggle that is increasingly drawing in the neighbouring countries.

While Sunni fighters from all over the Middle East, often with an Islamist background, have been flocking to Syria to join the rebels, members of the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah are now openly fighting alongside regime forces.

“The presence of foreign fighters on both sides contributes to the sectarian polarization,” said O’Bagy. “Unfortunately I do see the risk of Syria going down the path of Iraq. Every time I go to Syria, the sectarian hatred has gotten worse.”

In Baniyas, home to twin massacres in May, fear and distrust is mounting on both sides of the sectarian divide. Previously a lively city where the communities coexisted peacefully, Baniyas is now split into a northern half mainly inhabited by Alawis, and a southern half where Sunnis are concentrating, Alawi and Sunni sources said.

Sunni residents and activists say they feel vulnerable in the coastal town, especially after the massacres. The city is heavily guarded by security forces and Shabiha, while the rebels have almost no presence.

“We are afraid of them. They will probably kill us in the future,” said Rania*, a Sunni resident of Baniyas who recently moved from the city to a neighbouring country.

Mustafa Muhannad*, a local Sunni activist, estimates that 10-20 Sunni families have fled Baniyas since the massacres for fear of further sectarian violence. At the same time, he has seen Alawis stream into the city, both displaced families from other regions as well as fighters coming as reinforcement.

“They are achieving what they want,” he said, in reference to the government, “the displacement of all Sunnis from the city.”

Still, according to Rami, the Alawi student, a few thousand displaced Sunni Muslims have moved into the Alawi districts of Baniyas, his home town.

“The relationship between the locals and the displaced is not good,” he said. “There is a lot of distrust, but so far there has not been any open aggression.”

But even in their heartland on the coast, most members of his sect feel threatened, says Bassel, an Alawi resident.

“Many people consider emigrating to Europe or Lebanon because they are scared of what might happen to them after the regime falls.”

*not a real name

gk/ha/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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