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refugees in lebanon
While the current international focus in the Middle East has centered around Syria and the recent violence in Iraq, the impact of increased civil strife across the region will have serious implications for Lebanon.

The Syrian civil war has been going on for four years now, bleeding out into other areas as millions have been displaced from their homes. A huge influx of Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring Lebanon over the past several years, contributing to rising tension within Lebanon’s borders.

In order to escape the violence in their country, nearly 2.5 million Syrians have fled. There are currently over one million refugees in Lebanon alone; nearly half of the total number.

Lebanon’s current political system will not have a high tolerance for conflict as the country has just recently come out of a 15-year civil war.

The problem with Syrian refugees in Lebanon will come with challenges beyond the normal problems associated with displaced people. Refugees from Syria have the potential to increase sectarian violence among Sunni and Shiite communities. The Shiite militant organization Hezbollah supports Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This provokes violence in Lebanon from an outraged Sunni community. The Sunni faction ISIS has been taking advantage of a weak government in both Syria and Iraq in order to take control of areas in hopes of creating their own Islamic state.

When leaders of Lebanon’s religious factions lose control over their territories, historically, chaos breaks out. Attacks occur in the form of kidnappings, assassinations and bombings.

Apart from violence, the refugee overflow overwhelms Lebanon’s already fragile infrastructure. Water, electricity and waste management systems have the potential to break down. This could lead to a disastrous shortage of water and electricity which in turn would allow for the spread of disease and contamination.

The United States knows that preventing escalating conflict in Lebanon is necessary to avoid further violence across the region, and to decrease the likelihood of extremists groups expanding. Renewed conflict in Lebanon could also threaten Israel, a U.S. ally, if religious extremists groups continue to grow.

There is no easy solution to growing tension in Lebanon due to the increasing number of refugees. In order to avoid a renewed conflict in Lebanon, state institutions must be effective in calming the growing violence and tension between religious groups. Additionally, public healthcare and sanitation services must be enhanced.

According to Council of Foreign Relations Senior Advisor Monica Yaccoubiana, avoiding a conflict in Lebanon will take a huge effort to mitigate spillover effects of the Syrian conflict. These efforts must include ensuring humanitarian access to civilians inside Syria, working with the United Nations to improve access for aid groups, increase funding for assistance and initiating high level meetings between global political leaders and Lebanese officials in order to encourage consensus building and implement solutions.

– Caroline Logan

Sources: CFR, BBC, UNHCR
Photo: Al Jazeera

syrian_orphans
Since the Syrian civil war began to flare in 2011, more than 2 million Syrians have fled the country in order to seek refuge and safety. Most of the refugees — about 1,130,000 of them — have relocated to Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon. Other countries are granting immigration visas, humanitarian visas or loosening up their asylum grants in order to aid the cause.

José Mujica, president of Uruguay, has taken the cause into his own hands. He has decided to not only open up his country, but also his very home to 100 Syrian orphans, all put in their current position by the conflict. Although this appears to be an unusual and bold move, Mujica is the right man to execute it.

José Alberto Mujica Cordano spent the 60’s and 70’s as a member of the Uruguayan guerrilla Tupamaros, where he was shot six times and spent 14 years in jail, only being released when Uruguay returned to a democracy in 1985. He believes his background and time spent in jail has helped form his outlook on life.

Mujica has been President of Uruguay since 2010. He has gained worldwide popularity as “The World’s Poorest President” because of his choice to donate 90 percent of his salary to charities and small entrepreneurs throughout the country, leaving his salary at about $775 a month. He drives a Volkswagon Beetle and lives in a farmhouse right outside of Montevideo with his wife, where they work the land themselves. He says this about his lifestyle:

“I’m called the poorest president, but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more,” and “I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”

He also stated at the Rio+20 summit in June that if all countries consumed at the same rate as the rich ones, then we would be adding further harm to our planet. Thus, envying their status and wealth does nothing for them.

The plan is for the children to begin arriving around September from refugee camps in the Middle East. The exact number of people is still to be decided, since the Uruguayan government has to work out the expenses, and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) protocol calls for orphans to be relocated with at least one relative.

