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Palestinian refugee family's escape from Syria via tropical island to new life in Sweden +  

Palestinian refugee family's escape from Syria via tropical island to new life in Sweden

News Stories, 30 August 2013

© Reuters/Y.Homsy
The Palestinian refugee family had fled from Syria, where more than two years of war has devastated many parts of the country.

NEW DELHI, India, August 30 (UNHCR) "The Sunny Side of Life", beam the tourism ads for the Maldives, a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. That tagline has come true for one Palestinian refugee family, who found hope for their future on these islands after 10 months of life on the run.

Last October, Ubaid*, 49, fled Syria with his wife and two little daughters. "I thought the revolution would end and we would get victory. But there was no change, the killings increased and everything became expensive. There was no life for my children, they were living in fear," he said of the civil conflict that has driven nearly 2 million people out of the country 1 million of them children.

The family fled first to Egypt, then to Libya, before arriving in Dubai, where Ubaid's brother lived. They later tried to fly to Europe to join relatives there. But due to irregular documentation, they were stopped from boarding the flight. Barred from re-entering Dubai and faced with the threat of deportation to Syria, on 10 July they instead chose to go to the Maldives, where the tourist-friendly authorities allow visas on arrival. But yet again their travel documents posed problems, and the Maldivian authorities detained them at the airport in the capital, Male.

The fact the Maldives, the smallest Asian country in population and area, could receive a Palestinian refugee family from Syria was itself unprecedented. This was complicated by the Maldives not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and lacking experience in dealing with asylum-seekers and refugees.

"Once we heard about this family, we contacted the Maldivian authorities and dispatched a mission to Male to meet the family with the help of UN colleagues based there," recounted Dominik Bartsch, UNHCR's Chief of Mission in India, whose office also covers the Maldives without a permanent presence there.

The government of the Maldives granted UNHCR unimpeded access to the family and after three days of rigorous interviews, UNHCR New Delhi recognized the family as refugees and submitted their case to the Swedish government for possible resettlement in Sweden.

As they awaited a decision, Ubaid and his family were housed close to the airport. The girls were given toys to play with and could watch cartoons on a TV in the lobby. However, they could not leave the building, and greatly missed the fresh air and freedom of movement. It was hard for the parents to keep the girls in the confines of the room as the days went by. Once UNHCR's mission had returned to New Delhi, the UN Resident Coordinator on the Maldives and his Human Rights Advisor continued to provide regular support and comfort to the family.

"I have tried to go to other countries, but it has been impossible," said Ubaid. "Since we are Palestinians, no one accepts us. I can't go back to Egypt or Syria as both are in turmoil. Libya is equally dangerous. I faced harassment every day and once even got close to getting killed."

Sharing his hopes for the future, he added, "I want my daughters to be educated. I want special care for my daughter as she is suffering from Down's syndrome, and all my family live abroad."

Their hopes were answered when Sweden accepted them for resettlement. The family left Male last Monday evening and arrived in Stockholm the following day.

"I'm sure the girls will now have plenty of sunshine and fresh air to play in, thanks to the wonderful support from the Maldives, Sweden, and UN colleagues in the Maldives," said a delighted Bartsch.

Sweden and Germany have received the majority of asylum claims from Syria for the entire European Union. UNHCR has urged more countries to help Syria's neighbours shoulder the burden and offer asylum or resettlement.

* Name changed for protection reasons

By Abid Mohi ud din Shah, in New Delhi,India


REFUGEE CULTURE Book Review by Steven Salaita +  


Ethnic Identity of Palestinian Immigrants in the United States: The Role of Cultural Material Artifacts, by Faida N. Abu-Ghazaleh. El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2011. v + 162 pages. Appendix to p. 187. Bibliography  to p. 196. Index to p. 202. n.p.  Reviewed by Steven Salaita:


 In Ethnic Identity of Palestinian Immigrants in the United States, Faida N. Abu-Ghazaleh does much to fill crucial gaps in the scholarship of Arab American communities, in particular the study of Palestinians in the United States. This sort of title, one focused on the cultural politics of Palestinian Americans, remains rare despite an increased emphasis among scholars on various practices of the Palestinian diaspora. This book is a welcome addition to the small corpus of scholarship that exists at present.

