Daryl Grisgraber

Think Progress: Iraq’s internal refugees being forced back to unsafe areas in order to vote in May elections

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered the return of millions of returnees to towns that are far from safe.

A month after declaring victory over the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS), roughly two million internally displaced Iraqis face being returned back to unsafe towns by Iraqi security forces, prompting concern from refugee advocacy groups and aid workers.

The refugees are being forced back to the towns they fled as a result of ISIS rule and fighting, Reuters reported on Monday, in order to ensure that the parliamentary elections take place on time in May, as under Iraqi law, voters must be in their home districts before they can vote.

Al-Abadi in June unveiled a 10-year reconstruction plan for Iraq that is supposed to start this year, but it seems the refugees, also referred to as internally displaced people (or IDPs), are being returned to areas that have been in some cases entirely decimated by the campaign against ISIS.

A diplomat from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad told Reuters she had heard of the forced returns and that the United States has asked that the IDPs — at one point numbering at around 3.2 million, according to U.N. figures — be returned home safely.

U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is facing a tough election. His opposition to the Kurdish independence referendum in September is likely to have created a formidable roadblock, given the 62 seats the Kurdish blocks control in the 328-seat parliament.

Al-Abadi in December vowed that the elections would happen on time. “The cabinet today reiterated that provincial and parliamentary elections will be held on 12 May 2018. There is no reason for delaying the elections,” he said.

But timely elections mean that in many cases, the returnees face the risks of hidden explosives and booby traps left behind by ISIS, as well as threats of possible renewed violence. In many cases, their homes have been destroyed and they’re told to live in tents in cities where they no longer have a livelihood or any means of support or access to medical services.

Aid workers tell Reuters that the refugees have already been taken back from camps at Amriyat al-Fallujah, 25 miles from Baghdad, as well as other nearby communities, against their will. They were given an hour to pack up and leave the IDP camps at which they were staying and be transported back via military trucks.

The forced returns, carried out by the military at al-Abadi’s behest, started in the fall.

“Even those who don’t openly resist really have no other choice. They cannot really say no to a bunch of people with guns,” said one aid worker. An Iraqi military spokesman said that while the reports for forced returns was exaggerated, that “citizens have to go home.”

Mahdi Ahmed, an IDP, said being forced to return home would prompt him to not vote for al-Abadi’s party.

“They are doing this because of the election, but if I go back and see my house destroyed, my money gone, and my life ruined, why would I vote for them?” he asked.

Humanitarian and refugee groups have been worrying about early returns for months. Refugees International issued a report in September calling the returns “ill-advised under most circumstances.”

“Where people want to go home badly enough, they simply will. But the government in Baghdad must take seriously its responsibility to protect its own citizens and to assure a stable future in Iraq,” said the report.

Read the original article here

PBS NewsHour: Will one company’s mixed mission in Yemen sow suspicion of aid groups?

For aid organizations, especially those in conflict zones, remaining politically neutral is crucial for trust. A New York Times investigation found that the conduct of a logistics company could drive suspicion that aid groups in Yemen were somehow acting as agents of the U.S. government. William Brangham speaks with The New York Times' Eric Schmitt and Daryl Grisgraber of Refugees International.

View the video here.

CNN: Iraqi forces recapture key air base near Mosul

Read the original article here.

By Mohammed Tawfeeq and Ingrid Formanek, CNN
Updated 6:34 AM ET, Thu November 17, 2016 

(CNN)Iraqi paramilitary forces have recaptured a strategic airbase outside the northern city of Tal Afar, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Forces said.

Ahmed al Assadi acknowledged that militia forces have yet to extinguish some pockets of ISIS resistance inside the airbase, however, saying late Wednesday that mopping-up operations will continue for the next few hours.

    Iraq's Joint Operations Command put out a similar statement.

    The base will serve as a staging area for Iraqi Security Forces in their battle with ISIS west of Mosul, authorities said. Tal Afar is a predominantly Sunni city that used to be divided between Sunni and Shia Turkmens before ISIS captured it in 2014. It is about 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of Mosul.

    Mosul, Iraq's second-most populous city, is ISIS' last major stronghold in Iraq and the terror group is well entrenched there. The campaign to retake the city has raged on for a month, forcing nearly 59,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.

    An ISIS attack on a Mosul neighborhood previously declared "liberated" from the militants killed at least two civilians and wounded at least seven more people, including children, Iraqi army officials told CNN on Wednesday.

    The officials said at least four mortars landed in the eastern Mosul neighborhood of al Zahraa, which was declared under the full control of Iraqi security forces nearly a week ago.

    Witnesses also told CNN there had been civilian deaths and injuries from the attacks.

    Video of the aftermath broadcast by local Kurdish TV station Rudaw showed several of the injured, including children with bloody wounds. Up to a dozen children are being maimed every day as fighting pushes into the city, according to Save the Children.

    "Many children have been through two years of ISIS and were then forced to flee through a war zone, and some told us they have seen people shot and hanged," said Aram Shakaram, deputy country director for Save the Children in Iraq. "Imagine what effect that would have on a child."

    The Iraq Joint Military Operations Command declared six days ago that its security forces had taken full control of al Zahraa as well as two other eastern neighborhoods -- al Samah and al Malayeen.

    Attacks by ISIS in areas previously cleared by Iraqi forces are frequent. These areas often lack water, power and medical services, according to the UN.

    Fierce resistance

    Iraqi forces have encountered fierce resistance as they battle their way into Mosul.

    While the ISIS presence has started to wane in parts of the northern city, a number of residents told CNN they are disappointed with the pace of Mosul's liberation.

    They said people are increasingly fearful because of what they see as slow advances by Iraqi forces.

    ISIS has fortified its positions and regrouped after the Iraqi forces' initial push on Mosul, which was faster than current progress, residents said.

    The Mosul offensive began almost one month ago.

    ISIS emboldened by leader's message?

    Brig. Gen. Halgurd Hikmet, a spokesman for the Peshmerga, or Kurdish forces, told CNN on Wednesday that "for ISIS, Mosul is survival."

    Hikmet said he believes ISIS militants won't leave Mosul but will continue to put up a fight that will only grow fiercer as the battle moves to the city's west.

    He pointed to the audio message purportedly from ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released just weeks ago, which seems to have emboldened and inspired ISIS fighters.

    Hikmet also reiterated the difficulty posed for Iraqi-led forces by the potential for civilian casualties among the dense urban population, saying the utmost care was being taken not to bomb civilians.

    The terror group's use of civilians as "human shields" is also a challenge because it's often hard to differentiate between them and ISIS members, Hikmet said.

