The Assad regime last weekend launched an offensive into southwest Syria aimed at dividing opposition forces in Daraa province and reasserting government control over the region.
Why it matters: The regime campaign, backed by Russian airpower, has already displaced at least 45,000 civilians — many seeking shelter along Jordan's closed border — and that number could soon reach 200,000. The UN has warned that a full-scale offensive could put as many as 750,000 lives at risk and prove as bloody as the sieges of “eastern Aleppo and eastern Ghouta combined" (which included the use of chemical weapons).
The details: Syria’s southwest is a strategically sensitive area that borders Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. The new regime offensive is taking place in a “de-escalation zone” negotiated last year by the U.S., Jordan and Russia — an agreement that decreased violence and lowered tensions between Israel and Iran over the latter’s presence in the area. This could all now change, and an Iranian role in the regime offensive could drag Israel deeper into the fight.
What’s next: There is a small window to prevent a worst-case scenario. The parties to the de-escalation agreement could try to resuscitate it, but no such effort appears underway. Although Moscow has reportedly reached out to Washington to broker a deal under which opposition fighters would turn over positions to regime forces, it is unclear if Washington could compel that outcome even if it wanted to.
If diplomacy cannot slow the fighting, the humanitarian situation will deteriorate. Most assistance to Syrians in the southwest is delivered via UN cross-border relief operations from Jordan. But if violence escalates, those operations could cease. If Jordan continues to keep its doors closed, displaced Syrians will be left to languish in informal settlements along the border or try their luck in areas controlled by the regime.
Hardin Lang is vice president for programs and policy at Refugees International.
This piece originally appeared here.
Refugees International expresses its outrage and deeply sadness with the news that seven members of the Syrian Civil Defense (the White Helmets) were killed in a recent attack. The White Helmets are an extraordinary humanitarian organization that provides a beacon of hope for Syrians caught up in the brutal conflict.
Refugees International is shocked and saddened to learn about the deaths this weekend of eight White Helmets volunteers in apparent Syrian government airstrikes. The strikes reportedly hit a center run by the Syria Civil Defense, the rescue group also known as the White Helmets. The airstrike was one of the deadliest against for the White Helmets organization, which works to assist and rescue civilians struggling to survive the six-year-old Syrian civil war.
MARCH 15, 2017, 2:26 PM| Six years ago, the Syrian civil war began. Daryl Grisgraber, senior advocate for Refugees International, joins CBSN to discuss what's next for the war-torn country.
RI President Michel Gabaudan spoke with UNHCR Chief Spokesperson Melissa Fleming about her book A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival, in which she tells the story of a young Syrian woman’s journey from Syria to Europe.
View the video here.
Read the original article here.
HOW TO LOSE THE WAR ON TERROR
By Robin Wright
January 25, 2017
Last July, anguished by the war in Syria and the plight of millions fleeing the grisly six-year conflict, Andrea Dettelbach e-mailed her rabbi at Temple Sinai, in Washington, D.C. She suggested that the synagogue sponsor a Syrian refugee family. He agreed. Temple Sinai has since raised “unbelievable amounts of money” for the family, she told me, found cell phones to give when they arrive, organized a life-skills team to help with everything from banking to education, and lined up doctors, including a female internist who speaks Arabic. Dettelbach’s basement is full of boxes, of donated furnishings, clothing, a television. “One member of the congregation decided, instead of giving gifts last year, to buy all new pots and pans in the names of her friends.” Temple Sinai partnered with Lutheran Social Services to launch the complex process.
The wait was almost over. “We were expecting a family within a week or two,” she said. “This is the history of the Jewish people and a commitment to helping those in need. As an American, it’s opening our doors to those who seek refuge. It’s who we are as a people. How can we turn our back on them?”