The scope of the book is both narrow and broad. It is narrow in the sense that the subjects of Abu-Ghazaleh’s study reside mainly in Maryland, a small sample size when considering the significant Palestinian populations elsewhere in the United States (Southern California, Chicago, Jacksonville, Washington, and D.C). On the other hand, Abu-Ghazaleh proffers a broad context of analysis, one that is highly illuminating. Rather than limiting her analysis of Palestinian cultural artifacts to their spatial and symbolic presence in Palestinian American homes, she describes those artifacts relative to the histories that provided them meaning in Palestine. As a result, the cultural material artifacts of the book become metonymical of numerous Palestinian devotions. To this end, Abu-Ghazaleh begins the book with a broad history of Palestinian dispossession and the subsequent migratory patterns of Palestine’s displaced population. The history provides a useful context to the particular symbolic meanings attached to the cultural artifacts displayed in Palestinian American homes in Maryland. According to Abu-Ghazaleh, the artifacts play a specific role in the families’ lives: “Despite their struggles, Palestinians inside and outside their country have been able to create, sustain and pass their culture [sic] heritage, traditions, memories and oral history to their children wherever they went” (p. 2). The sustainment (and revival) of cultural traditions is facilitated by the possession and display of artifacts with a distinctive connection to Palestine. This is true precisely because of their profound symbolic qualities. Some of the cultural traditions Abu-Ghazaleh highlights include musical instruments, dance, jewelry, artwork, war mementos, and religious icons. The most important element of Palestinian remembrance, however, is land, an abstract yet concrete phenomenon Abu-Ghazaleh spends considerable time exploring, to productive effect. She argues that, for Palestinians, “loss of their land is the loss of their identity” (p. 10). This argument is not novel in Palestine studies or in scholarly inquiries into other colonized societies, but the careful manner in which Abu-Ghazaleh connects land as a physical space to the materiality of household artifacts is original and quite well done. Yet, as she illustrates, it is the emotional appeal of land that underlies the power of the artifact in Palestinian American homes. Her approach is essentially semiotic—that is, concerned with the play of signs and symbols with connotations and meanings—but her analysis isn’t loaded down with theoretical jargon or per-formed in the abstract. Like the artifacts she examines, Abu-Ghazaleh’s methodology is materialist, focused on the ways people remember and continue to desire Palestine through displays of cultural, religious, and political icons. The methodology works well. While most of Abu-Ghazaleh’s subjects are Muslim Palestinian Americans, she takes care to discuss Christian Palestinian experiences in the United States. Some of her subjects are immigrants, others the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Much of the second half of the book provides interview excerpts, and a lengthy appendix displays dozens of photographs of icons, food, costumes, crafts, and all manner of bric-a-brac. Taken together, the interviews and photographs create a vivid sense of how Palestinian culture can be conveyed through visual and descriptive markers. They likewise render her central thesis that Palestinian Americans memorialize Palestine through the display of symbolic artifacts more vivid and convincing. Ethnic Identity of Palestinian Immigrants in the United States will be of interest to scholars and students of Palestine and, to a lesser extent, those interested in anthropology and ethnic studies. It is written clearly and will provide a useful bit of knowledge even to the general reader concerned with Palestine or with Arab Americans. Abu-Ghazaleh’s broad history of Palestine segues to six focused chapters, each a collection of short analyses, interviews, and descriptions. The book thus reads quickly and contains emotional moments about the intergenerational pain of dispossession. I would recommend it for both libraries and personal collections.


