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Category: Syria

The Refugee Crisis: How the United Nations is Dealing with the Problem

Syrian refugees walk past UNHCR tents at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan

The events of November 13th have truly rocked civilized peoples of the world to the core. For many Parisians, it was just another Friday night: some decided to attend a soccer game; others made plans to have a quiet dinner at a favorite restaurant; and other people went to hear a concert.

However, as the world knows, this was no ordinary night. An evening of tranquility quickly turned to chaos. “The City of Light” was suddenly darkened, and what would happen next was uncertain.

The same group wreaking havoc across the Middle East brought its terror to the streets of the French capital. Yes, the Islamic State of Syria (ISIS) struck at the heart of Europe by hitting key soft targets in an attempt to inflict as much pain and suffering as they could. They place no value on human life, as they are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the name of a very twisted and perverse ideology.

What began as peaceful protests against the Syrian government in 2011 rapidly shifted to a violent insurgency. In its wake, the world is left with the decision of what to do next. One of the unintended consequences of this conflict is the mass exodus of refugees flowing across the Syrian border into neighboring states, like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. These countries are now burdened with caring for the many innocent victims of this violence.

A Radical Win-Win Solution for Syria

The perspectives of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S President Barack Obama on Syria are so different that you have to wonder if they are living on the same planet.

Putin’s public rationale for intervening in Syria and backing President Bashar al-Assad boils down to a case against failed states. “After the invasion [of] Iraq, the authorities were destroyed, Saddam was hanged, and then the ISIL came there,” Putin told interviewer Charlie Rose. “And what happened in Libya? Full disintegration, no state at all….We don’t like the same thing to be repeated in Syria.” In other words, when Western democracies take down despotic, human-rights-abusing strongmen, the result is chaos and terrorism.

From Obama’s perspective,

When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs—it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all….Let’s remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife.

Both leaders call for a diplomatic solution, with Putin supporting Assad and Obama calling for a managed transition away from Assad. Both leaders are using air assets to bomb “terrorists,” although Obama is going after the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) and Putin is targeting anti-Assad rebels. Both are supplying their proxies with training, arms, and supplies—as are Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Water, Sunlight, Oil, and Sectarianism

In a prior post in the International Affairs Forum, I tried to outline what Western and Eastern polities might want out of the ever-fractious Middle East, using the P5+1 deal with Iran as a focus point.

Basically, this would be peace, prosperity, citizen-centered governance, and openness to global economic and social systems. In other words, we have had enough of this area’s interminable squabbling. We need to aim for more constructive regional and global engagement.

But there is a deeper set of issues and needs. First, let us take water.    

Several analyses suggest that the recent major drought in the area of Syria was a factor in Syria’s unraveling. Water shortages are of even broader scope in the area.

If the people of Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, and even Saudi Arabia are impoverished by water depletion, governance systems are likely to destabilize, refugees will multiply, and oil supplies will be prejudiced as a result of civic unrest and violence. 

This would be a disappointing future for those in the area. But why should Americans, Europeans, and everyone else care? The temptation is to think or say that the Middle East was dry before we appeared on its scene, and that is not our responsibility. 

The UN Leadership Team and the Non-Aligned Movement

There is currently an active discussion among UN delegations in New York concerning how the next UN Secretary-General will be appointed in 2016. The discussions are likely to heat up as many heads of government come to New York in late September for a special summit to adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. As chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Iran is likely to play a leadership role in the selection process both in formal and informal negotiations.

Currently, formal discussions are taking place in the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly. There is widespread demand that the General Assembly have a greater role in the selection of the Secretary-General. In the past, the negotiations took place in the Security Council, mostly among the five permanent members. Then the General Assembly was only asked to “bless” the selection made within the Security Council.

Unease with this usual process comes not so much from the choices made as from the lack of inclusiveness of the process itself. There is an increasing demand that all member states know the candidates, their qualifications, and their vision for leading the UN.

The Continuing Humanitarian Crisis in ISIS-held Areas

In an August 25, 2014 statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the “appalling, widespread, and systematic deprivation of human rights” by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The violations mentioned included targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking of women, slavery, sexual abuse, destruction of religious and cultural sites of significance, and the besieging of entire communities because of ethnic, religious and sectarian affiliation. In addition to the violation of human rights, the High Commissioner cited other UN reports stressing the humanitarian crisis and the severe shortages of food, water and the lack of medical services.

One year later, the situation remains much the same, but with an increased number of people uprooted as internally displaced persons and refugees. The political situation has grown more complex, with Turkey playing an increasing if unclear role. Efforts at mediation by the United Nations of the Syrian aspects of the conflict have not given visible results. Russian diplomats have been meeting with some Syrian factions as well as with the Syrian government, but there seem to be no advances toward broader negotiations.

