What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Cas Mudde writes: In 1991 Belgium had its (first) black Sunday, when the populist radical right Flemish Block gained 6.8% of the national vote. Since then many other western European countries have gone through a similar experience, from Denmark to Switzerland. And now, even the ever stable Germany has its own schwarzer Sonntag, and it’s blacker than most people had expected.

The populist radical-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament, but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%, an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover, both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote.

Polls from German state TV, showed that AfD has its Hochburgen (strongholds) in the former communist east of the country. While it scored on average 11% in west Germany, it got 21.5% in east Germany, more than twice as much. This is in line with its results in the regional state elections, in which AfD also gained its largest support in the east.

AfD got more votes from past non-voters (1.2 million) than from the CDU/CSU (1 million) or SPD (500,000). In many ways this is an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik towards refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilised previous non-voters. The same poll also shows, for example, that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens); 85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration was the number one issue in these elections. [Continue reading…]

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The White House’s preposterous policy analysis on refugees

In an editorial, the Washington Post says: A quirky thing about government programs is that, in addition to costs, there are benefits, the latter of which may also include revenue. Yet in the case of U.S. refugee programs, xenophobes seeking an upper hand in the Trump administration have covered up half the ledger.

A report ordered up by President Trump in March, and produced by officials in July, concluded that refugees had delivered $63 billion more in federal, state and local tax revenue than they had cost in federal benefits through the decade ending in 2014. According to the New York Times, however, the administration sent the report back for a redo, insisting that any mention of revenue be dropped. The Department of Health and Human Services obliged in a final, three-page report this month, which concluded that per-person departmental program costs for refugees were $3,300, compared with a per-person cost of $2,500 for the U.S. population as a whole.

That’s not exactly a shocker. Refugees, by definition legal immigrants, tend to be poor or penniless. As the report from Health and Human Services says, they naturally draw more heavily on the department’s programs, particularly in their first four years of residency. The fact that they pay more in taxes than they draw in benefits cuts against the administration’s spin and, according to the Times, was suppressed by Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s nativist senior policy adviser.

Mr. Miller is leading the charge to slash the number of refugees admitted in the fiscal year starting in October, below even the cap of 50,000 that Mr. Trump imposed this year — itself the lowest number in more than 30 years. (Before leaving office, President Barack Obama had set this year’s target at 110,000.) In addition to his general dislike of immigration, Mr. Miller sees refugees in particular as a terrorist threat and a fiscal burden. The fact that there’s extremely little historical evidence of the former, and that the latter is demonstrably false, doesn’t interest him — or Mr. Trump, who on Tuesday told the U.N. General Assembly that it would be much cheaper for Washington to send money for refugees rather than resettle them in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Why there’s no end in sight for Myanmar’s Rohingya exodus

Brandon Tensley writes: Myanmar has been careening ever deeper into crisis for several weeks. On August 25th, an insurgent army of the Rohingya people—a stateless Muslim group in the majority-Buddhist country—attacked state security forces. The military responded with a brutal counterinsurgency, one that included torture, summary killings, and the mass displacement of civilians. The Myanmar government has since largely cut off aid operations to conflict-torn areas.

Violence centered around the Rohingya, particularly in the impoverished state of Rakhine, on Myanmar’s western coast, isn’t new. Last year, for instance, on October 9th, the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army—the group that also carried out last month’s attacks—killed a dozen officers across state security outposts. Over the next few days, the Myanmar military’s reprisal forced thousands of Rohingya, as well as other civilians, across the border into nearby Bangladesh. Many of those who escaped the violence reported that their villages had been burned down and that innocent civilians had been killed. Four years before that, a string of riots in 2012 claimed more than 100 lives and forced some 140,000 more into squalid refugee camps. The plight of the Rohingya has routinely left them vulnerable to abuse by smugglers, as they take to rickety boats and attempt to look for sanctuary elsewhere; in 2015, increased attempts at migration led to a regional refugee crisis.

Yet the severity and speed with which the current crisis is escalating threatens to make it the worst flare-up of mass migration Myanmar has seen in decades. These developments, in a country allegedly moving toward democracy, can also seem more dire than before. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration rejects study showing positive impact of refugees

The New York Times reports: Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

The draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times, contradicts a central argument made by advocates of deep cuts in refugee totals as President Trump faces an Oct. 1 deadline to decide on an allowable number. The issue has sparked intense debate within his administration as opponents of the program, led by Mr. Trump’s chief policy adviser, Stephen Miller, assert that continuing to welcome refugees is too costly and raises concerns about terrorism.

