Islam is reshaping Europe

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Robert Kaplan writes: Orientalism, through which one culture appropriated and dominated another, is slowly evaporating in a world of cosmopolitan interactions and comparative studies, as [Edward] Said intuited it might. Europe has responded by artificially reconstructing national-cultural identities on the extreme right and left, to counter the threat from the civilization it once dominated.

Although the idea of an end to history — with all its ethnic and territorial disputes — turns out to have been a fantasy, this realization is no excuse for a retreat into nationalism. The cultural purity that Europe craves in the face of the Muslim-refugee influx is simply impossible in a world of increasing human interactions.

“The West,” if it does have a meaning beyond geography, manifests a spirit of ever more inclusive liberalism. Just as in the 19th century there was no going back to feudalism, there is no going back now to nationalism, not without courting disaster. [Continue reading…]

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College student is removed from Southwest Airlines flight because he spoke Arabic

The New York Times reports: A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.

The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland on April 6 after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he attended that included a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.

He told his uncle about the chicken dinner they were served and the moment when he got to stand up and ask the secretary general a question about the Islamic State, he said. But the conversation seemed troubling to a nearby passenger, who told the crew she overheard him making “potentially threatening comments,” the airline said in a statement.

Mr. Makhzoomi, 26, knew something was wrong as soon as he finished his phone call and saw that a woman sitting in front of him had turned around in her seat to stare at him, he said. She headed for the airplane door soon after he told his uncle that he would call again when he landed, and qualified it with a common phrase in Arabic, “inshallah,” meaning “god willing.”

“That is when I thought, ‘Oh, I hope she is not reporting me,’ because it was so weird,” Mr. Makhzoomi said.

That is exactly what happened. An Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent came to his seat and escorted him off the plane a few minutes after his call ended, he said. The man introduced himself in Arabic and then switched to English to ask, “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?” [Continue reading…]

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How Iran coerced Afghan refugees to fight in Syria for Assad

BBC News reports: As the five-year conflict in Syria grinds on, BBC Persian has found evidence that Iran is sending thousands of Afghan men to fight alongside Syrian government forces.

The men, who are mainly ethnic Hazaras, are recruited from impoverished and vulnerable migrant communities in Iran, and sent to join a multi-national Shia Muslim militia – in effect a “Foreign Legion” – that Iran has mobilised to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Many have since fled the battlefield and joined the refugee trail to Europe.

In a small town in Germany, we meet “Amir”, an Afghan man in his early twenties.

He was born to refugee parents in Isfahan, Iran, and is now himself an asylum seeker in Europe.

Like most of the almost three million Afghans in Iran, he lived as a second-class citizen.

Without legal residency or identity documents, he found it hard to get an education or a job. Fear of arrest and deportation was a daily reality.

It was difficult to move around freely, get a driving license or even buy a Sim card for his mobile phone.
But one day, Amir received an offer that changed everything.

“Some Afghans, who were close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, approached me and my mates at the mosque,” he said.

“They suggested we go to Syria to help defend the Shia holy shrines from Daesh,” he added, using an acronym for the previous name of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

“They said we’d get passports and have an easy life afterwards. We’d be like Iranian citizens and could buy cars, houses…” [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis takes 12 refugees back to Vatican after trip to Greece

The New York Times reports: Pope Francis made an emotional visit into the heart of Europe’s migrant crisis on Saturday and took 12 Muslim refugees from Syria, including six children, with him back to Rome aboard the papal plane.

The action punctuated the pope’s pleas for sympathy to the plight of the refugees just as European attitudes are hardening against them.

Those taken to Rome were three families — two from Damascus and one from the eastern city of Deir al-Zour — whose homes had been bombed in the Syrian war, the Vatican said in a statement as the pope departed the Greek island of Lesbos.

”The pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees,” the statement said, adding that the Vatican would care for the three families.

The announcement capped a brief trip by the pope to Greece that again placed the plight of migrants at the center of his papacy.

