Archive for March 15th, 2016

UNICEF: 310,000 Syrian children are enrolled in Turkish schools

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Of the 1,400,000 Syrian children living in Turkey, 310,000 are enrolled in Turkish schools, UNICEF announced yesterday.

In a statement issued, the organization said: “UNICEF strives to provide high-quality educational opportunities for Syrian children who fled from the horrors of war in their country.”

“The number of schools that the UNICEF have contributed to in collaboration with the Turkish Disaster and Emergency Department and the Turkish Ministry of Education rose to 41 schools in 12 Turkish states,” stressing that it is determined to continue its support for the establishment and restoration of other schools, caring for teachers, and providing for the needs of children.

The statement stressed on the focus on children’s psychological and social well-being, pointing out that 50,000 children have benefited from psychological and social programs.

It added that it also supports Syrian volunteer teachers in Turkey.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/24428-unicef-310000-syrian-children-are-enrolled-in-turkish-schools.

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Trafficked Nepali, Bangladeshi women trapped in Syria

Murali Bhanjyang, Nepal (AFP)

March 13, 2016

Nepali villager Sunita Magar thought she was heading to a safe factory job in Kuwait, but only when she landed in Damascus did she realize “something had gone very wrong”.

Frequently beaten with a baton and given only one meal a day, Magar says she spent 13 months working as a maid for a Syrian household and pleading to be allowed to go home.

“I was just in shock, I couldn’t stop crying,” the single mother-of-two told AFP.

Magar is among scores of poor Nepali and Bangladeshi women who traveled to the Middle East on the promise of a good job, only to be trafficked into Syria, wracked by five years of civil war.

Nepal’s top diplomat in the region said nationals from the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries, which, like Nepal and Bangladesh, have large migrant labor populations, stopped working in Syria because of the dangers involved.

“Since then traffickers have been targeting Nepalis,” said Kaushal Kishor Ray, head of Nepal’s diplomatic mission based in Cairo.

“The numbers have gone up hugely in recent years, we estimate there must be around 500 Nepali women in Syria,” Ray told AFP.

In nearby Bangladesh, Shahinoor Begum lies in a Dhaka hospital bed recovering from her seven-month ordeal after being trafficked into Syria as a sex slave.

“I was sold to a Syrian man who tortured and raped me every day, sometimes along with his friends,” Begum, also a single mother-of-two, said.

“I begged for mercy, but they didn’t have any. Instead they used to beat me so badly that I broke my arms,” she told AFP.

Accompanied by labor agents, the 28-year-old and several other women left Bangladesh on the promise of working as maids in Jordan.

But they too were taken to Syria, where fighting between the regime and rebel forces has left more than 260,000 dead and displaced more than half the population.

Begum eventually developed kidney disease, prompting traffickers to contact her ageing mother to demand money for her safe return home.

Lieutenant Colonel Golam Sarwar said his team from Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion are investigating her case and two others — although families of 43 other women have lodged similar complaints.

“Bangladesh is apparently a soft target for the traffickers,” Sarwar told AFP.

– ‘Always afraid’ –

Criminal networks target nationals from Nepal and Bangladesh in part because their governments have little diplomatic influence in the region and no embassy in Syria.

A Nepal government ban on migrant workers travelling to Syria has failed to stop the traffickers, an International Labor Organization (ILO) official said.

“Nepal’s government thinks a ban is the easiest solution, it basically allows them to wipe their hands of the issue,” said Bharati Pokharel, ILO national project coordinator in Kathmandu.

“India has much more diplomatic clout than Nepal or Bangladesh and traffickers are aware of this. They know Nepal is weak and that they will face no legal action for their activities,” Pokharel told AFP.

Illiterate, trusting and desperate to dig herself out of poverty, Magar didn’t hesitate when a labor broker approached her with a promise of a well-paid job in Kuwait. The 23-year-old says she didn’t realize she had been duped until the plane landed in Damascus.

“I was always exhausted, always hungry, always afraid,” Magar said of working 20 hours a day for no pay and sleeping on her employer’s penthouse balcony.

At night, she listened to Nepali songs to try to drown out occasional sounds of gunfire and bombs and chase away thoughts of suicide.

– Corrupt officials –

When a massive earthquake hit Nepal last April, Magar stepped up pleas to her employers, who had confiscated her passport, to return home.

They contacted the broker who then demanded payment from Magar’s family to ensure her release. Her mother then highlighted the case to local newspapers, kicking off a social media campaign. Expat Nepalis as far afield as Finland and Hong Kong raised $3,800 to pay off her employers.

Magar, who finally arrived in Kathmandu in August, counts herself among the lucky few to have escaped.