On Wednesday, a draft executive order circulated that would call for an end to all processing and admission of Syrian refugees in the United States. The arrival of Temple Sinai’s refugee family, who have been waiting for years and come so close to finding a safe haven, has now been put off indefinitely, Dettelbach told me. “They were vetted to an inch of their lives. It’s insane to hold them accountable for what is going on in their country—or in our country.”
The eight-page draft order is titled “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals.” It would also halt all refugee admissions and resettlements from any country for the next four months, to allow for a review of vetting procedures. It would order an immediate thirty-day halt to the admission of all people—even for business or trade, family reasons, humanitarian emergencies, or tourism—from Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen, as well as Syria. Trump would also cut the number of visas for refugees worldwide by more than half, to fifty thousand, for 2017.
The draft produced an immediate backlash, for being discriminatory and harmful to the people most desperate for help. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tweeted, “I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity.”
Syrian refugees now account for a quarter of the world’s twenty million refugees. “It’s the most important refugee population in the world,” Michel Gabaudan, the president of Refugees International, told me. “We are extremely troubled. They have fled the very terrorists who we pledge to fight, and to deny them resettlement is to deny help to the most vulnerable. It gives another argument to isis and the radicals who say we’re against people of an entire religion. It’s the wrong message. It will backfire severely against the very aim of this action.”
The draft charges that “hundreds of foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorist-related crimes since September 11, 2001, including foreign nationals who entered the United States after claiming asylum; after receiving visitor, student, or employment visas; or through the U.S. refugee resettlement program.”
The numbers cited in a report by the Rand Corporation, from 2015, challenge this estimate of the threat from Muslim-majority countries. Rand found that the majority of the hundred and eighty-two terrorist plotters since 1990 who were inspired by jihadi ideology and attempted to carry out attacks in the United States or on U.S.-bound flights were already in the United States. “They did not need to travel to the United States, they needed no documentation—they were Americans,” the report, authored by Brian Jenkins, read. “In some respects, identifying terrorist operatives overseas and preventing them from coming here is the easy part. Identifying enemies among us is the big challenge.”
A recent report by the international-security program of New America, a Washington think tank, affirms Rand’s findings. “Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents,” it reads. Even more notable, “every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident. In addition about a quarter of the extremists are converts, further confirming that the challenge cannot be reduced to one of immigration.”
Gabaudan added, “There is no evidence that any refugees since 2001 have committed terrorist acts in the United States. It’s completely false. It’s so gross and inaccurate.” Doris Meissner, the commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 until 2000, and now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, told me the same thing. Syrians face the toughest vetting of any nationality applying for admission to the United States, even though they represent the world’s largest collection of victims, she said.
The terrorism threat from Syrian refugees is low for three reasons, according to Dan Byman, a staff member of the 9/11 Commission, which in 2011 conducted the official inquiry into the Al Qaeda attacks. “First, very few among the refugees support the terrorists,” Byman, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me. “Second, the vetting for the refugees is extensive. Third, the American Muslim community has consistently shown itself to be hostile to terrorism and reports most of the few suspects in their ranks.”
The real danger is the rippling effect that the order would have on allies and enemies—and even at home. Trump’s decision, Byman said, would discourage other countries from taking in refugees. It could legitimize or fuel anti-immigration movements that have been gaining ground across Europe. It could indefinitely set adrift almost five million Syrians sitting in camps in Turkey (2.8 million), Lebanon (one million), Jordan (six hundred and fifty-five thousand), Iraq (two hundred and thirty thousand), and Egypt (a hundred and sixteen thousand), where employment opportunities are often nonexistent and education is limited. Young refugees have few outlets; they are susceptible to criminal and extremist groups. Inside Syria, another six and a half million people are displaced, or forced from their homes; many want to flee.
Jihadi movements—the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and dozens of smaller groups—will almost certainly exploit the move as proof that the West is at war with world’s 1.7 billion Muslims. In a recruitment video last year, an Al Qaeda branch in Somalia showed footage of Trump, then on the campaign trail, proposing his ban of all Muslims from the United States.
