Syrian refugees resettled in US face challenges, uncertainty

Syrian refugees resettled in US face challenges, uncertainty
Syria remains the main country of origin of refugees worldwide due to the ongoing civil war that began in 2011, according to the UNCHR. (AFP)
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Updated 14 October 2021

Syrian refugees resettled in US face challenges, uncertainty

Syrian refugees resettled in US face challenges, uncertainty
  • Following Trump administration’s restrictions, Biden has increased limit for refugee resettlement, but difficulties persist for Syrians fleeing civil war
  • Michigan among top two states for placement of Syrians; state also expected to be key player in effort to resettle Afghan refugees

DETROIT, US: Syrians fleeing civil war violence in their home country continue to constitute the largest refugee population in the world, data shows, with many seeking refuge in the US. Many Syrian refugees, however, are finding settlement in the US challenging.

“I can’t stay here! I want to go back. Life is hard here,” exclaimed Raghad, a pregnant refugee who was recently admitted to the US from Syria with the help of activist Nada Kourdi, co-founder of Community Helpers USA in Michigan.

Raghad and her family were among the few Syrians who were able to enter the US after fleeing violence back home.

According to the UNHCR, Syria remains the main country of origin of refugees worldwide due to the ongoing civil war that began in 2011, with their number estimated to be around 6.7 million in 2020. Of those, only around 23,000 were admitted to the US. A recent Department of State report indicated that around 11,411 people entered the US through the Refugee Admissions Program in the fiscal year 2021, the lowest rate in 40 years.

In the past, the US led the world in refugee resettlement numbers. Over 200,000 refugees were admitted in 1980, which was the year the US adopted The US Refugee Act of 1980. However, the number of refugees, with at least 95 percent of them coming from Somalia, Iran, and Syria, declined sharply, from a high of more than 30,000 in 2016 to slightly more than 200 in 2018.

These low rates have raised concern among immigration advocates following the move by former US President Donald Trump to reduce the number of refugees allowed into the country and institute a series of measures to limit those eligible for asylum.

The previous administration restricted the travel of nationals from a number of countries due to an alleged high risk of terrorists traveling to the US. Among those frequently targeted by the restrictions were Somalians and Syrians, activists and refugee agency leaders said.

President Joe Biden’s administration, however, increased the limit for refugee resettlement in 2021, from the remarkably low figure of 15,000 set by Trump to 62,500. Biden also pledged to resettle a further 125,000 in 2022. However, the slow pace of reviving the resettlement system and other challenges in the pandemic era are making this impossible to achieve in 2021.

Michigan was one of the top two states to accept Syrian refugees in 2017, until Trump issued an order blocking their placement in the US. Today, under the Biden era, the state has seen an influx of Afghan refugees, with Michigan among the top 10 states receiving and hosting Afghans.

Michigan admitted 30,467 refugees from 52 countries since 2010, according to the US Department of State. The highest quota is from Iraq, constituting 52 percent of those admitted. Syria ranked in fourth position, with 8 percent. The state is expected to be a key player in the effort to resettle refugees seeking a new start after the Afghanistan War ended in recent months.

Erica Quealy, deputy communications director for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, told Arab News: “Michigan remained among the top two states for Syrian placements. We committed to placing Syrian refugees in our local resettlement agency abstract proposals submitted to the federal DOS. However, we do not know how many until they are scheduled for assignment and have arrived at Michigan resettlement agencies.”

Refugees usually face challenges in terms of acceptance by their surrounding community. In response to a question regarding security concerns related to refugee arrival, Eboney L. Stith, communications representative in Michigan for the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, told Arab News that “there are high-security coordination efforts among federal and local authorities in Michigan and partnerships with the federal Department of State and Office of Refugee Resettlement.”

Quealy explained that “Michigan offers a wide range of integration and employment support services for families to enable them to overcome the trauma and loss they might have experienced and to integrate them in the local community.”

For refugees like Raghad, however, coping with the challenges of resettling in the US has proved difficult, as Kourdi explained.

