The world loves refugees, when they’re Olympians

Roger Cohen writes: The world is moved by Team Refugees at the Olympics in Rio. They are greeted with a standing ovation at the opening ceremony. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, not a man given to extravagant displays of emotion, is all smiles.

President Obama tweets support for these 10 athletes who “prove that you can succeed no matter where you’re from.” Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, posts a video on Facebook in which she speaks of the world’s 65 million displaced people — the largest number since World War II — and says they “are dreaming bigger because you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Who could fail to be moved? These are brave people. They have fled anguish in search not of a better life, but of life itself. In general, you do not choose to become a refugee because you have a choice, but because you have no choice. Like Yusra Mardini, the 18-year-old Syrian refugee from a Damascus suburb, who left a country that now exists only in name, and reached Germany only after the small boat bringing her from Turkey to Greece started taking on water in heavy seas. She and her sister Sarah dived into the water and for more than three hours pushed until it reached the island of Lesbos.

In Rio, Mardini won her heat of the 100-meter butterfly, but did not advance due to her inferior time. Still, hers is a remarkable achievement.

Yes, the world is moved by Team Refugees. Yet, it is unmoved by refugees. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Middle East bishops say U.S. has ‘moral responsibility’ to help Christians

Crux reports: Catholic leaders in the Middle East say that the United Sates has the “moral responsibility” to help stop the savagery against Christians in the region, and to provide assistance to help them stay in the region, because it was the U.S. that unleashed the chaos in the first place.

“They were the ones who invaded [Iraq] in 2003 and changed the whole region, and they had the moral responsibility to fix the situation before leaving the country,” said the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Iraq, Bashar Matti Warda.

Jean-Clément Jeanbart, Greek Melkite Archbishop of Aleppo, the “martyred city” of Syria, said that the U.S. has a two-fold responsibility. On the one hand, he asked the U.S. government to ensure that the aid being sent to the region is also distributed among Christians, which, he said, means entrusting a portion of it to the churches.

As the system is set up, he said, all the aid goes to the refugee camps. Yet Christians see their lives at risk there, so they generally choose to seek shelter at churches and convents instead.

“If the help went to the churches, it wouldn’t mean that they’re giving special rights to Christians, but that they’re actually helping everyone,”Jeanbart said at a press conference held on Wednesday during the Knights of Columbus’s 134th Supreme Convention, which took place in Toronto, Canada.

The many Christian churches in the region – in Syria, there are six different Catholic rites alone – fund schools, hospitals, and provide shelter to all refugees, without distinguishing between Muslims, Yazidis or Christians, he said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Against all odds: #TeamRefugees at Rio

The Guardian reports: For the first time in Olympic history, 10 athletes will compete at Rio 2016 for the Refugee Olympic Team in a move designed to bring global attention to the magnitude of the worldwide refugee crisis.

After the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, announced in March that a team would be selected, 43 were identified as candidates and 10, displaced from South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have since been picked in three sports – athletics, swimming and judo. The athletes will march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at Friday’s opening ceremony.

Bach said: “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honour and the Olympic flag will lead them into the Olympic Stadium.

“This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that, despite the unimaginable tragedies they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.” [Continue reading…]

UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency: Each day war forces thousands of families to flee their homes. People like you, people like me.

To escape the violence, they leave everything behind – everything except their hopes and dreams for a safer future. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency believes that all refugees deserve to live in safety.

Add your name to the #WithRefugees petition to send a clear message to governments that they must act with solidarity and shared responsibility.

 

 

 

Facebooktwittermail

The refugee Olympians in Rio

Robin Wright writes: Samia Yusuf Omar, who was lithe to the point of frailty, sprinted her way to momentary fame at the Beijing Olympics, in 2008. She was one of two athletes on the team from war-torn Somalia. Only seventeen, she’d had no professional coaching, and had dropped out of school in the eighth grade, after her father died, to help care for five younger siblings while her mother peddled produce. She practiced at a bombed-out stadium in Mogadishu. Female athletes were rare in Somalia, and she faced harassment and intimidation from Islamist militias. In Beijing, she dared to run without a hijab. Virtually no one in Somalia was able to watch her compete — no TV station carried the Olympics, and many Somalis had no television or electricity, anyway. Omar’s running shoes had been donated by runners on Sudan’s team.

