Archive for June, 2016

Erdogan rejects formation of political entity on Syrian-Turkish borders

June 15, 2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday renewed his rejection of the establishment of any political entity on the Turkish-Syrian borders, Al-Resalah newspaper reported.

“We will reject with all our political, diplomatic and military power the formation of any entity on our borders with Syria,” he said at an iftar at the Presidential Palace.

“The State will target terrorists with an iron hand, but it will show the merciful face to the people in the region [of anti-terror operations].”

“No one has the right to leave Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan and African women and children facing their fate in the dark of the Mediterranean,” he added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Syrian refugees who want to return home are stuck in Germany

June 01, 2016

BERLIN (AP) — Nine months ago, after the Syrian army razed his neighborhood, Mohammed was desperate to make his way to Germany. Now he is desperate to go back to Syria because his wife and eight children can’t get out. But he fears the only way he can return is the same way he came — illegally.

Mohammed, a farm worker from the outskirts of Damascus, is one of at least hundreds of Syrian refugees who want to go home, often because it’s taking too long to bring their families here. But in an unlikely twist, they are finding themselves stuck in Europe.

While Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers get financial support and organized plane trips to go home, the German government and the International Organization for Migration say they can’t send Syrians back to a war zone. There aren’t even flights from Germany to Syria because of the brutal civil war there. And neighboring countries that initially took in the bulk of the Syrian refugees have all but closed their doors; Turkey has introduced tough visa requirements, and Lebanon is refusing to take Syrians who left illegally through Turkey.

That leaves little hope for the dozens of Syrians per week who have requested departures since the beginning of this year, according to travel agents and case workers at migrants’ return programs. “I came here only for the future of my children,” said Mohammed, who did not want to give his last name because he is afraid the Syrian regime will harm his family. “If they’re not here, it makes no sense for me to be here.”

A stocky man with tired eyes who looks much older than his 45 years, Mohammed first came to Germany because his children could barely survive on the boiled grass their mother cooked for them. So he paid smugglers to take him across the Mediterranean on a shaky dinghy and trekked up the Balkans, in the hope of quickly finding a job and then bringing his family in.

He got asylum in March. But his wife calls him every day, crying and begging him to come back home. She doesn’t have any money to feed their seven daughters, and their only son, 12-year-old Marwan, quit school to sell vegetables on the market.

He bought a plane ticket to Beirut in April, but German security didn’t let him on the plane. Two weeks ago, Mohammed tried to board to Athens, but was again stopped. He pulled two crumpled online tickets slowly from the pocket of his oversized brown coat, a worthless reminder of his futile efforts. Covering his face with his hands, he said he will try until he finally finds a way out.

While nobody has exact figures, interviews with government officials, case workers, travel agents and dozens of refugees themselves show that the number of Syrians leaving Germany is growing steadily.

Alaa Hadroos, who runs the Golf Reisen travel agency in Berlin, said between five and 10 people come by his office every day asking him for ways out of Germany. At the beginning of the year, it was more like 20 daily, but now some have realized he can’t help them.

“We are getting here a lot of Syrian refugees who want to go home, but it is very, very hard for them to actually get there in any way,” he said. Hadroos said most Syrians now try to book flights from Germany to Athens, then hire traffickers to walk them across the Greek-Turkish border illegally to eventually make it back home.

“It’s not a legal route, therefore we cannot offer this as a travel agency,” Hadroos added. “We can only book flights for those who have valid travel documents to Athens. But we don’t want to have anything to do with the route from Athens to Syria.”

Several migrants confirmed to The Associated Press that they planned to use this route. They told the AP they had bought or were going to buy plane tickets to Athens from traffickers in Berlin, even though they had no valid travel documents because German authorities hadn’t yet returned their passports. While Berlin and Athens are part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, the airlines still need to see valid travel documents.

More than 420,000 Syrian refugees came to Germany last year, and the majority will eventually receive asylum. But the country is so overwhelmed that it is taking months, if not years, to process the requests, let alone the hundreds of thousands of applications for family reunions.