“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” Francis said during a lunchtime visit to the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, where leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches joined him.

“As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf,” Francis continued. “We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”

Francis’ first papal trip in 2013 was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, to call attention to the refugees who were arriving there from Libya — or drowning before they reached shore. During his February visit to Mexico, Francis prayed beneath a large cross erected in Ciudad Juárez, just footsteps from the Mexican border with the United States, and then celebrated Mass nearby, where he spoke about immigrants. [Continue reading…]

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Thousands of refugees flee for Turkish border after surprise ISIS attack

The Guardian reports: A new wave of refugees has fled northern Syria for the Turkish border after Islamic State opened fire on communities that had sheltered them, killing at least three people and uprooting thousands more.

The killings came as the terror group pushed back Syrian opposition forces who had edged to within five miles of Dabiq, a highly symbolic village that the group’s leaders believe is the pre-ordained epicentre of a clash that will herald an apocalyptic showdown.

The Isis advance appeared to catch the opposition off guard after 12 days of gains in the same area, which had seen it move closer to Dabiq than at any time in the past three years. [Continue reading…]

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Syrian refugees in Lebanon are falling into slavery and exploitation

By Katharine Jones, Coventry University

Five years after the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Syrians now make up the largest refugee population in the world. Of the 5m women, men and children who fled Syria, more than 1m sought protection in Syria’s neighbour and former “colony”, Lebanon. But safety eludes them: hundreds of thousands of refugees who’ve fled to Lebanon now face abject poverty, living in precarious and often unsafe accommodation, and scraping by with the barest of means.

A new report from the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University, supported by the Freedom Fund, has also found that more and more refugees in Lebanon are falling prey to slavery and exploitation.

One of the biggest problems is child labour. We estimate that 60-70% of Syrian refugee children (those under 18) in Lebanon are working. Rates are even higher in the Beqaa Valley in the east of the country, where children aged as young as five pick beans, figs and potatoes. In towns and cities, Syrian children work on the streets, begging, selling flowers or tissues, shining shoes, and cleaning car windscreens. Children also work in markets, factories, auto repair shops, aluminium factories, grocery and coffee shops, in construction and running deliveries.

Syrian families in Lebanon are increasingly marrying their young teenage daughters to older Syrian men, usually aged in their twenties and thirties. While we did not find evidence of child trafficking as has been reported in the refugee camps of Jordan, girls often do not consent to these marriages, and they cannot realistically choose to leave their husbands. Once married, they very probably have no choice about whether or when to have sex, and are likely to face domestic violence.

Beyond child marriage, sexual exploitation is a growing issue for female refugees in Lebanon. Humanitarian organisations in Lebanon often talk about “survival sex” among refugee populations – for example, sex as a form of payment to people smugglers.

[Read more…]

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The new Europeans

The New York Times reports: Among the first Syrians to show up in Eisenärzt was Yasser, a stocky, 37-year-old seaman from the Syrian port city Latakia. When the bus dropped him off in front of his new home, Yasser told me, he had the sense that none of this strange new reality could be his. He said he had felt that way since a day last summer, when he was working on a ship bound for Tartus, Syria, and received word from a friend back home that uniformed men were looking for him. Until then, life in Latakia had still been manageable, despite the war. The city, a stronghold of Bashar al-Assad, had not seen the kind of fighting that has shattered other parts of the country. Yasser told me that he could still find work at sea to provide for himself and his wife, an architect in her mid 20s. They had lived a good life in Latakia; he had decorated their home with various souvenirs from his international travel — a sword from China, a tiger sculpture from Sierra Leone. In his free time, he rode his Suzuki motorcycle, and the roar of its 1,000-c.c. engine was a source of pleasure and pride. Yasser told me that he completed his mandatory military service years ago, but the men in uniform wanted to re-enlist him to fight for Assad. He could not fathom fighting for any side in the conflict. “I cannot hit a cat,” he told me. Rather than return to Syria, Yasser said he disembarked from his ship off Istanbul and joined the human tide making its way to the European Union. His wife remained in Latakia. (Yasser, like many other Syrians I met in Germany, asked that I withhold his last name to protect the safety of relatives back home.)

