Thousands of Gazans fleeing to Europe, hundreds die at sea

Haaretz reports: Thousands of Palestinians have left the Gaza Strip for Europe using tunnels, traffickers and boats, testimonies obtained by Haaretz show.

Gazans have been fleeing the Strip since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, but their escape was hardly covered in the media since they have been leaving clandestinely, with the help of paid smugglers.

The sinking of two ships carrying Palestinians from Gaza — one off the coast of Malta last week, and the other off the coast of Egypt — and the drowning of hundreds of passengers have focused attention on the trend.

The Palestinian Embassy in Greece reported yesterday that the ship that sank off the coast of Malta was carrying more than 450 passengers, most of them Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and that it was rammed intentionally by another ship run by rival smugglers. [Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

International response to Syria failing on ‘every front’ says Oxfam

Oxfam: The international response to Syria is failing on three fronts – insufficient aid, meager resettlement offers and continued arms transfers – Oxfam warns in a report published today.

Oxfam is calling on the UN to impose an arms embargo on all warring parties in Syria and is urging governments to provide their fair share of aid, and offer a haven to greater numbers of refugees fleeing violence.

The report, A Fairer Deal for Syrians, details how the $7.7 billion humanitarian appeals are less than half funded, while a continued supply of arms is fuelling widespread violations and undermining peace efforts. Rich countries are offering a safe haven to a paltry number of refugees from Syria while neighboring countries are struggling to support more than 3 million people who have fled the conflict.

Russia, a major arms exporter to Syria, has committed only one percent of its fair share of aid. France and the USA have provided just 33 percent and 60 percent of their fair share respectively and are continuing to supply arms, undermining efforts to stop the conflict. Many Gulf countries are giving more than their fair share but need to do more to stop arms flowing. Other generous donors include the UK and Denmark. [Continue reading...]

syria-fair-share

facebooktwittermail

Aviva Chomsky: What’s at stake in the border debate

The militarization of the police has been underway since 9/11, but only in the aftermath of the six-shot killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, with photos of streets in a St. Louis suburb that looked like occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, has the fact of it, the shock of it, seemed to hit home widely.  Congressional representatives are now proposing bills to stop the Pentagon from giving the latest in war equipment to local police forces.  The president even interrupted his golfing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, in part for “briefings” on the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.  So militarization is finally a major story.

And that’s no small thing.  On the other hand, the news from Ferguson can’t begin to catch the full process of militarization this society has been undergoing or the way America’s distant wars are coming home. We have, at least, a fine book by Radley Balko on how the police have been militarized.  Unfortunately, on the subject of the militarization of the country, there is none.  And yet from armed soldiers in railway stations to the mass surveillance of Americans, from the endless celebration of our “warriors” to the domestic use of drones, this country has been undergoing a significant process of militarization (and, if there were such a word, national securitization).

Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than on America’s borders and on the subject of immigration.  It’s no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The U.S. is in the process of becoming a citadel nation with up-armored, locked-down borders and a Border Patrol operating in a “Constitution-free zone” deep into the country.  The news is regularly filled with discussions of the need to “bolster border security” in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations.  In the meantime, the Border Patrol is producing its own set of Ferguson-style killings as, like SWAT teams around the U.S., it adopts an ever more militarized mindset and the weaponry to go with it.  As James Tomsheck, the former head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, put it recently, “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community.  The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement organization.”

It’s in this context that the emotional flare-up over undocumented Central American children crossing the southern border by the thousands took place.  In fact, without the process of militarization, that “debate” — with its discussion of “invasions,” “surges,” “terrorists,” and “tip of the spear” solutions — makes no sense.  Its language was far more appropriate to the invasion and occupation of Iraq than the arrival in this country of desperate kids, fleeing hellish conditions, and often looking for their parents.

