Record 65 million displaced by global conflicts, UN says

flight-from-Aleppo

The New York Times reports: More people are on the run than ever before in recorded history, the United Nations said in a report released Monday.

They include those fleeing marauders in South Sudan, drug gangs in Central America, and the Islamic State in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Falluja. While most are displaced within their own countries, an unprecedented number are seeking political asylum in the world’s rich countries. Nearly 100,000 are children who have attempted the journey alone.

All told, the number of people displaced by conflict is estimated to exceed 65 million, more than the population of Britain.

The new figures, part of the United Nations refugee agency’s Global Trends Report, come as hostility is surging toward migrants and refugees in the Western countries where they are seeking sanctuary and relief.

The European Union has shown signs of fracturing over how to handle the influx of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, expressed alarm on Sunday about what he described as a “climate of xenophobia that is very worrying in today’s Europe.” [Continue reading…]

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The translators promised visas but made into refugees by the U.S. Army

Julius Motal reports: Working for the US Army in Afghanistan can get you killed, but there’s a silver lining.

The US Army offers its Afghan translators the right to request the Special Immigration Visa (SIV). It’s a program initiated by the US to help certain foreign employees leave their home countries and get on a path to permanent residency in the states—usually for protection from groups like the Taliban. For the last four years, the program has been renewed in the National Defense Authorization Act. This year, however, both the House of Representatives and the Senate failed to vote for the allocation of more visas, which could imperil remaining applicants.

Through that program, Muhammad, a former US Army translator in Afghanistan that I met in the port of Piraeus, Greece, should already be in the US. But like several other forgotten Afghan translators who served the United States, his visa has not come through. After being laid off by his army base in 2014, Muhammad fell into a bureaucratic gap between the United States’ promises to its employees in Afghanistan, and its rocky attempt to withdraw from the country.

Muhammad applied for the SIV in 2014. He was rejected in May 2015. According to the rejection email, his application was ruled invalid on the grounds of “Lack of faithful and valuable service.” Muhammad says that’s because he was fired—but not for lack of faithfulness or value. 2014 was simply the year that the Obama administration started closing army bases, in an early phase of withdrawal from Afghanistan. With fewer bases and fewer troops, fewer translators were needed. Muhammad was downsized by government contractor Mission Essential.

So in January 2016, he decided to make a go of it on his own. He paid $5,500 in smuggling fees to be trafficked from Afghanistan to Iran, from Iran to Turkey, and then from Turkey to Greece. By the time he arrived in the port of Piraeus in March, the 22-year-old’s life had been reduced to the phone in his pocket, the clothes on his back, and a sheaf of papers from his job with the United States Army.

His service and his perfect English together, in theory, put him in a better position than most refugees, but because he is Afghan, he isn’t even eligible for any of the expedited European relocation measures that the Syrian and Iraqi refugees sheltering in the port can claim. [Continue reading…]

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Mainstream politicians ‘clueless on migration debate,’ says Jo Cox’s husband

The Guardian reports: The husband of Jo Cox plans to continue with a project that aims to build an international alliance to combat “the dangerous breeding ground” of economic insecurity on which the populist right has fed across European politics.

Brendan Cox has let it be known that he is determined to continue with the work in memory of his wife, who was killed on Thursday, but believes this will only succeed if lessons can be learned from why the right has so far taken the initiative on the migration issue.

In a paper he has circulated – and asked the Guardian to quote from – Cox argues that one of the problems is that those hostile to refugees are better organised, more focused on galvanising public opinion, and better at tapping into human emotions, including over wider economic insecurities.

Mainstream politicians, he writes, “in most cases are clueless on how to deal with the public debate. Petrified by the rise of the populists they try to neuter them by taking their ground and aping their rhetoric. Far from closing down the debates, these steps legitimise their views, reinforce their frames and pull the debate further to the extremes (Sarkozy and the continuing rise of Front National is a case in point).” [Continue reading…]

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‘Jo Cox was stolen from us’ — the outpouring of grief from Syria

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BBC News reports: The death of Labour MP Jo Cox has led to a range of tributes from around the world including many from Syrians.