Mujica is facing a bit of backlash from the Uruguayan people because he deviated from the original plan to consult his constituents about the issue, but he made the decision without doing so. He is also getting bad reviews for doing this international aid move when there are orphans in Uruguay that need assistance as well.

Lucia Topolansky, Mujica’s wife, says their decision to take in the Syrian orphans is one to “motivate all the countries of the world to take responsibility for this catastrophe.”

The UN is hoping to relocate another 30,000 refugees this year, and if other countries follow José Mucija’s example, they may have success in the relocation process.

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: BBC, SHOAH, Elite Daily
Photo: The Guardian

sectarian_clashes
The violence and sectarian clashes emanating from Syria’s three-year long civil war continued to spill over the border into neighboring Lebanon this week, as the death toll from clashes between supporters and opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the northern port city of Tripoli rose to nearly two dozen. Seven people were killed Friday, bringing the death toll to at least 21 since the sectarian-tinged fighting erupted last week.

Since the conflict broke out in neighboring Syria, there have been on-and-off clashes between residents of Tripoli’s Sunni district of Bab al-Tabanneh (which supports the Sunni insurgents battling the Syrian government) and the Alawite neighborhood of Jabal Mohsen (which backs Assad’s Alawite-dominated regime). The latest bout of fighting was sparked on March 21, when gunmen shot and killed a Sunni man who lived in an Alawite neighborhood and had Alawite relatives.

During Friday’s violence four civilians including an elderly man were gunned down by snipers, while eleven others were wounded. About 150 people have been wounded since the latest round of violence between the Sunni and Alawite neighborhoods erupted last week. Three people injured in earlier clashes also died Friday.

The Syrian civil war–which pit rebels from Syria’s Sunni majority against a government controlled by the country’s Alawite minority and supported by Shia Iran–has stoked Sunni-Shia tensions across the Middle East, and particularly in the sectarian tinderboxes of Iraq and Lebanon.

Shia Iran and its Lebanese proxy force Hezbollah have backed Assad, a longtime ally of both Tehran and Hezbollah, while Sunni gulf states and Turkey have supported the Sunni insurgents, buttressing the rebels through the provision of light weapons and cash.

The crackdown on the largely Sunni rebels by Assad’s security forces, who are supported in their campaign by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, Iran and Iraqi militias, has enraged the insurgents’ Sunni brethren in Lebanon and across the region. This anger reached a fever pitch last May, when Hezbollah, or Party of God, openly joined Assad’s campaign to crush the rebellion.

Hezbollah’s overt intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of Assad’s regime began when the Iranian-backed Shia group sent fighters across the border to help the Syrian government retake the strategic border town of Qusair, which had been under the control of rebel forces since early 2012. Assad’s security forces, aided by Shia fighters from Hezbollah, were able to seize control of Qusair in early June following a three-week battle that enraged the Shia groups’ Sunni opponents in Lebanon.

Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria’s sectarian conflict ushered in a violent period in Lebanon, as militant Sunni groups unleashed a wave of bombings against Hezbollah and Shia targets.

– Eric Erdahl

Sources: Reuters, Reuters, BBC, Al Jazeera
Photo: Naharnet

syrian_refugees_lebanon
The Syrian conflict has continued for three years at this point and there seems to be little hope that it will be solved anytime soon. The conflict between Russia and the United States over Ukraine puts any future peace conferences in flux, and the attention of the international community has largely shifted to that part of the world. However, for the countries around Syria, the crisis there is still a daily ordeal with Syrian refugees flowing in from the beleaguered nation.

Lebanon has taken the bulk of the masses from Syria. Since the beginning of the conflict almost a million refugees have come into Lebanon and projections have that number going up to 1.5 million by the end of the year if nothing changes. A representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the influx “is equivalent to 80 million Mexicans arriving in the U.S. in 18 months… the largest per capita recipient of refugees anywhere in the world.” While Lebanon continues to generously take in the refugees, the influx has put a severe strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Studies done by the United Nations have shown that many of the refugees are settling in Lebanon’s poorest regions, where the least amount of assistance can be provided. This has left both the refugees and the Lebanese poor at a disadvantage, with little room for the country to move them.

One potential problem with this influx are tensions existing between the various religious groups in the area. Lebanon has a diverse religious population, but the many Sunni refugees coming in from Syria will upset the balance in Lebanon. With sectarian violence a key part of the Syrian conflict, worries are that tensions could erupt in Lebanon and put more people at a disadvantage.

