Daryl Grisgraber

The Thousandth Cut: Eliminating U.S. Humanitarian Assistance To Gaza

The Thousandth Cut: Eliminating U.S. Humanitarian Assistance To Gaza

Today, some two million people are effectively trapped in a space of 140 square miles without reliable access to clean water, sufficient food, adequate medical care, or the ability to make a living. Living conditions in Gaza are the worst they have ever been, and Daryl Grisgraber presents a sobering picture of a humanitarian crisis that is worsening.

Idlib: Protection of Civilians Must Come First

Idlib: Protection of Civilians Must Come First

In Syria, the population of Idlib is bracing for what promises to be a brutal offensive by the Assad regime. When Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran discuss Idlib’s fate later this week, they must remember that the lives of millions of civilians hang on their ability to find a peaceful resolution to this situation.

Investing in Syria’s Future Through Local Groups

Investing in Syria’s Future Through Local Groups

As northeast Syria recovers from occupation by ISIS, there is an important opportunity to strengthen the capacity of local humanitarian groups to help the region recover. These groups work in IDP camps, in host communities, with the displaced, with residents who never left, and with IDP and refugee returnees. They provide a range of services from food distribution to health care to shelter assistance in places where many international aid organizations do not or cannot have a presence. However, these groups are significantly limited in what they can achieve due to scarce funding and lack of capacity.

Syrians Have the Right to Seek Asylum But Not the Means

Syrians Have the Right to Seek Asylum But Not  the Means

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes clear the right of every human being to seek safety in another country.  But eight years into the Syrian conflict, this most basic of human rights barely matters because there is so little leeway for people to leave Syrian territory in the first place.  If the international community truly wants to help Syrians, it must insist that Syria’s neighbors open their borders, and it needs to offer financial, technical and humanitarian assistance to make that happen. 

U.S. Disengagement Could Jeopardize Fragile Stability in Northeast Syria

U.S. Disengagement Could Jeopardize Fragile Stability in Northeast Syria

The United States and other donors have an important opportunity to consolidate stability in northeast Syria, which has been largely liberated from the Islamic State. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have begun to return home, but much work remains to be done with major population centers like Raqqa still riddled with explosive devices and basic services still to be restored. Actions by the Trump administration, however, threaten to unravel fragile progress on the ground.

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.

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Mosul, Raqqa: The Humanitarian Crises Continue

Mosul, Raqqa: The Humanitarian Crises Continue

Following the liberation of Raqqa, Syria from ISIS control, Daryl Grisgraber looks at the humanitarian needs of internally displaced people and of those who remained during the conflict.  The physical and logistical obstacles to providing humanitarian aid may be fewer with the end of the fighting, but in a sense aid organizations are now playing catch-up with people whom they couldn’t previously serve adequately or at all. 

Guilt by Association: Iraqi Women Detained and Subject to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

Guilt by Association: Iraqi Women Detained and Subject to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

After the liberation of Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS) occupation in July 2017, Refugees International (RI) traveled to Iraq to examine the specific challenges faced by women and girls in the aftermath of the military operation. Among the most urgent issues are the detention and sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) of Iraqi women and girls perceived or alleged to be affiliated with ISIS by Iraqi Security Forces and other Iraqi authorities.

Too Much Too Soon: Displaced Iraqis and the Push to Return Home

Too Much Too Soon: Displaced Iraqis and the Push to Return Home

The battle against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq is in its late stages, but in the aftermath of the conflict new challenges arise. There are 11 million people in Iraq who need humanitarian assistance. The original causes of their vulnerability—conflict and displacement—may be lessening, but their unmet daily needs remain.

Can Iraq’s Internally Displaced Return?

Can Iraq’s Internally Displaced Return?

Six weeks ago, Refugees International traveled to Iraq to meet with and assess the needs of internally displaced people (IDPs) about returning home to cities and towns liberated from ISIS control. Mosul had just been declared liberated even though conflict continued in the west of the city, and already there was talk of who could go back, when, and to what. There was also plenty of discussion about who could not go back, right now or maybe ever.

Surviving the ISIS Occupation: The Struggle Isn’t Over

Surviving the ISIS Occupation: The Struggle Isn’t Over

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), a dusty camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) houses about 5,000 Iraqis, many of whom fled the Islamic State (ISIS) when the extremist group seized control of their villages in northern Iraq. In its attack on Sinjar during the summer of 2014, ISIS murdered or abducted thousands—and to this day, survivors do not know the fate of family members who disappeared in the ISIS assault. Many of the people who were able to avoid or escape the Sinjar massacre had come to Iraqi Kurdistan for safety.

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.

Aid Inside Syria: Time to Go Small in a Bigger Way

Aid Inside Syria: Time to Go Small in a Bigger Way

Many of the Syrian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in Turkey and providing humanitarian aid inside Syria have reached a high level of organizational and operational capacity that was previously absent. The capacity-building initiatives of multiple donors, United Nations agencies, and international non-governmental organization (INGO) partners have helped a number of these groups develop their ability to provide humanitarian responses in accordance with international standards and to be effectively involved in the international coordination structure that was previously out of reach to them.

Support Local Syrian Aid Groups. They Are Saving Lives.

Support Local Syrian Aid Groups. They Are Saving Lives.

The sixth anniversary of the Syria conflict is upon us.  In those six years, five million Syrians have become refugees in neighboring countries.  Inside Syria, six and a half million people are displaced from home, and 13.5 million need humanitarian aid to survive even as humanitarian needs continue to grow. The situation for 2017 does not look promising. A hopeful development of the past half decade of the Syria conflict has been the growth of dozens—even hundreds—of local Syrian groups and networks delivering aid inside Syria and their ability to get aid across the border from Turkey into Syria.  These groups have become an essential element of assisting people inside Syria, especially in places the United Nations and INGOs cannot get to because of security concerns. 

CNN: Iraqi forces recapture key air base near Mosul

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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

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      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.