Operation Good NeighborUnder the cover of darkness, Syrian children and their adult chaperones cross the border into Israel. They are greeted by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), but not with guns or bombs. They are greeted with medical care and food. This is Operation Good Neighbor.

The beginnings of this aid project started in 2013, when injured Syrians arrived at the Israeli border. The government made the decision to give them treatment. Since then, 4,000 Syrians have been treated. Operation Good Neighbor, started in 2016, expands this humanitarian initiative to a larger scale. The IDF serves around 200,000 Syrian residents who live in southwestern Syria. These Syrians are close to the Syrian-Israeli border, along the Golan Heights. One-third of them are displaced refugees and half of them are children. They all have been devastated by the Syrian civil war.

The IDF not only gives out medical care, it has begun supplying other necessities as well. The list is expansive and includes medicines like painkillers, anesthetics and insulin, 450,000 liters of fuel for heating, baking and energy for water wells, generators, water pipes, equipment for schools, 12,000 containers of baby formula, 1,800 diaper packages, 12 tons of shoes and 55 tons of clothing for cold weather.

In a statement, the IDF explained its two reasons for helping Syria. The first was the obvious “moral imperative.” The second was more nuanced. It contended that “the aid will ultimately create a less hostile environment across the border.” This security would “lead to improved Israeli security.” These two reasons are both compelling arguments for providing aid to Syria.

Operation Good Neighbor becomes more incredible after considering the historical Israeli-Syrian animosity. Currently, Syria and Israel are technically in a state of war. Syrians have historically been taught to resent Israel and vice-versa. But citizens on the ground in Israel and Syria have found ways to look past their history of enmity. In fact, Israeli citizens have been pressuring Israel’s government to give more aid to Syria for years.

Syrian victims bear striking resemblance to Jews displaced by tyrannical regimes throughout history. Gadi Eizenkot of the IDF puts it best: “I think this [Operation Good Neighbor] is our basic obligation as neighbors and as Jews.”

Being a good neighbor means watching out for everyone around you, even if they don’t look like you. It means treating others how you would like to be treated. It means reaching out, with a helping hand, when someone close to you is hurting. With this in mind, it becomes clear that Operation Good Neighbor is aptly named and that the work that it’s doing is indispensable.

Adesuwa Agbonile
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in EuropeLast year, there was a record high of 220,000 refugees in Europe seeking asylum. According to The Guardian, more than 900,000 people have sought refuge by sea to Greece or Italy due to civil unrest.

Syrians made up the largest part of this group, having fled their home country because of the 4-and-a-half year civil war that has taken the lives of over 200,000 Syrians, according to the New York Times.

The reasons why people become refugees are not hard to conjure – war, religious or social conflict, violence – but how these refugees secure their safety can be a long, stressful process.

The first step in seeking refuge is often finding a place that allows one to be close to their families, but far enough away from any threat of violence. According to The Guardian, it is almost impossible for Syrians to be granted legal access into other Arab countries.

This leaves places like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon as places to escape, though refugee families in the Middle East no longer receive financial assistance from the UN due to funding shortcomings. These countries do not offer secure legal statuses to refugees either, which can prevent them from having the right to work.

These stipulations explain why so many refugees are traveling to Europe for refugee or asylum status by boat. According to the Guardian, more and more Syrians who become refugees in Europe are using the Balkan route – traveling by sea from Turkey to Greece and then walking through Macedonia and Serbia to reach European Union (EU) territories.

Open Society Foundations, an American organization whose mission statement is to “build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens” works with the Common European Asylum System (CEAS) that works to guarantee that international law protects the rights of refugees in its member states.

According to Open Society Foundations, if an asylum seeker or refugee is traveling through several EU countries, the CEAS allows one EU country to send that person to the first EU country they have reached, as long as that country maintains the rights of asylum seekers.

Unfortunately, only a small portion of asylum seekers are monitored this way, and the systems in Greece, Hungary and Italy have tried to block transfers of citizens with court orders. Some people who become refugees end up back in the south where their journey began.

Groups like Open Society Foundations are crucial in helping refugees and asylum seekers partake in legal movement for work and family without violating any human rights.

Because of the large influx of refugees in Europe, Open Society Foundations find it vital to develop effective policy proposals that will lead to a progressive and successful European asylum system.

Revisions under the European Agenda on Migration state that immediate action will be taken by the EU in order to prevent further deaths and improve conditions for those seeking refuge in Europe. This includes increased funding to Frontex and Europol, two organizations that focus on border control and defense of the EU, respectively.

Kelsey Lay

Sources: European Commission, Open Society Foundations, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The New York Times
Photo: The Telegraph

refugees in Libya
As the security situation quickly deteriorates in Libya, the United Nations says it is very concerned about the safety of asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya who are stranded in areas under heavy fighting.

U.N. Refugee Agency spokesperson Ariane Rummery said UNHCR is receiving calls from the mostly Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Libya who need assistance. About 37,000 people are recorded with UNHCR in Tripoli and Benghazi, areas of heavy violence between the military and insurgents.

