The US should renew its grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to almost 7,000 Syrians living in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. Anyone forced to return to Syria would face grave risks from the widespread conflict and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law there.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to announce a decision by the end of January 2018 about whether to extend existing TPS for Syrians.
“The brutality and violence that originally motivated the US to provide Temporary Protected Status for Syrians have not abated,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Multiple armed groups, including the Syrian government, are targeting and indiscriminately attacking civilians in Syria day after day, and it is not safe for people to return there.”
More than 400,000 people have died because of the Syrian conflict since 2011, according to the World Bank, with 5 million seeking refuge abroad and more than 6 million displaced internally, according to UN agencies. As of September 2017, the UN also estimated that 420,000 people were still living in besieged areas.
The Syrian government and non-state armed groups have committed a host of violations, including attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure, using prohibited chemical weapons, employing starvation as a war tactic, and using civilians as human shields. Many armed groups have long used arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and ill-treatment against civilians in Syria.
The US first granted TPS to Syrians already in the US in 2012, finding that “extraordinary and temporary conditions” in Syria prevented “nationals from returning in safety.” The Homeland Security secretary revised the classification in 2016, making Syrians who had continually lived in the US since at least August 1 of that year eligible to register.
The US government should not only keep the program in place for Syrians who currently receive its protection, but it should expand protected status to include people who arrived after the current August 2016 cutoff date. This would make more people facing exactly the same dangers eligible for blanket protection from return to Syria. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called on all governments not to forcibly return anyone to Syria.
“As a practical matter, Temporary Protected Status would ensure that no eligible Syrian is returned to face threats to their safety from the ongoing armed conflict in their country,” Margon said. “With mounting pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey to return, terminating the protection in the United States would send a dangerous signal that could affect far larger numbers of Syrians at serious risk of forced return.”
Published on HRW on January 24, 2018
This report contains in-depth information on seven gender equality promising practices that are part of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR’s) response to the Syria crisis in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Over the last six years, UNHCR and partners have implemented numerous catalytic initiatives that seek to address specific gender-related protection needs and risks of diverse Syrian women, men, boys and girls, as well as drawing upon their existing capacities. It is now important to document these initiatives to ensure that our efforts, as well as lessons learned, will continue to be built upon in the interest of pursuing gender equality as an integral element of humanitarian programming.
This report aims to provide information and inspiration to UNHCR colleagues, partners and other international and national organizations working together with refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Published on ReliefWeb on December 18, 2017
Key words: Refugees; Lebanon; Syria
Many refugees in Arsal, a border town in northeast Lebanon recently cleared of armed groups, face pressure to return to Syria, Human Rights Watch said today. Some have already returned to Syria because of the harsh conditions in Arsal. A recent Human Rights Watch visit to Arsal found widespread lack of legal residency, restrictions on freedom of movement, and fear of seemingly random arrests during army raids. Lebanese authorities should prioritize restoring services and protecting civilians there, following the military campaigns and negotiated agreements that pushed the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra militants out of the area.
“Conditions in Arsal have gotten so bad that many refugees have decided to go back into a war zone,” said Nadim Houry, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanese authorities have a difficult job maintaining security in Arsal, but now that ISIS and al-Nusra have been pushed out, it is essential to improve services and protect civilians.”
Syrians who left Arsal for Idlib told Human Rights Watch by phone that they went back to Syria because of the situation in Arsal, including army raids on refugee settlements, a widespread lack of legal status, fear of arrest and detention, restrictions on their movement, and limited access to education and health care. Human Rights Watch did not find evidence of direct forced returns, but all of those interviewed said they left under pressure, not voluntarily.
Lebanon should ensure that refugees can regularize their legal status and have freedom of movement and access to humanitarian aid, Human Rights Watch said. Security measures should respect the rights of civilians in Arsal.
Arsal currently hosts an estimated 60,000 Syrians alongside a population of 38,000 Lebanese, according to the municipality. The Lebanese army has maintained tight control over Arsal since the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra attacked the town in 2014, and has restricted access to the town since then. While the army quickly regained control of the town, fighters from the Islamic State and al-Nusra remained in areas around Arsal until recent campaigns by the Lebanese army and Hezbollah ended in negotiated deals, under which armed men and their families as well as unaffiliated civilians returned to Syria.
Almost 10,000 Syrians have returned from Arsal since June, according to the municipality, largely under agreements negotiated by Hezbollah. Human Rights Watch entered Arsal in September, with permission from the Lebanese authorities, to interview Syrians and assess conditions first-hand. Human Rights Watch spoke with 19 refugees inside Arsal and by phone with five Syrians who returned to Syria.
