Archive for September, 2015

Hungary posts ads in Lebanon, Jordan media warning migrants

September 21, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — The Hungarian government posted ads in Lebanese and Jordanian papers on Monday, warning migrants not to enter Hungary illegally, saying it is a crime punishable by imprisonment.

The move comes as Europe is reeling under pressure from tens of thousands of refugees making the perilous trek to the continent to seek sanctuary there. In a terse statement published as a full-page announcement in several newspapers, including Lebanon’s leading An-Nahar and Jordan’s Al-Rai, the government of Hungary said that “the strongest possible action is taken” against people who attempt to enter Hungary illegally.

“Do not listen to the people smugglers. Hungary will not allow illegal immigrants to cross its territory,” it said in both English and Arabic. Lebanon, a country of around 4.5 million people, has over 1.1 million Syrian refugees, while Jordan, with a population of 6.5 million, has about 630,000 — some of whom have already shown readiness to migrate to Europe because of dwindling aid and work opportunities.

Hungary, which closed its border with Serbia on Sept. 15, has erected another steel barrier at the Beremend border crossing with Croatia to try to slow the flow but the migrants keep coming. Many, fleeing violence and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, cross the Mediterranean in rickety smuggler boats and rush from one European border to the next to try to reach welcoming countries such as Germany and Sweden. The majority of those arriving on the shores of Europe are Syrians.

Hungary’s ads were not the first. Earlier this month, Denmark’s Ministry of Immigration, Integration and Housing posted advertisements in Lebanese newspapers aiming to deter migrants, saying that the Scandinavian nation has reduced social aid to migrants by 50 percent recently. Denmark also warned that migrants whose applications are rejected will be deported immediately.

Syria’s civil war, now in its fifth year, has killed more than 250,000 people and generated more than 4 million refugees. Meanwhile in Lebanon, the education minister appealed to donors to remain committed to helping the country deal with the flux of refugees, including providing free schooling to hundreds of thousands of refugee children currently here.

Elias Bou Saab said his government would absorb more Syrian refugee children in schools this year, aiming to double those enrolled from last year to reach 200,000. But this, he warned, leaves roughly the same number — about 200,000 — still without schooling.

“There are a still a great number of students out of schools, and that is a danger, danger to Lebanon and to the region,” Bou Saab told reporters as he launched the Back to School campaign, for which the government raised $94 million in grants — $25 million short of the needed funds.

“When they lose hope that there is no job opportunity or chances to go to school or chances that give them hope in life, they start to look for legitimate and illegitimate ways to go from one place to another,” he added, referring to the exodus to Europe.

Tonya Chapuisat, the UNICEF representative in Lebanon, said the Lebanese government has the school capacity to absorb more children but needs long-term donor commitment to do so. “If there was funding, we would hope that would go up to 300,000” students, she told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, German vice chancellor urged the international community to increase aid to Mideast countries hosting millions of Syrian refugees, saying this is key to slowing migration to Europe. Sigmar Gabriel, who was to start a visit to Jordan on Monday, said wealthy Gulf states “aren’t paying” and suggested the United States could contribute more. Aid agencies requested $7.4 billion for the Syria crisis for 2015, but received only 38 percent.

Gabriel told German TV on Sunday that the situation in host countries is “dramatically bad.”

Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, and Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Lebanese protests resume as leaders debate trash crisis

September 09, 2015

BEIRUT (AP) — Thousands of Lebanese demonstrators braved a sandstorm and oppressive humidity to take to Beirut streets on Wednesday and rally against government dysfunction, as politicians met for the first round of talks aimed at averting a political crisis that stemmed from a trash crisis that has engulfed the country’s capital.

Activists near the parliament building, which was closed off by security forces, shouted “thieves!” and hurled eggs as politicians’ convoys drove by. Tensions rose further after a morning gathering of lawmakers and senior politicians ended without results, while the Cabinet convened late into the night to discuss the deadlock. Outside the government building, protesters chanted: “Revolution, revolution against the system.”

Just before midnight, the government said it had approved a plan that promises to end the trash crisis. “They are feeling the sand shifting under them,” Elias Nassour, a 28-year-old protester, said of the government leaders. “Nothing will pass so easily anymore. They can’t belittle us anymore.”

The trash crisis has ignited the largest Lebanese protests in years and has emerged as a festering symbol of the government’s paralysis and failure to provide basic services. It was sparked by popular anger over the heaps of trash accumulating in Beirut’s streets after authorities closed the capital’s main landfill on July 17 and failed to provide an alternative.