Advocates of the program inside and outside the administration say refugees are a major benefit to the United States, paying more in taxes than they consume in public benefits, and filling jobs in service industries that others will not. But research documenting their fiscal upside — prepared for a report mandated by Mr. Trump in a March presidential memorandum implementing his travel ban — never made its way to the White House. Some of those proponents believe the report was suppressed.

The internal study, which was completed in late July but never publicly released, found that refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. “Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.”

But White House officials said those conclusions were illegitimate and politically motivated, and were disproved by the final report issued by the agency, which asserts that the per-capita cost of a refugee is higher than that of an American. [Continue reading…]

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How violence in Myanmar radicalized a new generation of Rohingya

The New York Times reports: Nazir Hossain, the imam of a village in far western Myanmar, gathered the faithful around him after evening prayers last month. In a few hours, more than a dozen Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army fighters from his village would strike a nearby police post with an assortment of handmade weapons.

The men needed their cleric’s blessing.

“As imam, I encouraged them never to step back from their mission,” Mr. Hossein recalled of his final words to the ethnic Rohingya militants. “I told them that if they did not fight to the death, the military would come and kill their families, their women and their children.”

They fought — joining an Aug. 25 assault by thousands of the group’s fighters against Myanmar’s security forces — and the retaliation came down anyway. Since then, Myanmar’s troops and vigilante mobs have unleashed a scorched-earth operation on Rohingya populations in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar, sending hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes in a campaign that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.

From its start four years ago as a small-scale effort to organize a Rohingya resistance, ARSA — which is known locally as Harakah al-Yaqin, or the Faith Movement — has managed to stage two deadly attacks on Myanmar’s security forces: one last October and the other last month.

But in lashing out against the government, the militants have also made their own people a target. And they have handed Myanmar’s military an attempt at public justification by saying that it is fighting terrorism, even as it has burned down dozens of villages and killed fleeing women and children.

This radicalization of a new generation of Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a Buddhist-majority country, adds fuel to an already combustible situation in Rakhine, Myanmar’s poorest state.

Increasingly, there is also concern that both the relatively few Rohingya who have taken up arms and the broader population — hundreds of thousands of whom are crowded in camps in neighboring Bangladesh — will be exploited by international terrorism networks, bringing a localized struggle into the slipstream of global politics.

ARSA’s attempt at insurgency politics has been disastrous so far — a cease-fire that they declared this month was rejected by the military, and they are reported to have suffered lopsided casualties compared with the government’s. But the men caught up in the cause insist that resistance is worth the steep cost, even to their families. [Continue reading…]

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Aid group warns of lives at risk among Rohingya in Bangladesh

Reuters reports: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh could die due to a lack of food, shelter and water available for the huge numbers of them fleeing violence in Myanmar, an aid agency warned on Sunday.

Nearly 410,000 members of the Rohingya Muslim minority fled from western Rakhine state to Bangladesh to escape a military offensive that the United Nations has branded a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

“Many people are arriving hungry, exhausted and with no food or water,” Mark Pierce, Bangladesh country director for the Save the Children aid agency said in a statement.

“I’m particularly worried that the demand for food, shelter, water and basic hygiene support is not being met due to the sheer number of people in need. If families can’t meet their basic needs, the suffering will get even worse and lives could be lost.” [Continue reading…]

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‘Blood flowed in the streets’: Refugees from one Rohingya village recount days of horror

The Washington Post reports: The soldiers arrived in the Burma village just after 8 a.m., the villagers said, ready to fight a war.

They fired shots in the air, and then, the villagers claim, turned their guns on fleeing residents, who fell dead and wounded in the monsoon-green rice paddy. The military’s retribution for a Rohingya militant attack on police posts earlier that day had begun.

Mohammed Roshid, a rice farmer, heard the gunfire and fled with his wife and children, but his 80-year-old father, who walks with a stick, wasn’t as nimble. Roshid said he saw a soldier grab Yusuf Ali and slit his throat with such ferocity the old man was nearly decapitated.

“I wanted to go back and save him, but some relatives stopped me because there was so many military,” Roshid, 55, said. “It’s the saddest thing in my life that I could not do anything for my father.”