The plight of Syrian refugees was among the many causes for which Mrs Cox campaigned.

It was an issue for which she worked tirelessly as she routinely called for Britain to do more to help those caught up in Syria’s civil war.

Perhaps this is a reason why Syrians have expressed their grief, adding to the growing voices of those paying tributes on social media.

Shortly after the news broke, the White Helmets, a group of volunteers for the Syrian Civil Defence tweeted their sadness:


BBC Arabic social media producer Nader Ibrahim says: “Minutes after the sad news about Jo Cox was announced, Syrian activists took to social media to express their grief.

“This tweet by the white helmets, or the Syrian civil defence forces, is quite significant since they are literally on the ground operating inside.”

Ibrahim adds that the sadness expressed from people in Syria for a British MP is significant. He says: “It is quite surprising to see Syrians, from inside Syria, in a war-torn country, with limited access in a lot of its places to the outside world, tweeting and talking about a British MP who is half way across the world.

“This is especially because a lot of Syrians feel like they’ve been let down by the West and the international community for not taking enough action to stop the war in their country. So to see them mourning a western MP is quite a thing.” [Continue reading…]

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A day of infamy

Following the murder of Jo Cox, in a nation that has become inflamed by anti-immigrant rhetoric, Alex Massie writes: When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

We can’t control the weather but, in politics, we can control the climate in which the weather happens. That’s on us, all of us, whatever side of any given argument we happen to be. Today, it feels like we’ve done something terrible to that climate.

Sad doesn’t begin to cover it. This is worse, much worse, than just sad. This is a day of infamy, a day in which we should all feel angry and ashamed. Because if you don’t feel a little ashamed – if you don’t feel sick, right now, wherever you are reading this – then something’s gone wrong with you somewhere. [Continue reading…]

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The murder of Jo Cox cannot be viewed in isolation

Polly Toynbee writes: When politicians from a mainstream party use immigration as their main weapon in a hotly fought campaign, they unleash something dark and hateful that always lurks in all countries not far beneath the surface.

Did we delude ourselves we were a tolerant country – or can we still save our better selves? Over recent years, struggling to identify “Britishness”, to connect with a natural patriotic love of country that citizens have every right to feel, politicians floundering for a British identity reach for the reassuring idea that this cradle of democracy is blessed with some special civility.

But if the vote is out [of the EU], then out goes that impression of what kind of country we are. Around the world we will be seen as the island that cut itself off out of anti-foreigner feeling: that will identify us globally more than any other attribute. Our image, our reality, will change overnight.

Contempt for politics is dangerous and contagious, yet it has become a widespread default sneer. There was Jo Cox, a dedicated MP, going about her business doing what good MPs do, making herself available to any constituents with any problems to drop in to her surgery. Just why she became the victim of such a vicious attack, we may learn eventually. But in the aftermath of her death, there are truths of which we should remind ourselves right now.

Democracy is precious and precarious. It relies on a degree of respect for the opinions of others, soliciting support for political ideas without stirring up undue savagery and hatred against opponents. [Continue reading…]

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British MP Jo Cox, a passionate campaigner for the people of Syria, murdered in Yorkshire

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour party has issued this tribute to Jo Cox:

The whole of the Labour party and Labour family – and indeed the whole country – will be in shock at the horrific murder of Jo Cox today.

Jo had a lifelong record of public service and a deep commitment to humanity. She worked both for Oxfam and the anti-slavery charity, the Freedom Fund, before she was elected last year as MP for Batley and Spen – where she was born and grew up.

Jo was dedicated to getting us to live up to our promises to support the developing world and strengthen human rights – and she brought those values and principles with her when she became an MP.

Jo died doing her public duty at the heart of our democracy, listening to and representing the people she was elected to serve. It is a profoundly important cause for us all.

Jo was universally liked at Westminster, not just by her Labour colleagues, but across Parliament.

In the coming days, there will be questions to answer about how and why she died. But for now all our thoughts are with Jo’s husband Brendan and their two young children. They will grow up without their mum, but can be immensely proud of what she did, what she achieved and what she stood for.