    The paramilitary force said Tuesday it has intelligence that al-Baghdadi is somewhere between al Baaj and Tal Afar. The two cities are about 50 miles (80 kilometers) apart and close to the border with Syria.

    Iraqi Ministry of Defense spokesman Brig. Gen. Tahsin Ibrahim would not confirm nor deny that al-Baghdadi is in the area.

    US-led coalition

    Meanwhile, a military official said Tuesday that the US-led coalition against ISIS has pounded targets linked to the extremist group relentlessly since the Iraqi-led offensive began on October 17.

    In four weeks, coalition forces have hammered ISIS targets with 4,000 bombs, artillery strikes and missiles, coalition spokesman Col. John C. Dorian said. They also have killed hundreds of fighters in the battle to retake Mosul, he said.

    Nearly 60 vehicles equipped with bombs and more than 80 tunnels have been destroyed, Dorian said at a news conference in Qayyara.

    Aid groups stretched thin

    The Mosul offensive has exacerbated widespread displacement of residents in northern Iraq and placed heavy demands on humanitarian groups working to provide aid for civilians fleeing the war, Refugees International said in a report Tuesday.

    Since ISIS began seizing territory across Iraq in 2014, 3.3 million civilians have been displaced. The Mosul battle is spurring more civilian flight, the group says. The International Organization for Migration says more than 56,000 people have been displaced since the start of the offensive.

    More resources are needed as tens of thousands of families have no place to stay, the leaders of NGOs and UN agencies said a joint statement.

    "With winter approaching, and temperatures dramatically dropping at night, families, many who fled their homes with virtually nothing, need heaters, blankets and other winter items."

    Save the Children reported that children who've been able to flee Mosul are showing signs of distress. The organization has set up tents to care for nearly 2,000 children with classes.

    CNN's Jennifer Hauser and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.


      CNN: In push for Mosul, US coalition pummeling ISIS

      Read the original article here.

      By Mohammed Tawfeeq, Jennifer Hauser, Joe Sterling and Ingrid Formanek, CNN
      Updated 5:45 PM ET, Tue November 15, 2016 

      Irbil, Iraq (CNN)The US-led coalition has pounded ISIS targets relentlessly since the offensive to recapture Mosul began last month, a military official told reporters on Tuesday.

      The heavy fighting has been evident on the ground.

        Witnesses said Iraqi Security Forces and ISIS clashed for several hours as they fight for control over neighborhoods east of the city.

        Each side used mortars and RPGs and engaged in close-quarter fighting in some areas, residents said.

        As the Iraqi Security Forces have mobilized into Mosul, ISIS has clogged potential access routes using blast walls, buttressing its last standing stronghold and moving farther into parts of the city.

        In the eastern Salam neighborhood, residents reported five civilians killed by ISIS mortars as militants fought Iraqi forces in the area. Iraqi security officials said there was progress in the fight in Salam.

        The presence of ISIS in certain parts of the city has started to wane.

        In some areas, residents said, some ISIS members and sympathizers have started selling their houses, cars and other property to finance escapes.

        The sympathizers have met opposition from residents who are discouraging people from buying the cheap property in retaliation for what the ISIS members or supporters did to the citizens of Mosul.

        But a number of residents told CNN they are disappointed with the speed of Mosul's liberation.

        They said fear across the city among residents has increased because of what they see as slow advances by the Iraqi forces.

        ISIS has fortified its positions and regrouped after the Iraqi forces' initial push on Mosul, which was faster than current progress, residents said.

        In the last four weeks, coalition forces have hammered ISIS targets with 4,000 bombs, artillery strikes and missiles, coalition spokesman Col. John C. Dorian said. They also have killed hundreds of fighters in the battle to retake Mosul, ISIS' last remaining stronghold, he said.

        Nearly 60 vehicles equipped with bombs and more than 80 tunnels have been destroyed, Dorian said at news conference in Qayyara.

        "We will continue to strike the enemy for as long as it takes for the Iraqi flag to be raised over Mosul and every other corner of this country," Dorian said.

        Coalition forces have been helping Iraqi soldiers wrest Mosul from ISIS since the offensive started on October 17. Mosul is the second-largest city in Iraq and is located in the country's north.

        Iraqi forces have been slowly battling their way into Mosul and have encountered fierce resistance. But they have made strides.

        On Sunday, the forces liberated the village of Nimrud, an achievement that drew praise from Dorian. He lauded security forces "for the manner in which they've conducted themselves as they've undertaken a very tough fight in Mosul."

        Nimrud is the site of the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, founded during the 13th century B.C. Archeologists first began excavating Nimrud in the 19th century.

        "The Iraqi security forces have been very deliberate and very careful in order to protect civilian life," Dorian said. "As a member of the coalition I find that level of effort inspiring and I hope that all Iraqis are proud of this level of effort."

        Where is al-Baghdadi?

        A group of militias who have been fighting and coordinating with the Iraqi military said they have intelligence information that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is somewhere between al Baaj and Tal Afar in northern Iraq. The two cities are about 50 miles apart and close to the border with Syria.

        The Popular Mobilization Units made the remark as they announced the third phase of their military operations to liberate areas west of Mosul.

        The PMU groups are made up of mostly Shiites but also Sunnis, Christians and other ethnic and religious groups.

        The goal of the third phase is to liberate the remaining villages towards Tal Afar airbase in west of Mosul.

        The airbase will be used as a launching point toward the city center of Tal Afar.

        Al-Baghdadi first came into the public eye with a sermon delivered at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul in July 2014.

        US officials have suggested he may be moving from one place to another within ISIS' shrinking so-called caliphate to avoid detection -- and that they would attack his location if they knew where he was.

        Iraqi Ministry of Defense spokesman Brig. Gen. Tahsin Ibrahim would not confirm or deny that al-Baghdadi is in the area.

        Iraqi intelligence agencies have solid information that al-Baghdadi fled Mosul along with senior ISIS leaders during the first week of the operation, Ibrahim said.

        "We know that al Baghdadi fled Mosul and headed out of the city in a western direction," Ibrahim said. " We also have confirmed intelligence information that al-Baghdadi is not in Tal Afar."

        Aid groups stretched thin

        The battle has exacerbated widespread displacement of residents in northern Iraq and placed demands on humanitarian groups working to provide aid for civilians making a getaway from war, Refugees International said in a report Tuesday.

        In the two years since ISIS began seizing territory across Iraq, 3.3 million civilians have been displaced. The Mosul battle is spurring more civilian flight, the group says. The International Organization for Migration says more than 56,000 people have been displaced since the start of the offensive.

        "As the government of Iraq moves to reclaim Mosul from ISIS, civilians from the areas around Mosul -- known as the Mosul corridor -- have already been on the move," Refugees International Senior Advocate Daryl Grisgraber said. About 100,000 have left the region since fighting started.