A further danger, Byman added, is that Muslims in the United States will feel more alienated “and thus easier to recruit or inspire to be lone wolves. In addition, it may make communities feel they are suspect and decrease vital coöperation with law enforcement. The hostile rhetoric that goes with these bans makes all this more likely.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the draft order. “These orders are a disturbing confirmation of Islamophobic and un-American policy proposals made during the presidential election campaign,” it said in a statement. “Never before in our country’s history have we purposely – as a matter of policy – imposed a ban on immigrants or refugees on the basis of religion, or imposed a religious litmus test on those coming to this nation.”
Lutheran Social Services, which has resettled thousands of displaced persons and refugees, also chastised the Trump Administration. “Today, we are saddened by the potentially tens of thousands of individuals who will lose the opportunity for the chance at starting over; people who will not be able to experience the freedom, safety, and prosperity that has defined generations of immigrants and new American citizens,” it said in a statement e-mailed to me.
Trump’s executive order would undermine a dynamic interfaith initiative—Jews and Christians joining forces to rescue Muslim victims of war. In Washington, Lutheran Social Services has worked with Temple Sinai and other synagogues to foster Syrian refugees. Temple Sinai has, in turn, also worked with a Catholic charity that helps minors coming across the Mexican border.
“It’s some of our greatest interfaith work,” Rabbi Jonathan Roos, of Temple Sinai, told me. The collaboration is also a stark contrast to the deadlock on Middle East peace, which has only deepened animosity between Jews and Muslims.
Temple Sinai’s refugee program is “particularly important for the American Jewish community,” Roos said. “We constantly tell the story of when our refugees were turned away and occasionally sent back to their deaths in Europe. When we say never again a genocide, we also mean we will never again send refugees away to their deaths.” That applies to Muslims, too.
Robin Wright is a contributing writer for newyorker.com, and has written for the magazine since 1988.
RI President Michel Gabaudan discussed the situation in Aleppo, Syria on BBC World News America. View the interview below.
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.
Read the original article here.
U.S. welcomed its 10,000th Syrian refugee — is it time to do more?
As U.S. meets its Syrian refugee goal, a look at how its program stacks up internationally
By Matt Kwong, CBC News Posted: Aug 31, 2016 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Aug 31, 2016 5:11 AM ET
"At least 10,000."
That's how many Syrian refugees U.S. Secretary of State John Kerrypromised last year to welcome by the end of this fiscal year. By Monday, the government had fulfilled its pledge.
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To hear the White House describe it, the effort was a success by several measures, demonstrating an ability to securely resettle migrants fleeing the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, and doing so nearly a month ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline.
But the per capita number of Syrian refugees accepted to the U.S. in fiscal 2016 remains dwarfed by goals set by Canada and some other nations. The 10,000 number might even sound low compared to the target of 65,000 that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed.
Just how low?
"This isn't even the floor. This is the basement," said Jennifer Quigley, the refugee protection advocacy strategist for Human Rights First.
Quigley and other refugee advocates are pushing for the U.S. to double last year's global refugee resettlement goals to 200,000 for the next fiscal year, with half the spots reserved for Syrian migrants.
In a February 2016 report, Oxfam calculated that the U.S. had the capacity to absorb about 170,000 Syrian refugees this calendar year. That's 17 times more than the fiscal year pledge outlined for 2015-2016.
To determine what each nation's responsibility for accepting Syrian refugees ought to be, the humanitarian organization crunched the data based on the size of the economies of select nations and came up with what it calls a Fair Share Analysis
According to that analysis, the U.S. has accepted only seven per cent of what it would be expected to since 2013. Canada, which placed more than 30,000 Syrian refugees since the start of last November alone, had a 239 per cent Fair Share score. The Canadian score was based on a pledge of taking in 36,500 Syrian refugees since 2013.
"Canada has been in a really great place. Canada's just outpacing everybody else, aside from Germany, which is fantastic," Quigley said.