“In Tripoli alone, more than 150 people from Eritrea, Somalia and other countries have phoned our protection hotline seeking help with medicines or a safer place to stay.”

UNHCR is especially concerned about one Palestinian and three Syrians who are trapped in between Libya and Egypt. They are asking Egyptian authorities to give the group access to food and water.

Rummery also said refugees in Libya see leaving as their only option. Many Libyan refugees are trying to leave the country by sea. The airport in Tripoli has been unavailable for days. Tunisia and Egypt are inaccessible for refugees, so the sea is the only way out. Smugglers are making use of the situation as these desperate people risk their lives to leave Libya and take the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

“We recently heard of a group of 500 Syrians who left in about three boats toward Italy from Benghazi, and this is a new and much more dangerous journey because it takes longer to reach Italy. Over 1,000 people have died in the Mediterranean this year and the latest casualties drowned last week off Al-Khums, which is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Tripoli.”

UNHCR is advising Libyan authorities to lessen exit visa restrictions to let people leave Libya. They are also calling for Egypt and Tunisia to open their borders to the people trying to escape violence.

While the fighting continues in Libya, a newly elected parliament has met in hopes that they can bring peace. Libya has experience violent conflict since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Muammar al-Qadhafi.

Colleen Moore

Sources: United Nations, UPI, Voice of America
Photo: United Nations

It is still unclear what exactly happened on Friday, April 11,  in the rebel-held village of Kfar Zeita, 125 miles north of Damascus. A number of reports and video clips reveal that the rural village fell victim to a poisonous gas attack which injured a number of people.

This chemical attack occurs in the midst of an ongoing international effort to rid Syria of all of its chemical weapons.

It is yet unknown who attacked the village or how many citizens were injured but a number of reports have come out making claims.

The Syrian National Coalition said that the poisonous gas attack injured dozens of people but did not identify the gas used. They also urged the UN to conduct a “quick investigation into the developments related to the use of poisonous gas against civilians in Syria.”

The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights claims that the attack occurred during air raids and reported many people suffering from suffocation and breathing problems.

A Syrian television network blamed the attack on members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front rebel group, saying that chlorine gas was used to kill two citizens and injure more than one hundred.

All of these reports remain unsubstantiated but a number of online videos have also appeared, documenting the aftermath of the attack. One video posted by rebel activists show pale-faced men, women and children gasping for air at a field hospital in Kfar Zeita. Another video showed a hospital room in Kfar Zeita that was packed with women and children crying, some of them wearing oxygen masks.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power notes, “We are trying to run this down. So far it’s unsubstantiated, but we’ve shown, I think, in the past that we will do everything in our power to establish what has happened and then consider possible steps in response.”

The gas attack comes at a time when the international community is attempting to eliminate chemical weapons from Syria once and for all. All chemical weapons are supposed to be removed by June 30th, however the Syrian government continues to miss key deadlines.

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian
Photo: Reuters

According to the United Nations, more than nine million Syrians are in need of “urgent aid” and the United Kingdom will have “abandoned its humanity” if it does not open its doors to Syrian refugees, former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said.

The BBC reports that the U.K. has declined to join a U.N.-backed program to accept victims of the vicious Syrian civil war. Only 10 European Union member states have been willing to take part in the U.N.-led resettlement program.

In September 2013, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said: “Resettlement of refugees, whether formal resettlement or expedited location… is a vital and potentially life-saving tool for helping particularly vulnerable refugees.” Amnesty International has said E.U. leaders have “miserably failed” to provide a safe haven to Syrians.

Despite the fact it is believed more could be done, the U.K. has provided 320,000 people with food in Syria and in neighboring countries; 244,000 people have received medical assistance. Most of these citizens look forward to returning home as soon as it is safe to do so and protection is provided in the region. Sir Menzies Campbell of the U.K. suggested the government was afraid of political backlash from rising immigration levels.

Recent reports from The Guardian explain that Syrian government officials could face war crimes charges from the large amount of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the systematic killing of approximately 11,000 detainees, according to eminent international lawyers. The UN and independent human rights groups have documented abuses by both Bashar al-Assad’s government and the rebel forces. The difference between this evidence and the past 4 months is the large scale killings taking place now.

Professor David Crane, who indicted President Charles Taylor of Liberia at the Sierra Leone court during those war crimes, said “Now we have direct evidence of what was happening to people who had disappeared. This is the first provable, direct evidence of what has happened to at least 11,000 human beings who have been tortured and executed and apparently disposed of.”

Everyone who has been killed was photographed in a horrific manner. The Guardian says the reason for photographing the people who had been executed was twofold. The first reason is because of the photograph families do not have to see the body in person and the authorities are left out of the situation. The second reason is to confirm the orders to execute an individual were carried out.

With appalling conditions such as these transpiring in Syria, it is no wonder refugees are hastily leaving everything they have behind.

Lindsey Lerner

Sources: BBC, The Guardian