Rohit Kumar Neupane’s aunt was trafficked to Damascus last spring. She alerted her family via Facebook a few months later, prompting Neupane to repeatedly seek help from government officials without success.

A foreign ministry official said Neupane’s request had been forwarded to its overworked embassy in Cairo, which covers nine countries including Syria.

“Frankly, we are not in a position to manage these cases from Cairo…what we need is precautionary action to prevent them from coming to Syria in the first place,” said diplomat Ray.

But an apparent nexus between local labor brokers involved in trafficking and corrupt Nepali officials means they operate freely, according to experts.

“Even in the rare instance that a case is filed, it will just drag on with no possibility of resolution or a guilty verdict,” said Krishna Gurung, project coordinator at Kathmandu’s Pourakhi emergency shelter house for female migrant workers.

In her village of Murali Bhanjyang in central Nepal, Magar has little hope of seeing the traffickers brought to justice.

“I still have nightmares about that time…I start crying in my sleep,” she said.

“Sometimes it feels like none of this is real, like I am back on that balcony in Syria, dreaming of Nepal.”

Source: Space War.

Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Trafficked_Nepali_Bangladeshi_women_trapped_in_Syria_999.html.

Lebanon running out of space to bury the bodies of Syrian refugees

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Syrian refugees are struggling to find space in Lebanon to bury their dead, according to Sheikh Wesam Anuz, chairman of the displaced file for Lebanon’s Religious Edicts Authority in the Bekaa Valley.

Anuz said in a statement that although there are no official figures on the number of deaths among displaced Syrian refugees, the number is on the rise.

He explained that villages in the Bekaa Valley welcome the refugees and are happy to have the dead buried in their local cemeteries but he said there is a lack of space in the area.

Anuz explained that on three occasions Syrian refugees have had to abandon the bodies of their loved ones outside the offices of the Religious Edicts Authority in the Bekaa Valley because they had nowhere to bury them.

Anuz said that the majority of the dead are elderly people, while others have died as a result of road accidents, fires or during snowstorms.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24421-lebanon-running-out-of-space-to-bury-the-bodies-of-syrian-refugees.

Netanyahu vows to close Palestinian satellite channels

Monday, 14 March 2016

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday vowed to close Palestinian satellite channels, accusing them of inciting against Israel.

At the opening of the Israeli Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said: “We are working against satellite channels that encourage the killing of Israelis, so I spoke over the weekend with the French President Francois Hollande on this subject.”

Netanyahu added: “I previously requested from the French president to stop broadcasting Al-Aqsa TV channel which broadcasts through French satellite, and the channel was indeed removed from these satellites, but this channel returned to broadcasting through another satellite, we are working in other places and through other channels in order to halt these broadcasts.”

Al-Aqsa TV announced last Friday that the Eutelsat ceased its broadcast before announcing its new frequency on the same satellite.

The offices of the satellite channel Palestine Al Yawm were shut down early on Friday by the Israeli army. The office manager was arrested.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24484-netanyahu-vows-to-close-palestinian-satellite-channels.

Putin orders start of Russian military pullout from Syria

March 14, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military to withdraw most of its forces from Syria, timing his move to coincide with the launch of Syria peace talks Monday — an end game that allows the Russian leader to cash in on his gains and reduce his risks in the conflict.

The start of the negotiations in Geneva offers Putin an opportune moment to declare an official end to the 5½-month Russian air campaign that has allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army to win back some key ground and strengthen his positions ahead of the talks. With Russia’s main goals in Syria achieved, the pullback will allow Putin to pose as a peacemaker and help ease tensions with NATO member Turkey and the Gulf monarchies vexed by Moscow’s military action.

At the same time, Putin made it clear that Russia will maintain its air base and a naval facility in Syria and keep some troops there. Syria’s state news agency also quoted Assad as saying that the Russian military will draw down its air force contingent but won’t leave the country altogether.

The Syrian presidency said Assad and Putin spoke on the phone Monday and jointly agreed that Russia would scale back its forces in Syria. It rejected speculation that the decision reflected a rift between the allies and said the decision reflected the “successes” the two armies have achieved in fighting terrorism in Syria and restoring peace to key areas of the country.

The Syrian army said it would continue its operations against the Islamic State group, the Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations “with the same tempo.” Announcing his decision in a televised meeting with Russia’s foreign and defense ministries, Putin said the Russian air campaign has allowed Assad’s military to “radically” turn the tide of war and helped create conditions for peace talks.

“With the tasks set before the Defense Ministry and the military largely fulfilled, I’m ordering the Defense Minister to start the pullout of the main part of our group of forces from Syria, beginning tomorrow,” Putin said.