Germany, which settled nearly 42,000 refugees fleeing Syrian since 2013, had contributed 113 per cent of its fair share. Other nations highlighted for their Fair Share contributions included Australia, which scored 64 per cent, Sweden (60 per cent), Finland (85 per cent) and Iceland (63 per cent).
While refugee advocates were pleased the U.S. met its resettlement goals this fiscal year, Oxfam America's Noah Gottschalk notes that the announcement comes at an opportune time. Later this month, President Barack Obama is due to convene a summit on refugees at the United Nations General Assembly.
"At the summit to ask world leaders to do more to resettle refugees, it's incumbent for the U.S. to lead by example in this case," said Gottschalk, Oxfam America's senior policy advisor for humanitarian response.
"That 10,000 is a number we could do in our sleep. We were pushing for 10,000 because we thought it was the bare minimum, a number which, although incredibly modest, was at least a starting point."
The U.S. refugee policy post-Obama could vary widely, depending on political will from Congressional leaders to appropriate enough funds for resettlement programs, as well as the vision of the next president.
Although Clinton has called the 10,000 refugees goal a "good start," she said she wishes to expand the program to 65,000. Her Republican opponent has taken a different tack.
Donald Trump is due to deliver a major speech on immigration today from Phoenix, hours after he meets with President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico. His speech is expected to focus on undocumented illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico, but he may also bring up the U.S.'s handling of the Syrian refugee crisis.
In June, Trump called for the suspension of the State Department's Syrian refugee program, citing security concerns stemming from the "tremendous flow" of migrants.
"We don't know who they are, they have no documentation, and we don't know what they're planning," Trump said during a speech on national security and terrorism following the attack at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, which killed 49 people and wounded 53.
But Gottschalk argues that so-called Trojan Horse concerns about extremists blending in with vulnerable refugee populations are unjustified, cautioning against misinformation by political forces that have sown Islamaphobia.
Those distrustful of refugees often don't understand that they are fleeing the very violent extremism that the U.S. stands against, he says.
"If you're looking at where there's vulnerabilities in the U.S., the refugee program is not it," said Gottschalk.
A bipartisan letter to Congress signed by national security leaders in December 2015 reiterated that point, noting that refugees eligible for resettlement in the U.S. are "vetted more intensively than any other category of traveler" — a rigorous process that can sometimes take more than two years.
Previously, Trump has incorrectly claimed the U.S. has "no system to vet" refugees. His statement was determined to be false by the non-partisan fact-checking project PolitiFact in June.
"There's this narrative that we have no clue who these people are, they're going to show up here, God knows what they're going to do?" said Hans Hogrefe, director of policy at Refugees International. "These are myths and exaggerations and outright defamation against those people who have been carefully vetted and screened."
Welcoming immigrants and vulnerable populations is part of the U.S.'s DNA, Hogrefe says. But he stresses that the burden of hosting refugees can't fall on the U.S. alone.
"We can always do more," he says. "It's not about welcoming a specific number [of refugees]. We have to constantly challenge ourselves and say, can we do more? Can we do better?"
RI President Michel Gabaudan discussed the current situation in Aleppo, Syria on BBC World News America. View the video below.
Read the original article here.
U.S. Is On Target To Accept And Resettle 10,000 Syrian Refugees
August 5, 2016 5:42 PM ET
The Obama administration is on track to make its goal of admitting and resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees before the end of September, despite concerns that Islamic militants could enter with them.
"The current pace of arrivals will continue thru the end of this fiscal year so we may exceed 10,000," said Anne Richard, assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "For next year, we will continue to welcome large numbers of Syrians."
After a slow start, the resettlements accelerated to 8,000 by early August; Syrian who have fled violence and persecution in their country's brutal civil war. More than half of the arrivals are under 18, according to Richard.