The Burmese military’s “clearance operation” in the Maung Nu hamlet and dozens of other villages populated by Burma’s ethnic Rohingya minority triggered an exodus of an estimated 389,000 refugees into Bangladesh, an episode the United Nations human rights chief has called “ethnic cleansing.” The tide of refugees is expected to grow in the coming days. The newly arrived refugees — dazed, clutching their belongings, some barefoot in ankle-deep mud — have crowded out an existing camp and put up makeshift shelters. Others simply sit on the roadways, fighting crowds as large relief trucks fling down bags of rice or water. [Continue reading…]

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White House weighs lowering refugee quota to below 50,000

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration is considering reducing the number of refugees admitted to the country over the next year to below 50,000, according to current and former government officials familiar with the discussions, the lowest number since at least 1980.

President Trump promised during his 2016 campaign to deny admittance to refugees who posed a terrorist threat. In his first days in office he took steps to radically reduce the program that resettles refugees in American cities and towns, capping the number admitted at 50,000 as part of his executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries. That was less than half the 110,000 refugees President Barack Obama said should be admitted in 2016.

But in recent weeks, as the deadline approached for Mr. Trump to issue the annual determination for refugee admissions required by the Refugee Act of 1980, some inside the White House — led by Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior adviser for policy — have pressed to set the ceiling even lower. [Continue reading…]

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Supreme Court lets Trump bar refugees in boost for travel ban

Bloomberg reports: The U.S. Supreme Court reinforced President Donald Trump’s travel ban, saying he can bar thousands of refugees from entering the country while the justices prepare to hear a broader challenge to the policy.

The high court put on hold a federal appeals court ruling that had said Trump couldn’t apply his travel ban to refugees once a resettlement agency had promised it would provide basic services for them. About 24,000 refugees are covered by those agreements.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Oct. 10 on Trump’s travel order, which imposed a 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from six mostly Muslim countries and a 120-day ban on refugees. The policy is designed to give officials time to assess vetting procedures. Lower courts have said Trump overstepped his authority and unconstitutionally targeted Muslims. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump wants to unravel Obama’s legacy, he could start with Burma

Ishaan Tharoor writes: President Trump has made no secret of his desire to dismantle the achievements of President Barack Obama, be they domestic reforms on health care, an executive order governing the status of undocumented youth, a landmark international agreement on climate change or the deal inked between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program.

Many of Trump’s efforts to unravel Obama’s legacy, though, have stalled. More often than not, they have also proved widely unpopular among the public, according to a slate of opinion polls. But there’s one hot spot where Trump could probably walk back the effects of Obama’s foreign policy with little condemnation: Burma. [Continue reading…]

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‘Textbook example of ethnic cleansing’: 370,000 Rohingyas flood Bangladesh as crisis worsens

The Washington Post reports: The number of Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in Burma has now topped 370,000, a crisis the United Nations human rights chief called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Hundreds of thousands of the long-persecuted ethnic minority continued to stream via land and rickety boats into Bangladesh this week, arriving exhausted, dehydrated and recounting tales of nightmarish horrors at the hands of the Burmese military, including friends and neighbors shot dead and homes torched before their eyes.

“It seems they wanted us to leave the country,” said Nurjahan, an elderly Rohingya woman who escaped her burning village 10 days ago and ended up camped by the side of the road, unsure of where to go.

Speaking in Geneva on Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration put the number fleeing Burma at 370,000 but admitted it could rise sharply. [Continue reading…]

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More than a quarter-million Rohingya have fled Burma in the past two weeks, UN says

The Washington Post reports: On Friday, the United Nations’ refugee agency significantly revised upward its estimate of how many Rohingya people had fled Burma to neighboring Bangladesh over the past two weeks, to 270,000 from just 125,000 earlier this week.

Renewed violence has engulfed Burma’s Rakhine state, where tension between the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority and the country’s Burmese and largely Buddhist majority have simmered and flared for decades. Some 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya already lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh before this summer. An estimated 1.1 million remained in Burma. Since Aug. 25, nearly a quarter of that remaining population has reportedly fled.

