Features

How Syrians are Struggling to Find an Exit

Syria refugees map

by Eleonora Vio, IRIN

Over the last five years, close to 4.8 million Syrians have fled the conflict in their country by crossing into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But as the war drags on, neighbors are sealing their borders. Forced from their homes by air-strikes and fighting on multiple fronts, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers now have no legal escape route.

Earlier this week, EU leaders reached a hard-won deal with Turkey aimed at ending a migration crisis that has been building since last year, and that in recent weeks has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece. But the agreement turns a blind eye to the fact that even larger numbers of asylum seekers are stranded back in Syria, unable to reach safety.

Syrians hoping to apply for asylum in Europe first have to physically get there. EU member states closed their embassies in Syria at the start of the conflict, and even embassies and consulates in neighboring countries have been reluctant to process visa and asylum applications.

When Syria’s war erupted in March 2011, it was initially relatively easy for most refugees to leave the country. Those without the means to fly poured out in waves of tens of thousands across land borders into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. But one by one, these exits have been restricted or closed off entirely.

Lessons from Flint

Flint River

by Ryan Stoa, Jurist

When I teach Water Resources Law to my students, I often start each semester by juxtaposing two competing conceptualizations: water as a private commodity vs. water as a human right. The contrast demonstrates the diversity in approaches to water management, while foreshadowing the public-private tensions that permeate contemporary water law debates. Some students are attracted by the promises of privatization, including capital investments to upgrade infrastructure and the efficiencies of allowing market forces to allocate water where it is most valued. Other students push back, noting the fundamental human need for water as a justification for holding water resources in common, while citing the negative externalities that frustrate attempts to monetize water accurately.

Both viewpoints are playing out in the wake of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. Last month I wrote about the rhetoric following the crisis, noting that many critics were echoing the human right to water perspective. One Michigan state representative even proposed a bill that would declare water to be a human right. To many observers, the crisis was caused by water managers holding financial considerations above public health and environmental justice. Indeed, Flint's decision to switch from water provided by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to water provided by the Karegnondi Water Authority was largely a financial one, as the move was projected to save the city $19 million over eight years. When the Flint city council voted to return to Detroit water, the city's emergency manager opposed the move on financial grounds. To many, water cannot be managed with such financial tunnel-vision, and a human right to water might rebalance water managers' priorities.

But in the last several weeks, another view has (re)emerged. Some have called for further privatization of water resources. To these critics, the Flint water crisis is a crisis of public governance, one that may have been avoided had a private utility been in charge. A private utility would still have received government oversight, while avoiding the messy political battles necessary to receive infrastructural investments. A private utility, furthermore, would not have enjoyed sovereign immunity, providing an incentive to avoid litigation arising from water contamination.

Kabylia flag

by Bill Weinberg, The Villager

All Saints Ukrainian Church on East 11th Street, with its colorful mosaic facade, was the unlikely venue on Saturday Jan. 16 for the metro area Berber community's celebration of their traditional new year holiday, Yennayer. On the wall of the church's downstairs meeting space, paintings of orthodox saints formed a backdrop to the flag of Kabylia—the increasingly restive Berber region of Algeria's northern mountains. By an interesting chance, it has the same blue and yellow colors as the Ukrainian flag. It was still a little odd to hear strains of North African music and eat delicious couscous in a Ukrainian church.

The Berbers were in North Africa for thousands of years before the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century. 2016 is 2966 in their calendar, which starts counting from the founding of a Berber dynasty in Egypt under Pharaoh Sheshonq I in 950 BC. Back then, the Berbers were known to the Greeks as the Libyans. They were later known to the Romans as the Numidians. They became known as the Berbers due to their association with the "barbarian" Vandals who passed through North Africa on their way to sacking Rome. But they have always called themselves the Amazigh—free people. (The plural is Imazighen.)

Yennayer has taken on a special significance in the current Amazigh cultural renaissance—especially for the inhabitants of Kabylia and their worldwide diaspora. The highlight of the celebration at All Saints Church was an exposition by Sadi Melbouci, an Amazigh businessman and political leader who flew in from his home in Denver for the affair, entitled "Kabylia's Path to Freedom." Tired of what they see as second-class citizenship under a regime officially committed to Arab nationalism, more and more Kabyles (as the indigenous Amazigh of the region are called) view themselves as a colonized people, and are calling for independence from Algeria.

An Interview with Joseph Daher

Aleppo protests

by Frieda Afary, Radio Zamaneh

Joseph Daher is a Syrian-Swiss Marxist intellectual with a PhD in development at the University of SOAS, London. He is also a member of Solidarités in Switzerland and of the Revolutionary Left Current in Syria. What do leftist Syrian intellectuals think about the current crisis, Assad's future, the intervention of world powers, the activism of forces representing alternatives, and the role of the Syrian Kurds? This text contains Daher's response to two questions posed to better comprehend the events in Syria from an alternative point of view.

What is your analysis of the Russian government's air-strikes in Syria since September 30?