“We know how important it is for these people, who have only one wish — to be reunited with their families as quickly as possible,” a spokesman for the German Foreign Office said earlier this month. The spokesman, Martin Schaefer, said the government has increased the staff at its embassies in the Middle East to speed up the visa process for Syrian family members. The capacity of the German embassy in the Lebanese capital of Beirut to issue visas has gone up from 5,000 a year in 2012 to 30,000. But because of war, Germany no longer has an embassy in Damascus, which makes it difficult for many Syrian families to even apply for visas in the first place.

Many Syrians say the long separation from their children and wives is unbearable. Others can’t cope with life in cramped shelters, where they cannot work during the asylum procedure. And yet others say they are simply too homesick.

“They are more or less trapped in Germany,” said Silvia Kostner, the spokeswoman for Berlin’s Lageso office, which organizes voluntary returns for migrants. “Of course, they can try to get out through different ways — and some are doing exactly this because they’re missing their families so badly — but we can’t take on the responsibility to help these people travel back to a war zone.”

Syrian refugee Abdullah Hamwi, a textile merchant who sold caftans at the old market in the city of Aleppo before it was destroyed, said he initially settled in Istanbul. But he moved to Germany in 2014 with his wife and baby son, hoping for a good education and better future.

After half a year in a shelter with 400 other migrants, no asylum, no work and the same three pieces of bread, butter and jam for breakfast every morning, they say they’ve had enough. They complain that they stand in line for days to pick up pocket money.

“Until now I didn’t see anything good here,” said Hamwi’s wife, Dania Rasheed, embracing her big pregnant belly with her hands. “Everything is difficult, they want papers here, papers there; tell us to go here and go there — the treatment is bad, it’s not the life we used to live in Syria.”

The young couple went for days without heat in the middle of the winter. They get by on 330 Euros ($368) per month and said security staff enter their little room day and night. Hamwi, a pale, skinny man with dark circles under his eyes, takes his wife to the bathroom every time because he fears the strangers around.

Such grievances are not likely to be resolved quickly in any big German city where thousands — both citizens and migrants —are suffering from an acute housing shortage. Hamwi has already checked out the current smuggler’s rate to get back to Istanbul: 300 euros per person for Berlin to Athens and another 1500 to get them all into Turkey.

“As soon as our daughter is born, we will find a way to get out of here and back to Istanbul,” Hamwi said. “At least there we can live in dignity and work — here we are not getting any respect.” Spiro Hadad, a journalist and a photographer, is one of those who have successfully made it home to Syria. After losing his house, he left Syria in June last year and went to Austria. He stayed there for six months and spent 4500 euros. But he soon became frustrated, among other things, that could not bring his mother in, so he asked the human rights office in Austria to allow him back home.

“They tried to convince me to stay, but I refused,” he said. They eventually gave him a ticket to Istanbul and Lebanon. Lebanon let him in even though he had originally left illegally through Turkey, because he showed officials his press card. Then he drove home to Damascus.

“I lost everything in Syria and I tried to improve my conditions. Unfortunately, I lost much more,” he said. “Most people prefer to return because they can’t stand it.”

Albert Aji contributed reporting from Damascus, Syria, Zeina Karam from Beirut, Lebanon and Dominique Soguel from Istanbul, Turkey.

Jordan world’s 8th refugee welcoming country

By Khetam Malkawi

May 23,2016

AMMAN — Jordan ranked among the top 10 refugee welcoming countries, according to a global index issued this week.

The “Refugees Welcome Index” issued by Amnesty International, based on a global survey of more than 27,000 people and carried out by GlobeScan, ranks 27 countries across all continents based on people’s willingness to let refugees live in their countries, towns, neighborhoods and homes.

China, Germany and the UK topped the index measuring public acceptance of refugees; while Russia came in the bottom.

Jordan ranked 8th, with 96 per cent of the 1,000 surveyed Jordanians said they would take refugees into their country.

Generally, the index said that the vast majority of people (80 per cent) would welcome refugees with open arms, with many even prepared to take them into their own homes, but criticized the governments’ policies on hosting refugees.