Aviva Chomsky is the author of a new history of just how the words “immigration” and “illegal” became wedded — it wasn’t talked about that way not so many decades ago — and how immigrants became demonized in ways that are familiar in American history.  The Los Angeles Times has hailed Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal for adding “smart, new, and provocative scholarship to the immigration debate.” As in her book, so today at TomDispatch, Chomsky puts the most recent version of the immigration “debate” into a larger context, revealing just what we prefer not to see in our increasingly up-armored nation. Tom Engelhardt

America’s continuing border crisis
The real story behind the “invasion” of the children
By Aviva Chomsky

Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news.  The media stories have been legion, the words expended many.  And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned.  It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.

Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news.  Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high.  And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either.  In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried.  Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants.  The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues.  As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.

[Read more...]

facebooktwittermail

On the road with Syrian refugees walking to Europe

Newsweek reports: In a grim government compound 40 km from Vienna, five young Syrian men are huddled together examining the screen of a battered mobile phone. Beside them is a rickety plastic chair with a glass of sweet, amber-coloured tea perched on top, a vestige of Arab domesticity. This day is like any other: the young men pore over family photographs and talk incessantly of home as they wait for the residence permits that will allow them to start their lives here in Austria.

“Internet and talk,” says one of them, gesturing around the bare dormitory. “There is nothing else.” This compound could be anywhere; as it happens, it borders a quiet village with manicured gardens, picket fences and residents who keep to themselves – a far cry from the war-ravaged Syrian towns these men have abandoned. For the past few weeks, the village of Muthmannsdorf has been a place of surreal limbo, where they wait for the life of freedom they believe Europe holds. It has been hard won.

Murat is an ethnic Turkmen from Damascus, a 28-year-old with striking green eyes and prematurely white-flecked hair. The photo everyone is admiring is of his daughter, three-year-old Aya. Murat fled from Syria with his parents, wife and daughter in August 2012, when Bashar al-Assad’s army started dropping barrel bombs around their home in the southern suburbs of Damascus. Murat knew that even if they survived, he would be forced to join the army and might never see his family again. They drove to Tripoli in Lebanon, where they boarded a boat to the port of Mersin on the southeastern coast of Turkey, and then travelled on to Istanbul. There, with no official refugee status, no passport and no right to work, Murat left his pregnant wife and child in the care of his elder brother and set out for the more promising cities of Europe. Crossing to Greece one night in a rubber dinghy, he began a seven month odyssey during which he entrusted himself to a mafia of people smugglers, risked clandestine border crossings and Balkan police patrols and now, finally, confronts the stony face of Austrian bureaucracy. After weeks on the road, it’s time to wait.

Around 2.8 million Syrians have fled their homeland since conflict broke out in their country three years ago, and, while most are living in camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, those who can afford the journey are headed to Europe. I am in Austria to meet Murat and his friends, who made their way here overland from Greece, having traced their route, with the luxury of an EU passport, from the Turkish-Syrian border to Istanbul, then Athens and finally Vienna. At every stop I have encountered young Syrian men armed with their families’ savings and a few contacts in their mobile phones, relatively undaunted by the dangers of capsizing boats, impenetrable asylum procedures and the lack of any common language with the officials and smugglers who control their fate. Many of these men left Syria to avoid joining either the Islamic State rebels or Assad’s army, escaping without the passports that they could only claim by alerting the authorities to their presence – and subsequent absence. Many of them have left families behind. “The journey is too difficult for women and children,” says Khaled, a small, hoarse man in his late thirties. “We barely made it ourselves.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

200,000 Palestinians now displaced in Gaza

facebooktwittermail

Lebanon’s closed doors for Palestinian refugees

IPS reports: Tens of thousands of Palestinians living in Syria have been uprooted since the violent government crackdown on the uprising and the ensuing battles that ensnared their communities. For around 50,000 of them, Lebanon was their only safe route out but now it seems this door is being closed on them.

The family of 19-year-old Iyad was exiled from Palestine in 1948 upon creation of the state of Israel and fled to Yarmouk camp in Damascus, Syria, where they settled but violence and war have once again uprooted their community. Iyad now finds himself on the run from Syria, but his security in Lebanon is far from assured.