Omar competed in the women’s two hundred metres, a middle-distance race. Beating her personal record, at 32.16 seconds, she still finished last — so far behind that the camera couldn’t keep her in the frame — but the crowd roared when she completed the race.

“We know that we are different from the other athletes,” Omar said in Beijing. “But we don’t want to show it. We try our best to look like the rest. We understand we are not anywhere near the level of the other competitors here. We understand that very, very well. But, more than anything else, we would like to show the dignity of ourselves and our country.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

A record 65.3 million people were displaced last year: What does that number actually mean?

By Jeffrey H. Cohen, The Ohio State University and Ibrahim Sirkeci, Regent’s University London

We continue to witness violent attacks – bombings and murders in France, Germany, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq; fighting in South Sudan and the continued civil war in Syria. These conflicts have renewed interest in the global refugee crisis and the movements of displaced persons around the globe.

The United Nations Human Rights Council announced in June that 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes in 2015. This is a record number and is equal in population to the U.K. or France.

People who have been forced to leave their homes, their nations and occupation against their will are often referred to as “displaced.” And 65.3 million is a lot of displaced people. They are found across the globe in response to crises that range from the social to the environmental, and include Syrian refugees fleeing civil war, Central American children crossing international borders to reach family and security in the U.S., Colombians moving internally to avoid warfare and violence and Filipinos who are forced to relocate in response to changing climates and environmental disasters.

The UNHRC’s report identifies important global patterns that we must acknowledge. But, the overwhelming size of the displaced population reported confounds a complex issue and creates new fears. The numbers overwhelm and make it difficult to define potential solutions.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Angela Merkel defends Germany’s refugee policy after attacks

The Guardian reports: Angela Merkel has delivered a staunch defence of her open door policy towards refugees, insisting she feels no guilt over a series of violent attacks in Germany and was right to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees to arrive last summer.

“A rejection of the humanitarian stance we took could have led to even worse consequences,” the German chancellor said, adding that the assailants “wanted to undermine our sense of community, our openness and our willingness to help people in need. We firmly reject this.”

Repeating her infamous “wir schaffen das” – we can manage it – mantra, delivered last summer at the peak of the refugee crisis, Merkel said: “I didn’t say it would be easy.”

“I said back then, and I’ll say it again, Germany is a strong country. I called it a task for the whole nation. But just as we’ve managed so much already, we’ll manage this.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Germany faces one of its greatest political challenges since World War II

By Holger Nehring, University of Stirling

Within the space of a week a teenager seriously injured three people on a train in Würzburg before being shot dead by police and another shot and killed nine people in a Munich shopping centre. A Syrian man was also arrested in the city of Reutlingen after a woman died in a knife attack, and another Syrian man is dead and several injured after he set off a bomb in Ansbach.

Four events, one seeming similarity. The attackers were all either asylum seekers or Germans from an immigrant background. They seemed to be people bringing terror from war-torn places to the pristine streets of German towns and cities. This is certainly the conclusion that the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, Alternative for Germany) promotes. Curiously, it is also one that has coloured news reports of these incidents outside Germany.

Before the facts were known, the BBC wheeled out various counter-terrorism experts to comment on Munich and CNN reported that Muslim fundamentalists were thought to be on the loose before any such knowledge was clear. French president François Hollande was calling Munich a terrorist incident before the facts were available.

For many Germans, for many around the world, Islamic State (IS) – and even Islam itself – provide good placeholders while we gather specific knowledge about what is going on. We must have someone to blame as soon as possible.

[Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

‘We feared the worst’: Turkey’s failed coup a relief for Syrian refugees

The Guardian reports: When tanks rolled across Istanbul and Ankara on Friday night, at the start of Turkey’s botched coup, many in the country were frightened. But few in Turkey had more reason to be afraid than its 2.7 million Syrians, the largest Syrian diaspora community in the world.