The political and military actions of ISIS have effectively linked the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. A global approach for conflict resolution is needed. 

The Syrian Refugee Crisis Demands Our Attention

Thousands of Syrians stream across the border into Iraq in search of shelter. Photo: UNHCR/G. Gubaeva

This March marks four years since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.

In these four years, over 210,000 human beings have lost their lives. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is aware of over 3.9 million people who have fled Syria for other countries. Most of those refugees have ended up in neighboring countries, putting massive strain on already weak economies. At least 7.6 million people are internally displaced within Syria; that is, they’ve fled their homes but stayed within the nominal borders of Syria. 2.6 million children are out of school, and 5.6 million children are at high risk for violence, poverty, trauma, and exploitation. Children born to Syrian mothers outside of Syria may well end up stateless: with no documentation of their birth or no citizenship in their host countries, they have little or no access to basic services and schooling.

Tuned out yet?

The Cultural Heritage of Iraq and Syria: "Destroyed by human ignorance − rebuilt by human hope"

Destruction of Iraq's historical treasures by ISIS members

On Friday, 27 February 2015, the United Nations Security Council condemned "the deliberate destruction of irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts housed in the Mosul Museum and burning of thousands of books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library." 

The Mosul Museum, which was not yet open to the public, had a large number of statues from the pre-Islamic Mesopotamian civilizations as well as statues from the Greek Hellenistic period. The spokesman for the Islamic State faction that carried out the destruction—and filmed and posted it on the internet—maintained that the statues represented gods which had been worshiped while only the true god should receive worship.

This approach to pre-Islamic faiths and their material culture is the same one that led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Afghanistan—monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

There have been iconoclastic movements in the past, especially among Muslims and early Protestants holding that the spiritual world cannot (and should not) be represented in forms; all forms lead to confusing the specific form with the formless spiritual energy behind it. The iconoclastic reasoning can be defended, but the destruction of objects that represented other philosophies, cultures and levels of understanding cannot.

11 January: Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The recent interception by the Italian Navy of two ships filled with refugees from Syria and other countries has dramatically highlighted the ever-growing trade in persons.

11 January has been designated by the UN General Assembly as a day to develop awareness of human trafficking. Awareness has been growing, but effective remedies are slow and uncoordinated. These remedies often are not accessible to victims of trafficking due to gaps between setting international standards, enacting national laws, and then implementing them in a humane way.

The international standards have been set out in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Convention and the Protocol standards are strengthened by the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The worldwide standards have been reaffirmed by regional legal frameworks such as the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Despite clear international and regional standards, many countries have poor implementation due to limited government resources and infrastructure, a tendency to criminalize victims, and restrictive immigration policies.

From War to Hunger: The Refugees in Syria’s Civil War

Syrian Refugee Camp (Photo courtesy of Huffington Post)

Since the start of the horrendous civil war attempting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the neighbors of Syria—Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey in particular—have seen endless lines of refugees cross their borders seeking safety. Many travel night and day to reach these countries. Their faces tell the story of war; fatigued, exhausted, broken, these refugees arrive in overcrowded camps that are unprepared to deal with the vast numbers of people fleeing Syria.

What is heartbreaking is that many of these refugees will be left without the aid needed to deal with the hurdles and challenges that they had overcome to get to these camps.

On December 1, 2014, the World Food Programme (WFP), a subsidiary agency of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian agency geared toward fighting hunger, announced that it was going to cut aid to Syrian refugees due to a lack of funding. Earlier this year, the organization reduced food rations to those in need and has stated that many may not receive any food due to the fighting in Syria. The cuts are expected to hurt as many as 1.7 million Syrian refugees.

Refugees crossing the borders will be forced to make do with already strained resources and government services. An estimated 3.2 million Syrians have fled the country and another 7.6 million are displaced. Countries such as Lebanon, with a population of 4.4 million, have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of refugees, taking in nearly 1.1 million Syrians. The mass influx proves to be problematic for regional governments, as many are now reducing the flow of refugees or closing their borders.

The Middle East: A Re-evaluation of American Strategy

us, airstrikes, strategy, islamic state, isis, isil, syria, assad

By now you may be familiar with the Islamic State and their mission to create a caliphate under Sharia law. You may also be aware that the US’s strategy of conducting airstrikes to halt their advances is not going too well.

Recently I attended an event at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University (of which I am a graduate student) concerning the inevitability of a change in US strategy towards IS and Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria. The event featured distinguished experts such as Stephen Biddle, who has previously worked for General David Petraeus, and Marc Lynch, who is the director of the Middle Eastern Studies program at the school and frequently writes for a myriad of foreign policy news outlets.