        The group said the UN's Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 is "barely half-funded, as is the emergency appeal to address needs related to Mosul."

        "Humanitarian aid groups in Iraq are already struggling to meet the needs of some 10 million people who rely on humanitarian assistance in some form. The humanitarian needs created by Mosul are simply adding to a humanitarian disaster that was already not adequately addressed. Recent events in Iraq will only aggravate that situation," Grisgraber said.

        CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq reported from Irbil. CNN's Jennifer Hauser reported from Atlanta. CNN's Joe Sterling reported and wrote from Atlanta.

        Al Monitor: Mosul adds to staggering world refugee crisis

        Read the original article here.

        By Laura Rozen

        WASHINGTON — As the long-anticipated Iraqi military campaign to take Mosul from the Islamic State (IS) got underway this week, humanitarian aid groups warned of the plight of up to 1.5 million civilian inhabitants of the city, hundreds of thousands of whom may be displaced by fighting in the coming weeks. The United Nations said the scale of displacement that could be triggered by Mosul military operations, with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 1 million people, may pose one of the single biggest and most complex humanitarian challenges it has ever faced.

        “Depending on the intensity and scope of the fighting, as many as 1 million people may be forced to flee their homes in a worst-case scenario,” Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, said Oct. 16.

        Preparations have been underway since February for the Mosul campaign, and the United Nations said it had shelters prepared to house 60,000 people, while construction of additional sites to accommodate up to 250,000 people is taking place.

        But with Iraq already housing 3.3 million internally displaced people before the Mosul operation began, the UN had received only approximately 58% of its 2016 Iraq funding request of $861 million. “Despite generous new funding pledges, the US $284 million Mosul flash appeal … is only just over half funded,” the UN’s Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said. “As a result, key components of the response, including emergency camps, are critically underfunded.”

        The daunting humanitarian burden anticipated for Mosul has further stressed already overwhelmed and insufficient resources to care for the over 3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq — most of them who fled IS or earlier battles by the Iraqi government to retake towns from IS since 2014, said Daryl Grisgraber, a senior advocate for the Middle East and North Africa at Refugees International.

        “This justified need to prepare and plan for Mosul is really taking some attention and resources away from the 3.3 million IPDs in the rest of the country,” Grisgraber told Al-Monitor in an interview Oct. 19.

        Grisgraber, who traveled in Iraq between Sept. 15 and October 4 to investigate conditions for Iraq’s displaced, said she was struck by how little conditions had improved for them since a previous fact-finding trip a year before.

        “Things are still very bad for IDPs countrywide, particularly in Iraq’s central provinces,” such as Baghdad, and Anbar province, she said.

        “Even as [IS] is pushed out of these areas, they remain in certain pockets, … so [displaced people] can’t go back [to their homes] and it’s very insecure,” Grisgraber said. Meanwhile, the UN and foreign nongovernmental organizations largely can’t work where the IDPs are because security conditions are too risky and it’s too dangerous for staff, she said. “There is a real lack of humanitarian presence where the most vulnerable people are.”

        Syria: the largest source of refugees in the world

        Even as the situation for Iraq’s displaced remains bleak, the refugee crisis fueled by neighboring Syria’s more than 5-year-old civil war is truly overwhelming, almost apocalyptic in scale. With 4.9 million Syrian refugees and 6.6 million internally displaced since the conflict began in 2011, Syria has produced the largest number of refugees currently in the world — at 65 million refugees and displaced.

        “We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record,” the UN refugee agency writes. “An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.”

        A UNHCR report, Global Trends, released in June, found a total of 65.3 million people were refugees or displaced at the end of 2015. “It is the first time in the organization’s history that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed.”

        “Since 2011, when UNHCR announced a new record of 42.5 million forcibly displaced people globally, these numbers have risen sharply each year, … to 59.5 million in 2014,” the UNHCR Global Trends study reported in June. “This is an increase of more than 50% in five years.”

        “The study found that three countries produce half the world’s refugees. Syria at 4.9 million, Afghanistan at 2.7 million and Somalia at 1.1 million,” UNHCR wrote. In addition, it said, Colombia, Syria and Iraq had the largest numbers of internally displaced people.

        A "broken" system running "from crisis to crisis"

        Bill O’Keefe, the vice president of government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), said the refugee problem is overwhelming and the system to deal with it is broken, treating refugees like a short-term problem rather than a protracted condition under which most refugees will be so for almost 20 years.

        “The problems are overwhelming, and the system is broken to the extent that all anyone can do is run from crisis to crisis and respond,” O’Keefe told Al-Monitor in an interview. “We are clearly at an inflection point at refugee and displaced people, and the need for system reform is critical and the political will to drive that system of reform is not there.”

        The world is experiencing the largest refugee flows in history due to the failure to prevent the wars that are driving people from their homes.

        “All the failure to invest in social cohesion, community peace building, governance, all those preventative measures,” O’Keefe said. “And in the analogy of a patient, the world is a patient that has had no preventive care. We have cancer. There are no political solutions, no investment in prevention.”

        Most critically, O’Keefe said, governments and UN agencies have not adapted to the reality that the conflicts driving out most of the world’s refugees last for decades.

        “The system has not recognized or adapted to the reality that your average refugee is a refugee for 19 years,” O’Keefe said. “It is a long-term problem. But we still have a short-term response.”

        “It’s so long because the conflicts that have driven most refugees to flee last for 20-25 years,” he said. “If you look at the Afghan refugees in Pakistan, they are feeling conflicts that have been ongoing for decades. Iraqis have had low-level conflicts since 2003.”

        “So people flee, and can’t go back, [because the] conflict is still there, and they can’t, and there are not enough resettlement opportunities in third countries. So they are stuck,” he said. “But the programming that governments provide still treat it like it is a year-by-year problem. We need to help, own up to that families are going to be there for 20 years. Help them live a normal life where they are. They need education.”

        Helping refugees lead a normal life where they are

        O’Keefe praised US President Barack Obama’s hosting of the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the United Nations on Sept. 20 that aimed to get pledges to support getting an additional 1 million refugee children in school.

        “We don’t want a lost generation of Syrians and Iraqis where you have children without education and skills to rebuild their country,” O’Keefe said. “It’s a critical, critical, critical topic.”

        CRS is providing schooling and psychosocial support for 65,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugee children in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt, he said.

        The UN children’s agency UNICEF says there are more than 2.5 million Syrian children now registered as refugees outside of Syria, primarily in the neighboring host countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt — 600,000 of whom are not in school. In addition, Syria is home to 2.1 million school-age children (ages 5-17) who are not in school.