“When we first heard about the coup attempt, we felt an unprecedented fear,” remembers Hussein Qassoum, a 30-year-old logistics manager living in Istanbul. “Most of my friends started asking: ‘Which other country should we go to now?’”

Like many Turks, Syrians feared the violence that broke out in the early hours of Saturday might spiral into something more sustained. But Syrians also had more specific concerns about what might happen to them if the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was toppled.

Life is hard for Syrians in Erdoğan’s Turkey, where they do not have full rights. Despite recent legislative changes, the vast majority are not allowed to work. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian children are not in school, with many working in sweatshops instead. Syrians are denied official refugee status, since Turkey does not recognise key parts of the UN refugee convention.

But Erdoğan’s government has at least given about 2.7 million Syrians a basic level of sanctuary. None of his political opponents has promised to be as accommodating and there is a fear that without Erdoğan, life could get even tougher for Syrians in Turkey. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Afghan teenager who attacked passengers on German train ‘wanted revenge’ for friend’s death

BBC News reports: Prosecutors in Germany say a teenager who attacked train passengers with an axe in Wuerzburg had learnt that a friend had been killed in Afghanistan, and wanted to get revenge.

The 17 year-old, who arrived in Germany a year ago as an unaccompanied refugee, injured four people, two critically, in the attack on Monday evening.

He was shot dead by police as he fled. [Continue reading…]

Deutsche Welle reports: The Afghan teenager, who travelled to Germany unaccompanied to seek asylum, had been staying with a foster family in the town of Ochsenfurt. The assault sparked concerns among other Afghan asylum seekers in Germany who now fear it could further delay their asylum application process.

“I condemn the incident in the strongest of words. I also want to stress that it is an act of an individual and it should be treated as such,” said 19-year-old Abdullah, who has been living in Germany for six months.

Abdullah is worried that the situation for Afghan asylum seekers could deteriorate even further following a series of attacks by radicalized Muslims across the world.

“It is becoming worse for Afghan asylum seekers, especially after what happened recently in the US and France. People in Europe will now have a more skeptical view of the refugees,” said 27-year-old Jawid, another asylum seeker.

Jawid, who like many other Afghans has only one name, was referring to the recent terrorist attacks in these countries – the Orlando shooting in the US which killed 49 people, and the truck attack in the French city of Nice that claimed 84 lives. The Orlando shooter was also of Afghan origin.

But these incidents are isolated cases and should not be attributed to all Afghan migrants, said Zargar Haroon, a refugee. “The German people should understand that it is the same violence that made us flee our own country,” he added. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Germany’s “welcoming culture” that defined 2015 has largely disappeared, and Monday’s attack could mark another significant new development in the country’s public debate about refugees.

Skepticism had particularly risen after the sexual assaults of about 1,200 women on New Year’s Eve, which put the country into a shock mode for weeks and sparked a backlash against refugees after authorities said that many of the suspects were asylum seekers from North Africa.

So far, concerns focused primarily on young male refugees who had come to the country alone. Monday’s axe-attack has raised new questions over whether German authorities are too overwhelmed to provide adequate support for those refugees, and particularly for unaccompanied minors.

Authorities in Bavaria, the southern German region where the attack occurred, said on Tuesday that they had put a particular focus on Salafist recruitment efforts of unaccompanied minors for months. It was unclear whether those efforts had been taken based on specific information indicating that recruiters were targeting minors, or whether they were part of more general precautions.

“Maybe we need to take care of unaccompanied minors even more so that they can overcome their trauma,” said Friedhelm Hofmann, the bishop of Würzburg, which is located in the proximity of where the attacker lived. Hofmann was quoted by local German newspapers as saying that it would be wrong to put all asylum seekers under general suspicion, following the attack. [Continue reading…]

At a time when there is a global refugee crisis — a crisis that has been exacerbated in the Middle East by Western interventionism and anti-interventionism — the Western attitude towards refugees fleeing conflict has ranged from compassionate, to charitable, to fearful.

There is a prevailing sentiment that to the extent that the needs of refugees are met, refugees themselves are expected to be grateful for whatever help they receive. No doubt, most are.

