Rashida Jones: The only scary thing about Syria’s refugees is that they’re just like us

Rashida Jones writes: Immigration has become an unavoidable part of our global conversation. In part, because since 2011, the war in Syria has perpetuated a devastating refugee crisis, many fleeing the country by any means possible, putting a strain on many countries all over the world. We’ve all seen the pictures: a child trying to flee war, washing ashore in Turkey, dead. Rescued children who survived an air strike in Aleppo, covered in ash and blood. Babies rescued from the rubble. Unfortunately, as long as the war continues, heartbreaking photos of people enduring and escaping war will permeate our media.

Like a lot of us, I have been confused but concerned by the present discussion surrounding refugees. Here’s what I knew, probably similar to what you all know: we are witnessing the largest global refugee crisis in history. There is an ongoing civil war in Syria that has displaced 13.5 million people. All over the world, there is philosophical and practical conflict over borders: Do we close them, do we open them, how much, how many, etc.? And the U.S. has recently welcomed the last of its promised 10,000 Syrian refugees to our soil. Oh, yeah, and there is pretty dangerous propaganda floating around that all refugees are terrorists. Perpetuated by many unnamed international politicians, including a presidential candidate whose name rhymes with Cronald Blump.

What else did I know? I knew that the passing of the Brexit was partially inspired by the false promise of blocking entry for refugees, immigrants, and anyone who falls into the “other” category. I knew that the European countries that opened their borders have struggled with the influx of refugees. I knew that the European countries that closed their borders have struggled with bad international P.R. for being inhumane.

As a descendant of black slaves and Jewish immigrants, it’s inherently hard for me to understand why it’s acceptable for a closed-borders, anti-foreigners viewpoint to be influencing policy and popular opinion. But I try to understand. If I’m being generous, I guess I could speculate that people worldwide are scared? Scared of what they don’t know, scared of what’s next, scared of losing their comfortable lives, of having to find a way to cohabit with people whose culture, language, and religious orientation is unfamiliar. And, yes, they are irrationally scared of inviting in violent extremism. Of course we all understand the instinct to protect what is ours, but at what cost to our humanity? [Continue reading…]



The obliteration of Aleppo and the fate of Syria

A conversation between Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel on the Syrian catastrophe and what should be done about it. Hashemi is Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. Postel is the Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. Together they are the co-editors of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future (2011), The Syria Dilemma (2013), and Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East (forthcoming in early 2017).



Why Uganda is one of the world’s most hospitable refugee destinations



A million refugees could make a Mosul victory look like defeat

The Daily Beast reports: In a shabby school building that has ceased to be a place of learning, families crowd the spaces that are shielded from the intense autumn sun. Women sit on pieces of cardboard to avoid the dirty floors of the school’s courtyard, corridors, and classrooms. Their children are clustered around them.

With little more than the clothes on their bodies, these families are recent arrivals at the Debaga displacement camp in Kurdish administered northern Iraq. They’ve walked through the dark of the night and the heat of the day to escape the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

These men, women, and children have staggered through the arid plains of Nineveh province, arriving here with fear and exhaustion etched on their faces. And every day more civilians seep through the front lines, a trickle expected to turn into a flood as Iraqi forces begin their assault on Mosul, the final ISIS stronghold in Iraq.

More than 100,000 people have fled the crumbling caliphate in the run-up to the battle, which could begin as soon as mid-October, and of those, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, 62,000 fled Mosul and its environs. [Continue reading…]


Migrant and refugee children are victims of more bullying than their peers

By Simona Carla Silvia Caravita, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

As migrants and refugees begin to settle into new lives across Europe, they face many challenges – from securing residency papers, to learning a new language and finding work. For children, new schools can also be difficult places to grow up. In our recent research we found that migrant and refugee children in Italian schools were more likely to be bullied than their peers, many because their schoolmates already held prejudices against them.

Rates of bullying among children are high across the world, according to a recent report from the UN’s special representative on violence against children. There is a big social cost to being bullied and these children face a greater risk of poor health, internalised stress, and suicidal thoughts.

Negative outcomes of bullying are now not only being reported in high-income countries, where the majority of research is conducted. A new briefing published by UNICEF’s Office of Research has looked at bullying among adolescents in low- and middle-income countries and the effect this has on young adults. It showed how adolescents in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam who were bullied by peers at age 15 tended to experience negative effects at age 19. These included lower self-esteem, a lower perception of their own success (known as self-efficacy) and more strained relationships with their peers and with their parents.

In our research, we wanted to look at the factors that increase the risk of bullying among particularly vulnerable children. The recent European immigration crisis, and in particular the situation in Italy and Greece, called our attention to the problem of bullying among migrant and refugee children attending Italian schools.

In 2013 and 2014, 9% of the Italian school pupil population were migrant and refugee children, according to data from the Italian Minister of Education Bullying of migrant and refugee children because of their migrant status, similar to victimisation of children of a particular ethnic group, is known as bias-based bullying.