        In 2016, UNICEF requested $847 million in funds to support programs to get Syrian refugee children access to education and psychosocial support in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. In Turkey, UNICEF aimed to get 400,000 children access to formal education through direct support and systems strengthening, as well as 80,000 children provided with child protection or psychosocial support services.

        In Lebanon, where Syrian refugee children account for 40% of the entire school population, UNICEF aimed to support 233,000 Syrian children enrolled in school, and psychosocial support to 185,000 children in 2016.

        In Jordan, UNICEF aimed to support 156,000 Syrian refugee children enrolled in school in 2016, as well as 50,000 in Iraq and 15,000 in Egypt.

        In May, UNICEF and other UN agencies launched the “Education Cannot Wait” initiative, to try to bridge the gap between humanitarian interventions during crises and long-term development afterward, through predictable funding. The aim is to raise nearly $4 billion to reach 13.6 million children in need of education in emergencies within 5 years, UNICEF said.

        “We know education can quite literally be life-saving in crises — keeping children safe from abuses like trafficking and recruitment into armed groups — as well as providing children the opportunity to shape their futures,” UNICEF spokeswoman Aimee Gonzales told Al-Monitor by email. “Multiple surveys have shown that children and youth living in emergencies say that going to school is one of their most important priorities.”

        Obama, while addressing the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, lamented the largest refugee crisis in the world since World War II. And he acknowledged a collective international failure to end conflicts such as Syria’s that are driving such epic displacement, even as his own decision not to intervene to halt the violence there remains perhaps his most-debated foreign policy decision as his presidency nears its end.

        “We are facing a crisis of epic proportions,” Obama told the leaders. “I called this summit because this crisis is one of the most urgent tests of our time — our capacity for collective action. To test, first and foremost, our ability to end conflicts, because so many of the world’s refugees come from just three countries ravaged by war — Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.”

        Obama continued, “The mentality that allows for violence with impunity is something we cannot excuse. And collectively, we continue to make excuses. … We all know that what is happening in Syria … is unacceptable. And we are not as unified as we should be in pushing to make it stop.”

        USA Today: Better life? Syrian kids in Turkey must go to work, not school

        Read the original article here.

        Dominique Bonessi, Special for USA TODAY7:04 a.m. EDT October 15, 2016

        ISTANBUL — On a sunny Saturday afternoon in September, a group of Syrian children gathered with their mothers in a neighborhood park for a free program of games, songs and drawing.

        For parents who fled Syria's civil war to give their youngsters a better education here, the sessions led by Syrian music teacher Maisa Alhafez are welcome because Turkey has been unable to provide enough spaces for all the school-age children.

        That creates a tough dilemma for the refugee parents: enroll their children in a school they can’t afford or send them out to work to help support the family.

        More than a half-million Syrian children in Turkey aren't enrolled in school, while many of the 330,000 who attend classes can barely afford the fees, according toUNICEF. Other children must work to help support their families, often in textile factories where girls are vulnerable to exploitation.

        One mother in the park, Fatima El-Helu, said it took three attempts to find a school that was convenient and affordable. When the family arrived in Istanbul a year ago, El-Helu’s two children were placed in a Syrian school out of their area.

        “The kids left the house before sunrise to go to a school that is very far away,” El-Helu said in Arabic.

        After a teacher slapped her son, who has a speech impediment, she moved her children to a Syrian school closer to home. But the hours — 4 to 10 p.m. — and the fees of $110 per year plus $32 per week for transportation proved too much.

        Now her children are in a Turkish school and seem to have settled in. Her daughter has made friends with a Palestinian girl, so she has someone to speak Arabic with at school. But money is still an issue. According to El-Helu, Turkish children get $10 a year for books and other supplies, while refugee students from neighboring Syria are told to share supplies or go without.

        Turkey’s Ministry of Education, with funding from UNICEF and other aid groups, has set up more than 350 temporary Syrian schools in urban areas of the country, offering courses taught by Syrian instructors in Arabic. The government waived tuition fees for several schools, but parents still must pay a $30 registration fee and transportation costs.

        Turkish law prohibits employing children under age 15, and those younger than 18 can work only under special circumstances, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their schooling, according to the Fair Wear Foundation in Turkey.

        There are no solid numbers on how many children are actually in the workforce in violation of the law, but Human Rights Watch says child labor is “rampant.”

        “Many children are working the informal sectors — washing dishes, carrying tea trays and selling tissues on the street,” said Daryl Grisgraber, a senior advocate atRefugees International. “Children work behind the scenes in the service industry. We also heard a lot about children working in the textile industry.”

        Zainab Al-isa, 14, and Alia Ibrahim, 15, are friends from Aleppo, Syria, and both work here in Syrian-run textile factories. They said Syrian girls are especially vulnerable to working long hours and are paid $270 a month, while the boys they work with make double that.

        Al-isa said she was attending a Turkish school but had trouble understanding her classes. When it came time to take midyear exams, her parents pulled her out of school to start working. Asked if she wants to go back to her studies, she said, “No, I won’t go back to school because I like working.”

        UNICEF strongly urges the Turkish government to develop programs to protect Syrian children and ensure their right to go to school. The Turkish Ministry of Education declined to comment on the issue.

        With the new school year just beginning, El-Helu said she is not sure what she will do if she cannot afford the transportation cost. “I just hope we can return to Syria soon,” she said.

        Contributing: Muhammad Abunnassr

        Bonessi is a fellow with the International Center for Journalists, currently based in Istanbul.



        Reuters: A generation of Syrian children who don’t count

        Read the original article here.

        Redrawing the Middle East
        A generation of Syrian children who don’t count

        By John Davison Filed May 3, 2016, 11 a.m. GMT

        The war in Syria is not just reshaping Middle Eastern borders. It is creating thousands of stateless children.

        BAALBEK, Lebanon – Seven-month-old Nour lives in a tarpaulin tent pitched on a muddy patch of earth in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. The tent, one of a dozen in a small refugee camp, contains a metal stove, a prayer mat and worn rugs on the floor. A leather jacket and a plastic mirror hang from nails hammered into its wooden beams.

        Swaddled in a faded pink blanket against the cold, Nour is the first of her Syrian parents’ three children to be born as a refugee. Her family fled their native Homs at the start of Syria’s civil war. Crammed two to a seat in a bus, her parents and two older siblings travelled 70 miles (112 km) into Lebanon, where Nour was born.

        Now her mother and father, Asheqa and Trad, face a new challenge. They need to register Nour with a local government office in Lebanon by her first birthday in early September. A birth certificate is the crucial first step to securing Syrian citizenship. Without it, Nour could join a fast-growing generation of children who are stateless – lacking legal recognition as a citizen of any country.