But suppose the Trump mentality — xenophobic, fearful, and mean-spirited — was applied to all people in need: to children with behavioral problems, teenagers in foster care, the homeless, drug addicts, victims of domestic violence, and so forth.

Suppose that whenever an individual from such a segment of the population committed an act of violence or other crime, the public and political response was to declare that we can’t help these people. There would be no social services. There would be no philosophy of care. The guiding principle upon which society would function would be that those in need should be shunned and cast aside. There would in effect be no such thing as society.

Facebooktwittermail

Six wealthiest countries host less than 9% of world’s refugees

nyc2 (1)

The Guardian reports: The six wealthiest countries in the world, which between them account for almost 60% of the global economy, host less than 9% of the world’s refugees, while poorer countries shoulder most of the burden, Oxfam has said.

According to a report released by the charity on Monday, the US, China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK, which together make up 56.6% of global GDP, between them host just 2.1 million refugees: 8.9% of the world’s total.

Of these 2.1 million people, roughly a third are hosted by Germany (736,740), while the remaining 1.4 million are split between the other five countries. The UK hosts 168,937 refugees, a figure Oxfam GB chief executive, Mark Goldring, has called shameful.

In contrast, more than half of the world’s refugees – almost 12 million people – live in Jordan, Turkey, Palestine, Pakistan, Lebanon and South Africa, despite the fact these places make up less than 2% of the world’s economy. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How should we live in a diverse society?

Kenan Malik writes: Debates about immigration are… rarely about numbers as such. They are much more about who the migrants are, and about underlying anxieties of nation, community, identity and values. ‘We should not forget’, claimed Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, as Hungary put up new border fences, and introduced draconian new anti-immigration laws, ‘that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim.’ ‘Is it not worrying’, he asked, ‘that Europe’s Christian culture is already barely able to maintain its own set of Christian values?’

Many thinkers, Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, echo this fear of Muslim immigration undermining the cultural and moral foundation of Western civilization. The late Oriana Fallaci, the Italian writer who perhaps more than most promoted the notion of Eurabia – the belief that Europe is being Islamicised – described herself as a ‘Christian atheist’, insisting that only Christianity provided Europe with a cultural and intellectual bulwark against Islam. The British historian Niall Ferguson calls himself ‘an incurable atheist’ and yet is alarmed by the decline of Christianity which undermines ‘any religious resistance’ to radical Islam. Melanie Phillips, a non-believing Jew, argues in her book The World Turned Upside Down that ‘Christianity is under direct and unremitting cultural assault from those who want to destroy the bedrock values of Western civilization.’

To look upon migration in this fashion is, I want to suggest, a misunderstanding of both Europe’s past and Europe’s present. To understand why, I want first to explore two fundamental questions, the answers to which must frame any discussion on inclusion and morality. What we mean by a diverse society? And why should we value it, or indeed, fear it?

When we think about diversity today in Europe, the picture we see is that of societies that in the past were homogenous, but have now become plural because of immigration. But in what way were European societies homogenous in the past? And in what ways are they diverse today?

Certainly, if you had asked a Frenchman or an Englishman or a Spaniard in the nineteenth or the fifteenth or the twelfth centuries, they would certainly not have described their societies as homogenous. And were they to be transported to contemporary Europe, it is likely that they would see it as far less diverse than we do.

Our view of the Europe of the past is distorted by historical amnesia; and our view of the Europe of the present is distorted by a highly restricted notion of diversity. When we talk of European societies as historically homogenous, what we mean is that they used to be ethnically, or perhaps culturally, homogenous. But the world is diverse in many ways. Societies are cut through by differences, not only of ethnicity, but also of class, gender, faith, politics, and much else. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Srebrenica: Why every life matters

In the West, the top three watershed geopolitical events of the modern era are commonly seen as the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. in 2001, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, has largely been forgotten and outside the Muslim world its significance never widely grasped.