[In September, when] Yasser arrived at the Mallersdorfer Sisters’ former residence [which had been sold to the municipality for the purpose of housing asylum seekers], he was shown to his single room on an upper floor and greeted by the caretaker of the residence, Beni Beilhack, a multiple-pierced 36-year-old with thinning hair and a persistent smile. In the following days, Yasser, bored, began to follow Beilhack around, hoping to help with work around the residence. Eventually, Beilhack delegated some tasks to Yasser: repairing a broken doorknob, blowing leaves off the hiking trails near the residence. By October, Beilhack had outfitted Yasser with work clothes and made him his unofficial assistant. The two communicated with a peculiar mix of English, German and Arabic. Under Yasser’s tutelage, Beilhack’s command of Arabic profanities expanded rapidly, and Beilhack dispensed this knowledge liberally throughout his workday, to the delight of many of the young Syrian men. Beilhack, who worked as a truck driver before the Syrians came to town, told me he did not miss his old job, and he seemed to relish his interaction with the Syrians. He started inviting Yasser to family dinners. After school, Beilhack’s son, Luca, then 12, often came by the residence. The Syrians were generally “warmer” than the local residents, Luca told me, adding, “I’d be happy if they lived here forever.”

Beilhack’s 64-year-old mother, Evelyn, also works as a caretaker at the residence, where she lives on the ground floor with her husband. Evelyn held the position previously, when the sisters lived there. When Evelyn learned the Syrians would be moving in, she rejoiced. The nuns nitpicked about the smallest details, she told me, creating an oppressive work environment. She grew up in what she called a “very international” town, a place called Geretsried, south of Munich, which was settled by Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II. Later, Southern European guest workers arrived. Growing up there left her open to seeing what the asylum seekers would be like. “You hear from a lot of different places about what an abominable people they are — not Syrians, but altogether, this whole mass of asylum seekers that are streaming in here,” she told me. People called them “terrible and slobs and poorly raised and primitive.” She wanted to find out for herself, she said. “I thought: I’ll take this on. I want to see this. I want to know this.”

Her experience with the Syrians did not confirm the prejudices. “They are respectful; they’re nice,” she said. Like her son, she seemed to enjoy the Syrians’ company. One evening, a saxophonist from Damascus serenaded her in the former chapel, stripped of religious relics, where the Mallersdorfer Sisters used to worship. The saxophonist stood next to the recently installed foosball table and puffed out a version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” One of the young Syrian men sitting next to Evelyn feigned being her companion in a cafe. “Garçon! Two glasses of wine!”

Through his conversations with the Beilhacks, Yasser began to understand something of life in Germany. Evelyn told him how much money was deducted from people’s paychecks for taxes and health insurance, and the cost of living generally seemed far higher than in prewar Syria. Back at home, his wife did some work in a private office, but he would not allow her to work for a firm. Women in Syria were not supposed to hold down such jobs, he said. In Germany, however, he would have to reconsider. He and his wife probably wouldn’t be able to afford a house and a car if she didn’t work too. “Life here is hard,” he said. If the war in Syria ended, he told me, he would go back in a minute. [Continue reading…]

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‘If we don’t get our country back ourselves, no one will do it for us’

Growing Home ينبتون وطنا : Samer, a displaced Syrian barber, has taken refuge along with his young family in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Despite filling his time with meaningful work, caring for his family and improving his living conditions, the daily distractions cannot diminish his desire to return home.

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Europe begins sending people back across the sea, defying human rights outcry

The Washington Post reports: The European Union began offloading its refugee crisis onto its Turkish neighbors Monday, sending back more than 200 migrants in the first stage of a plan to deport thousands that has drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

The returns — carried out at dawn and under heavy security — were intended to send a powerful message to others considering the journey from Turkey to Greece via a smuggler’s rubber raft: Don’t even bother.