The United Nations is trying to remedy these problems facing Lebanon. The UNHCR put out a call for $1.9 billion to help refugees in Lebanon, yet the agency still hasn’t come close to meeting that goal. Viral campaigns centered around pictures taken at refugee camps have served to attract notice, it sill has yet to be seen whether the campaigns will bring in more funding for the projects.

Lebanon might be the biggest location for Syrian refugees, but all the countries bordering Syria have been affected by the war. The World Food Program is planning to assist 2.9 million people in countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. With 12,000 people coming into Lebanon a week, more help will be needed. The time to act is now, even as the countries of the West may be focused elsewhere.

– Eric Gustafsson

Sources: United Nations, The Daily Star, McClatchyDC
Photo: AlJazeera America

Peace_talks_syria_women
Head of United Nations women and former Deputy President of South Africa Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has announced a goal to have at least 30 percent of the people attending the Syrian Peace Talks be women. She has gathered a team of Syrian women in Geneva, where the talks are to take place.

Many activists and officials say that ‘women’s voices cannot be sidelined’ during this process. Activists have been lobbying the U.N. to allow them to send women representatives to speak about their experiences during a civil war that has entered its third year. They would also like to see the U.N. appoint a gender advisor that can be a voice for women’s rights.

The talks are scheduled to take place on January 22. The talks hope to bring an end to the civil war that has claimed the lives of 100,000 people and created 2 million refugees fleeing to neighboring countries. Millions more have been displaced from their homes and are in desperate need of aid.  The civil war began when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad violently cracked down against anti-government protests in 2011.

Syrian activist Kefah ali Deeb spoke in favor of equal participation for women in the peace talks, “We cannot remain silent regarding events unfolding in Syria such as daily death, massive destruction, starvation of people and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Syrian families, in Syria and abroad, as well as the spread of terror, of violence, ongoing detentions, acts of kidnapping, destruction of infrastructures and the spread of diseases, particularly among children.”

It is estimated over 80 percent of Syrians that have been affected by the conflict and are in need of aid are women and children.

So far, the British Foreign Secretary announced its support for women inclusion in the peace talks. The British government has provided 200,000 pounds ($327,000) for that purpose.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: ABC News, Your Middle East, Al Jazeera
Photo: Al Arabiya

syrian_children
On January 22, the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference opened in Montreux, Switzerland. One of the major focuses of the conference is an attempt to curb the civil war in Syria.

Since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in spring 2011, over 100,000 people have been killed. The Oxford Research Group posted an independent study estimating that 11,420 of civilian casualties, over 10 percent have been children.

While the majority of casualties have resulted from explosive weapons or Syrian army assaults on civilian neighborhoods, there have also been targeted attacks on children, with 112 recorded cases of torture leading to death.The situation for Syrian children is dire. In many cases, the children are forced to flee Syria as refugees. As refugees, the situation is not much better, with limited access to food and water.

World Vision has released its January report on the crisis in Syria focusing on bringing the conditions of the regions children to light. The report, “Stand With Me – Children’s Rights, Wronged” emphasizes the conditions in which Syrian children live and outlines what is needed to support them.

The report discusses the violations against Syrian children’s basic human rights. Affected children in Syria endure child labor at as young as 4 years old, with 10 percent of refugees replacing education with work.

This inability to access education is emphasized as one of the greatest misfortunes of the war. World Vision’s report explains how important it is to keep Syrian children in school not just to educate them, but also to keep them safe from dangerous situations on the streets and in the workplace.

Additionally, many Syrian children are being exploited to smuggle goods, perform sexual acts and to work and fight on the front lines of the civil war.

In addition to highlighting the conditions that Syrian children face, World Vision calls for three demands regarding the safety of these children to be met:

1. “All parties to the conflict to cease hostilities and come together to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict, with support from the international community.

2. All parties to do everything within their power to respect and ensure the protection of children and their rights by immediately ceasing all violence, exploitation, and abuse against children.

3. Donors to meet the $1 billion call to fund education and child protection programming for children affected by the crisis…”

In light of the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference, World Vision’s January report calls for action on the part of the global community in order to curtail further violence against the children of Syria.