One last chance: Hard-luck refugee mom desperate to stay in Canada +

Misfortune follows the North End single mom with six kids everywhere.

When she was nine, her family fled mayhem in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. They took shelter in a refugee camp in Kenya that locals torched, scattering many families, including hers. At 15, she was alone and fled to South Africa, already flooded with unwelcome refugees. By the time she was 28, she was a single parent of six and driven out again by locals who beat her husband until he fled and burned down their small shop.

When Idil Timayare was reunited with her parents in Winnipeg in 2011, her troubles didn't end. She was run down by a cab this past winter, days before a crucial refugee hearing. As luck would have it, the Immigration and Refugee Board member hearing her case had a track record of rejection -- saying no to 180 refugee claimants out of 210 cases heard in 2011. With a busted foot and fuzzy on prescription painkillers, 31-year-old Timayare testified on behalf of herself and her six young kids and lost.

Now, she and her children, who've been attending school here, have no status in Canada and their future is uncertain. They scrape by with help from food banks and social assistance in a dark, stifling hot-box they rent for $1,000 a month in the North End.

"I have hope," said Timayare, who's receiving physiotherapy, coping with pain and looking forward to returning to English classes in the fall. "My kids like it here. They enjoy school."

Their rent is high and their house isn't great, but they have good neighbours, she said.

Her five sons under 12 have been going to school here for the last two years. The oldest, Zakariya, who's turning 12 in September, said he's not sure what he wants to be when he grows up. His younger siblings practically bounce off the walls of their cramped home and he feels the pressure of his station in the family.

"It's annoying," said the Canadian-sounding adolescent.

Four-year-old Samira is nervous about starting nursery school but excited about her shiny, pink shoes.

"I can't go back," said her mom. She fears her daughter would have to undergo female circumcision.

'I can't go back... Somalia is not safe'

"I don't want her circumcised. Somalia is not safe."

If they're sent back to South Africa, they have no means of support and, as outsiders, will once again face xenophobic attacks, she said.

Timayare's parents, who were granted refugee status and assisted by the Canadian government to come here more than a decade ago, are now Canadian citizens. They live a short drive from their daughter and grandkids and planted a big vegetable garden in their backyard.

Samira spends a lot of time at her grandparents' apartment, where her grandmother, Amina, dotes on her and gives her strawberry ice cream in a red plastic cup.

Grandfather Ahmed Timayare said they help out as much as they can.

On Feb. 4, he was waiting downtown in the car with his grandkids for his daughter, who'd gone to a program for newcomers. They waited three hours and she didn't show up. He didn't know a cab hit her and she'd been taken to hospital by ambulance. She was stabilized and a patient lent her a cellphone to call her dad.

Days later, she hobbled into court for her refugee hearing, on crutches with a cast on her leg and still in rough shape. She wanted to get it over with.

Her father stayed in the hall with her kids while Timayare went ahead with the proceedings. She said she can't remember what happened, but she knows she lost.

Human rights lawyer David Matas said she shouldn't have testified in such rough shape -- especially before a board member with one of the highest refugee rejection rates. Matas asked the Federal Court to review the refugee board decision, but it refused.

Now her only hope is to apply to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, Matas said. The application fee for the family of seven is $1,400 -- what they have to live on every month, said Timayare.

If her luck doesn't change soon, the Canada Border Services Agency said she and her kids will be sent back to the place they fled.

"We're safe here," said Timayare.


Betrayed by Sabbath de Yecouba +  

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Migrants die in Italy shipwreck off Catania +  

 Migrants die in Italy shipwreck off Catania

Monday, August 12, 2013


The bodies of six migrants apparently killed in a shipwreck have been recovered on a beach in southern Italy.

Officials in the Sicilian port of Catania say some 100 other migrants - reportedly Syrians - have been rescued.

The migrants were thrown into the sea when the boat ran aground just 15m (50ft) from shore, but some drowned because they could not swim.