He also informed President Barack Obama of his move in a phone call, emphasizing the importance of U.S.-Russian coordination “for preserving the cease-fire, ensuring humanitarian aid deliveries to the blockaded settlements and conducting an efficient struggle against terrorist groups,” according to the Kremlin, which added that the conversation was “business-like and frank.”

Putin didn’t specify how many planes and troops would be withdrawn. The number of Russian soldiers in Syria has not been revealed. U.S. estimates of the number of Russian military personnel in Syria vary from 3,000 to 6,000.

Russia has deployed more than 50 jets and helicopters to its Hemeimeem air base, in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia, and they have operated at a frenetic pace, each flying several combat sorties on an average day. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that thanks to the Russian air support the Syrian military has extended its control to 400 towns and villages over an area of 10,000 square kilometers.

State TV quoted Assad as saying that the collaboration between Russian and Syrian forces has secured “victories against terrorism and returned security to the country.” A White House statement said Obama welcomed Russia’s move, but also noted continued sporadic violence and urged Putin to pressure the Syrian regime to stop offensive actions that could undermine the fragile truce.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who restarted peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Geneva on Monday, said he had no comment on Putin’s announcement when contacted by The Associated Press.

Earlier in the day, he warned that the only alternative to the negotiations is a return to war, and described political transition in the country as “the mother of all issues.” The Russian- and U.S.-brokered cease-fire that began on Feb. 27 has largely held, but both the Syrian government and its foes have accused one another of violations. The deal with Washington has achieved a key Putin goal: raising Russia’s global profile to appear as an equal to the United States in mediating the Syrian conflict that has dominated global attention.

The Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, are excluded from the cease-fire and Russia has said it would continue its fight against the groups considered terrorists by the United Nations.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said the Russians in recent days have been pounding IS targets in and around the western approaches to the city of Palmyra, which is firmly in IS control. Davis said this has been a Russian focus since the cessation of hostilities began.

Officials said Monday they saw no immediate sign of any pullout. Although Putin’s announcement caught Pentagon officials by surprise, officials have said they had questioned how long the Russian air campaign would last based on the fact that they were not making regular troop rotations.

Syrian opposition spokesman Salem Al Mislet, in Geneva, cautiously welcomed Putin’s move, but urged the Russian leader to withdraw his support for Assad. “If this step, this action will remove all Russian troops from Syria then it will be a positive step, I believe,” he said, adding that Putin should follow up on that “by saying he is standing beside the Syrian people, not beside the Syrian dictatorship.”

Moments before meeting with a Syrian government envoy in Geneva, de Mistura laid out both high stakes and low expectations for what is shaping up as the most promising initiative in years to end the conflict that moves into its sixth year on Tuesday. At least a quarter of a million people have been killed and half of Syria’s population has been displaced, flooding Europe with refugees.

The truce, however, has helped vastly reduce the bloodshed and allowed the recent resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries to thousands of Syrians in “besieged areas” — zones surrounded by fighters and generally cut off from the outside world.

De Mistura laid out a stark choice for Syrian parties in the talks, saying: “As far as I know, the only plan B available is return to war — and to even worse war than we had so far.” The two sides are deeply split on Assad’s future. His foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said Saturday that any talk of removing Assad during a transitional period sought by the U.N. is “a red line,” and rejected the international call for a presidential election to be held within 18 months — a key demand of the opposition.

But de Mistura, keeping to language laid out in the U.N. Security Council resolution in December that paved the way for the talks, insisted that political change, including a timetable for new elections within 18 months, is the ultimate goal.

“What is the real issue — the mother of all issues? Political transition,” he said. Angola’s U.N. Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins, who currently holds the Security Council’s rotating presidency, said council members appealed to de Mistura to make the negotiations “more inclusive,” including adding Kurdish representatives, but do it moving forward so it won’t affect the “kind of progress that we’re seeing.”

Asked if Putin discussed Assad’s political fate in Monday’s phone call with the Syrian leader, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it wasn’t part of the conversation. Assad has announced that parliamentary elections in Syria will go ahead next month according to schedule. A Syrian official, Hisham al-Shaar, said the elections will be held only in areas under government control and there will be no polling stations in Syrian embassies abroad or in refugee camps.

The talks have shaped up as the best, if distant, chance in years to end a war that has created an opening for radical groups including Islamic State and the al-Qaida-backed Nusra Front to gain large swaths of land, and prompted at least 11 million people to leave their homes — many fleeing abroad to places like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, as well as to Europe.

Keaten reported from Geneva. Bassem Mroue and Zeina Karam in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus, Robert Burns in Washington, D.C., and Edith Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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