The objectives of these air-strikes are clear: save and consolidate the political and military power of the Assad regime. In other words, crush all forms of opposition—whether democratic or reactionary—to the Assad regime under the so-called "war on terror." Most targets are civilians and factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) still existing. About 100,000 civilians have been forced to flee their regions because of Russian bombings. Russian bombings also destroyed dozens of hospitals while doctors and patients were killed in these raids. In areas such as the outskirts of Aleppo, the bombings in some cases even benefited the the Islamic State (IS), thanks to a lightning breakthrough against factions of the FSA disoriented by Russian strikes. Moreover, Russian strikes are operated with the direct collaboration of the US and Israel.

by Nava Thakuria, World War 4 Report

As most leaders of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and other banned militant groups of northeast India have now joined in peace talks with the authorities and are bargaining for amnesty from their past misdeeds, families of victilms of the insurgencies express concern about whether they will get justice. ULFA, which chased the dream of an independent nation of Swadhin Asom in what is now the Indian state of Assam, engaged in numerous acts of extortion, kidnapping and even in brutal killings. Journalists and common people sometimes targeted for their critical comments about the rebels.

One notable example is the brutal assassination of journalist Kamala Saikia, an elderly teacher, veteran of India's independence struggle and devotee of Gandhian principles in the town of Sivasagar, who became a commentator on social issues facing his conflicted state. He was taken away by ULFA fighters on the night of August 9, 1991; his body was recovered next morning on a roadside with signs of torture.

He was among 20 journalists, commentators and editors of Assam who lost their lives to political killings over the past two decades. Not one perpetrator has been brought to justuice.

Somali herders

by Mohamed Amin Jibril and Mohamed Omar Mulla, IRIN

HARGEISA/GAROWE — Two consecutive seasons of drought across northern Somalia are driving tens of thousands of pastoralists into hunger and debt.

Abdilahi Mohamed had 20 cattle in August. Only five now survive. He herded his animals 250 kilometers—from his home in Faraweyne to Banka Geriyaad, northwest of Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland region—in the hope that the Hays rainy season (December to February) had generated enough fresh pasture there.

"But before I got there people had already moved in and finished it all," he told IRIN.

It's a similar situation in the autonomous state of Puntland, to the east. Mohamoud Ahmed told IRIN by phone from Sanag region, one of the hardest-hit areas, that he had "lost a number" of his herd.

"My entire family is now in a critical situation: no water, no food, no nothing. Young ones and the elderly are suffering a lot. Sometimes I buy a drum of water for $120—when I can afford it."

Iran executions

by Rahim Hamid, Middle East Eye

The appalling human rights situation in Iran has not improved since Hassan Rouhani—touted in some circles in the West as a "moderate" and a "reformer"—became president of the Islamic Republic in 2013. Since taking office, more than 2,000 people have been hanged under Rouhani's watch, the biggest scale of executions in the past 25 years, adding to the black pages of the regime's history of human rights violations since the revolution of 1979.

The execution spree in the first half of 2015 was not missed by the human rights group Amnesty International, which noted that "death sentences in Iran are particularly disturbing because they are invariably imposed by courts that are completely lacking in independence and impartiality." The rights group added: "They are imposed either for vaguely worded or overly broad offences, or acts that should not be criminalised at all, let alone attract the death penalty. Trials in Iran are deeply flawed, detainees are often denied access to lawyers in the investigative stage, and there are inadequate procedures for appeal, pardon and commutation."

As a result, Iran became the top country committing executions per capita—again under Rouhani's watch.

Ghat

by Tom Westcott, IRIN

GHAT — A peace deal signed last week in Qatar by warring tribes from the Saharan town of Ubari may bring some hope for displaced and marginalized people in Libya's desert south, including those holed up in a partially-built construction project known locally as the "Chinese Camp." We reported in August on the desperate situation in Ubari, a town of more than 30,000 people where civilians had to be on constant alert for street clashes and sniper fire, and where the wounded often died of their injuries because of the lack of medical supplies and assistance.

The fighting is predominantly between militias from two indigenous Saharan tribes, the Tuareg and the Tebu, which have taken opposing sides as Libya has descended into a complex web of conflicts after the ousting of long-time ruler Moammar Qaddafi. The Tuareg are aligned with the Tripoli government, installed 16 months ago as a rival to the internationally recognized government in eastern Libya, which has the support of the Tebu.

Many of those fleeing the fighting have had little choice but to seek refuge more than 300 kilometers to the southwest in Ghat, a predominantly Tuareg town. Some 600 families now occupy half-built homes on the outskirts of Ghat in an unfinished housing project abandoned by a Chinese construction company at the start of the 2011 uprising.

While many were displaced by fighting between the Tuareg and the Tebu, there are also migrants from neighbouring countries. Children play with abandoned cars in the dust, rather than spend time inside squalid two-roomed houses, where windows are bricked up against the summer sand that blows in from the Sahara and the cold winter nights.