“Globally, one person in 10 would take refugees into their home,” the report said, adding that 32 per cent said they would accept refugees in their neighborhood, 47 per cent in their city, town or village and 80 per cent in their country.

Globally, only 17 per cent said they would refuse refugees entry to their country.

“The Refugees Welcome Index exposes the shameful way governments have played short-term politics with the lives of people fleeing war and repression. Governments must heed these results, which clearly show the vast majority of people ready and willing to make refugees welcome in their country,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty in a statement posted on the organisation’s website.

The index also showed that 84 per cent of the surveyed Jordanians said the government should do more to support refugees. China topped this part of the index, followed by Nigeria and Jordan came third.

According to the latest official figure, Jordan hosts some 1.3 million Syrians with half of them registered as refugees, and 80 per cent of them living in host communities.

Iraqi refugees come second with more than 53,000, in addition to thousands of Sudanese, Libyan and Yemeni refugees, while there are about 400,000 Egyptian laborers.

Source: The Jordan Times.


Iran to build military bases near Iraq-Saudi border, claims Lebanese cleric

June 11, 2016

A senior Lebanese Shia cleric has claimed that Iran is planning to build military bases in Iraq near the border with Saudi Arabia, reported on Friday. Sayed Mohamed Ali Al-Husseini said that the bases will be supervised by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Speaking to the Italian news agency AKI on Thursday, Al-Husseini claimed that he had received “credible information” from multiple sources who follow Iranian and Iraqi issues closely, that Iran is planning to “crawl” towards Saudi Arabia through its long border with Iraq. Similar measure will be taken on the border with Kuwait, he pointed out.

Al-Husseini is the Secretary General of the Arab-Islamic Council, which is the political reference point for Arab Shia, much as Wilayat Al-Faqih provides political guardianship in Iran. The group is adopted by Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

He told AKI that claims by the Iraqi foreign minister that Iran’s Major-General Qasim Suleimani is simply a “military adviser” in Baghdad are an attempt to cover up his open role targeting the Arabs. “The ongoing battle in Fallujah,” the cleric said, “is a large military parade for Al-Quds Brigade led by Suleimani, which includes militias from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Afghanistan.”

The Arab Shia official added: “Today, there are clear calls by Wilayat Al-Faqih demanding the establishment of Iraqi Revolutionary Guards in the presence of weak and collaborating governments.” He pointed the finger of blame at Arab silence in the face of such Iranian measures and warned that the ambition of Wilayat Al-Faqih might not stop at the Iraqi borders. Targeting Iraq is based mainly on Iran’s vision for its project across the Arab region, he explained. If such plans are not stopped, Al-Husseini concluded, then the whole future of Arab identity is at risk.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Hope lost in Greece, some Syrians pay smugglers to get home

June 11, 2016

DIDIMOTICHO, Greece (AP) — Europe seemed like the promised land, worth risking their lives to reach. But in a muddy field on the northern edge of Greece, their dreams died. Now, dozens of Syrian refugees are risking their lives again but in the opposite direction — paying smugglers to take them back to Turkey, and heading home.

Rather than brave the often treacherous waves of the Aegean again, they face the dangerous currents of the Evros River, which runs along the Greek-Turkish border. Each night, groups of migrants and refugees huddle at the railway station of the small border town of Didimoticho, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the frontier, setting up small tents and waiting for their chance to cross.

Among them is Atia Al Jassem, a 27-year-old Syrian barber from Damascus who is heading east with his wife and 1-year-old daughter after spending months stuck on the Greek-Macedonian border, watching his hopes of reaching Europe ebb away.

“I am going to Turkey, I do not want Europe any more. Finished,” he said, sitting in a small park near the railway station in Thessaloniki, Greece’s main northern city, where he, his 20-year-old wife Yasmine Ramadan and their daughter Legine, who they call Loulou, spent what they hoped would be their last night in the country.

“We are really tired. We’re destroyed and I have a baby. I ask God to help me get back to Turkey,” he said. “In Syria under the bombs we would be better off than here.” The family arrived in Greece on Feb. 24, crossing the Aegean and then making their way north. But their journey to Germany was cut short at the Greek-Macedonian border.