Authorities braced for demonstrations or other forms of resistance from those being sent back only days after crossing the Aegean and arriving on European soil in search of a new life — part of a massive migrant wave that has tested Europe’s resources and highlighted the desperation to the east in war zones such as Syria.

But the expulsions were carried out smoothly and quietly; two ferries packed with migrants and E.U. escorts slipped away from the island of Lesbos and charted an eastbound course toward the rising sun along the blue mountains of the Turkish coast.

A third ferry left the island of Chios, bringing the total sent back to 202 by late Monday — nearly all from Pakistan or Afghanistan. Both islands are popular landing spots for refugee rafts.

Under a deal struck with Turkey last month, all refugees and migrants who arrive on Greek shores aboard smugglers’ rafts from March 20 onward will be sent back.

In return, the European Union has said it will accept one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every Syrian who is returned. Germany said Monday that it had accepted its first several dozen Syrians flown from Turkey under the new program. [Continue reading…]

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EU suspects Russian agenda in refugees’ shifting Arctic route

The New York Times reports from Kandalaksha: So many decrepit Soviet-era cars carried migrants into Europe from this frozen Russian town in recent months that border officials in Finland, who confiscate the rust-bucket vehicles as soon as they cross the frontier, watched in dismay as their parking lot turned into a scrapyard.

To clear up the mess and provide some space for freshly confiscated cars, the Finnish customs service set up a separate dumping ground.

Then last month, as suddenly and as mysteriously as it had started, the parade of migrants in rusty old cars came to an abrupt halt, or at least a pause.

“We don’t know what is going on,” said Matti Daavittila, the head of the ice-entombed Finnish border post near Salla. “They suddenly stopped coming. That is all we know.”

Compared with the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war or hardship who made the trek to Europe last year through Turkey to Greece, the flow of refugees and migrants on the Arctic route through Russia — first into Norway and later into Finland — is tiny.

But the stop-go traffic has added a hefty dose of geopolitical anxiety, not to mention intrigue, to a crisis that is tearing the European Union apart. It has sent alarm bells ringing in Helsinki, Finland’s capital far to the south, and in Brussels, where European Union leaders, at recent crisis meetings on migration, discussed the strange and ever-shifting Arctic route through Russia. [Continue reading…]

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America’s asylum policy is broken

Elizabeth Rubin writes: I recently received a phone call from Alabama. It was Samey Honaryar, an Afghan who had worked as an interpreter with the United States military and had fled Taliban persecution hoping to find asylum here. Samey is not accused of committing any crime. Yet for nearly a year, he’s been locked up in Etowah County Detention Center, among the worst and most remote of immigration detention centers, with little access to lawyers or medical attention.

“I cannot take it anymore,” said Samey, who was planning a hunger strike. “I served this country. I risked my life for this country, and this is how I’m repaid.”

I have reported from Afghanistan frequently since 2001, and I know that interpreters are an essential conduit into a culture easily misread by foreigners. Nearly every translator I’ve worked with has saved my life. But once they choose to work for the military, their job becomes a political act, making them marked men and women for the Taliban.

At a time when Europeans and Canadians are sheltering over a million asylum seekers, many from conflicts created by United States policies, Samey’s treatment demands attention. Documents and witnesses show that Samey risked his life for American soldiers. But he has been cast into immigration purgatory nonetheless, his troubles caused by a toxic mix of bureaucracy, fear, prejudice and, most poignantly, his naïve faith in American honor. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey is no ‘safe haven’ for refugees – it shoots them at the border

Patrick Kingsley writes: It was beyond sad to read in the Times this week that Turkish border guards have allegedly shot dead Syrians trying to reach safety in Turkey. Sixteen refugees, including three children, have been killed trying to escape the battlegrounds of northern Syria in the past four months, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a frequently cited watchdog.