We send them our deepest condolences. We have lost a much loved colleague, a real talent and a dedicated campaigner for social justice and peace. But they have lost a wife and a mother, and our hearts go out to them.

The Guardian reported earlier: The Labour MP Jo Cox is in a critical condition after being shot and stabbed multiple times after a constituency meeting. [“Dee Collins, the chief constable of West Yorkshire police, announces that Jo Cox has died.” The Guardian.]

Armed officers responded to the attack near a library in Birstall, West Yorkshire, on Thursday afternoon. A 52-year-old man was arrested in the area, police confirmed. The suspect was named locally as Tommy Mair.

Police added that Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, had suffered “serious injuries and is in a critical condition”. She has been taken by helicopter to Leeds General Infirmary.

Police also confirmed a man in his late 40s to early 50s nearby suffered slight injuries in the incident. They are also investigating reports that the suspect shouted “Britain first”, a possible reference to the far-right political party of that name, as he launched the attack. [Continue reading…]

BuzzFeed reports: In parliament Cox has proved herself a committed campaigner on the Syrian crisis. Last October she joined forces with Tory former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell to write an article in The Observer calling for more UK action to help desperate families in the region.

She also launched the all-party Parliamentary Friends of Syria group, which she now chairs. Cox abstained in the House of Commons vote on UK airstrikes in Syria, saying she was not against them in principle but “cannot actively support them unless they are part of a plan”.

Cox has described herself as a “huge President Obama fan” – indeed she worked on his first campaign in 2008 – but she has criticised both him and David Cameron for putting Syria on the “too difficult” pile. She warned last month this had led to the biggest refugee crisis in Europe in a generation and the emergence of ISIS. [Continue reading…]

Here is Cox speaking recently on the need to help Syrians.

 

Here she was giving her maiden speech last year, describing the diverse West Yorkshire constituency she represented:

 

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Nigel Farage attacked for UK Independence Party poster showing queue of refugees

The Guardian reports: Nigel Farage has been accused of engaging in the “politics of the gutter” after launching a campaign poster depicting a long queue of refugees, with the slogan “Breaking point”.

The advert, which has also appeared in the local press, shows a crowd of refugees and migrants walking along a road.

Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, who has campaigned on behalf of refugees, said: “Just when you thought leave campaigners couldn’t stoop any lower, they are now exploiting the misery of the Syrian refugee crisis in the most dishonest and immoral way.” [Continue reading…]

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The Journey From Syria (a six-part documentary)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Director, Matthew Cassel, talks about the making of The Journey from Syria.

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Europe ignores Syria at its peril. The country is burning and we must act

Natalie Nougayrède writes: While Europe is transfixed by the UK referendum, the crisis that has arguably done the most damage to the continent continues unabated: the war in Syria. Right on Europe’s doorstep, Syria still burns. It is high time to acknowledge that the peace efforts of the US and Russia have failed dismally. Whether there is any chance of this changing after a new US president takes office in early 2017 is anyone’s guess. But that’s precisely the question Europeans need to start preparing for. And the time to do so is now.

If anyone thought Syria had gone away, look again. Massive airstrikes carried out by Russia and Syrian government forces, some using barrel bombs, have picked up again over the besieged city of Aleppo. More hospitals have been destroyed and children killed: there are pictures of this online but they’re not receiving much attention. Let’s face it: we have slowly become numb to the suffering of Syrians.

But we ignore Syria at our peril. Future Arab and Muslim generations, if not today’s, will ask Europeans why they did not do more to help a nation butchered by a dictator’s army and his allies. Europe’s destiny is intertwined with events in its Arab neighbourhood in a way that the US’s is not. For each Syrian refugee who made it to Europe and was treated decently, how many rejected or stuck in the war zone will nurture resentment towards those in the west who preferred to erect barbed wire fences or wring their hands?