        But as Nour’s parents are learning, even something as simple as registering a baby’s birth is fraught with hurdles for a refugee in Lebanon.

        The country has more refugees per head of the population than any country in the world, but it is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has not allowed the U.N. to set up formal camps for Syrians. Some politicians fret about the impact of mainly Sunni refugees from Syria on the country’s sectarian balance. Power in Lebanon is carefully divided between Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, Sunnis and other groups. Registering Syrian births could create a precedent for Syrians to settle in the country, they worry.

        Surveys by the United Nations refugee agency and the Norwegian Refugee Council suggest the number of children whose births remain unregistered in Lebanon could be as high as 50,000. Aid agencies see similar difficulties registering children in Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, which host millions of Syrian refugees between them. That means the number of Syrian children facing statelessness is likely to be much higher.

        Those thousands of potentially stateless children are one way the wars in Syria and Iraq are reshaping the Middle East and its people for good.

        "If you look at the number of births that have happened ... I think we can be talking about hundreds of thousands who are potentially not registered in the region as a whole," said Daryl Grisgraber, senior advocate for the Middle East at Refugees International, a humanitarian group that works for displaced and stateless people.

        The U.N. says stateless children risk missing out on basic rights such as education and healthcare, can face difficulties getting a job and are exposed to abuse and even trafficking.

        To have Nour fully recognised as Syrian will involve a Kafkaesque process that requires trips to different government offices, negotiating checkpoints to get to Beirut, and approaching the Syrian embassy – something many refugees fleeing civil war are afraid to do.

        Lebanon's social affairs ministry, which handles the refugee issue, said the steps required were "clear and proportionate."

        Nour’s parents – they asked not to reveal their full names for fear of being targeted by Syria’s warring factions or arrested by Lebanese authorities – are afraid of embarking on the process. They have not even tried to get her birth registered, despite understanding what that might mean down the line.

        “We’re scared for her future,” Asheqa, her mother, said. “We’re afraid that if we want to return to Syria, we won’t be able to take her in because she has no documents. Where’s the proof that it’s your child?”


        Asheqa and Trad abandoned their house about three months after the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. Like many buildings in Homs – a centre of the uprising – their home was later flattened to rubble in bombardments.

        “We found out the school next door was shelled and collapsed onto our house,” said 25-year-old Asheqa. “We stayed with relatives nearby for a while, but there were 16 people under one roof, there was no work and the fighting intensified.”

        The couple and their two children – daughter Rahaf, now 7, and son Marhaf, now 5 – fled for Lebanon, where they have squatted on farmland near the town of Baalbek ever since. When they left Syria, they took all their identity papers, marriage certificate and family booklet, and papers relating to their children.

        “When the war ends, we’re keen to go back. We’re not exactly looking forward to it with nothing left, but we want to go back and rebuild,” Asheqa said.

        Until Nour’s birth is registered, however, they are stuck in exile. Children without a registered birth certificate face separation from their families if they try to cross international borders, including into Syria. Without the certificate, Nour has no legal proof of parentage or place of birth.

        But her parents face a complex and often unclear registration process. And they fear arrest if they try to move around too much in Lebanon.


        The United Nations and the Norwegian Refugee Council, a humanitarian aid group, advise refugees to carry out three crucial steps to register a newborn in Lebanon. The steps still leave parents several bureaucratic procedures away from obtaining full Syrian citizenship for their child, but are the most important and time-sensitive.

        First, parents should obtain a birth notification from the hospital where the child is born, or from a midwife.

        Next, they should take the birth notification, their own identity papers and marriage certificate to a local notary closest to the place of birth. Notaries will then produce a birth certificate, for which they normally charge a fee of up to $20.

        Finally, the parents should register the certificate with a local government registry office in Lebanon.

        All this needs to be completed before a child turns one or the process becomes much more expensive and complicated, involving courts, lawyers and DNA tests.

        Asheqa and Trad completed the first two steps within 10 days of Nour’s birth last Sept. 12.

        Now, though, they are stuck.

        Restrictions on Syrian refugees, including a requirement they carry certain documents or risk arrest, have made it harder to move around. The rules force Syrians registered as refugees to pay $200 a year for the right to stay in Lebanon but ban them from formal employment. Trad and Asheqa’s papers expired in January last year, right at the time the new regulations took effect.

        When Lebanese security forces raided the family’s camp last December, Trad and several other men were detained because they could not produce valid papers.

        Trad said he and the other men were held for a day and then released with a warning to renew their residency papers or face arrest again. Since then, he and Asheqa have been afraid to leave the camp.

        “We don’t dare approach any authorities, not even to register Nour’s birth, without renewing our residency first – we’re scared they’ll lock us up,” Trad said.

        But $200 is a huge sum for refugees, 70 percent of whom the U.N. says live in extreme poverty. And refugees not only have to pay the annual charge, they often need the help of a Lebanese sponsor, who usually charges another $200.

        “So that’s $400 for me, $400 for my husband, before we can go to register our daughter,” Asheqa said.

        In Syria, Trad, 32, drove taxis. In Lebanon he does casual labour and seasonal farm work. But none of that makes much money.

        “I get maybe one day of work in 10 and make 10,000-20,000 Lebanese pounds ($7-13),” he said. The family collects U.N. aid worth around $100 per month – barely enough for bread, they say. They also owe hundreds of dollars to a local grocer who has repeatedly extended them credit.

        The grocer's wife, Amira Msheik, showed a reporter a handwritten list of Syrian families in the area that owe money to her husband, Ismail: Umm Ahmed, 1,250,000 pounds, Abu Saadoun 700,000 pounds, Samah, 1 million pounds.

        Asheqa and Trad are now trying to save or borrow enough to renew their residency. But their debt keeps mounting. Trad found work in March. On his first day he crushed his finger in a tractor accident and had to borrow $1,000 to cover the hospital fees.


        Technically, even though their own residency documents have expired, Trad and Asheqa can complete step three and register Nour with the local government office. But aid agencies say lack of reliable information and rules that are applied inconsistently mean that in practice, this rarely happens.

        The Norwegian Refugee Council says many refugees give up because they lack information, fear the authorities or simply cannot afford to register. The U.N. reports similar difficulties. Aid agencies try to inform families, but are stretched due to the numbers of refugees, who often live in hard-to-reach areas.

        “It is confusing,” Asheqa said. “We’re not sure even which local government office we’d need to go to. But what’s the point anyway? We still need to renew our residency.”

        Nour is one of 10 unregistered babies in her small camp. In the early months of 2016, a new baby was born almost every two weeks. The settlement is just one of hundreds in the Bekaa Valley alone.