It is shocking to think of people fleeing the combined atrocities of Islamic State and Bashar al-Assad being gunned down just as they make their bid for safety. But what is perhaps most shocking of all is that we observers are still shocked by this.

The shooting of Syrians on the border is not a new phenomenon. Refugees and rights groups have reported shootings of migrants on the Turkish-Syrian border since at least 2013. These abuses are well-documented, and the reports widely circulated. So why, in the months following a shady European deal that forces Turkey to shoulder the biggest burden of the refugee crisis, are we still so appalled when Turkey continues to use deadly violence to stop that burden getting any bigger? [Continue reading…]

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Amid clashes, Greece presses on with plan to deport refugees

The New York Times reports: Violent clashes erupted in Greek refugee camps among panicked migrants as Greece and the European Union pressed ahead on Friday with their intention to expel them from Europe and deport thousands back to Turkey, despite strong objections from rights groups and United Nations relief officials who say the plan is illegal and inhumane.

Hundreds of migrants broke out of an overcrowded detention center on the Greek island of Chios and began walking to the port to protest a European Union deal that went into effect in March, authorizing Greece to return them to Turkey if their applications for asylum in Europe were not accepted. The deportations officially begin on Monday.

Video clips in the Greek media showed migrants streaming away from the camp unhindered by the police, hours after a brawl broke out at the camp’s registration center. Several refugees were taken to a hospital after the riot police used stun grenades, and a help center run by Doctors Without Borders was destroyed, forcing the aid group to abandon its work. More than 1,500 migrants were being held at the center, designed for 1,200. Three people were also reported stabbed during a migrant riot on the island of Samos, where another detention facility operates. [Continue reading…]

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European policy is driving refugees to more dangerous routes across the Mediterranean

By Heaven Crawley, Coventry University and Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

It is estimated that in 2015, more than a million people crossed the
Mediterranean to Europe in search of safety and a better life. 3,770 are known to have died trying to make this journey during the same period. This so-called “migration crisis” is the largest humanitarian disaster to face Europe since the end of World War II.

That’s why we’ve been working to examine the conditions underpinning this recent migration across, and loss of life in, the Mediterranean.

Our first research brief , based on interviews with 600 people, including 500 refugees, shines a light on the reasons why so many risk everything on the dangerous sea crossing. It also offers an insight into why the EU response has been so ineffective.

One of the main problems with the current approach to this crisis is the assumption that refugees and migrants are drawn towards particular countries because they offer employment, welfare, education or housing. This ignores the fact that in 2015 over 90% of those arriving by sea in Greece came from the world’s top-ten refugee producing countries, 56% from Syria. The ‘migration crisis’ is in fact a crisis of refugee protection.

[Read more…]

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Humans of New York founder takes on Donald Trump

The New York Times reports: Brandon Stanton, the nimble shutterbug behind the immensely popular photo blog Humans of New York, has worked hard to filter politics and moral judgments out of his posts, intent on maintaining objectivity as he captures his subjects in words and on film, letting them speak for themselves.

That changed last week when Mr. Stanton, 32, shed his sedulously cultivated neutrality to take on Donald J. Trump, excoriating the Republican presidential candidate in a 300-word Facebook post presented as an open letter to Mr. Trump.

“I’ve watched you retweet racist images,” the post read in part. “I’ve watched you retweet racist lies. I’ve watched you take 48 hours to disavow white supremacy. I’ve watched you joyfully encourage violence, and promise to ‘pay the legal fees’ of those who commit violence on your behalf.”

The reaction was explosive. Within eight hours the post was shared 712,000 times, eventually garnering more than 2.2 million “likes,” 1,131,389 shares and 69,000 comments, making it among the most-shared posts in the history of Facebook. In the process, it turned Mr. Stanton, already a best-selling author, into a web sensation. [Continue reading…]

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