“When we left [Arsal], we were forced to go,” said a doctor who returned to Idlib. “It wasn’t our place. We would always be persecuted there. Our fate was either arrest, or death, or permanently living in anxiety. This is why most people left, because of the persecution.”
Syrians said that the widespread lack of legal residency was a factor in the decision of many to return to Syria. Nine of the 19 said they did not have legal status, and that men in particular feared arrest by the General Security Organization when trying to renew their residency. Without residency, Syrians face restrictions on movement for fear of arrest, affecting their access to work, health care, and birth and marriage registration. Aid groups estimate that between 70 to 80 percent of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon lack legal status.
Eight Syrians in Arsal said that either they or an immediate family member had been arrested when trying to renew their residency, and that authorities had detained children as young as 9. One camp representative showed Human Rights Watch a list of 222 people who attempted to renew residency but whose identification cards had been held by General Security for at least a year – and as long as three years in some cases.
Syrians said that they feared arrest by the army during frequent security raids on refugee settlements in Arsal. Many said they perceived the arrests as “random,” and feared they could be arrested at any time. Several said that the mass raids in June resulting in the arrests of more than 350 Syrians, and the deaths of four Syrians in military custody amid evidence of torture, created a sense of fear and contributed to families’ decisions to return. Human Rights Watch has called on the army to release its investigation of this incident, but the army has not done so. Camp leaders said they were still unaware of the whereabouts of some of those detained.
“I’m not against the army,” one camp leader in Arsal said. “We will enter with them if they want to enter camps, we want to cooperate with the Lebanese army.”
Syrians in Idlib said they did not have clear information about conditions there before they returned. UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, does not have a permanent presence in Arsal, was not involved in facilitating the returns to Syria, and for the most part did not interview Syrians before they left to assess whether their departure was voluntary. UNHCR has not issued a public assessment as to whether these returns were voluntary.
“Our stay in Arsal was in fear, living in the unknown, our departure was in fear and to the unknown, and the trip was in fear and through the unknown,” said one man who returned to Idlib. “We were asking about guarantees but no one told us what it was. … We were in psychological torment. It’s the most difficult decision to make: whether to stay in the unknown or go toward the unknown.”
Almost all of the Syrians interviewed said they would have preferred to stay in Lebanon if they had felt safe.
Syrians still in Arsal also said that they felt under pressure to leave. “The army is putting pressure, General Security is putting pressure, people are putting pressure on us, the situation here is unacceptable,” one man said. But while some said they would consider going back under an international agreement, all said they would prefer to remain in Lebanon if conditions improved, until it was safe to return to Syria.
“I want to go back home with my honor, go back to my house, not under pressure [to Idlib],” one woman said.
Lebanon is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, but is bound by the universally binding customary law principle of nonrefoulement not to return anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of being persecuted, exposed to torture or other ill treatment, or to threats to their lives or freedom. Lebanon is also bound by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment not to return anyone to a country where they would be in danger of torture or ill-treatment.
Refoulement occurs not only when a refugee is directly rejected or expelled, but also when indirect pressure on them is so intense that it leads them to believe that they have no practical option but to return to a country where they face serious risk of persecution or threats to their lives and safety.
The returns to Syria follow heightened calls by Lebanese politicians for the return of refugees to Syria. In July, President Michel Aoun called for safe, not voluntary, returns. Idlib province is considered a “de-escalation zone,” based on an agreement among some of the warring parties in Kazakhstan in May, but cannot be considered safe for returns. International experience has shown that “safe zones” rarely remain safe, Human Rights Watch said.
“With ISIS and al-Nusra gone from Arsal, Lebanon should recognize that it’s not in its interest for refugees to fear interaction with security services and reassess its security policy,” Houry said. “Lebanon should ensure that Syrians are able to obtain legal residency and that security operations respect the safety and security of refugees living in Arsal.”
Published on HRW on September 20, 2017.
Almost 500,000 Syrians have returned to their homes this year, the UN says, describing this as a "notable trend".
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 440,000 internally displaced Syrians and about 31,000 of those who fled abroad have now come back.
Most of them have returned to Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus with the aim of checking on their properties and finding out about family members.
But the UNHCR warns the conditions for a safe return "are not yet in place".
Speaking on Friday, UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said his agency was now seeing a "notable trend of spontaneous returns to and within Syria" in 2017.
"Most of these people are returning to check on their properties, to find out about the family members. This is what we know from some of the evidence that we have gathered.
"In some cases they have their own perceptions about the security, whether they are real or perceived improvements in the security situation in the areas where they are going to."
Since 2015, he said, about 260,000 refugees have already returned to Syria, primarily from Turkey.
Based on the latest figures, the UNHCR has started scaling up its operations inside Syria to better address the needs of those returning home, Mr Mahecic said.