– Cameron Barney

Sources: World Vision, NBC News, NPR, NPR, BBC
Photo: The Big Story

World Supports Aid for Syrian Conflict
According to the CIA World Factbook, “unrest persists in 2013, and the death toll among Syrian Government forces, opposition forces and civilians has topped 100,000.”  It is important to show a bit of history before going into the current conflict of Syria because of the different rulers the country has had and how that has shaped its people and government today.  After World War I, Syria was a territory of France for a few years until granting it its independence in 1946.

In its first decades, it was politically unstable and multiple coups broke out, so it united with Egypt to create the United Arab Republic just to break apart a few years later.  Hafiz al-Asad seized power in a bloodless coup in 1970 and finally brought political stability to the country for the time being.

After the death of President al-Asad, his son, Bashar al-Asad, was elected to take over, but multiple anti-government protests broke out against him in 2011 and are still underway.  The protesters called for the removal of the restrictive Emergency Law that allowed people to be arrested without a charge.  They also wanted to remove corrupt local officials and to legalize political parties.  Since late 2011, international pressure has been put on the Asad regime as many nations have put sanctions against the regime.

Millions have been forced from their homes in Syria and have virtually no place to seek refuge from the conflict.  There are currently 9 million people that are displaced and literally need the aid of the United Nations or they will not be able to survive.  Around 50 people died of starvation and hunger-related illnesses because the government issued a blockade around their district of Yarmouk.

There are over 300 people in that district that are starving and all that the United Nations is able to get to those people is only 26 parcels of food.  Syrian authorities have killed about 11,000 detainees whose bodies showed signs of torture, beatings and extreme emaciation due to forced starving.

On January 21, the United States pledged $380 million for this year to the victims that are suffering the ruthless civil war.  They fear however, that the humanitarian assistance may not be permitted by the Syrian president, Asad.  Though the U.S. is the largest donor to the Syrian conflict, what it is offering is nothing compared to the $6.5 billion the U.N. plans on raising.

Since the war began, the U.S. has committed a total of $1.7 billion in humanitarian aid to those nine million displaced Syrian citizens, two million of which are believed to have fled to bordering countries.  Of the pledged $380 million from the U.S., half of it will be going to the U.N. programs for victims, especially those children who need education, health care and emotional counseling.  The U.S. will also be offering an extra $2.5 million to U.N. programs helping Syrian refugees in North Africa, Europe and Persian Gulf states.

Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: San Jose Mercury News, CIA World Factbook
Photo: Global Post

growing_need_in_syria_demands_response_from_world
The mounting crisis in Syria has prompted seven countries to pledge a collective $2.4 billion in aid during a donors’ conference in Kuwait this Wednesday.

At the UN organized Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference on Syria, the United States and several other countries pledged 36 percent of the UN’s $6.5 billion requested donation total.

Including the additional $380 million pledge from Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. will have donated over $1.7 billion aid to Syria, the most of any other country. Other large donors include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom with $500, $260 and $164 million respectively.

Despite the seemingly large donations, escalating violence and worsening conditions for Syrians demands a parallel response from donors.

“The UN has launched its largest appeal ever. It did not do this lightly,” said Gareth Price-Jones, Oxfam’s Syria country director. “The scale of the appeal simply reflects the immense scale of the need. If every country gave its fair share then the appeal would be funded.”

When the conference met for the first time last year, two years after the Syrian conflict began in early 2011, seven hundred thousand Syrians had been displaced and approximately four million Syrians were in need of aid.

In the year since, the number of refugees has escalated into the millions, with nearly 6.5 million Syrians displaced within the country itself while an additional 2.3 million have fled to neighboring countries Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

Basic necessities like baby formula, water, shelter, medical care and education are needed by half the Syrian population, nearly 9.3 million people. Relief organizations are urging governments to pledge more aid, and quickly.

To complicate matters further, the Assad regime refuses to permit humanitarian aid workers from delivering supplies to distressed populations. In a statement to the donors, Kerry stressed the importance of actively confronting the problems in the region.

“I will tell you all clearly today we are under no illusion that our job or any of our jobs here are to just write a check,” said Kerry. “The international community must use every tool at our disposal to draw the world’s attention to these offenses. They are not just offenses against conscience; they are also offenses against the laws of war, against international law.”