The European Union and Turkey since agreed on a deal which returns migrants who arrived on the Greek islands after March 20 to Turkey — but it doesn’t affect earlier arrivals trapped on the Greek mainland.

Balkan and European countries increasingly tightened entry restrictions at the start of the year, before shutting their land borders to refugees completely in March. That trapped about 57,000 people in Greece, a country enduring a six-year financial crisis and with unemployment running at around 24 percent. Few refugees want to settle here.

Al Jassem and his family stayed for months in Idomeni, a sprawling impromptu refugee camp that sprang up on the Greek-Macedonian border. Authorities evacuated the camp last month, and the family were moved to an official camp with thousands of others.

But months of living rough had sapped their morale and their resolve. They gave up the dream of a life in Germany. “We did not expect we were going to be treated as such in Europe,” said Al Jassem. “We thought they will be humane, looking after us and after our children, protect our children. We though we will be helped, but we found the opposite. Europe has no feeling for us at all.”

They decided to head to Turkey, where Al Jassem’s brother lives. But like many others, they found there was no easy way back. Syrians cannot be officially returned to their war-ravaged country, and the legal path to Turkey would be lengthy and bureaucratic. So many opt for smugglers, who migrants say now charge cut-price rates of just a few hundred euros instead of thousands to be taken in the opposite direction.

“Recently we have observed a reverse flow of migrants and refugees coming from Idomeni toward our northern borders,” said Ilias Akidis, head of the police union of Didimoticho. “From what they tell us, they are trying to cross to Turkey … because they have relatives there or because they want to head back to their country.”

Didimoticho deputy mayor Ioannis Topaloudis said authorities have been seeing around 20-40 people heading toward the Turkish border each day. With a fence sealing the small section of land border, the ONLY OPTION to those without the correct documentation is to take their chances across the river. Over the years, the Evros’ current has claimed many migrant lives.

Authorities stop those they find. Police say they have detained about 150 migrants trying to cross illegally into Turkey over the past two months. In mid-May, police caught five Syrians aged between 23 and 52 trying to row across the river in a dinghy.

“This season the Evros (river) is very dangerous. Because of the rains, the water level is very high,” said Akidis. “They are always trying to go back. It is very dangerous. They don’t succeed because we also are preventing them from crossing, but for their own reasons they keep trying.”

Among those giving up on hopes of a life in Europe was Majd Hamed, a 21-year-old fine arts student also from Damascus. After three months in Idomeni, he decided in mid-May to head home. “I want to go to Syria and continue my studies in the Fine Arts School. Even if the (European) borders open, I’m going back. I’m very angry with the Europeans for this situation we’ve been living here,” he said, sitting outside the train carriages where he had been sleeping in Idomeni before the camp was evacuated.

Hamed says he sought help from U.N. agencies to return home, but was told it wasn’t possible. “They told me that it’s not safe for me to go back to Syria,” he said. So he sought out the alternative. Armed with a map with Didimoticho marked out, he was heading to Thessaloniki to catch a train to the border. “From there I’m going to cross the river, as others from Syria have told me,” he said. He aimed to fly from Turkey to Lebanon and make his way home to Damascus.

“I never tried to cross the border with Macedonia illegally,” he says. “I wanted to get to Germany legally, but now I’m forced to try to return to my country in this way.” Some lucky few do manage to take a legal route. Alia Mohamad, a 21-year-old from Aleppo, was heading with her husband and barely 2-month-old son Uday to Thessaloniki to catch a flight to Turkey with tickets sent by her sister, who was getting married in Turkey and had officially invited them over.

The young family had spent three months in Idomeni. “It is not possible to continue like this and I see it is impossible to get to Europe,” Mohamad said. After the wedding, they aim to return to Syria.

“We have no more money, and the situation here is bad also for the baby,” said her 23-year-old husband Mahmud Kusa Ali. “We have decided to return to our country.” They will settle down about 70 kilometers from their hometown of Aleppo. “It is safer there,” he said.