The protests quickly moved beyond just the trash in the streets to target an entire political class that has dominated the country and undermined its growth since the civil war ended in 1990. Lebanon has a confessional power-sharing system that often leads to incessant bickering and cronyism among the country’s politicians.

Thousands of people have taken part in huge demonstrations over the past two weeks. Among other things, they are demanding new parliament elections, to be followed by presidential elections. The country has been without a president for over a year, and members of parliament have illegally extended their term twice amid disputes over an election law.

After meeting for three and a half hours, leaders of Lebanon’s various sectarian blocs issued a brief statement, saying the talks would resume in a week. “They did not even bother to meet tomorrow or the day after, they postponed it for a week and came out without any decision,” said Assaad Thebian, an organizer with the main group behind the protests, which calls itself “You Stink.”

“They showed that they are indifferent and should not be in leadership positions,” he told The Associated Press. “This dialogue is a joke. They are meeting to see how they can split the cheese,” said Marwan Basha, a 57-year-old engineer taking part in the sit-in near parliament, as riot police stood nearby. His T-shirt had Arabic words on the front, asking: “Where is the water, where is the electricity, where are the job opportunities?”

On the barbed wire that separates protesters from the building, activists pinned a large banner with the pictures of the 128 members of parliament reading: “You have failed at everything … Go Home.”

So far, the only response to the growing protest movement has been a promise by the parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, for the high-level talks among the politicians. His call has been backed by the main political leaders, who attended the meeting Wednesday, but it was unclear how such talks among the same veteran politicians being vilified by the protesters would help break the deadlock.

The leaders are deeply divided over core issues, such as what a new election law would look like, and whether it should be passed before or after a president is elected. Following the meeting, a government official said they discussed the urgent need to elect a president. Adnan Daher said the next dialogue session would be held on Sept. 16.

At Beirut’s main Martyrs’ Square, thousands waved red-and-white Lebanese flags and chanted anti-government slogans as night fell. “The people want to topple the regime,” many shouted — a chant common during the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.

Ahmad Amhaz, a 23-year-old activist who is among eight who have been on a hunger strike for days, called for the resignation of the environment minister. “This dialogue is a failure. If they agree, we starve and if they disagree we get killed,” he said. His flip-flops were plastered with photographs of Lebanese politicians.

Earlier on Wednesday, 61-year-old Albert Aswad who owns a printing house, brought more than two dozen eggs and a bag of tomatoes and hurled them at the politicians’ convoys as they passed by on the way to their meeting. “Politicians in this country have no morals,” he said.

Just before the morning meeting, Prime Minister Tammam Salam urged the politicians to make every effort to help end the paralysis. He then called for a Cabinet meeting. “I hope at the Cabinet meeting today … there will be an immediate solution to rid the country of garbage as a way to propagate trust in the country,” Salam told journalists.

After nearly six hours of Cabinet meeting, and shortly before midnight, minister of Agriculture Akram Chehayeb said a plan has been approved to remove trash from the streets, open new landfills and allow municipalities to manage the portfolio previously handled by the government.

Details of implementation are still unclear, but the plan meets some of the protesters demands, such as passing the trash handling to the municipalities level.

Associated Press Writer Sarah El Deeb contributed to this report from Beirut.

Jordanian parties criticize election law

Thursday, 03 September 2015

More than 20 Jordanian parties on Wednesday criticized the new election law for 2015, which was announced by the government two days ago. The government said that it adopted the election law of 1989, Quds Press reported.

In a press conference held in the head office of the United Jordanian Front, the representative of the parties said that lawmakers did not adopt the mixed electoral law, which maintains involvement of political parties in the political and parliamentarian life.

The opposition parties said that the “adoption of this law [of 1989] does not achieve the interests of the country or citizens in the upcoming parliamentarian elections and the parties will re-evaluate their positions towards the elections.”

In addition, the parties said that this law does not contribute to the development of the country or the reformation of the political process, which has been ongoing for a long time. They called on MPs to turn down this law for the sake of the country.

The parties said that the new law is based on prioritizing social representation over political processes.

The Islamic Action Front, which is the largest acting party in the country, in addition to other Islamist, secular and leftist parties, has been vocal in its opposition to the law.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Icelandic people tell gov’t to take more refugees from Syria

September 07, 2015

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — “Future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate.” That’s how an Icelandic author is describing refugees seeking European shores, in a Facebook campaign that has helped to spark a surge of support for welcoming migrants in her remote North Atlantic island.

As much of Europe hesitates, Iceland — which has just in recent years emerged from the effects of a devastating economic meltdown — seems to be warming to the idea of taking in Syrians fleeing their war-torn homeland. It’s a historic shift for an island that has long been reluctant to take in foreigners.