The offenses to which he refers include the Assad regime’s attacks on schools, healthcare facilities and residential areas. Chemical warfare, gender-based violence and starvation have left 100,000 people dead and many injured with few hospitals and doctors to turn to for help.

During his speech to the donors, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon expressed his commitment to resolving this conflict and described his visit to a refugee camp in Iraq.

“I was there to show my solidarity. Their suffering is heartbreaking. Their resilience is admirable. They need us to prove that the world stands with them now,” said Mr. Ban.

Discussion will continue at the Geneva talks in Switzerland next week. In addition to continued relief efforts, parties will also be covering methods of ending the conflict, including ending the arms and ammunition transfers that help sustain the civil war.

Emily Bajet

Sources: CNN, CNN, U.S. Department of State, Al Jazeera, Oxfam, Oxfam, United Nations
Photo: NY Daily News

A Mother Climbs Mountains
As the conflict in Syria rages on, the past three years of violence has led to nearly 9.3 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance — almost half of Syria’s population — 46% of whom are children.  More than 8 million Syrians are now displaced, including about 2.3 million refugees and more than 1 million children who are at risk of malnourishment, abuse and exploitation.

Poor and deteriorating living conditions have inevitably had negative impacts on food security, with reports of starvation surfacing.  According to one Reuters report, a Syrian state security official said: “We like to call it our Starvation until Submission campaign.”

The current severe winter months are further exacerbating an already dire situation, where there is already a shortage of adequate shelter and household items.

There is one young mother who will climb a mountain, literally, to try and help alleviate some of the suffering of these children.  Ayat El-Dewary, an external relations associate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Abu Dhabi office, will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa this February to raise money for Syrian refugee children.

Her climb is in support of The Big Heart Campaign for Syrian Refugee Children, which was established by Sharjah’s Shaikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, a UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children.

On her fundraising page, El-Dewary says that although training for this climb “is both mentally and physically grueling,” it does not compare to what children in Syria endure.  She hopes that her journey will shed light on the deplorable situation for Syrian refugees and to make a difference “to the victims who have been most affected by this brutal conflict.”

The money she raises through her campaign will be used to provide a variety of supplies that will help the children face the cold winter months, including synthetic mats, high thermal fleece blankets, and pre-fabricated housing units to shelter from the elements.

Through her efforts, El-Dewary hopes to inspire others to do what they can to make a positive impact on the lives of those suffering around the world, and to create a sustainable movement that will last beyond her climb.

Rifk Ebeid

Sources: Just Giving, World Vision, USAID, UNOCHA, Relief Web, Al Jazeera, Khaleej Times, UNHCR
Photo: Sylvia Sanchez

iran_syria_peace_talks
A UN spokesperson has confirmed that Iran was not invited to the first round of the Syrian peace talks due to take place in Switzerland.  As it stands, invitations to participate in peace talks are usually extended by the initiating countries. In this case, Russia and the United States have remained at odds about Iran’s role in the talks.

Syria has been facing an increasingly bleak humanitarian crisis as the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces. Since the violent outbreak in 2011, more than 100,000 Syrian civilians have been killed while millions more have sought refuge in neighboring countries to escape the escalating violence and increasing poverty. With no end of the civil war in sight, neighboring countries have expressed their concerns about taking refugees without more aid from other countries or action taken to end the violence.

The ultimate goal the United States hopes to reach in the peace talks involves transitioning president Bashar al-Assad out of power. The plan doesn’t say that al-Assad must leave, something which must come as a relief since al-Assad stated that while he will send a representative to the talks, he will not voluntarily leave office.

As it is, though the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is actually in favor of inviting Iran to the first round, the United States chose to offer Iran a role in the less official ‘second round’ talks. Iran immediately rejected this offer saying that, “suggesting such an arrangement would not respect the country’s honor,” which makes sense since Iran is Syria’s neighbor and ally. However, according to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Iran opposes the proposed plan of a transitional Syrian government.

All in all, UN officials are hopeful that issues involving Iran’s participation can be resolved in a preliminary meeting between the initiating countries. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet on January 13.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Al Jazeera, Washington Post
Photo: Noisy Room