"It is moving fast. The month of July has been our busiest month," says Mahmoud Mahmoud, director of Church World Service in Jersey City, New Jersey. Church World Service is one of nine official resettlement agencies that implements the federal program. The Jersey City office resettled five Syrian families in July with more expected in the next two months, says Mahmoud.
"We do expect it to be heavy because we've received notification from the Department of State that they want to meet those numbers."
The Obama administration has been under intense pressure from aid agencies and advocacy groups that raised doubts the resettlement goals would be met. In May, more than half of the Democrats in the Senate signed a letter urging the president to accelerate the program after Canada resettled 25,000 Syrian refugees this year.
The administration's goal is now within sight despite a political backlash from Republicans. The Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, wants to ban anyone coming from an area with terrorism ties and a majority of governors, all but one a Republican, insist Syrian refugees are not welcome because some could pose a security threat. The opposition has grown after last year's terrorist attacks in Paris. State legislatures have proposed laws to bar refugees but state governors have no legal authority to halt federal immigration programs.
The opposition centers on concerns that security screenings are inadequate and Islamist militants could slip in among the newcomers.
Administration officials insist there are no security shortcuts. Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said that "hundreds" of Syrians have been denied entry based on rigorous security check. "Our approval rates are 80 percent our denial rates are 7 percent with the remainder on hold," he said in a State Department briefing on Friday.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters on Wednesday that the increase in arrivals was due to a "surge" of State Department and Homeland Security officials in the region and the vetting has been stepped up. "We have added security checks," he said, in an enhanced process specifically for Syrians.
The roughly 8,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in 38 states where nonprofit groups, faith-based communities, and volunteers organize resettlement.
"We don't just dump them some place in this country," Johnson told reporters, "they are resettled in communities that are able to absorb refugees."
Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International, an advocacy organization based in Washington, said there are multiple checks that begin with the United Nation's refugee agency. UNHCR identifies those who are most vulnerable which typically includes single mothers and children. The total of Syrians admitted to the U.S. include 78 percent women and children.
The U.S. security checks are stringent, he said. "I would even dare to say that if you are running an organization that wants to harm this country, there are much easier ways to come to the U.S. than to come as a resettled refugee."
Still, he said, 10,000 is a modest number compared to the refugees hosted by Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. In Lebanon, one person in four is a refugee.
"I hope that next year the U.S. will increase the number but it's sticking to your commitments," he said referring to the administration goal.
The goal will likely be met before Obama heads to the UN at the end of September to urge world leaders to admit more refugees and step up funding for relief organizations. For countries that host large number of refugees, Obama will urge them to "let refugees work and children to school," says the State Department's Anne Richard. The president is convening a "Refugee Summit" in New York to address a historic surge of civilian displacement, now an international crisis that stems primarily from wars in the Middle East and Africa.
RI President Michel Gabaudan discussed the current situation in the Mediterranean on BBC World News America. View the video below.
RI President Michel Gabaudan moderated a panel at Georgetown University on the experience of three Syrian refugee activists in the U.S. The UNHCR Regional Representative in Washington Shelly Pitterman and the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Simon Henshaw also participated. “Through Our Eyes: Insights from Syrian Refugees in the United States” was held at Georgetown University’s Riggs Library.
View a video of the event here.
Chair of the Board at Refugees International
Trained as a journalist, I was always told to stand a little apart from the story, not to get too wrapped up in the moment. But, what I witnessed last week, along with Refugees International advocate Mark Yarnell, consultant Renata Rendon and Board vice chair Elizabeth Galvin on the Greek island of Lesvos was truly overwhelming. And I was not the only one. Mark who has been with RI for four years said: "I have never encountered a scene like the one we saw on the north coast of Lesvos. That was truly mind blowing and it was important to see it for ourselves." The Mercy Corps protection officer who took us to the coastal town of Skala Sykamias for the arrival of "boats" from Turkey asked me to feel her pounding heart: "It always happens like this. I cannot help it."