Having fled to Lebanon in December last year, Iyad was intent on traveling onto Libya and from there to make the perilous journey to the now renowned Italian island of Lampedusa. However, last month his plans were thwarted when the Lebanese security services detained him, along with 48 other young Palestinian men, as they tried to leave Lebanon through Rafiq Hariri airport in Beirut. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Syrian women refugees struggling alone to care for their families

The Guardian reports: Women are the sole providers for one in four Syrian refugee families, struggling to provide food and shelter for their children and often facing harassment, humiliation and isolation, according to a report from the UN high commissioner for refugees.

More than 145,000 Syrian families now living in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan are led by women, it says. The civil war in Syria has torn apart families and communities, forcing almost three million people – mostly women and children – to flee the country.

Those interviewed for the report, Woman Alone – the Fight for Survival by Syrian Refugee Women, said they lacked resources, jobs, food, housing, protection and security. One in three reported they did not have enough to eat.

“For hundreds of thousands of women, escaping their ruined homeland was only the first step in a journey of grinding hardship,” said António Guterres, the UNHCR chief. “They have run out of money, face daily threats to their safety, and are being treated as outcasts for no other crime than losing their men to a vicious war. It’s shameful. They are being humiliated for losing everything.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

A Shiite family fleeing Tal Afar — among Iraq’s 1.2 million internally displaced citizens

McClatchy reports: The mortars rained down for 12 hours, an eternity for members of the Hassan family who huddled together in a single room, the children screaming and the adults praying to die in the shelling rather than be slaughtered by the Islamic State militants who rampaged into the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar two weeks ago.

Unlike many of their neighbors, the Hassans survived, all 19 of them, and the next day they fled their hometown on the same road they’d used in two previous displacements — once when U.S. forces battled Sunni Muslim extremists in 2004, and again in 2005 during sectarian pogroms. But after a harrowing, five-day journey to this southern Shiite holy city, the family has given up on Tal Afar.

Qassim Hassan, 53, the patriarch of this clan of Shiite Muslim Turkmen, a minority that dates back to the 7th Century, said there hasn’t been a peaceful year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This third narrow escape will be their last, he declared, ending more than 200 years of his family’s presence in Tal Afar, which once was considered a showpiece of U.S. counterinsurgency successes.

“We’re desperate now,” Hassan said. “We can no longer live there because we are the targets every time, and the government cannot protect us. We’re starting from zero here. We’re building a new life.”

The sectarian cleansing of Tal Afar is now complete, according to accounts from the city that say not a single Shiite family remains. The Islamic State, an al Qaida splinter group that’s captured roughly a third of Iraq, views Shiites as heretics deserving of death.

Not that the Sunnis who stayed behind fared much better — witnesses reached by phone say the extremists demanded two women from each remaining tribe. Leaders refused and at least eight people were killed in a single night of clashes last week, creating another wave of fleeing families. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Syria refugees set to exceed a third of Lebanon’s population

Reuters reports: Lebanon faces the threat of political and economic collapse as the number of refugees pouring in from Syria is set to exceed a third of the population, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said on Thursday.

Derbas said the total was expected to hit 1.5 million by the end of the year, an excessive burden for a country of just 4 million people.

He said the influx of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war will have cost Lebanon’s already fragile economy around $7.5 billion between 2012 and 2014. Border communities hosting Syrian refugees were under particular pressure because of the increase in people willing to work for low wages.

“Unemployment doubled, especially among unspecialized or unskilled labor in those mostly poor areas,” he said, warning that the refugee crisis “threatens to take us to an economic, political and even security collapse.”

The turmoil next door has not only hurt Lebanon’s economy, but has aggravated sectarian tensions and fueled violence. It currently hosts around 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Obama opens third prison camp for child refugees

Reuters reports: The Obama administration on Monday announced it is designating a third U.S. military base for emergency housing of children immigrating illegally into the United States without parents or relatives, as the cost of caring for these minors escalated.

