Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Who will Speak Up for the Refugees?

Afghan refugees pin their hopes on Rouhani
Taher Shir Mohammadi
31 July 2013


Some two million Afghan refugees live in Iran. Under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, their situation deteriorated. Many are now hoping that with the election of Rouhani, their circumstances will change for the better.
Afghans have sought refuge in neighboring Iran for decades, escaping intermittent war in their homeland, from the Soviet invasion in 1979 to the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 and the ensuing insurgency. But Afghan refugees face a precarious existence in the Islamic Republic, with many of them having immigrated illegally. According to the Iranian Interior Ministry, only half of the refugees have valid visas.
"Many refugees are considered 'illegal foreigners' und end up in jail," said Kamal, an Afghan refugee in the southern Iranian city of Ahwaz. "For example, 300 families were recently sent to the camp 'Mollasani' in the western city of Gotvand."
"Immigrants are neither allowed to sign a lease for an apartment, nor leave the city," Kamal said. "Their papers are confiscated."
According to the UN refugee agency's Tehran chief, Bernard Doyle, the Iranian government has adopted these restrictive measures because it fears for the security in its own country. Tehran wants to prevent the instability in neighboring Afghanistan from spilling across the border into Iran, Doyle said.
High unemployment, arbitrary arrests
In order to provide for their families, many refugees work as day laborers, often on construction sites or in brick factories. But there is not enough work to go around, and they usually don't have a work permit.
"The high unemployment among the refugees is a big problem," said Gholamali, an Afghan refugee. He said that refugees who manage to land a job, only obtain a short-term work permit. Extensions are often drawn out or rejected altogether.
"The biggest problem is the increasingly arbitrary arrests of refugees," said Seyyed Sharif Saeidi, a spokesman for the Afghan Refugee Association in Iran. "The security forces treat us badly. Many of our countrymen, who sought refuge here during the Soviet invasion and built a life in Iran, have now been forced to leave the country."
Rising costs of living
The international sanctions against Iran have made the economic situation worse. People in Iran are currently suffering under a weakening currency, rising food prices and a shortage of medicine. Afghan refugees also feel the pain of sanctions.
"Since the tightening of sanctions, Iranians have received financial help," said Nuri Agha, a refugee. "But we Afghans have to pay for our visas and work permits in addition to the rising costs of living."
According to Doyle with the UN refugee agency, the sanctions have not only led to a deteriorating economic situation for the refugees, but they are also facing growing discrimination by the Iranian population.
Representatives of Afghan refugees in Iran say that 400,000 Afghan children have not received permission from the authorities to attend school. In big cities like Isfahan, they are banned from visiting parks.
"Afghans in Iran are third-class citizens," said Seyyed Sharif Saeidi.
Afghans pin their hopes on Rouhani
Saeidi and many Afghan immigrants now hope that with the new president, Hassan Rouhani, there will be a new era in refugee policy. Representatives of Afghan refugees were among the first to congratulate Rouhani for his election victory. They are calling on the new president to find solutions to the problems that Afghans face in Iran. But the international community also has to make concessions, according to the refugee Gholamali.
"We refugees hope that the sanctions against Iran will be lifted," he said. "This can positively influence our situation."
The Afghan refugees hope that it will become easier to extend their visas and work permits with Rouhani in office. According to Gholamali, his last work permit was extended only 40 days. It's uncertain whether his permit will be extended again after Rouhani takes office, or if he'll be deported back to Afghanistan.
Normalization of relations
During Ahmadinejad's government, the unresolved situation of Afghan refugees in Iran led to tensions between Kabul and Tehran. After his election victory, Rouhani promised to normalize relations with Iran and its neighboring countries, including Afghanistan.
Ramazan Jumazade, a representative in the Afghan parliament in Kabul, said that he hopes Rouhani can bring change for the refugees in Iran.
"We are hoping for a policy change in Iran and that President Rouhani's announced 'policy of the middle' can improve the situation for Afghan refugees."
The only words left to say to Syria’s refugees
By Shannon Gormley
Ottawa Citizen
July 29, 2013
Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Welcome to Lebanon.”