Yet as Brendan Simms noted in Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present:

In the Muslim world, the slaughter of their co-religionists in Bosnia contributed substantially to the emergence of a common consciousness on foreign policy. According to this global discourse, Muslims were now on the defensive across the world: in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. A large number of Arab, Turkish, Caucasian, central Asian and other Mujahedin – in search of a new jihad after Afghanistan – went to Bosnia to fight. It was among European Muslims, however, that the Bosnian experience resonated most forcefully. ‘It doesn’t really matter whether we perish or survive,’ the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina [Dr. Mustafa Cerić] remarked in May 1994, ‘the lesson will always be there. And it is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue.’ This ‘Zionist’ message echoed across the immigrant communities in western Europe, especially Britain. ‘Bosnia Today – Brick Lane tomorrow’ warned the banners in one East London demonstration. Some of the most prominent subsequent British jihadists such as Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg – were radicalized by Bosnia. In other words, the new Muslim geopolitics of the mid-1990s was a reaction not to western meddling but to nonintervention in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing [my emphasis].

A decade later, when Nadeem Azam interviewed Cerić (who in 2003 in recognition of his contributions to inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and peace, was awarded UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize) he reiterated his message on the necessity of Muslim self-reliance.

What are your feelings about the future of Islam in Europe?

Not very good. The rise of fascism combined with an officially-sanctioned tendency to be unreasonable when it comes to discussion about Islam are bad omens. I am not a soothsayer but I can see the reality of a day when the treatment of a Muslim in Europe will be worse than that of serial killer: we are, I am afraid, on the verge of seeing a situation develops whereby it would be a crime to be a Muslim in Europe. The events of 11 September, 2001, have made things worse. May Allah protect us.

But having such feelings does not depress me. It actually should motivate us and make us even more resolute in our efforts. More importantly it should make us think of planning and organising. If the day comes – like it did in Bosnia – you might be unable to control events around you but you should at least be ready to do what is needed to be done by a Muslim at such an hour.
[…]
The message of the four year-long war we fought is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue; they must always rely on God and the faith, goodness and compassion within their communities. This is very important. Our strength will always be reflective of the strength of our communities.

Today, Cerić’s fears are clearly all the more well-founded as across Europe xenophobia and Islamophobia relentlessly grow and in the United States a presidential candidate gains the strongest boost to his campaign by promising a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims.

The lesson that Srebrenica taught many Muslims in the West was that even when they are in no sense foreign or culturally set apart, they are still at risk of exclusion and elimination.

Last month after the EU referendum in the UK, a resident of Barnsley, South Yorkshire (five miles from where I grew up), when asked to explain why he had voted for Brexit said: “It’s to stop the Muslims coming into this country. Simple as that.”

Among opponents of the war in Iraq, a widely accepted narrative has long been that the antidote to the unintended consequences of so much ill-conceived Western meddling in the Greater Middle East over the last 15 years is to simply step back and disengage. This sentiment, in large part, is what got Barack Obama elected in 2008. Let the region sort out its own problems or let closer neighbors such as the Russians intervene, so the thinking goes. The U.S. has much more capacity to harm than to help.

Yet as the killing fields of Syria have grown larger year after year, the message from Srebrenica merely seems to have been underlined: the magnitude of the death toll in any conflict will be of little concern across most of the West so long as the victims are Muslim.

After Donald Trump called for Muslims to be shut out of America, Michael Moore declared: We are all Muslim. And he promoted the hashtag #WeAreAllMuslim.

Expressions of solidarity through social media are easy to promote and of debatable value, yet the isolation of Muslims in this instance, rather than being overcome, merely seemed to get reinforced. #WeAreAllMuslim was mostly deployed as a sarcastic slur shared by Islamophobes.

The global trends are strong and clear, pointing to a future marked by more and more social fragmentation as people withdraw into their respective enclaves where they believe they can “take care of their own.”

We live in a world in which we are getting thrown closer together while simultaneously trying to stand further apart. It can’t work.

At some point we either embrace the fact that we are all human and have the capacity to advance our mutual interests, or we will continue down the current path of self-destruction.

* * *

Last year, Myriam François-Cerrah, a British journalist who is also a Muslim, took a group of young people from the UK — all of whom were born in the year of the genocide — to Srebrenica where they learned lessons that arguably have more relevance now than they have had at any time since 1995.

 

The events immediately leading up to the genocide are recounted in this segment from the BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia:

 

Facebooktwittermail