Preoccupied with terrorism and refugee quotas, we worry about the spillover effects but have stopped thinking about root causes. These causes are not in Raqqa, the capital of Islamic State’s self-styled “caliphate”. They are in the presidential palace in Damascus. [Continue reading…]

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Vigilantes patrol parts of Europe where few migrants set foot

The New York Times reports: The People’s Party-Our Slovakia, after months of stirring up fears about foreigners and Muslim migrants, decided to take action: This spring, the group’s leader proudly stood in front of the main railway station in Zvolen, Slovakia, and announced that a new group of volunteers would begin patrolling passenger trains to keep the “decent citizens” of Slovakia safe from criminals and minorities.

Never mind that vanishingly few of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have reached Europe over the last year ever set foot in the Central European nation, or that only 10 people last year became crime victims on a Slovakian train system patrolled by 600 railway police officers.

The xenophobic Slovakian group has been one of a wave of such extremist organizations across Central and Eastern Europe that have seized on last year’s influx of migrants through Europe to advance their agenda and build popular support. In some cases, the vigilante groups have taken to patrolling borders, streets and other public places to defend against what they portray as a menacing incursion of asylum seekers, many of them Muslims from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other poor, war-torn nations. [Continue reading…]

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The child refugees of Africa

Ashley Gilbertson writes: Last year, the news media focused intensely on the European refugee crisis. Some 800,000 people crossed the Mediterranean to Greece, many fleeing wars we had a hand in creating, in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Each segment of their journey was carefully documented by thousands of reporters and photographers.

But there is another humanitarian crisis in Europe we have heard much less about: the roughly 200,000 migrants and refugees who left Africa for Italy since last year. This year alone, some 2,000 have died while making the voyage.

No one gets excited by an epidemic of despair. Some African refugees — largely from Nigeria, Gambia, Somalia, Ivory Coast and Guinea — are escaping wars, but others are fleeing despots, corruption and poverty, a tapestry of problems that have plagued the Continent for generations. When they arrive here in Sicily, they face an overloaded system that is unable to meet their needs.

In May, I spent a week in Sicily with a team from Unicef taking photographs and interviewing those who have made the journey. In the island’s capital, Palermo, I met Peace, a 17-year-old Nigerian living in a shelter for girls. She fled home after being told she would have to marry a 40-year-old man. “This man took me to his house and made me his house girl,” Peace said. “I said to my aunt, ‘He’s older than my dad,’ but she said, ‘If you don’t marry this man, I will poison you.’ ”

Peace traveled to Agadez, Niger, a waypoint where smugglers load migrants into crowded trucks to cross into Libya. “So many people died in the desert. We saw dead bodies, skeletons,” she said. Upon arriving in Libya, she was locked in a windowless room for six weeks. “There was no water, no changes of clothes, not enough food. There was fighting outside, I could hear shooting.”

Libya is particularly brutal on migrants. Boys are set to work by local residents at backbreaking jobs in construction and in the fields for less than $5 a day until they earn enough to afford the $1,500 passage. Girls are often forced into sex work. “They used to rape us and beat us,” said Tsenga, an Eritrean woman who today lives at a sprawling refugee camp in Sicily. “The girls cried, they cried bitterly. They cried because they are just children.” [Continue reading…]

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Canada is the least xenophobic country in the Western world. Here’s why

Zack Beauchamp writes: While most of the Western world is seeing a surge in nativism and Islamophobia, the Canadian government has become more and more open to minority groups and immigration.

“The only real outlier [to the nativist trend] is Canada,” Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia who studies nativism and far-right politics in Europe, tells me. He continues:

[Trudeau] has handled, so far, the Syrian refugee crisis incredibly well, having taken in 25,000 Syrian refugees against the majority will. Initially, he wasn’t supported by the majority — but when they finally arrived, a majority of Canadians did support it. That’s one of the few encouraging lessons that we have seen over the last several years: that if you have a positive campaign, which is supported by a large portion of the media, that you can actually swing public opinion in a positive direction.

Why? It’s because Canada is genuinely different from other Western countries in terms of its attitude toward immigrants. It’s far more welcoming than basically everywhere else.