Senior administration officials, who asked not to be identified, told reporters that an Army base at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, will initially hold 600 “unaccompanied minors” and eventually will be able to accommodate up to 1,200.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has opened similar emergency shelters at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and Naval Base Ventura County in Southern California.

The moves come amid a tidal wave of children trying to slip into the United States, largely from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, often to join a parent already here.

Reuters previously reported that the administration was seeking about $2 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to handle the influx in fiscal 2015, which begins on Oct. 1, more than double the $868 million appropriated this year.

HHS takes custody of the children shortly after they are detained at the border by federal law enforcement agents.

On Monday, administration officials said they would be asking Congress for an additional $560 million to help the Department of Homeland Security cope with the illegal border crossings.

One week ago, the White House director of domestic policy, Cecilia Munoz, attributed the rapid run-up in illegal immigration by unaccompanied minors to growing violence — often drug related or due to domestic abuse — in the three Central American countries.

That violence, she said, was encouraging children, including an unusually high number of girls and children under the age of 13, to leave home unaccompanied by parents or relatives. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

The globalization of indifference

Christopher Dickey writes: The children are coming, illegally and alone, and they are coming by the tens of thousands. They are crossing the borders of the United States and they are risking the high seas to reach Europe. They trust their lives to criminals—to smugglers and traffickers. Many are effectively enslaved. Many do not survive.

On Monday, President Barack Obama issued a memorandum meant to address the “urgent humanitarian situation” on the southwest border where the number of children from Mexico and Central America trying to cross without their parents may reach 60,000 this year.

On the waters of the Mediterranean, each summer brings tide after tide of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but this year the wave started much earlier than usual. About 30,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far. Some 3,000 of them are children without their parents.

Yet for all the talk of urgency in government press releases, this crisis is presented in oddly sanitized, depersonalized and distant-seeming language. Obama’s “urgent” directive to relevant agencies calls on them to respond to “the influx of unaccompanied alien children (UAC),” thus reducing terrible suffering to a set of initials.

In fact, along the high fences and walls built around the rich nations of the world, the poor and dispossessed, the terrified and the suffering, the ambitious and the hopeful are gathering in scenes that look like they’re straight out of hell.

Maybe you’ve seen the stunning photographs of immigrants and refugees trying to storm the borders of Spain at the enclave of Melilla, or the tens of thousands awaiting deportation from American detention centers. Or, maybe, you read the stories about the 12-year-old Ecuadoran girl who committed suicide in Mexico when she could not reach her parents in New York.

In the midst of this massive tragedy, the most human and humane voices are coming from the Catholic Church: from Pope Francis himself, and from Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has spent his life working with immigrants, both those with papers and those without.

When I first met O’Malley in the late 1970s he was running the Spanish Catholic Center in one of the poorer corners of Washington, D.C., helping undocumented workers find housing, jobs, and a future in the United States. He wore the hooded brown habit and sandals of a Franciscan Capuchin friar. “Padre Sean,” they called him.

Today he still wears the habit much of the time, but his title is “Eminence,” and when required he dons the cardinal’s miter. At the last conclave to select a new pope, the “Vaticanista” press corps touted him as one of the leading candidates. And the man who finally was chosen, Pope Francis, has made O’Malley one of his most high-profile advisors on everything from organizational reform to the scandal of children sexually abused by priests.

But there is no subject that brings the pope and Padre Sean together more closely than immigration.

The first pastoral trip that Francis took outside of Rome as pontiff, in July last year, was to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, where so many refugees and immigrants have first made landfall on European soil, and where so many have died trying.

“In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference,” said the pope as he stood in a playing field that served as a makeshift detention center.

“We have become used to the suffering of others: ‘It doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!’ … The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!”

In April of this year, O’Malley went to Nogales, Arizona, on the border with Mexico, and with other bishops distributed communion through the slats in the tall fence that separates the countries. He took a lot of flak for it. Right-wing Catholic pundit George Weigel criticized him for holding a “politicized” mass.

But other Catholic commentators leaped to O’Malley’s defense. “This place that is the border is precisely where our bishops should be because it is where Jesus would be,” wrote Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter.