Women refugees quickly discover that they have suddenly become the breadwinner for the family because job opportunities for male refugees are scarce. Consequently, family income is far lower than what they had previously experienced.

Raghad started a catering business to replace the lost income and to help her husband, who was working hard but barely able to pay the family bills.

The anxiety stemming from the experience of fleeing a war zone and resettling in an unfamiliar environment may also fuel depression, compounded by the uncertainty of being in civic limbo, Kourdi explained. Will they remain in the US or return home?

Many local and federal authorities were unable to provide accurate and up-to-date information on how many Syrian refugees will be admitted to the US in 2022. 

Mayson Habhab, associate immigration attorney, explained to Arab News: “In general, you will eventually see more Syrian refugees enter the US with the Biden administration because he has increased the total number of refugees from 15,000 to 125,000 for the fiscal year starting in October.”

She said there was a downside, however.

“I do not foresee special humanitarian programs being created for Syrian refugees similar to those for Afghans,” Habhad said, “as the latter are not currently being admitted as refugees but are being accepted under humanitarian programs, which enable them to come in large numbers during a short period of time and receive more benefits.”

Not all is bleak, though.

Dr. Nahed Ghazoul, a Syrian academic and activist for refugees currently working at Paris Nanterre University, spoke to Arab News.

“Um Qusay is a Syrian refugee who was living in Jordan with her son and who then relocated to the US,” Ghazoul said.

“Despite all the difficulties, she has managed to establish a cooking business, and her son now speaks almost perfect in English and has been admitted to a local university.”


Longer sentences imposed for Brits who travel to war zones or plot terror attacks

Longer sentences imposed for Brits who travel to war zones or plot terror attacks
Updated 20 sec ago

Longer sentences imposed for Brits who travel to war zones or plot terror attacks

Longer sentences imposed for Brits who travel to war zones or plot terror attacks
  • Terrorists could face 14 years behind bars and even more on license under strict new guidelines
  • The new sentences were first mulled when a man committed a deadly attack just weeks after being released early from jail

LONDON: New sentencing guidelines have been proposed by the British Justice Secretary that would see those who plot attacks with multiple victims or travel abroad to fight for terror groups hit with lengthier jail terms of 14 years.

Dominic Raab, who is new to the post, said the updated powers would deter “those who kill and maim in the name of warped and fanatical ideologies.”

The Sentencing Council will set out its proposed guidance to judges on how they should apply the new mandatory minimum jail term — which became law earlier this year — on Wednesday.

Those who are found guilty under the new category will face a minimum of 14 years behind bars unless there are “exceptional circumstances.”

They will also face a further seven to 25 years on license after their custodial sentence ends, which will see severe restrictions and monitoring of their daily lives.

The new sentencing will apply in cases where there is “a significant risk” to the public of “serious harm occasioned by the commission by the offender of further serious terrorism offenses.”

It should also cover cases where the offense “was very likely to result in or contribute to (whether directly or indirectly) the deaths of at least two people” — the so-called “risk of multiple deaths condition.”

A consultation on the new guidance will run until Jan. 11, 2022.

Raab said: “These proposed guidelines will support judges to pass consistent and appropriate sentences in terrorism cases. Those who kill and maim in the name of warped and fanatical ideologies will spend longer behind bars, because public protection is our top priority.”

The Guidance Council’s lead member for terrorism offenses, Justice Maura McGowan, said: “Terrorism offenses are serious criminal acts that are constantly evolving, and the law is regularly updated in line with the changing nature of the offenses, requiring a new approach to sentencing.

“The council is proposing revisions to existing sentencing guidelines to reflect the new legislation and ensure that the courts have comprehensive and up-to-date guidance for dealing with these extremely serious cases.”

The new sentencing guidelines were first proposed in 2019, when a man killed two people in central London after being released early from prison on license after being jailed for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange.

Hundreds of Britons have also previously traveled to Syria to join Daesh before the group collapsed, and the country has been struggling to manage their return.

According to a report by The Independent earlier this year, only one in 10 people who returned from fighting for Daesh in Syria were prosecuted, and not all of those prosecutions were related to terror offenses. Even fewer people were convicted directly for Daesh membership.