[Read more…]


Martin Bosma — Geert Wilders’ brain

Politico reports: Look at photographs of Geert Wilders in the Dutch parliament, and the camera often shows a figure seated behind him: Martin Bosma, the polemicist of the Freedom Party (PVV).

A former journalist, whose side-swept brown hair keeps him a youthful 52, Bosma is often described in Dutch media as the PVV’s ideologist. “He’s the brain. He invented the PVV,” said Geert Tomlow, a former parliamentary elections candidate from the party.

Bosma’s ideas are bearing fruit at just the right time, with the PVV leading in the polls five months from a general election that could see the party double in size in the parliament. He and Wilders have helped push the center-ground of Dutch politics to the Right and mainstreamed positions once confined to the fringe.

Since entering parliament a decade ago, Bosma has published two books, each released to a flurry of television interviews and controversy.

The autobiographical “The Fake Elite of the Counterfeiters” takes aim at a left-wing clique he accuses of taking over cultural institutions and allowing immigration in an underhand coup to achieve radical aims by stealth.

“Minority in One’s Own Land” turns to South African history. Bosma argues that the predominantly Dutch-descended settlers, the Afrikaners, became outnumbered by black South Africans and subjected to “cultural genocide” and “Apartheid 2.0” in events he warns could foreshadow the fate of the Netherlands. [Continue reading…]


Xenophobia finds a foothold among those who feel left behind

Stefan Berg writes: I recently ran into a man in Brandenburg who, for no obvious reason, began to rail against German President Joachim Gauck before spitting on the ground and storming away. Another time, I overheard a loud discussion about refugees in a bus, one that escalated into an exchange of ideas for how best to neglect or even abuse migrants: by giving them only bread and water, for instance, or keeping them in cages. In the nearby butcher shop, you can find people who don’t care much about freedom — people who demand a “clear position,” a “bit more Putin” and less “palaver in the talk-shop,” by which they mean the German parliament in Berlin. Outside the butcher’s, there’s a parked car with the bumper sticker: “death penalty for child abusers.”

In its report on the state of German unity, which was celebrated on Monday, the government warned that Eastern Germany’s xenophobia represents a danger to social harmony. No matter where it takes place, xenophobia can be dangerous for its victims, whether in East or West. But the government in Berlin has identified a greater danger in Eastern Germany — one that threatens society as a whole.

Every time a snarling horde marches against a refugee home in Saxony, every time the chancellor is confronted with hateful tirades during a public appearance, I wonder if this behavior is typical for Eastern Germany. At first glance, my answer is: No. The majority of Eastern Germans clearly adhere to the rules of decency and democracy. Nevertheless, something “typically Eastern German” can still be identified in these excesses. [Continue reading…]


António Guterres: Refugees have the right to be protected


BBC News reports: The nomination of Antonio Guterres as next UN secretary general came despite efforts by some politicians for the role to go to a woman, or to someone from eastern Europe.

He is widely expected to select a woman as deputy secretary-general, having said that “gender parity” is crucial at the United Nations.

Speaking earlier this year, Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said insiders believed Mr Guterres, from Portugal, “could give the UN the kind of kick up the backside it needs”.

Mr Guterres was born in Lisbon in 1949. He studied engineering and physics at the Instituto Superior Tecnico, before going into academia after graduating in 1971.

But academia only held the fervent Catholic’s interest for a couple of years. He joined the Socialist party in 1974 – the same year five decades of dictatorship came to an end in Portugal – and soon became a full-time politician.

In 1995, three years after being elected the Socialist party’s secretary general, he was voted in as prime minister, a position he held until 2002.

Then Mr Guterres, fluent in Portuguese, English, Spanish and French, turned his attention to the world of international diplomacy, becoming the UN’s high commissioner for refugees in 2005. [Continue reading…]


Why Egypt’s migrants risk their lives

Bel Trew writes: The smugglers forced the last 100 frightened migrants to board a listing ship at knifepoint. They were 12 kilometers (8 miles) off the Egyptian coast and the battered fishing boat was already packed. The smugglers snarled death threats at the appointed “captain” who refused to set sail for Italy because, with over 450 people on board, the vessel was dangerously overloaded.

One we’ll call Mohamed, because he is only 17, is an impoverished Egyptian tuk-tuk driver who waited on the bow of the crammed ship with a dozen of this friends as the fight erupted. It was 4:00 a.m. and nearly light but the new influx of passengers had sparked panic on deck.

The battered ribs of the ship began to groan as the shifting weight rocked the vessel violently to the side. Locked inside a fish refrigerator in the hold, dozens of people clawed at the walls to get out.

Mohamed and his 15-year-old friend, whom we’ll call Osman, were the first to jump into the churning water after failing to coax their best friend Karim, also 15, to join them. Karim, like many others on board the boat, could not swim.