Human rights groups and journalists have been reporting a statewide scorched-earth campaign by Burmese security forces to kill or otherwise expel Rohingya from the country. A BBC reporter who was on a government-chaperoned trip around Rakhine state said he spoke with Burmese men who admitted to burning a Rohingya village with the help of local police. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on Burma — also known as Myanmar — said Friday that more than 1,000 mostly Rohingya people may have been killed over the past two weeks. [Continue reading…]

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Rohingya crisis intensifies as India’s Modi arrives in Burma for talks

The Washington Post reports: Nearly 125,000 refugees belonging to the Rohingya minority ethnic group have fled Burma for neighboring Bangladesh in just the past week and a half, according to local aid organizations. They have relayed testimony of indiscriminate executions, gunfire from helicopters and a scorched-earth campaign seemingly aimed at destroying Rohingya villages and driving the mostly Muslim population out of predominantly Buddhist Burma. Hundreds have died making the journey to Bangladesh, including 46 who drowned when a boat carrying them capsized last week.

As the crisis deepens, governments and influential international figures — primarily, but not exclusively, from the Muslim world — have begun to speak out against the Burmese government and its de facto leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the Burmese capital on Tuesday to discuss trade, but he was also expected to bring up the Rohingya issue.

The most recent spate of violence in Burma’s southwestern Rakhine state broke out Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked local security forces, killing at least 12. The attack mirrored a similar one in October that killed nine border police personnel and spurred almost 90,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, which has been a refuge for the group for decades, though increasingly reluctantly.

This year’s violence appears to be more widespread and intense. The Burmese military has acknowledged killing at least 370 Rohingyas in what it calls “clearance operations.” The government maintains that all those killed belonged to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a militant group that has been building up its ranks since last year’s violence. It is unclear how much local and international support ARSA has, but videos of its training camps show only small numbers of shabbily dressed and ill-equipped fighters. [Continue reading…]

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Millennials in the U.S. are more welcoming of refugees than the global average

Quartz reports: Millennials in the US are more accepting of refugees than many of their peers elsewhere, according to a World Economic Forum (WEF) survey of people aged 18 to 35. A majority of young people around the globe would welcome refugees to their country, according to the report, although the strength of this feeling varies by place.

Nearly 90% of US of respondents to the WEF survey said they would welcome refugees to their country, compared with 72% globally, according to the survey of 15,990 respondents.

The findings come as the number of refugees admitted to the US was reduced by nearly half in the first three months of Donald Trump’s presidency, versus the final three months of the Obama administration, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Trump has sought to cap the number of refugees the US takes in at 50,000, although much has hinged on the Supreme Court’s view of the president’s “travel ban” executive order. [Continue reading…]

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Yearning for the end of the world

As a child in Iran, Dina Nayeri belonged to a secret Christian church where the Rapture was welcomed as a rescue. She writes: In my mid-20s, after years of grappling with my identity as a refugee and my place in the world, I stopped believing in the Rapture. By then I had embraced all the secular, corporeal things I had secretly desired: a rigorous education, travel, great food, the admission that I do believe in science and that the Bible is at most a metaphor to me. I watched that old movie, A Thief in the Night, on my laptop and was fumed at the heavy-handed messages that had colonised my adolescent brain. The Christian characters benefit from the goodwill and love of their secular friends, then dismiss human love as insufficient. Ever blase, their lives never progress; they only wait. This was the detail in the movie that struck me most as an adult: the two primary Christian characters don’t have jobs or romances. They live in the next life.

This fetishisation of waiting was the final straw. Because here is something that only refugees (and people newly in love) can tell you: there is no painful business quite like waiting. Roland Barthes calls it subjection. For me, waiting for the Rapture and for political asylum felt much the same: the constant anticipation of a new start, of vanishing, of having already smelled the tiny yellow roses that draped our garden walls or tasted my grandmother’s celery stew for the final time. Being a refugee is dismantling home, setting out into the desert and becoming stateless in pursuit of a better life. Refugees are seekers of a sort of Rapture, and, in leaving their known world for something unimaginably good beyond, they enact a small apocalypse.

When I said this to my mother recently, she balked. Though she believes in the Rapture – it is her “living hope” – and has suffered long bouts as a refugee, she doesn’t like the comparison. “I didn’t choose to leave my home,” she said. “Being a refugee is being homeless, not having hope. In those years I lived in constant numbness, because while you’re waiting, there is nothing. No way back and no way forward. With the Rapture, going back isn’t an option, but what’s ahead is beautiful.”

The Rapture story offers a known future that you don’t have to build yourself. It happens in an instant: before you’re done with one life, you’re whisked into another. And that is everything – skipping that in-between space, the country of purgatory where the refugee lingers. “If you’ve ever been a refugee,” my mother says, “you know how much that matters.”