        In all, almost 70,000 children have been born to Syrian refugees in Lebanon since 2011, the United Nations says. This number excludes families not registered with the U.N., for which the refugee agency UNHCR has no estimate.

        A UNHCR survey of 2,500 families at the end of 2015 said 68 percent did not complete the third step, leaving their babies unregistered. Norwegian Refugee Council figures from January last year showed that more than 80 percent of nearly 800 refugees interviewed failed to register.

        The implications of having so many potentially stateless Syrians are worrisome.

        “It pushes you underground,” Human Rights Watch researcher Bill Van Esveld said. “The lack of identity documents just makes everything in life much more difficult. The door to crucial rights like education and healthcare may be closed if you don’t officially exist. You’re forced to live in a grey zone, or even treated like a criminal.”

        Khalifa al-Matar, another father in the camp, fled northern Syria’s Raqqa with his wife three years ago. He has missed the cut-off point to register his son Hakam, who is now 18 months old. Khalifa now needs to get a lawyer, renew his own residency and possibly take a DNA test to prove Hakam is his.

        “I tried to register Hakam,” he said, breaking a piece of firewood with one hand and holding his son in the other. “There seemed to be 50 ways to do it, and no one told me how. I even tried at the Syrian embassy. They told me to go to the notary, the notary told me I had to go back to Syria, so I eventually gave up.

        “Tomorrow there could be worse problems than now, and maybe we’d even need to flee Lebanon. With Hakam unregistered, we can’t go anywhere,” he said.

        McClatchy: As refugees ostracized, a Syrian family finds peace in the U.S.


        BALTIMORE  For Damascus resident Ali, life in Syria was an existence torn between two extremes.

        On the one hand, things were going well. Ali owned his own home, a car and even a furniture shop, which provided enough income for a comfortable life. He had a beautiful wife, five smart daughters, and was expecting his first son.

        On the other hand, there was the war.

        Tanks patrolled the family’s neighborhood, while airstrikes rained down. Soldiers fighting in the streets often sent bullets whizzing indiscriminately, making it unsafe to walk outside. Ali’s daughters became so sick from the stress that he no longer could afford to send them to the doctor.

        But the last straw didn’t come until August 2012. Ali’s wife – Aaminah – had just given birth in a Damascus hospital, and they had left the baby in the maternity ward out of fear their own neighborhood was unsafe. Then, a week later, they received the news – the worst any parents could imagine.

        The hospital had been attacked, the target of a government airstrike. The doctors had fled for their lives, and the building had collapsed. Their newborn son – their beautiful baby boy – had suffocated in the wreckage and died.

        “We buried him, and we decided to leave,” Ali said through an interpreter.

        They are among the 1,850 or so Syrians who have relocated to the United States since the conflict began. More are expected, or were, until Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The Islamic State has claimed credit, and one of the dead attackers had a Syrian passport near his body.

        That has led politicians in the United States to talk of throwing up barriers; a growing number of governors say they’ll allow no more Syrians into their states. Two Republican presidential candidates, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, have said the U.S. should focus its efforts on admitting Christians. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders hasn’t said how many refugees should be allowed.

        President Barack Obama responded Monday by saying Syrian refugees would still be welcomed. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said.

        The debate in the United States has been a long time building, with Syrians fleeing war over the past several years but gaining more attention in recent months. In the fall of 2012, shortly after their son’s death, Ali and Aaminah – whose names have been changed to protect the safety of their relatives still in Syria – loaded 13 of their family members into a five-person car in Damascus and crossed the border into Lebanon. There they lived in poverty for a year, forced to sell their food rations – provided by the United Nations – just to pay rent.

        “The situation there was even worse than the situation in Syria,” Ali said.

        When a U.N. representative offered to recommend them for refugee status, the couple jumped at the chance. Following an application process that spanned 18 months, the family found themselves in Baltimore, a total of $7 in hand.

        That was 10 months ago. Since then, Ali has found a job as a truck driver for UnderArmour, which pays enough that he no longer needs cash assistance. His five daughters are enrolled in school, and he and his wife are learning English. On his off days, Ali loads the family into a 2005 Honda Odyssey – bought with loans he’s already paid back – and they explore their new home, taking day trips to Maryland, Washington and beyond.

        Their latest excursion? To a Virginia airport, where they got out, took pictures and “were happy,” Ali said.

        “I’m happy because we’re safe,” Ali said through an interpreter. “We have a good life, and we’re safe. Safety is the most important thing for us.”

        Looking forward

        As the White House commits to taking in more Syrian refugees, communities across the country are faced with concerns that the U.S. government lacks the resources to properly vet and financially support the higher volume of newcomers.

        Although the Syrian conflict has forced an estimated 12 million from their homes – 4 million of whom have fled abroad – the United States admitted only 1,682 Syrian refugees in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, according to the State Department.

        That number is poised to increase dramatically. Obama recently pledged that the United States would be welcoming a total of 85,000 refugees this fiscal year, 10,000 of whom would be Syrian.

        Like those who came before them, the new arrivals are to be placed across the country by the nine refugee resettlement agencies tasked with finding homes for them.

        “Ten thousand Syrians may sound like a lot of people, but they’ll be divided across the entire United States,” said Matthew Soerens, a spokesman for refugee resettlement agency World Relief.

        The 1,850 or so Syrian refugees admitted since the conflict began are distributed among 130 cities. Most of these are medium-size and affordable places to live, with a pre-existing refugee community. Boise, Idaho, for example, has welcomed more Syrians than Los Angeles and New York combined.

        Last month Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for the administration to admit 100,000 Syrian refugees, calling the White House’s promise “too modest.”

        Security concerns

        But others find the figure too high.

        Twenty percent of likely U.S. voters reported supporting Obama’s commitment, according to a September 2015 telephone survey by Rasmussen Reports. But nearly half, 49 percent, said they want the government to allow no refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries into the United States.

        A commonly voiced objection is that the risks associated with resettling refugees of a Middle East country are too much for the United States to bear.

        “Most voters are still worried,” said Daryl Grisgraber, a senior advocate for the Middle East for the advocacy group Refugees International. “It’s not a realistic fear, but it’s so easy to get people’s attention by using that topic as a hook for the dialogue you want to have.”

        Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, in September introduced a bill that looks to “rein in” the administration’s plan to admit more Syrian refugees, telling Fox News he “can’t support a policy that would allow a jihadist pipeline into the United States.” And on Monday, he sent Obama a letter asking him to temporarily suspend admission of Syrian refugees.

        Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the connection drawn between refugees and terrorism is not only erroneous, but harmful.

        “There are those equating Islam with terrorism, and it’s a false narrative but also a very dangerous narrative, because it perpetuates this story of closing our doors,” said Murphy, who recently wrote a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting emergency funding to admit more refugees. Refugees, he said, just want a shot at a normal life.

