Syrians in the US fear deportation if ‘protected status’ is removed

Syrians Mohammed Alala, his wife Dania, and their two US-born children Taim and Amr, are among those who fear being deported if their Temporary Protected Status is not extended. The family lives in Miramar, Florida. (Reuters)
Updated 26 January 2018

Syrians in the US fear deportation if ‘protected status’ is removed

NEW YORK: Amr Sinan, a software engineer from Damascus, has built a life for himself outside Boston after fleeing the Syrian war.
Since arriving in the US in December 2013, he found a good job, hiked in the country’s national parks and says he has generally been welcomed by Americans.
But fears over whether the US government will extend the temporary protection from deportation offered to 6,000 Syrians means the 34-year-old is deeply worried about his future.
“For me, it’s a life-or-death situation,” Sinan told Arab News. “The officials must assume that this is the last lifeline. If this extension does not happen, we will have to leave, we will be deported, and sent back to the fighting, missiles and a war that is definitely going on even if it is not in the headlines anymore.”
The Department of Homeland Security will decide by the end of this month whether to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians, or instead to scrap the scheme and leave them at risk of deportation after their status expires on March 31.
TPS, which began in 1990, offers protection from deportation to immigrants already in the US, including those who entered illegally, from countries affected by natural disasters and conflicts.
US President Donald Trump has moved to cut the number of immigrants living in the US. Earlier this month, his team axed TPS for 200,000 Salvadorans after doing the same for Nicaraguans and Haitians last year.
Syria is also included in Trump’s travel ban that blocks most people from six Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the US. The president says the ban is for security reason but opponents say it is Islamophobic and unlawful.
For Syrians living in the US under TPS, the travel ban adds to their fear that they may not be allowed to continue to reside in the country.
Syria remains extremely dangerous after almost eight years of conflict that has killed 500,000 people and forced about 5.5 million to flee across borders — mostly to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
While territory held by Daesh has been mostly wiped out, fighting drags on elsewhere. This week, there has been an alleged poison gas attack in Damascus and an incursion of Turkish forces in northwestern Syria.
Syrians who are forced to return fear they will be punished by the regime or forced to join the military.
For Sinan, the ongoing destruction in Syria is all-too apparent. His family was spread far and wide by the war and he says there is no home to go back to.
He worries that Trump administration officials will ignore this, scrap TPS for Syrians and send those who cannot apply for alternative visas back to the country.
“Look at the how this administration has behaved. It’s unpredictable and not logical. That’s why we’re so fearful now,” Sinan told Arab News.
The American Relief Coalition for Syria, a coalition of 13 aid groups that operate in Syria, has tried to convince homeland security officials to extend the scheme for Syrians, the group’s coordinator Matthew Chrastek said.
“More than 10,000 civilians were killed in 2017 alone because of continued violence and daily airstrikes, forcing TPS holders to return to Syria is unthinkable,” Chrastek told Arab News.
“Failing to renew and re-designate TPS means sending civilians back into a country that continues to be heavily scarred by violence and a scarcity of resources.”
Changes to the TPS scheme under the Trump administration mean that over the next two years about 250,000 people who previously had permission to live and work in the US will be subject to deportation if they remain.
Syrians gained TPS designation in March 2012, months after Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime sent in tanks and launched airstrikes to quell protesters in the hotbed cities of Daraa, Homs and Hama.
At the time, homeland security, a 240,000-strong agency tasked with securing America’s borders, noted: “Extraordinary and temporary conditions in Syria that prevent Syrian nationals from returning in safety, and that permitting such aliens to remain temporarily in the US would not be contrary to the national interest of the US.”
The status was renewed four times under the Obama administration as the war widened into multi-front fighting between opposition fighters, radicals and Kurds that sucked in foreign armies from Russia, Turkey, Iran and the US.
Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for homeland security told Arab News: “No decision has been made regarding TPS for Syria.”
Sinan is worried that Syrians are far down the list of concerns in Congress, where a debate is currently raging over the fate of 700,000 mostly Latino immigrants who came to the US illegally as children.
He works hard, writing code for an online retailer, and uses his spare time to hike in the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park, which, he said, are worlds apart from the battle-scarred landscapes back in Syria.
Sinan has misgivings about the Trump administration, but said Americans have generally been friendly and welcoming. He worries that as Syria’s complex war appears less frequently on US news channels, they forget how grisly the conflict remains.
“It’s hard for Americans to understand this. They need to think of the Syrians here as 7,000 sad stories from the movies they are watching in the theater,” Sinan said. “The only thing here is that it’s not acting, it’s the real thing.”


How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge

Updated 45 min 56 sec ago

How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge

  • With a growing population and diminishing water resources, region's cities face a major challenge
  • Despite tech breakthroughs and growing use of renewable energy, many of the world's cities are ailing

DUBAI: As the cities of today grow into those of the future, they will encounter daunting sustainability challenges.

Arguably, the most significant factor that all urban centers will have to take into account is climate change.

With temperatures projected to rise, new infrastructure and operational challenges will have to be tackled by city authorities.

“We need to manage our greenhouse gas emissions while managing our economy,” said Fahed Al-Hammadi, director of climate change at the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change.

“We must understand future trends in the region and how we will be affected in different sectors. We must engage with the private sector because we can’t work as a government alone,” he added.

FASTFACT

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Percentage of its lifetime a car in the US is parked on average.

“We need to attract more ‘green’ investors, and ensure that the capacity of renewable energy we’re transitioning to can cope with the transformation.”