At once, the scene was beautiful, poignant and tragic. The boats arrive -- mostly overladen, deflating rafts -- creeping their way to the shore. When the weather is good, you can spy them half a mile away, a vision of orange on the blue sea. As the raft approaches, volunteers on the shore will start waving bright flags to guide the boats to a safe landing, and the Greek coast guard or civilian boats will ride alongside to prevent any last minute tragedy -- someone falling overboard or the boat completely deflating.
There are about 40 to 50 individuals on each of these rickety boats. Men, women, infants pressed shoulder to shoulder, each one wearing a life jacket. This day the color was orange, but near the shoreline there were piles of discarded hues, thrown off upon landing safely.
As soon as the boat touches land, volunteers wade out into the water, forming a human chain, carrying babies, pregnant women and the disabled to shore. They are greeted with a wave of emotion, having survived this leg of their journey. So far in 2015, there have been about 730,000 arrivals to Greece by sea. Around 430,000 of those have landed on Lesvos, because of its proximity to the Turkish coast. In fact, Skala is only about six miles off of Turkey, but the journey can take 45 minutes to four hours, often in the dark of night with treacherous seas. Hundreds have died on this trek and many families have been separated on the journey, with stories of smugglers pushing some family members into one boat and others into another. They come with nothing but what they can carry, often having suitcases with their precious belongings yanked from their hands at the last moment so that more people can be shoved on to the rafts.
When we arrived on Lesvos on Sunday, November 22, there was an eerie lull in the flow of refugees and migrants. Nobody could explain it. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, 135,000 had arrived on the island's shores in October or about 4,500 each day -- a record high. In the first two weeks of November the number slowed to about 3,300 daily. And now, almost none were coming. There were several theories. The weather could be a factor -- a fierce wind was blowing in the wrong direction, but that had happened before. Another thought was that the Turkish government was finally cracking down on smugglers, because the European Union (the EU) was putting pressure on it to do so. (Actually, that is now happening. Just yesterday, the Turkish coast guard arrested around 1,300 refugees and migrants and three smugglers near Ayvacik, the place in Turkey from which the crowded boats launch for Lesvos. This probably resulted from an agreement between Turkey and the EU, signed on Sunday, November 29, wherein Turkey will try to halt the flow in exchange for $3 billion in aid for 2.2 million Syrians already in Turkey.) The third possible reason for the lull was quite simple: the supply of inflatable rafts had dried up. After all, between 8000 and 10,000 have found their way to Lesvos alone this year. Few of these boats ever make a return trip and now, slashed and deflated, are littering the Greek coast.
But by mid-week last week, refugees and migrants were again coming to shore by the thousands and we hear that the numbers are continuing today. Smugglers on the Turkish side often charge upwards of 900 Euros ($954) for adults and 400 ($424) Euros for children. The Syrian couple we met had paid $2800 for their five young children and themselves and made it in two hours. They had fled Damascus weeks ago, spent a full month in Istanbul making connections and awaiting word. Like most of those we met, they are not intending to stay in Greece. Their destination is Germany.
With winter coming on, it is difficult to know if this is an impossible dream or not. Sitting outside the relief site where they will receive free bus tickets to Mytilene, the capital, and then be able to buy ferry tickets to Piraeus on the Greek mainland, this Syrian family was relishing one small victory.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan recently wrote about the presidential contest: "We all need to be stirred. We need to know and believe the breakthrough is possible, the fight against the odds will end in victory, something good is just around the corner." In fact, this sentiment applies across our lives. For those standing on the shores of Lesvos as these boats arrived one after the other -- Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis crammed shoulder to shoulder -- it was stirring.
Read the original article here.
Daryl Grisgraber appeared on the PBS Newshour to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis. View the video below.
Daryl Grisgraber was interviewed for NPR's Morning Edition on the Gulf States role in the Syrian refugee crisis. Listen to the interview below.
RI President Michel Gabaudan discuss the refugee crisis in Europe and Syria on BBC World News America. View the interview below.