Officials struggled to prove that offences took place in Syria due to flimsy evidence from the battlefield, severely limiting prosecution capabilities. 

The new legislation is designed to remedy that struggle by criminalizing the act of traveling to terrorism “designated areas” abroad, such as Daesh’s short-lived territories in Iraq and Syria.


Pakistani-American ‘raped, beheaded’ former ambassador’s daughter

Pakistani-American ‘raped, beheaded’ former ambassador’s daughter
Updated 2 min 41 sec ago

Pakistani-American ‘raped, beheaded’ former ambassador’s daughter

Pakistani-American ‘raped, beheaded’ former ambassador’s daughter
ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani-American man accused of raping and beheading his girlfriend, the daughter of a former ambassador, went on trial Wednesday in the capital Islamabad.
The brutal murder of Noor Mukadam, 27, sparked protests across the country and calls for reform to Pakistan’s gender violence laws.
Zahir Jaffer, 30, from a wealthy industrialist family, has denied killing Mukadam.
“The trial has formally started. Our first witness was examined today and we will produce five more witnesses at the next hearing,” Shah Khawar, a prosecution lawyer told AFP outside the court in Islamabad.
The 27-year-old was attacked after refusing a marriage proposal, attempting repeatedly to escape Jaffer’s sprawling mansion in an upscale neighborhood in Islamabad but blocked each time by his staff, a police report said.
Jaffer raped and tortured her with a knuckle duster before beheading her with a “sharp-edged weapon,” it added.
“Her life could have been saved had the accomplices acted otherwise,” the report said, which was presented to the court in a previous hearing.
Eleven others have also been charged in connection to the murder, including some of Jaffer’s household staff, his parents, and others who were allegedly asked to conceal evidence.
Mukadam’s murder received nationwide attention due to a growing, youth-driven women’s rights movement in the country where victims of violence are often discouraged from speaking out and blamed for abuse.
According to a government survey conducted between 2017-18, 28 percent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence in Pakistan. However, experts believe the figure is expected to be higher because of underreporting.
The murder of Mukadam, whose father served as Pakistan’s ambassador to South Korea and Kazakhstan, is one of the most high-profile cases of violence against women since the government introduced new legislation designed to speed up justice for rape victims.
It is typical for court cases to drag on for years in Pakistan, but prosecutor Khawar said he expected the trial to be concluded within eight weeks.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has pledged that the accused would not escape justice for being part of the Pakistani elite and a dual national.

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro
Updated 31 min 54 sec ago

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro

Brazilians, including Arabs, remain divided on Bolsonaro
  • Diversity of Arab population means opinions about far-right president vary widely
  • While his views on Palestine anger many, some still support his domestic policies

With his approval rating at only 33 percent, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been facing street protests, organized by the opposition, in several cities across the country in recent months.

Demonstrators demanding his impeachment accuse him of mismanaging the pandemic; more than 600,000 people in the country have died of conditions related to COVID-19.

They are also unhappy that he has failed to lead the nation out of a persistent economic crisis that has resulted in rising inflation and an increase in the number of people living in extreme poverty, which has risen to 27.4 million.

The various Arab communities in Brazil have been viewing the protests in different ways. Historically one of the most relevant immigrant populations in the country, Arabs immigrants and their descendants account for 12 million, or almost 6 percent, of the 210 million people in Brazil, according to a 2020 study.

While Palestinian advocacy groups have been active in mobilizing the protests against Bolsonaro, more-conservative segments of the Arab community continue to support him. Even among these, however, criticism is growing.

“We have a rather diverse community, which is the result of different waves of immigration,” said pharmacology professor Soraya Smaili, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in Brazil in the 1950s, and one of the founders of the Institute of Arab Culture, known as Icarabe.

“There was a first influx of Syrians and Lebanese at the end of the 19th century. Other large groups arrived after the Second World War and over the following decades.”

That first wave of Arabs from Syria and Lebanon moved to Brazil during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire, and most of them were Christian. The Arabs who have arrived since the 1940s have more diverse origins, and some are Muslim.