Speaking at a recent summit in Dubai on emerging technologies, Al-Hammadi visualized cities of the future contributing to a reduction in emissions — transportation currently contributes a third of total emissions — and thus helping governments achieve their emission-reduction targets.

Senseable City Lab at MIT collects data on car movement to improve urban transport. (Supplied)

Cities’ sustainability will prove a major challenge in the Middle East, a region with a growing population and diminishing water resources.

“Climate change is happening and there are future challenges, but it’s very important, with the structure we have in modern cities, to have an understanding of the impacts and the changes we’re going to experience,” Al-Hammadi said.

One tool that is becoming increasingly important for urban authorities planning for future challenges is data.

Carlo Ratti, director of Senseable City Lab at MIT, said that reliable data is essential for a better understanding of the cities we live in.

He is working on collecting data from the movement of cars to understand transport patterns in a city and how it can be improved.

With the average number of car sensors today ranging from 2,000 to 3,000, Ratti told the EmTech MENA conference that the “ambient sensing platform” can be scaled up to include taxis and used for monitoring a city’s “structural health” (bridges and other infrastructure). Pilot projects are currently being conducted in collaboration with Uber in Singapore, he said. 

“You can radically change the way we move in a city,” Ratti added. “In the US today, a car is parked on average 95 percent of the time. It uses valuable space in our cities as well. But a self-driving system can change that.”

Ratti  offered the example of the 1.37 million parking spots in Singapore, 70 percent of which can be cut with autonomous cars. 

His work encompasses traffic lights as well, whereby cars will be able to detect intersections, removing the need for such lights.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam self-driving boats that can be used as floating platforms for temporary bridges are being deployed to configure the city in an increasingly dynamic way.

Self-driving boats are used as temporary bridges in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Supplied)

“The beauty of technology isn’t about creating new needs. It’s about doing things in a different and better way,” Ratti said.

Experts have jumped to cities’ defense by trying to make them more resilient as they face the twin onslaughts of overpopulation (55 percent of the planet’s 7.4 billion people live in urban areas) and climate change (rising sea levels due to global warming threaten to wipe out many coastal cities).

The health sector will need an overhaul to cater for the evolving needs of the cities of the future. 

A pioneer in this area is BioBot, a US biotech company that measures the concentration of drugs that are excreted in urine and collected in sewerage systems.

“We measure opioids in sewage to estimate consumption in cities, counties and states,” says BioBot’s website. “We map this data, empowering communities to tackle the opioid epidemic in real time.”

By mapping a city’s wastewater network and studying the demographic information associated with that data, more effective public-health policies can be created, said Newsha Ghaeli, the company’s co-founder and president.

“A human health crisis affecting communities, such as measles, polio, obesity or diabetes, is only heard about when the crisis turns into a catastrophe,” Ghaeli said.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. We imagine a city where every person can contribute to a database about our health and we’re building it, based on a concept called wastewater epidemiology.”

For instance, human urine is an important pathological sample, and so can be regarded as a rich source of information embedded in city sewers.

“You need a lot of different disciplines and industries working together to make sense of this data, like engineers, chemists, biologists, public health, urban planners, water and sewers, elected officials, data scientists and public works,” Ghaeli said. “So we’re the first company in the world to commercialize data from sewage.”

Hardware units are installed inside manholes, hanging a few feet above the sewer flow, with tubes that capture bacteria and study the chemical profile. BioBot’s team of scientists then looks at the human bacteria, viruses and chemicals. 

“There’s so much we can learn from wastewater,” Ghaeli said. “We chose to tackle, first, the opioid epidemic, which is the leading cause of accidental death of Americans under 50.”

However, recent studies have shown that less than 1 percent of those who suffer from  opioid use disorder are dying. 

“So it doesn’t matter how you slice or dice the data, we just don’t have the information,” Ghaeli said. “What’s clear is that we’re measuring the wrong thing, so we are now measuring 30 different drugs and looking at emerging trends in drugs.”

The first town to test the system was Cary in North Carolina, where overdoses decreased by 40 percent last year for the first time in half a decade, Ghaeli said.

Pavegen’s tech captures energy from pedestrian footsteps to power street lighting. (Supplied)

During a six-month pilot program, BioBot was also able to create a heat map to pinpoint areas where overdoses were concentrated.

Despite such technological breakthroughs, and the fact that an estimated 33 percent of the world’s energy is now derived from renewable sources, many of the world’s most densely populated cities are ailing.

“Cities have been built for machines — cars and planes — and some have forgotten about the people,” said Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen.

The technology company has developed paving slabs to convert energy from citizens’ footsteps into “energy, data and rewards.”

He said: “I’m on a mission to try to make our cities greener. There is a big challenge in urban areas.”

To achieve his goal, Kemball-Cook turned to kinetic energy, capturing the energy from pedestrians’ footsteps to power streetlights.

So far, the kinetic-energy system has been used in Nigeria, London, Abu Dhabi Airport, Thailand and Birmingham, as well as on a running track in Hong Kong.

“We’re excited about the vision of the future city,” he said, adding that he hopes to take Pavegen’s technology to Expo 2020 in Dubai and Neom in Saudi Arabia.

“The potential of using human power in our cities is huge. The technology in a city has to work with the people,” Kemball-Cook said.

“A city isn’t just about finding a new energy solution, it has to be about wellness, smart (practices), fun, sustainable and connecting into the Internet of Things data layout,” he added.