Since moving from Canada to Beirut, I’ve heard these words almost every day. Often they’re offered as a flippant apology for the country’s slipshod state of affairs. Why is the Internet so slow? “Welcome to Lebanon.” Why is the power out again? “Welcome to Lebanon.” Why are militiamen playing backgammon outside our apartment building? “Welcome to Lebanon.”
More often, though, the words are offered as a sincere expression of hospitality. After, say, serving a cup of coffee, or extending an invitation for a home-cooked meal, or — in the case of one kind stranger — chasing me for two blocks with a box of bandages in hand as I limped down the street in too-tight shoes.
But the most profound proof of Lebanese hospitality lies in the nation’s treatment of Syrian refugees. From the moment that Bashar Assad’s forces opened fire on protesters, this tiny, resilient, indefatigably generous country has opened its borders and its homes, making room for a traumatized population that will soon be a quarter of its own size.
To every war-weary Syrian who asks for refuge, the Lebanese have soberly but emphatically spoken three life-saving words: “Welcome to Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, Canada says something entirely different. This month, then Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney boasted that by the end of 2014, Canada will have resettled 1,300 Syrian refugees.
The Lebanese can be forgiven if they scoff at that number: in Lebanon, about 1,300 Syrians register with the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees every five hours.
Anywhere from 600,000 to one million Syrian refugees now live in a country that isn’t much bigger than the Greater Toronto Area. If Damascus falls — and Damascus may fall — that number could exceed two million by the time Canada has got around to settling its 1,300.
In Lebanon, it’s not just the government that has welcomed the refugees: approximately 100,000 Syrians — the ones who aren’t squatting in abandoned buildings and sleeping on sidewalks — now dwell in the bedrooms and backyards of Lebanese families. Many of these new housemates had never met until they were introduced by war. But the fact that they were strangers didn’t stop the Lebanese from welcoming the Syrians as guests.
Because, for the Lebanese, when your nation finds on its doorstep people whose homes have been bulldozed and whose relatives have been slaughtered and whose lives have been turned into something that scarcely resembles life at all, there is only one thing to say.
Here, they say it even though their sewers overflow with more waste than they can process. They say it even though their schools can’t teach all the refugee children who will soon outnumber their own children, who don’t know their curriculum and can’t speak all three of their languages. They say it even though their hospitals are cramped with more patients than they can treat, that crawl with more infections and illnesses than they can cure.
And even though, as they are saying it, sectarian tensions are rising and unemployment is rising and the wave of refugees flooding the country may well keep rising until its infrastructure drowns, still they say, “Welcome to Lebanon.”
Despite what they say, there is only so much the Lebanese can do. They have more generosity than they have resources. So far, they’ve accomplished the impossible: absorbing a population of greater needs than can be met and of greater size than can be accommodated. They cannot accomplish the impossible forever though, and they know it: last week, stiffer identity checks were imposed at the border for Syrians. And the world cannot expect Lebanon (along with Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq) to continue to accomplish the impossible on its own.
The host countries need other countries to become hosts themselves. Not token hosts, who open the door a crack when it needs to be ripped off its hinges. And not discriminating hosts, who pick and choose the refugees they would most prefer to save. Hosts that are prepared to face the impossible challenge that Assad has tossed on the doorstep of the world.
Canadians earn five times more than Lebanese people, and Canada’s land mass is almost a thousand times greater than Lebanon’s. We have both the money and the space to help. We need to do more — the Lebanese are doing a lot more with a lot less.
Resettlement is a woefully insufficient solution to a humanitarian disaster of this scale. There may be no solution to the calamity that has scorched Syria and inflamed the Middle East. But boasting about resettling a thousand refugees, when a country of remarkably smaller size and means settles hundreds of thousands? That’s far worse than insufficient. It’s insulting. And it’s inhumane.
Our country has to share Lebanon’s burden by echoing its words. To as many Syrian refugees as it can usher in, it must say, emphatically and indefatigably: “Welcome to Canada.”