When O’Malley met with Pope Francis in Rome shortly afterward, the pontiff commented on the photographs that had come out of Arizona. “That’s a powerful picture,” he said to O’Malley.

Indeed. It’s not just the spiritual message, it’s the way of delivering it that is so striking in Francis’s church. “He’s a man who speaks in gestures,” O’Malley told me last week over lunch in New York City.

When I walked into the restaurant I was curious, of course, to see if O’Malley had changed much over the decades, and saw instantly that, apart from the whiteness of his hair and beard (he will turn 70 later this month), and the fact he was wearing a conventional priest’s collar that day, he seemed exactly the same.

We talked about the refugees and priests of Latin America during its wars, including El Salvador’s martyred Archbishop Romero, shot with a bullet through the heart while performing mass at a hospice in 1980. But mainly we talked about rationalizing immigration policy as a matter of common sense, and common decency, not partisan politics. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Collapsed health care system may be biggest threat to Syrians

Barbara Slavin writes: More Syrians have died from lack of adequate medical care than from actual combat as the war grinds on into its fourth year, according to Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union’s commissioner for international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response.

In an interview with Al-Monitor on April 11 in Washington, where she attended a coordination meeting at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) with other groups struggling to keep up with the spreading humanitarian consequences of the Syrian crisis, Georgieva said that “over 200,000 people have died because treatment is not available anymore in the collapsed health system of Syria.”

While Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has consolidated control over a significant part of territory, the country’s economy has fallen apart, the European commissioner said, and nearly half the population — almost 10 million people — need assistance.

Increasingly, aid workers are reporting cases of malnutrition and starvation, which make weakened populations even more vulnerable to diseases such as measles, Georgieva said. She said she recently visited the northern Kurdish section of Iraq, which is now home to some 230,000 Syrian refugees.

“A large proportion of them flee not because of the fighting,” she said, “but because their children are starving and they cannot access very basic necessities.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

U.N. has to cut Syria food rations for lack of donor funds

Reuters reports: The United Nations has been forced to cut the size of food parcels for those left hungry by Syria’s civil war by a fifth because of a shortage of funds from donors, a senior official said on Monday.

Nevertheless, the United Nations’ World Food Programme managed to get food to a record 4.1 million people inside Syria last month, WFP deputy executive director Amir Abdulla told a news conference, just short of its target of 4.2 million.

As the humanitarian crisis within Syria intensifies, its neighbors are also groaning under the strain of an exodus of refugees that now totals around 3 million, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said.

“We know that this tragedy, together with the tragedy of the people displaced inside the country, 6.5 million, now shows that almost half of the Syrian population is displaced.”

Donor countries pledged $2.3 billion for aid agencies helping Syria at a conference in Kuwait in January, but only $1.1 billion has been received so far, including $250 million handed over by Kuwait on Monday, U.N. officials said. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

UN brands polio outbreak in Syria and Iraq ‘most challenging in history’

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: A UN agency has described the eruption of polio in Syria as perhaps “the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication” after the number of cases in the war-ravaged country reached 38 and the first case was confirmed in neighbouring Iraq.

According to the World Health organisation (WHO), the Iraqi case – found in a six-month-old unvaccinated child in Baghdad – is related to the outbreak in Syria, fuelling fears that the virus is spreading around the Middle East.

“The current polio outbreak in Syria – now with one confirmed case in Iraq – is arguably the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication,” said a spokesman for the UN relief and works agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

“Seriously damaged health infrastructure, poor health access and utilisation because of insecurity inside Syria, and massive movements of vulnerable and at-risk populations in and out of Syria – all make controlling the outbreak and rendering health protection to Palestine refugees in Syria and across the region very challenging.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Don’t put Syria aside, Brahimi says amid Ukraine crisis

n13-iconBloomberg reports: More than 350,000 people will have died in Syria’s civil war by next year if peace talks don’t restart, United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said in an effort to keep an international spotlight on the conflict.