        “It’s important to remember that the Syrian refugees being resettled in the United States are fleeing exactly the kind of terror we saw unfold on the streets of Paris on Friday evening,” said Lucy Carrigan, a senior officer of International Rescue Committee.

        In fact, some say admitting refugees can even help combat the spread of radicalism.

        “One of the best things we can do is take in vulnerable people who are victims of that extremism and give them better options,” Grisgraber said.

        The nation’s refugee admissions process is long and multifaceted, spanning an average of 18 to 24 months and multiple government agencies.

        Those fleeing their homelands must seek referral to one of nine State Department-funded resettlement support centers worldwide, which are responsible for gathering extensive data on each candidate in preparation for security screening. This is carried out in part by officers of Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, who help conduct analyses of their biographies, biometric checks of their fingerprints and photos, in-person interviews and even more investigation.

        “Refugees are the most security-vetted group,” Carrigan said. “Refugee resettlement is probably the hardest way to get to America besides swimming the Atlantic Ocean.”

        When asked whether she thought someone undeserving of refugee status could ever pass this process, Aaminah, the refugee living in Baltimore, shook her head emphatically.

        “It’s impossible,” Aaminah said. “It’s too complicated a process.”

        Read the original article here

        ThinkProgress: Why A 3-Year-Old Died In The Mediterranean And What The World Can Do To Stop It From Happening Again

        BY JUSTIN SALHANI SEP 4, 2015 8:00AM

        A photograph of a deceased Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean and washed ashore on the Turkish coast shook the world Wednesday. A shot of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s little body resting face-down went viral on social media and Thursday it adorned the front page of most British newspapers.

        Kurdi drowned with his brother and mother (his father was the only survivor) on the way to Europe. The story of their deaths are but one of thousands as refugees continue to flee desperate situations for a chance at life. The lowest estimate available says that 2,432 refugees have died at sea this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The situation is becoming more desperate by the day and more refugees are expected to make the nautical journey despite a higher likelihood of death due to the rougher winter seas.

        Why Do They Go?

        The majority of people that try to enter Europe by sea are from war-torn countries. Most are refugees from Syria, though Afghans and Somalis are also fleeing fighting, and Eritreans leave to escape a repressive regime. They leave because the situation at home is becoming increasingly desperate.

        “There’s a mixed migration situation,” Jana Mason, Senior Advisor for External Affairs with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), told ThinkProgress. “Some people are traveling purely for economic reasons. A refugee under international law is forced to flee because of conflict, violence, or persecution.”

        The majority of people trekking the Mediterranean are refugees. In Syria, for example, around four million people are currently refugees while more than 240,000 people have died since the war started in 2011.

        Most people try to travel to Europe because they feel it will give them or their families a better chance at a normal life. The alternative is to live off of handouts provided by international aid groups in formal or makeshift refugee camps.

        “Overall, people were getting what they needed but they saw no future for themselves and they wanted to make something of their lives,” Daryl Grisgraber, Refugees International’s Senior Advocate for the Middle East, told ThinkProgress. 

        But a new problem is on the horizon. Other crises are demanding money and attention, meaning that resources for these refugees are dissipating. “There are a lot of cuts happening in international aid,” said Grisgraber. “Funding cuts and programing cuts are affecting [specifically] Syrian refugees and people can’t get what they need to survive so they are moving onto Europe. The situation is becoming that desperate.”

        Refugees are well aware of the risks posed by crossing the Mediterranean. But for many the risk is worth the reward and certainly better than the alternative. While at least 2400 have perished at sea, more than 322,000 have arrived safely in European countries, according to the IOM, meaning the chances of dying at sea are less than 1 in 132.

        But a higher death rate is expected this winter as international aid continues to dry up and more refugees try to escape by sea. “Winter is always a hard time for refugees particularly with the types of shelter [they live in],” said Grisgraber, referring to the basic tents most refugees occupy.

        “With funding cuts it will be ever harder to supply food, heaters, fuel, and shelter so there will be more of a desire for people to move on. That said, the water is rougher in the Mediterranean Sea in winter and it’s not a great season for it. Migrations normally start again in late winter or early spring but with people more desperate this year it wouldn’t be surprising to see more people try in winter when the water is very bad which is likely to result in more deaths.”

        There are a lot of cuts happening in international aid. Funding cuts and programing cuts are affecting [specifically] Syrian refugees and people can’t get what they need to survive so they are moving onto Europe. The situation is becoming that desperate.
        — Daryl Grisgraber

        Is Europe Meeting Its Responsibilities?

        Refugees choose to go to Europe for a variety of reasons. Many have family or friends and want to go to a country where they will have a sense of community. Smugglers have also pounced on the humanitarian crisis and developed well-defined routes to Europe that refugees can travel – at their own risk — for a fee.

        But Europe has been widely criticized by the international community for not receiving enough refugees. While Turkey and Lebanon have each received over a million refugees to date, most European countries have only settled a few thousand.

        British Prime Minister David Cameron in particular received flack Wednesday for his comments that the refugee crisis wouldn’t be solved by taking in a few thousand more refugees. Just hours later however the photograph of young Kurdi went viral and the UK’s premier has since given into public pressure. He is now expected to announce that Britain will accept thousands more Syrians as a response to the crisis in the Mediterranean.

        “This definitely plays into any country’s humanitarian responsibility,” said Grisgraber. “A few thousand is an important gesture in setting an example and being committed to sharing the responsibility of four million Syrian refugees that no one country can take on by themselves.”

        Refugee workers say that Europe is also largely responsible for refugee deaths at sea because they fail to provide safe and legal land routes.

        “[Europe] needs a sensible response that doesn’t result with people dying on the route,” Mason said. “When fleeing persecution you can’t always travel regular routes and Europe has very few legal means of people getting there. What doesn’t exist is legal ways for people to get from one country to another.”

        Mason said that part of the problem is xenophobia, while security concerns are also a pressing matter for countries since the rise of ISIS and other extremist groups. But that doesn’t excuse Europe, or the world for that matter, from meeting their humanitarian responsibilities.

        “These are people who are the victims of ISIS, terrorism, and violence and not the perpetrators,” she said. “There are ways for UNHCR of screening and weeding out anybody who may pose a threat under international law.”

        What About the Arab Countries?

        While Europe has taken the brunt of the blame for the refugee crisis, many have also asked why the wealthy countries in the Persian Gulf have not stepped up to resettle refugees.

        For one, none of the Gulf States are signatories of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention that defines what a refugee is and how they are to be treated according to international law. Smuggling into Gulf countries is also more difficult and more expensive making it less desirable for many refugees.