Shannon Gormley is a journalist currently based in Beirut.
Refugees are Humans. Growing Refugee Numbers, Escalating Worldwide Social Crisis
By Iman Safi
Global Research, July 29, 2013
Url of this article:
Iman Safi, who lives in Australia, draws from his experiences of being caught up in the midst of the civil war in Lebanon, coming from a country/region formerly identified as Syria, divided by the Sykes Picot agreement a century ago, engulfed at times in debilitating sectarianism, international interference and agendas played out by various internal and external forces as well as all the issues related to Israel.
He believes that, through his experiences, understanding current/past events in Syria is sadly very clear to him and that Syria’s story serves as an incredible lesson on many levels for the entire world. He felt moved to write this Op-Ed as he saw debate around refugees and asylum seekers in Australia ignoring very important issues, issues which hardly are touched upon, if at all, in the current narrative occupying Australian media and debate.

Felicity Arbuthnot, July 29, 2013
Refugees are Humansby

Iman Safi
The issue of refugees continues to plague the world with a reality that it prefers to ignore. But the world will either have to face it or opt to continue ignoring it at the risk of having to deal with graver consequences sooner or later.
The number of registered refugees has risen significantly over the last few years, and the nations that are would-be recipients of refugees are confronted with policies they need to have in place, with growing concerns amongst their voters regarding numbers of refugees hitting their home turf. Whilst many of the would-be refugee recipient countries are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention, the out-dated criteria and definitions of that 1951 Convention do not deal with the current problems.
The Australian government has recently signed a deal with the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG). According to this arrangement, simply put, all refugees on boats journeying to Australia will never be allowed to settle in Australia.
With the current number of world refugees standing at 41 million, such a measure may deter refugees from seeking refuge in Australia. But what will happen when the world refugee figures is increased to 100 million, 500 million? Is this far-fetched? Not really.
It is easy for the Australian Greens and other humanitarians, as well as some NGO’s, to criticise governments or major political parties. In fact, the position of the Australian Greens about the PNG deal had the hallmarks of political gain rather than proper criticism. A cynic can clearly see that the PNG deal gave the Greens a field day, but at the end of the day, they not only failed to address what makes refugees refugees - they offered no alternative policies.
The Greens appear to want to be humanitarian and benevolent. If they had it their way, one should ask them, how many of the world’s 41 million refugees do they think Australia should take? If they open up the doors for the boats, and this seems to be their only vague policy, how will they deal with the consequences of the precedent they will be setting for the refugees – and their smugglers?
The current PNG option has not yet been tested, and it may or may not work. If it does, it may work for as long as the number of boats is manageable. But, PNG may not turn out to be a bad enough alternative to deter refugees anyway. This will all depend on what refugees are running away from and what they view as preferable alternatives.
Thus far, each of the receiving countries has been trying to single-handedly deal with the problem in a manner that serves their own short-term interests and appease their own voters. What they are totally ignoring are three main points:
1. Addressing the reasons that create refugees
2. Adopting a global approach to solving the problem
3. Having policies that will be able to deal with much higher numbers
At the present time, the fact that wealthy nations, most of whom would be refugee recipients, are contributing greatly in creating global inequity. They are conducting needless wars, exploiting resources, imposing sanctions, using the underdeveloped world as a venue for slave labour and more, thus hugely contributing to creating the refugee “problem.”
These conditions have created many refugees from countries such as Palestine, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq , Iran, Syria, to name very few.
This basic aspect is currently totally ignored by the culprits, who, instead of addressing it and accepting their responsibility and role, adopt very shy refugee intake policies. With this prevailing attitude, it would not be unrealistic to assume that for every refugee they take in, they turn away ten, and maybe create one hundred.
What is also often overlooked is that by far, the highest numbers of refugees settle in neighbouring countries that are not in a position to take refugees. Jordan, a country of limited resources and very little water to supply the needs of its 6.5 million citizens, had to accept one million Iraqi refugees and most of them are still unable to return home 10 years on.