“Compared to the citizens of other developed immigrant-receiving countries, Canadians are by far the most open to and optimistic about immigration,” Irene Bloemraad, a sociologist at UC Berkeley and its chair of Canadian studies, wrote in a 2012 study published by the Migration Policy Institute.

“In one comparative poll, only 27 percent of those surveyed in Canada agreed that immigration represented more of a problem than an opportunity. In the country that came closest to Canadian opinion, France, the perception of immigration as a problem was significantly higher, at 42 percent.”

Why? According to Bloemraad, the Canadian government has spent decades attempting to foster tolerance and acceptance as core national values, through policies aimed at integrating immigrants and minority groups without stripping them of their group identity. [Continue reading…]

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In Turkey, a Syrian child ‘has to work to survive’

The New York Times reports: When he was 9, Ahmad Suleiman watched his father die from a battlefield wound in Syria. Four years later, he now puts in 12-hour shifts at a damp and squalid textile factory in Istanbul as the primary breadwinner for his family, which fled to Turkey after his father’s death.

Over one million Syrian children live in Turkey, and thousands of them, like Ahmad, are in sweatshops, factories or vegetable fields instead of in a classroom, members of a lost generation who have been robbed of their youth by war.

Like many others in his situation, while he toils for his family, Ahmad is paying a steep price. “I want to send Ahmad to school because he doesn’t know how to read and write and can’t understand the bus signs,” said his mother, Zainab Suleiman, 33. “But I have no choice. He has to work to survive.”

Many of the children who arrive in Turkey have already lost years of schooling because of the war. Before the conflict, 99 percent of Syrian children were enrolled in primary schools and 82 percent in secondary schools, Unicef has reported. Today, nearly three million Syrian children are out of school, and for those in Turkey, the education gap has either grown longer or become permanent.

While more than a million Syrians have reached Europe, many more — three million in all, including Ahmad’s family — have been forced by poverty to stay in Turkey, where their prospects are bleak. [Continue reading…]

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Dalai Lama distances himself from Brexit poster

The Guardian reports: The Dalai Lama has distanced himself from a poster circulated by Brexit campaigners that suggested the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader was in favour of the UK leaving the EU.

Leave.EU, the unofficial Brexit campaign run by the Ukip donor Arron Banks, tweeted an image of a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama stating: “The goal should be that migrants return and help rebuild their countries. You have to be practical … It’s impossible for everyone to come.”

Underneath, the tweet written by Leave.EU said: “The Dalai Lama favours a more balanced approach to migration. Let’s reclaim democratic control on June 23rd!”

A representative for the Dalai Lama, who is a refugee from Tibet, said no permission was given to use his words as part of an anti-EU campaign.

“We are not aware of any campaign using His Holiness’ image in regard to the issue of the UK leaving the European Union and would certainly not have given permission,” said Tenzin Taklha, secretary to the Dalai Lama.

Though the Dalai Lama has not taken any official position on the EU, Thubten Samdup, his former representative in northern Europe, said he thought it highly unlikely that he would support Brexit.

“In fact he has always mentioned highly of how EU has come together for the benefit of the people of Europe,” he said. “He felt it made lot of sense and encouraged others to do the same in this rapidly changing and inter-connected world.” [Continue reading…]

The Dalai Lama, having lived in exile from the country of his birth, Tibet, since 1959, understands the plight of refugees.

Those who see refugees as a threat and who are more broadly opposed to immigration — treating non-natives as intruders — overlook the sense of loss incurred in every form of exile. The immigrant is viewed in terms of the things to which he might lay claim rather than that which he left behind.

Irrespective of the national identities we immigrants might lose or adopt, the loss of ones homeland is mostly experienced on a more granular level.

Home is made up from so many tightly woven threads of familiarity — relatives and friends, food and music, abodes and terrain. Plants, birdsong, weather patterns, sounds, and smells — each contribute to a sense of place once known in intimate detail as a sensory world and now confined to memory.

This is what gets left behind and the sense of loss must be so much more acute when it’s clear that what has been lost has been destroyed forever.

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