“I told the Security Council that Syria cannot be placed on a back burner,” Brahimi told the UN General Assembly yesterday, according to a transcript. “A crisis of this magnitude needs the full attention of this organization.”

With the Security Council set to take up a resolution today on Russia’s move into Ukraine, Brahimi sought to underscore the continuing human and economic costs of Syria’s civil war, which entered its fourth year this week with more than 130,000 people killed. He said more than 300 Syrians flee their homes every hour. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

U.N. refugee chief warns world powers not to forget Syria conflict

n13-iconn13-iconReuters reports: The head of the United Nation’s refugee agency said on Tuesday it must be ready in case Ukraine’s crisis causes refugees to flee Crimea, but his biggest worry is that “a total disaster” could occur if the international community diverts its attention away from Syria’s conflict.

Antonio Guterres, the head of the U.N.’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said in an interview that little progress was being made in efforts by the United States and Russia, now at loggerheads over Ukraine, to bring Syria’s warring sides together after the collapse of talks in Geneva last month.

“In the moment in which we need the most relevant countries in the world to be able to come together to narrow their differences and to try to find a way to move into peace for Syria, this tension around Ukraine will obviously not help,” Guterres told Reuters while visiting Washington to discuss Syria’s refugee crisis.

“I hope that those that have the most important responsibility in world affairs will be able to understand that forgetting Syria will be a total disaster,” he said. [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail

Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening

facebooktwittermail

‘There’s no hope left': the Syrian refugee camp that is becoming a township

f13-iconRobin Yassin-Kassab writes: This must be how the Palestinian camps began their slow transformation into towering townships. The Syrian families here are still living in canvas or plastic tents, but the little shops selling falafel and cola on the Atmeh camp’s “main street” are now breeze-block and corrugated-iron constructions. And now nobody dares talk about going home.

Atmeh camp, just inside Syria, hugs the Turkish border fence. It is December, and the population has risen in the six months since I was here in June, from 22,000 to almost 30,000. This new settlement is one of many – there are more than 6 million people displaced inside Syria, and more than 2 million in neighbouring states. The camp’s population dwindles and swells according to the vicissitudes of battle. When the regime reconquered (and obliterated) the Khaldiyeh quarter of Homs last July, an additional 50 to 60 families a day arrived.

Six months ago, when I last visited, I was able to travel deep into liberated Syria – as far as Kafranbel in the south of Idlib province – with nothing to fear from the Free Army fighters manning checkpoints. This time I don’t dare go as far as Atmeh village, sitting on the nearby hilltop, because it is occupied by al-Qaida franchise the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). Last June the camp’s residents referred derisively to the mainly foreign jihadists as “the spicy crew”. Now they are a real threat – abducting and often murdering revolutionary activists, Free Army fighters and journalists. This development contributes greatly to the gloom of the camp’s residents.

In the camp, the steaming vats of the Maram Foundation’s charity kitchen are cooking the same meal they were six months ago: lentil soup. Children wait with buckets in the red mud outside for lunch to be distributed. Also on the main street is a new clinic and one-room dentist (funded by the Syrian-American Medical Society). Dr Haytham grins as he complains about the conditions. The roof leaks, and the recent snowstorm has flooded his crowded space, destroying electrical equipment. As he serves us tea, a boy called Mahmoud, aged about five, walks in to observe us, his face marked by post-treatment leishmaniasis scars (a resurgent disease caused by the sand flies which prosper in uncollected rubbish). Mahmoud seems a pleasant child at first, but after a smiling photograph with one of our group his mood flips; he violently pinches the hand of the man he’d been cuddling up to and then takes to whipping his older sister with a cable. “Nobody can control him,” somebody remarks. “He doesn’t have a father.”

Fatherless, husbandless, homeless … When I ask a man where he’d come from he changed the name of his town from Kafranboodeh to Kafr Mahdoomeh, “the Demolished Village”. I ask him why. “Because they haven’t left one house standing, nor any animals in the fields. What will we ever return to? The whole town’s gone.” [Continue reading...]

facebooktwittermail