Jordan, a decade later, was again inundated by another wave of refugees, another million, this time from Syria. This figure is not officially confirmed, but the figures available show it to be about accurate. This amounts to one third of the country’s own population. This is equivalent to Australia being inundated by 7 million refugees, or the USA inundated by 100 million refugees.
A global approach needs to be based on understanding the underlying facts behind the problem. Thus, nations that have been bigger contributors to the problem should bear the bigger responsibility in resolving it by way of accepting more refugees, that they have, in reality, created.
The way the world is currently, makes it unlikely to expect that the above is foreseeable. But as problems generally get worse when not addressed at the right time and in the right manner, the refugee problem could escalate to an extent that in the absence of a realistic global moratorium, individual nations, may move further and further to the right and their constituencies become more radicalized.
In Australia, the Australian Labour Party (ALP) and the Liberals are already competing in their draconian approaches. The ALP changed course in light of over 20,000 refugees arriving annually “illegally” by boats. The Greens are not offering any real policies other than criticizing the major parties.
Being an island nation, Australia is in a fortunate position that under any situation, provided that its surveillance is up to scratch, it will be able to detect refugees, spotting them long before they arrive. Other would-be refugee recipient nations often have no such facilities.
Spotting them is one thing, dealing with them is another. In the absence of a proper global approach, what will nations like Australia do if or when the numbers rise ten folds or more?
If the rich world (aka the “Free World”) continues to exploit poorer nations, to ravage their homelands with needless wars, exploit their resources, pollute their land and water, build factories that are best described as slave labour camps, it cannot continue to wipe its hands of, and pretend to be a part of the solution when in fact it is the main cause, instigator and major contributor to the problem.
If this neo-colonialist “contribution” can be stopped, the world can then turn to face dealing with “real refugees”, environmental refugees, drought, earth-quake and other natural disasters refugees. Aid organizations can then be better able to focus on nation-building programs rather than refugee-camp building programs. Thus, the intake of refugee migrants can then be dealt with realistically and effectively.
Depending on how quickly the problem escalates, how high the refugee numbers grow and how many manage to dodge border security measures of the receiving nations, depending on how to the right world policies shift and what moves the sentiments of voters at the time, slogans such as “stop the boats” may be rewritten to say “bomb the boats”, and they may become the clincher to put a PM in Australia’s Lodge or even a President in USA’s White House.
If the world continues to sweep this tragedy underneath the carpet and continues to create more refugees, we may one day witness air-force planes and drones programmed to bomb boats of specific shapes sizes and colours.
We may see naval ships bombing refugee boats at sea without prior warning, and trade ships banned from picking up victims at the pain of getting bombed themselves.
Is this scenario too far-fetched? It is for now, but if countries like Australia start receiving 1000 boats a day (and the USA receive ten-fold), then desperate calls will attract desperate measures - this applying to both the refugees and the nations they are seeking refuge in.
The situation of refugees could become so dire, they will be prepared to take ever higher risks - risks that those who have not lived through the terror of war will never, ever understand.
Copyright © 2013 Global Research

Unaccompanied child refugees pouring into Canada
Nearly 2,000 asylum seekers averaging 10 years old entered Canada in last five years
July 26, 2013
More than 300 unaccompanied minors are pouring into Canada seeking refugee status every year, a CBC News investigation has found.
According to the Canada Border Services Agency, 1,937 children averaging 10 years old have arrived in Canada since 2008 with no parents and no documents, fleeing war, poverty and other adversity in their home countries. The biggest influx came in 2009 when 460 kids crossed the border.

"These kids are of varying ages, varying sophistication, they've all had something terrible happen to them which is why they're here," said lawyer Christine Lonsdale, who leads the Unaccompanied Minors Project at law firm McCarthy Tetrault.
Nearly half of the young asylum-seekers arrive in Quebec or Atlantic Canada.
CBC's Ron Charles followed the story of Ahmed Mohammed, an Iraqi refugee whose parents spent $20,000 to spirit him out of the country, through Turkey and the U.S. to arrive in Canada alone at age
Watch the video for the full story.