But he warned that while there were increased hopes linked to the recent Astana and Geneva peace talks, the UNHCR "believes conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria".
Mr Mahecic also said that the number of those who had already come back was a "fraction" of an estimated five million refugees hosted in the region.
Last week, the UNHCR said that about 200,000 people had fled Syria in 2016.
The agency said that since the conflict began in 2011, about 5.5 million people had left the country, and another 6.3 million had been left internally displaced.
More than 300,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the war, which began with anti-government protests.
In other developments on Friday:
Published on BBC News on July 1, 2017.
By Todd Stump
Everyone in Arbaz's family is dead.
One brother disappeared more than two decades ago and another died after losing a leg in a bombing and an arm to the Taliban, who sawed it off at the shoulder.
Arbaz's hosts have generously provided for his material needs and attended to his physical injuries, but after 11 months as a refugee in Germany, this is the first time the 23-year-old Afghani opened up about the trauma he experienced in his home and during his journey.
"Nobody knows my heart is crying," he told Dr. Shaifali Sandhya at a Red Cross refugee center in Berlin. "When I would tell people at home, they'd treat it as an ordinary thing."
To people in his homeland his experience is unexceptional, common enough not to be examined or thought about too much. The same is true for people in his new home. His fellow refugees lived through their own traumas and the staff at the resettlement centers have heard many similar stories.
Sandhya -- a Delhi-born, Cambridge-educated psychologist -- has counseled hundreds of immigrants in her career. She says the psychological effects of trauma from war -- loss, privation and social isolation -- may be a better indicator of an immigrant's ability to successfully adapt than characteristics governments tend to focus on, like country of origin and religion.
Sandhya left her home in Chicago in November 2016 to conduct a 10-day fact-finding trip in Germany, the first part of a study of how trauma among refugees manifests itself in individual and group behavior. Sandhya, 44, speaks five languages and is learning German as well. She financed the project herself.
She visited four cities, spoke to government ministers, visited refugee centers and met more than 100 refugees, videotaping interviews with some of them, including Arbaz. Names of the refugees have been changed to protect their identities because they fear the recent backlash against Muslim immigration in Europe and are concerned that President Donald Trump's travel ban will force them to return to their home countries, where they likely will face retribution and even death.
At the outset of the trip, Sandhya considered herself well-suited for the research. An immigrant herself, she has lived in five different countries, including Muslim ones, and studied the interpersonal dynamics of non-Westerners in Western countries. She counsels immigrant families confronted by colliding cultures, but while examining the physical and psychological journey of refugees, she began a journey of her own.
She arrived at the first refugee center in a bustling Berlin neighborhood dotted with ethnic restaurants, where 40 percent of the residents are immigrants.
The refugee center is in a recently converted department store, the exterior of which was decorated with children's drawings -- it could have been a school or a recreation center. The elevator was covered in graffiti, but not the kind an American city-dweller might expect. Instead, these were images of dinosaurs with kitten's heads and other fanciful children's scribblings.
Germany's refugee population is primarily from Afghanistan and Syria and is mostly male. All the residents at the refugee center have experienced some form of trauma.
The scar that runs down the face of Ferhad, a 20-year-old unmarried Syrian immigrant from Aleppo, is a lifetime reminder of the torture he suffered under interrogation. Arbaz contracted an infection during a long boat journey, causing severe abdominal pain and blood in his urine.
"These are clear signals to health professionals that they are in need of help. But what of the wounds that can't be seen?" Sandhya asked.
With Sandhya next to him, Arbaz sat patiently while questions and answers were translated from English to German to Urdu and then back again. Frustrated, he finally turned to Sandhya and surprised her, asking in her native Hindi, "How do I explain what goes on in my heart?"
In her years of counseling immigrants and helping them to cope with new environments and personal relationships, Sandhya learned that what might seem to be a matter of the mind to a mental health professional is frequently a matter of the heart to a patient.
"I've learned that you can't help a person if you ignore culture and family considerations, but until now, I've seen it mostly from the female perspective," she says. "This new experience has taught me that the traumas women suffer are often related to the traumas experienced by the men in their lives. But men in these cultures are reluctant to talk about them, so the problem goes untreated."
Hassan – whose name, like Arbaz's, has been changed to protect his identity -- told Sandhya that he had been a darji, a tailor. He was born to a Kurdish family of seven siblings in Afrin, a land wild with olive groves known as "liquid gold" in northern Syria.
"I had a normal life," the 32-year-old refugee said. "After my marriage, I stayed with my wife and children."
That changed in 2006 when Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad's forces pulled Hassan from his shop and out of his normal life. He was detained in a secret prison for his "political activities" and his quest for a new life began.
Upheaval in the lives of refugees like Hassan can cause trauma that manifests in ways having profound effects on both refugees and the countries where they settle.