Each of these distinct groups have specific relationships with the issues concerning Middle Eastern countries, Smaili said.

“In general, the Arab Brazilians who are distant in time from the Middle Eastern reality tend to feel less insulted by Bolsonaro’s actions concerning the Palestinian issue, for instance,” she explained.

The Brazilian president’s much-publicized strong ties with Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, have a huge influence on how some Arab Brazilians see him.

During the 2018 presidential campaign, Bolsonaro pledged to transfer the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Although this has yet to happen, his announcement was taken by many Arabs as an insult.

Also in 2018 he said that he would close the Palestinian embassy in Brasilia, on the grounds that “Palestine is not a country.”

“Especially among geographically concentrated Palestinian communities, like the ones that exist in cities such as Santana do Livramento and Foz do Iguacu, those facts generated great opposition to him,” said Yasser Fayad, a physician and member of the leftist Palestinian liberation movement, Ghassan Kanafani.

The grandson of Lebanese immigrants who came to Brazil in the 1940s from a region on the border with Palestine, Fayad is Muslim and feels deeply connected with the plight of the Palestinians. This fuels his disapproval of the Bolsonaro administration.

“The Brazilian far right emulates its European and North American counterparts, and thus is anti-Muslim,” he said.

That does not mean, however, that all Muslims in Brazil’s Arab community totally repudiate Bolsonaro, he added.

“Some of them are critical of his stance on Palestine but not of his domestic policies,” Fayad explained.

Reginaldo Nasser, a foreign relations professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo, told Arab News that refugees from Syria and other nations who are part of the working class in Brazil comprise one of the most consistently anti-Bolsonaro groups of Arabs.

“They have a political identification with the excluded and the poor,” he said. “Besides, they feel the impact of Bolsonaro’s policies on a daily basis; he makes it hard for them to get into Brazil, to integrate into the society and to get a job.”

Nasser, whose grandparents came from Lebanon, does not believe that Arabs in Brazil really form a single community, given that there is a vast plurality of political ideas and economic interests among them.

“But we certainly can affirm that many in the younger generations are more conscious about the Middle Eastern reality than their parents and grandparents, and that reflects on their political views,” he added.

These political differences between Arab Brazilians created great divides during the most recent presidential campaign. The intense polarization, especially in 2018 and 2019, even caused conflicts with families.

“Most of my extended family supported Bolsonaro’s election,” said Nabil Bonduki, an architecture professor at the University of Sao Paulo. “Some of the ones who opposed him decided to leave the family’s WhatsApp group back then.”

Now, with Bolsonaro’s popularity in decline, many of his supporters simply do not talk about politics any more, according to Bonduki, who has served two terms as a city council member in Sao Paulo for the leftist Workers’ Party.

He said that Arab Brazilians have traditionally had a strong presence in the country’s politics, serving as congressmen, state governors and even president, in the case of Michel Temer, the son of Lebanese immigrants, who was in office from August 2016 until December 2018.

“Although some of them are progressive, the majority has always been more conservative,” Bonduki said.

Bolsonaro’s final opponent in the 2018 election was former Sao Paulo Mayer Fernando Haddad, a member of the Workers’ Party and the son of a Lebanese immigrant.

There have been no studies of how Arab Brazilians tend to vote. However Brazilians living in Israel mostly voted for Bolsonaro, while the ballots cast in Palestine were mostly in favor of Haddad.

In the opinion of Sheikh Jihad Hammadeh, vice president of the National Union of Islamic Institutions, Arab Brazilians, especially Muslims, are affected by the political atmosphere in the country just like all other social groups.

He said there were fierce political debates in his communities’ WhatsApp groups during and after the presidential election, and that he had to intervene at times to prevent further conflicts.

“We always tell people that they need to be respectful,” said Hammadeh. “Each one of us can have a distinct political opinion. As Muslims, we must respect each other’s views.”


Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans
Updated 59 min 15 sec ago

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans

Italian PM calls for ‘clear, adequately financed’ EU migration plans
  • The premier urged the EU Commission to present “clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes of the Mediterranean,”

ROME:  Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has called for the EU to draw up “clear and adequately financed” plans for the handling of Mediterranean migration routes.

Speaking to the Italian Senate, he said it was essential that the issue was addressed at the European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The premier urged the EU Commission to present “clear action plans, adequately funded, and addressed with equal priority to all routes of the Mediterranean,” starting with the one between Italy and the shores of North Africa.

He said the EU should, “pay attention to the specificity of maritime borders and the effective political stability of Libya and Tunisia.”

A diplomatic adviser to the prime minister’s office told Arab News: “Without a proper stabilization of those two countries, no action can be effective. This is why PM Draghi at the upcoming European Council meeting will call on the EU to play a primary role.”

Draghi pointed out that during the summer, Italy had continued to meet its international rescue obligations in protecting migrants at sea. “We did it with humanity and in order to defend European values of solidarity and hospitality.”

Since 2014, nearly 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency.

More than 49,000 migrants have reached Italian shores so far this year, said the country’s Ministry of Interior, almost double the number arriving over the same period last year.

Referring to the refugees, particularly those coming from Afghanistan, Draghi said that “Europe should do more. It should follow the model of the so-called humanitarian corridors.”

Addressing the Italian senators, Draghi added: “I intend to propose that the commission must update the heads of state and government in each European Council on the degree of implementation and advancement of commitments undertaken.

“Only in this way will we be able to answer to our parliaments, and above all our citizens, on the progress made at European level, and of what still remains to be done.”


Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program
Updated 20 October 2021

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program

Pressure on Prevent as MP’s murder exposes failings of deradicalization program
  • Man who killed MP David Amess had previously been discharged from Britain’s deradicalization program, Prevent
  • Government recently missed a deadline for a review of the program

LONDON: Britain’s counter-radicalization program is facing renewed scrutiny after it emerged that the man who murdered an MP late last week had received extensive support from the Prevent program before having his case closed.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that Ali Harbi Ali, who stabbed MP David Amess to death last Friday, was first referred to the deradicalization intervention scheme Prevent in 2014 over concerns that he was being drawn toward a radical Islamist ideology.

Ali was later sent on to a more intensive deradicalization program, Channel, designed to intervene against individuals viewed as most vulnerable to terrorist ideology and recruitment.

He voluntarily accepted a referral to the scheme and completed its processes.

This involved having his vulnerability assessed and accepting support, a source told the Guardian. The source said: “He went through the process and was discharged. He was not thought to pose a threat of terrorist violence and the case was closed.”

Seven years later, Ali murdered Amess, and the attack has been confirmed as a terrorism-related incident.

The Amess attack, and some that came before it, have prompted questions over the effectiveness of the Prevent program once an at-risk individual is enrolled in the deradicalization course.

The program was already under review when Ali killed Amess, following a wave of attacks in the mid to late 2010s that saw dozens of people die to terrorism across Britain — including many children in the Manchester arena bombing, and another MP, Jo Cox, who was shot dead in her constituency. Some attackers had been referred to Prevent and completed its courses.

The government missed the deadline for that review, meant to be Sep. 30, 2021, in the weeks leading up to Amess’ killing.

The results of the review will be published more than three years after it was undertaken. Not only was the review designed to ensure that people vulnerable to terrorist ideology were safeguarded effectively, but also to address criticisms that Muslims were unfairly targeted at higher rates than the wider population.

Out of 6,287 referrals to Prevent in the year to March 2020, more than half were for individuals with a mixed, unstable or unclear ideology.

Around a quarter of referrals were due to concerns over Islamist radicalization, and 22 percent related to right-wing radicalization.

The largest age group was children and young people aged 20 and under, including 1,559 children under the age of 15.

In the wake of Amess’ killing, British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would ensure Prevent is “fit for purpose.” 

“Prevent is going through an independent review right now. It’s timely to do that, we have to learn, we obviously constantly have to learn, not just from incidences that have taken place but how we can strengthen our programs,” said Patel.