The humanitarian situation in Iraq is once again deteriorating. The siege of Amirli, the humanitarian airdrops to Sinjar – with people so desperate to get out that they fled into Syria – and now Western and Arab airstrikes, have kept all eyes on this tumultuous part of the Middle East.
“This policy calls for UNHCR to pursue alternatives to camps whenever possible. Compliance with this policy is mandatory.” Those words are taken from a policy statement prepared by UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Approved by High Commissioner António Guterres on July 22, 2014, the document has curiously not been placed in the public domain, nor have UNHCR’s key partners – donor states, other UN agencies, and NGOs – been informed of its existence. But Refugees International has gained access to a leaked copy.
“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” In just 15 words, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights makes it very clear that people whose life and liberty are at risk in their homeland should be able to leave it and find safe refuge in another state.
But as with many other rights that are spelled out in the Universal Declaration, the right to seek asylum is routinely denied to many people who should be able to benefit from it.
During RI's recent visit to Lebanon, the conflict in Syria leaked over in one of the most dangerous ways yet: militants out of Syria clashed with Lebanese military forces in the border town of Arsal. The humanitarian community in Lebanon frantically tried to think of every possible way to get aid to those trapped there.
During the past two weeks on Mt. Sinjar, we have seen both the worst and the best of what humanity can do.
As we moved through the women’s community center near Beirut, we noticed a woman in her late forties, a Syrian refugee, in the workshop area. The walls were surrounded by ongoing and completed jewelry and craft projects, which the community center helps to sell to benefit the women who create them.
It’s Sunday morning in Beirut, and it’s quiet except for the bells of the church down the street. This is normally a bustling, noisy neighborhood, and it’s a nice change to be sitting here in a café when the day has not yet begun in earnest.
Like most buildings on the seafront in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, the Nady el Togoreen or “Accountants Club” has seen better days. The concrete is crumbling, the paint is flaking, and the club’s two outdoor swimming pools have long since been emptied of water. Now they are filled with broken deck chairs and sunloungers.
Today, I spent the afternoon with a group of Syrian refugee women living here in Cairo. Some of them were considered vulnerable by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and were able to get small amounts of aid for food and rent. Many had children who dropped out of school in Egypt in order to provide for their families. Most had husbands in Syria whom they worried about constantly. All were hoping to go somewhere besides Egypt, but were losing faith that it could really happen.