Sandhya said psychologists know that when no constructive outlets are available for mental anguish, symptoms can emerge as what they call "somatic" pain, or pain related to the body and distinct from the mind.
"Somatic pain can manifest itself in many guises including malaise or chronic bodily aches, but has no diagnosable medical cause," she explains.
Further disguising the problem is that these trauma manifestations may be shaped by culture, so they deviate from the typical ways Americans, for instance, may experience PTSD, Sandhya said.
"Salvadoran female civil war refugees can suffer from "calorias"-- a perception of intense heat in their body. For Cambodians, it is sometimes manifested as hallucinations of vengeful spirits," she said.
Headaches, Sandhya learned, was how Syrian men here are experiencing the phenomenon.
"I have huge headaches. I feel sad but I don't cry . . . I am living with men and I cannot have them see me cry," Hassan said.
"Have you spoken to Aliya and Imran since you left?" Sandhya asked, inquiring about Hassan's children.
Rubbing his temple, Hassan replied, "I have a headache. I am sorry. I want to tell you more… but I cannot."
Another coping mechanism is unwavering faith. Many refugees credit Allah with their survival. Yet another is dissociation, a term psychologists use to describe the separation of normally related mental processes, which results in one process functioning independently from the rest.
"It is a coping mechanism to help the person continue to function in the aftermath of emotionally traumatizing life events," Sandhya said. She sees it regularly when refugees tell their stories, describing horrific events in anodyne, emotionless ways.
Arbaz told his story as if he was reading a telegram; short declarative sentences delivering horrifying news and ending abruptly.
"I saw little children take pictures of the war, of dead corpses."
"People were being flagellated, strung up as chickens with their flesh torn up."
Even before he turned 13, four of Arbaz's siblings died, lost to bombing and Taliban attacks. When he was 16, another sibling died. His parents, unable to cope with their misfortune and without treatment for their own trauma, died in quick succession, grief-stricken.
Left out of his retelling was any description of his own horror at having witnessed such events, the terror he must have felt under constant fear of death, or the heartbreak of watching his parents die.
By the time a refugee arrives in a host country, he has spent an average of $9,000, traveled through six countries and many cities, endured two years of intense hardship, and attempted unsuccessfully to settle in a safe haven at least twice. But, most significantly, he has likely witnessed repeated brutalities to family members, loved ones and traveling companions.
"What an outsider might see as a casual acceptance of death is the brain coping with overwhelming trauma," Sandhya said. "Dissociation limits and alters the access to intense sensory and emotional memories that would otherwise inhibit basic functions."
While this protective mechanism alters the impact of terror on our bodies, it does so at the price of silencing victims whose experiences are vital to understanding the effects of trauma. Sandhya recommended that refugees be encouraged to share these traumatic episodes both for their own health and for their successful integration into their new communities.
Through her study, Sandhya said she hopes to gather knowledge of civic innovations that lead to more successful integration with less conflict. She said the lessons can be applied to refugee settlement in the U.S.
While there are misgivings among the general public about the level of resettlement in Germany and a growing political backlash, Sandhya said that everyone from the most senior elected officials to the caregivers in the refugee centers were united in their unwavering belief that the experiment will succeed. Frequently, the commitment is quite personal; many Germans involved in the resettlement efforts are married to immigrants or are immigrants themselves.
But their efforts on behalf of the refugees can be suspect. In their home villages, many were told that Germany is a dangerous place where Muslims were unwelcome. Rania, an 8-year-old from Syria, at first refused to believe one of the center's workers was, in fact, German.
Rania said to her, "I can't believe it because you smile all the time."
This article was published on US News' website on February 15, 2017.
Since the 24 November 2014, this group of Syrian refugees have been protesting against this inhumane treatment and the denial of their basic rights as refugees.
A Greek MP, Yiannis Michelogiannakis, has recently joined them, after two protesters died.
More than a thousand of Syrian refugees have been camping outside the Parliament in Athens to protest against their intolerable situation in Greece. Because of the Greek laws on asylum and a very strict policy, Syrian refugees can scarcely have access to asylum procedures.
According to the UNHCR, of the 152 asylum applications by Syrian nationals, examined during 2012, 50 were rejected and in only 2 cases was refugee status or subsidiary protection granted. The UNHCR therefore recommended in 2013 to "afford protection to asylum seekers from Syria in accordance with the provisions of the 1951 Geneva Convention or other form of complementary protection (subsidiary protection)."
Unfortunately, the situation has not showed any positive development since then. The Syrian refugees who arrive in Greece, are not only denied the access to a fair and transparent asylum procedure but are only prevented from leaving the country. Men, women, children and elderly people are therefore stuck in inappropriate detention facilities, or homeless, without any access to medical care, school or social support.