Some 7,800 illegal migrants and asylum seekers landed in Italy in the first half of this year, the UN says.


Most come from sub-Saharan African countries, particularly Somalia and Eritrea. But a large number of Syrians and Egyptians are reported to be among hundreds of people who have arrived in Italy in the past few days.

Tourist buses and ambulances

In Saturday's incident, the boat was carrying about 120 migrants; many women and 17 children were on board, reports say.

The bodies were reportedly found by employees at a beach resort nearby.

The incident coincided with the arrival of three cruise ships carrying 12,500 tourists in Catania, Sicily's second biggest city. Tourist buses mingled with ambulances and rescue teams.

The nationalities of the migrants have not been confirmed but one port official speculated that many were Syrian.

Fine weather and calm seas in recent days have meant an increase in arrivals of undocumented migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

Human traffickers, who make huge profits dumping migrants on Italian shores, often abandon their passengers as soon as Italian or Maltese coastguards spot them, adds our correspondent.

The UN said almost 500 people were reported dead or missing at sea during 2012 in attempts to reach Europe.



UNHCR welcomes court ruling on refugees +  


UNHCR welcomes court ruling on refugees


Somalia refugees wait to be screened by United Nations High Commission for Refugees officials at the Dadaab camp in this file photo. UNHCR has welcomed Kenya’s High Court ruling which stopped the government’s plans to relocate urban refugees July 30, 2013.

Somalia refugees wait to be screened by United Nations High Commission for Refugees officials at the Dadaab camp in this file photo. UNHCR has welcomed Kenya’s High Court ruling which stopped the government’s plans to relocate urban refugees July 30, 2013.  

Posted  Tuesday, July 30  2013 at  17:52











The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed Kenya’s High Court ruling which stopped the government’s plans to relocate urban refugees.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said the government directive issued last December to move the refugees to camps in Dadaab and Kakuma resulted in their harassment by police, detention and extortion mainly in Nairobi.

"Many of them could not move about freely and fear of such treatment led hundreds of Somali refugees to return to Somalia or move to neighbouring countries,” UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba said during a press briefing in Geneva.

According to the agency, when the directive was issued there were a total of 51,000 mainly Somalia urban refugees in Kenya.

"Most of the refugees living in urban areas have developed coping mechanisms, and so do rely on humanitarian assistance. There are also large numbers of refugee children attending schools in urban areas whose education would have been compromised had the relocation order been carried out,” the official said.

UNHCR appeared in the petition as a "friend of the Court" and provided advice on the applicable international refugee and human rights laws.

In its ruling, the Court stated that the government did not show that the plans to relocate the refugees would heighten the country’s national security.

Ms Lejeune-Kaba said UNHCR hoped the government will implement the “important constitutional decision” and move fast to resume legal services that were suspended pending the court process.

"These include the registration and issuance of documents to refugees and asylum seekers, which are essential for their freedom of movement, access to social and community benefits, as well as their protection against arbitrary arrest,” read her statement which was posted on the agency’s website.

Currently, Kenya hosts some 600,000 refugees.

The UN has maintained that such a move should be done voluntarily and only when the security situation in the previously war-torn country has sufficiently improved.

The petition filed by legal aid organisation Kituo Cha Sheria contested the legality of the relocation plan in January, and the court ordered the plan suspended pending its decision.

Last month, Kenya and Somalia formed a joint task force to supervise the voluntary repatriation of Somalia refugees.

The Director of the Office of the Great Lakes Region Ken Vitisia said Kenya would lobby for the return of Somali refugees during the regional leaders' meeting in Nairobi this week.

He said the hosting of Somalia refugees has become an unbearable “burden” and that the government would lobby for the region to take a “common stand” on the issue.

“It is in Kenya’s interest that we don’t have regional conflicts because we are a trading nation. If we have peace and stability in the region, it means we can trade more,” Mr Vitisia told reporters.