A grassroots movement in support of migrants making the perilous journey to Europe is already having an impact on government policy, with officials reaching out to the United Nations refugee agency to say Iceland is willing to accept more refugees.

Even small towns are involved, with the northern Iceland town of Akureyri expressing an interest in adding Syrian refugees to its population of 17,000 hardy residents. “I think most Icelanders are very interested in helping refugees have a better life,” said Akureyri town council chairman Gudmundur Baldvin Gudmundsson. “We have a society that is very good for them and we have experience in taking refugees.”

The government said in July that it would take in 50 Syrian refugees over the next two years, but that meager figure — consistent with a policy that has seen just 549 refugees accepted since 1956 — is expected to rise in the face of public pressure. Officials already are making plans to accept more and some citizens are calling for up to 5,000 to be admitted.

The movement started before a photograph of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach sparked worldwide concern about the fate of the migrants trying to reach Europe. The generous spirit is remarkable because Iceland suffered a disastrous 2008 financial meltdown that saw the collapse of its major banks and a steep fall in living standards.

One driver of the grassroots movement is the “Syria Calling” Facebook page launched last week by Icelandic author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir. Some 15,000 people have “liked” the page in an apparent endorsement of her call for Minister of Social Affairs Eyglo Hardardottir to let more refugees live legally in Iceland.

“Refugees are human resources, experience and skills,” Bjorgvinsdottir wrote. “Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine.'”

Hardardottir said Thursday her ministry has informed the UN that Iceland is prepared to accept more than the 50 refugees it had committed and asked residents to contact the ministry if they want to volunteer or provide material assistance to newcomers who may arrive with virtually no resources.

“I encourage people to get in touch with the ministry and the Red Cross to ask how they can help,” said Hardardottir. “People need jobs, homes, and clothes, for example, and to learn how the banking system works.”

Iceland’s residents are taking action as well. More than 900 people have signed up as Red Cross volunteers in the last few days to assist Syrian refugees when they arrive in Iceland. “What has happened in the last few days is something very interesting_a bottom up movement,” said Red Cross Iceland spokesman Bjorn Teitsson. “The people of Iceland seem to have woken up from a bad dream and are embracing the refugee crisis that the world has to face. We have been very pleased about this positive energy and the will to help.”

Venezuela abolishes entrance visa for Palestinians

Thursday, 03 September 2015

Venezuela has abolished entrance visas for Palestinians, the Palestinian ministry of foreign Affairs said on Wednesday.

“The Venezuelan authorities have issued a decision on Wednesday exempting Palestinian passport holders from entry visas,” the ministry said in a statement.

The statement added that “the decision comes as part of an agreement signed between the Palestinian and Venezuelan authorities on 4 December, 2012,” pointing out that “the decision reflects the depth of relations between the two countries.”

Venezuela also raised Palestinian diplomatic representation to the level of an embassy earlier in ??May.

Diplomatic relations between Palestine and Venezuela began during the rule of Venezuela’s late President, Hugo Chavez in 2009.

Venezuela cut all diplomatic ties with Israel and expelled the Israeli ambassador and all diplomatic staff members from Caracas in the wake of the Israeli aggression on Gaza Strip in 2008 and early 2009.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Turkey’s Red Crescent spends $345 million in aid for Syria

Tuesday, 01 September 2015

The Turkish Red Crescent Society has spent nearly $345 million in aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey and Syria since the crisis began in 2011.

The president of the relief agency, Ahmad Lutfi Akar, said in a statement on Monday that his agency does not discriminate in providing assistance on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity or language.

Akar pointed out that the Society had lent a helping hand to those in need in many countries around the world, including as Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and some African countries.

The agency provides assistance to the poor and victims of disasters, as well as refugees from Syria whose numbers have swelled to about 2.5 million.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Nearly 150,000 Syrian students to attend school in Jordan

Tuesday, 01 September 2015

Jordanian officials have said that hundreds of thousands of Syrian students are to attend schools in Jordan on Tuesday. The students will be exempted of fees and costs of books and other expenses, Anadolu Agency reported.

The Secretary General of the Jordanian Ministry of Education Mohamed Al-Akour said: “Tuesday is the start of the school year and 140,626 Syrian students (11 per cent of all students in Jordan) are to attend schools.”

He said that the number includes 25,561 students from the refugee camps and that they would be treated the same as the Jordanian students.

Akour added that 99 Jordanian schools have begun working on two shifts in order to accommodate the Syrian students, noting that some classes for Syrian students will include up to 85 students.

About 1.3 million Syrian refugees live in Jordan, including 750,000 who entered the country before the Syrian revolution.

Source: Middle East Monitor.