“From the water I saw something snap on top and the boat suddenly flipped on its side. It was as if it was sucked under the waves,” Mohamed said days later from his impoverished hometown of Green Island, east of Alexandria.

“We watched people drowning each other to get air. The living were floating on the dead,” he added, his voice cracking.

Osman spotted Karim, 15, clutching onto a water bottle. “He was slipping. We tried to reach him. But I looked back and he was gone.”

The two boys, who swam for seven hours looking for land, were among the 163 people dragged out of the water by fishermen, who came to their rescue when the Egyptian coastguard failed to show up.

An estimated 300 people from Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, and Somalia drowned that morning of Sept. 21, although only 202 bodies have so far been recovered. On Tuesday, 33 corpses, some unrecognizable after a week on the sea floor, were pulled out of the hull of the ship, which was finally brought to the surface and towed to shore.

Dozens of Egyptian children like Mohamed were onboard, part of an increasing number of minors leaving alone for Italy, because they cannot be repatriated under Italian law and so can stay to make money to send home.

Over 16,863 unaccompanied children have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Italy so far this year, nearly double the 8,354 who traveled last year, according to an email sent to me by Save The Children. Over 2,666 of those unaccompanied minors were Egyptian, more than triple the 854 who traveled in the same period last year.

Desperation is driving families to urge their young sons to take the deadly 10-day sea trip. A crumbling economy in Egypt, fueled by five years of unrest and political oppression, means few have opportunities if they stay. [Continue reading…]


How Vladimir Putin feeds Europe’s rabid right

Anna Nemtsova writes: Victor Orban, the right-wing leader of Hungary, offered his people a simple formula: Come and vote in a referendum against allowing in more asylum-seekers and you will be safe from terrorism in your country.

Prime Minister Orban also promised that if people did not show up for the migration referendum on Sunday, Hungary would have wasted more than $36 million, which is what the authorities were spending to organize the vote to reject the European Union quota of 1,229 refugees. That was the price to stop terrorism, according to Orban. (According to critics, that was $30,000 per head of anti-humanitarian spending.)

As often happens in Europe these days, the results were confusing, and unsettling.

Orban had compared migrants to “poison.” Hungary would “give Europe the finger,” he said, vowing to change Hungary’s constitution so the European Union would have no right to impose any rules on the country without its parliament’s approval.

This is the same country, remember, that just a dozen years ago celebrated its membership in the EU. Now it wants to restructure the whole thing. [Continue reading…]


How Clausnitz in Saxony became shorthand for the ugly, xenophobic side of Germany

Takis Würger writes: I spent a month living in Clausnitz. I rented a guest room on a farm for eight euros a night.

One of the first village residents to speak with me was a refugee. Sitting on a bench in front of his home, he told me his story. He comes from a place full of forests and lakes, he said. Before the war, his father had worked at a paper factory, but he then went to the front and died there.

His mother fled with her son – making parts of the journey on foot and others in a horsecart. His mother carefully preserved a paper cornet as they fled that she had filled with a mixture of oatmeal and chocolate. She gave her son three spoonfuls of it each day.

His mother had no money to give to smugglers to ensure they would be taken to safety, so she gave them her wedding ring.

When the boy grew weak, she said to him: “We have to make it to Clausnitz.”

Today, that boy is 76 years old. He hasn’t set eyes on his home village of Hammermühle in Pomerania (in today’s Poland) since he fled 70 years ago. Hans-Peter Neitzke is a tall, upright man with a fisherman’s cap and blue overalls. He rented me my room.

When people learned one year ago that Syrian refugees would be coming to a village next to Clausnitz, his phone rang and a man told him he was collecting signatures against the refugees, Nietzke explains. “But I’m a refugee myself,” he told the man. [Continue reading…]


The ebbing of democracy in the Western Balkans

Judy Dempsey writes: A meeting of international donors, foundations, and multilateral funders opened in the Serbian capital Belgrade on September 21 amid growing concern from young grassroots and philanthropic organizations that the Western Balkans are drifting backward. And in a dangerous way.

It is a backwardness characterized by growing corruption, increasing intimidation of the media, and political elites across the region who pay lip service to reform.

With the EU now focused on ensuring security, controlling its external borders, and stemming the flow of migrants reaching Europe, the union is paying little attention to the negative trends taking place in its immediate backyard. The emerging message from the Balkan Donors Forum, spearheaded by the European Fund for the Balkans and the Open Society Foundations, was that donors and NGOs need to rethink their role in this part of Europe.

The decision by Britain in June 2016 to quit the EU has dealt a blow to reformers in the Western Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. For reformers and those who support the region joining the EU, Brexit will mean a weaker Europe. Brexit also robs the EU of a strong advocate of further enlargement. [Continue reading…]