        With most the refugees coming from Syria, settling in the various Gulf States – through legal migration routes — would make sense. “Gulf countries are a really logical place for them to go,” said Grisgraber. “They speak the language, are more familiar with the culture, and it’s in the region so when [the war in Syria ends] it is easier for them to go back.”

        Gulf States have opted to provide monetary assistance rather than take in refugees. Criticism has been leveled at Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait specifically because of their role in funding various militant groups causing the damage on the ground in Syria.

        “The Gulf must realise [sic] that now is the time to change their policy regarding accepting refugees from the Syria crisis,” Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, an Emirati commentator on Arab Affairs, argued in the International Business Times Thursday. “It is the moral, ethical and responsible step to take.”

        Do Solutions Exist?

        The international community has plenty of work to do to stop these deaths at sea. But even if global powers play their part, it may not guarantee a stop to these dangerous voyages. “The bottom line is that there needs to be a resolution to the conflict,” said Grisgraber. “The fact is we are creating human rights violations and conflicts and impossible humanitarian situations. People want basics – food, roofs over their heads, education for their kids – if we are making it impossible for people to have it they will keep moving to other places. That’s a fact of human life.”

        Many experts say that the international community needs to work to solve these global conflicts. In countries like Syria, the Gulf States can play a diplomatic role to help end the war. But some say that deaths at sea can stop despite the continuation of such tragic conflicts.

        “What’s confronting Europe is nowhere near [the amount of refugees in Turkey and Lebanon],” said Mason. “Europe needs to get together and figure out how to handle these individuals and how to share the responsibility. I don’t think the numbers are overwhelming. It’s clearly manageable.”

        PRI's The World: What's the US Doing to Help the Syrian Refugees

        The image of a Syrian refugee child dead in the surf has startled the world. He drowned while attempting to cross the sea to safety in Europe.

        But why are families taking the chance of such a dangerous crossing? The short answer: The dangerous ocean journey is less dangerous than the life they face on land.

        Daryl Grisgraber is just back from visiting refugee camps in Jordan. She’s the senior advocate for the Middle East with the non-profit, Refugees International. Grisgraber says there is increasing pressure on people there to move on.

        “I’ve been going to Jordan for several years now, and I’ve been watching things develop over that time. And while aspects of the response have improved — people have shelter, for example, and there’s more attention to the refugees who are not inside camps — it is getting worse in the sense that there’s so much less international attention for the Syrian crisis right now, and that includes the refugee situation of course.”

        “In addition to that, there’s some donor fatigue,” adds Grisgraber. ”So the agencies that help refugees are having to do a lot more work, because the numbers keep increasing, with roughly the same amount of money, or less. One of the things that we saw just last week was the World Food Program is having cuts worldwide to its funding, and they are increasingly scaling down the rations and the amount of cash assistance available in Jordan, and this was definitely a topic of concern and worry for the refugees in Jordan.”

        Those cutbacks are a key factor in motivating people to move on, and risk passage across the sea to Europe.  

        The US is still the biggest single donor of humanitarian assistance to Syrians. But it has not taken in many refugees since the civil war started in March 2011.

        “I believe somewhere between 800 and 900 at this point," says Grisgraber. "Less than 1000 for sure.” She says the main reason is the complexity of US security checks.

        The US is committed to taking many more. “The US at some point said they would take 30,000 Syrians. There wasn’t a specific time frame linked to that. But I think that we are committed to something like 8000 in the coming year."

        But even that number pales in comparison to the scale of the problem. The UN estimates that half the Syrian population is either a refugee abroad or displaced from their home inside Syria. That’s more than 11,000,000 people.

        “I am trying to focus on what’s positive and what works in the system,” says Grisgraber. “But make no mistake, we have not done enough, particularly in regard to resettling refugees. And a lot more needs to be done in terms of resolving the conflict as well; I’m talking about diplomacy, not necessarily military intervention."

        VOA: Can Syrian Refugees Be Safely Resettled in US?

        Cindy Saine

        CAPITOL HILL— A House of Representatives Homeland Security subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on the possible security risks involved with resettling some of the estimated 4 million refugees from the brutal civil war in Syria in the United States.  

        Most lawmakers at the hearing agreed there is a need to balance very real humanitarian and diplomatic concerns about Syrians who have had to flee to neighboring countries with legitimate security concerns in the West.

        The subcommittee chairman, Republican Peter King of New York, said the United States has a long and proud history of providing a haven for refugees, including the late Tom Lantos, who was a congressman and champion of human rights, and iconic scientist Albert Einstein. King also pointed out that four years of conflict in Syria have made this one of the biggest refugee crises in history, with no end in sight.

        I think continuing to send humanitarian aid to the region is extremely important. Because the fact is that the huge majority of refugees — not just Syrians, but all over the world — are not going to be resettled. They don’t qualify for that sort of protection.
        — Daryl Grisgraber

        But King and other lawmakers from both parties said they had heard government officials and security experts express concern that the self-proclaimed Islamic State and other militant groups might try to use Syrian refugee programs as a gateway to carry out terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe.  

        Gaps in intelligence

        Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation said there were two main reasons why refugees from the conflict in Syria could pose a greater risk than refugees from past wars.

        “First, [there are] more foreign fighters than we have seen in any modern battlefield, and second, our intelligence picture is clearly much worse,” he said.

        All of the witnesses at Wednesday's hearing agreed that the U.S. has a void of human intelligence sources in Syria and no partner in the Syrian government to help vet Syrian refugees.  

        Most of Syria’s refugees have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

        King asked if it would make sense for the U.S. to focus on vetting refugees who have settled in Jordan. The witnesses agreed that Jordan most likely has the best vetting system to make sure refugees do not have terrorist ties, but said the U.S. would still need to conduct its own time-consuming, multilayered process, which would include personal interviews with would-be asylum seekers.

        The United States has taken in only about 1,000 Syrian refugees so far, while Germany has taken in an estimated 30,000. The experts at the hearing pointed out that Syrian refugees are arriving in Germany by taking the North Africa-Mediterranean route, and Germany decided to carry out a special program for Syrians.

        Humanitarian aid called vital

        Daryl Grisgraber of the relief organization Refugees International, based in Washington, told VOA that while the resettlement process is slow, the U.S. is the world's No. 1 provider of humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees.

        "I think continuing to send humanitarian aid to the region is extremely important," he said. "Because the fact is that the huge majority of refugees — not just Syrians, but all over the world — are not going to be resettled.  They don’t qualify for that sort of protection.”

        Grisgraber said the U.S. and the international community should also step up efforts to forge a political solution to the bloody conflict, so that Syria again becomes a safe place for its citizens to live.