She’s right: I do know that. I understand now that eschatological promises provide closure, the end of mankind’s story on Earth, at once terrible and necessary. They are designed to assuage a universal fear: the fate of the refugee. To set off as an asylum seeker is to endure a carousel of embassy visits and interviews and application papers without any idea of what comes next. It’s life without a heaven or hell, just recurring cycles that lead nowhere. Refugees live out the ancient themes of purgatory and banishment literally, and that – not the guillotine’s blade or the antichrist or oblivion – is the ultimate nightmare: life without closure, forever in limbo.

But I also know that being rescued from the nightmare of waiting is not only the refugee’s greatest desire, but also her greatest dread, because then home is no longer home and she’s no longer who she once was; she is transformed. Maybe that’s why I was so much more afraid in Oklahoma than in Isfahan – by then, I had tasted that transformation. I knew what it was like to be taken away, never to smell the yellow roses or taste the celery stew again. [Continue reading…]

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Living in a void: life in Damascus after the exodus

Khaled Khalifa writes: My sister, whom I haven’t seen for more than two years, told me she was going to cross the sea in a rubber dinghy. She hung up, not wanting to hear what I thought. She merely said something profound and sentimental and entrusted her three children to my care in the event that she drowned. A few minutes later I tried to call the unfamiliar Turkish number back, but the phone had been turned off. Hundreds of images from our childhood flooded my memory. It’s not easy to say goodbye to half a century of your life and wait for someone you love to drown. My fingers and toes felt cold and my head empty, and I didn’t feel able to argue anyway. What can one offer a woman who has lost her home and everything she owns and, not wanting to lose her children too, carried them off into exile to seek a safe haven in Turkey? Things are not easy for a woman like her there. She looks like millions of other Syrian women and does not have any special skills. All that’s left is the hope of asylum, even if it requires crossing the sea in a rubber dinghy. It’s as if she’s trying to tell me something I know already – that the sea is Syrians’ only hope.

Maybe it was luck that saved my sister. She didn’t drown, and she found friends to help her in Greece and in the other countries she passed through. She certainly didn’t talk about unpleasant experiences with traffickers fleecing her out of what little money she had or leaving her destitute in an airport waiting room. In any case, she eventually reached her destination, and in Denmark found another group of friends who could provide support. Some of her fellow adventurers had drowned in scenes of unimaginable horror. Death may take many forms, but the bleakest and blackest of them all is death by drowning, which is a complete denial of everything the human body stands for. The drowned body becomes food for the fishes of the sea, and dissolves like salt in a bowl of water.

In the days that followed, I received similar messages from my younger brother, who had left his home in Aleppo and gone to Mersin in southern Turkey. From there, he left his family and sailed alone, embarking on an arduous journey that took him from Greece to Italy and finally to Sweden. Then came an endless stream of phone calls from friends and close relatives, such as my cousins, all telling me they were about to set sail. [Continue reading…]

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Talking to Syrian refugees

Robin Yassin-Kassab writes: Everyone talks about Syrians, but very few actually talk to them. Perhaps that’s why Syria’s revolution and war have been so badly misunderstood in the west – variously as a US-led regime-change plot, an ancient Sunni-Shia conflict or a struggle between secularism and jihadism.

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled bucks the trend. Here the story is told entirely through the mouths of Wendy Pearlman’s Syrian interviewees, hundreds of them, from all social backgrounds, Christians and Muslims, Ismailis and Druze, rural and urban, middle class and poor. These best of all possible informants – the people who made the events, and who suffer the consequences – provide not only gripping eyewitness accounts but erudite analysis and sober reflection.

The introduction, alongside a concise overview of developments from 1970 to the present, describes Pearlman’s method. She interviewed refugees (who are therefore overwhelmingly anti-regime) in locations ranging from Jordan to Germany. And she interviewed them in Arabic, enabling “a connection that would have been impossible had I relied on an interpreter”. The result is testament both to Syrian expressive powers and the translation’s high literary standard.

These heart-stopping tales of torment and triumph are perfectly enchained, chronologically and thematically, to reflect the course of the crisis. They begin with life under Bashar al-Assad’s regime, “not a government but a mafia”, when children were trained to lie for their family’s security. “It was a state of terror,” says Ilyas, a dentist. “Every citizen was terrified. The regime was also terrified.” [Continue reading…]

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