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TOPIC: syrian refugees


How China Fell In Love With Syria's First Lady

Asma al-Assad fits China's traditional, nationalist, and sexist stereotype of the 'perfect woman'. Her image has also helped distract from her husband's oppressive regime.

BEIJING — It was September 21 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma al-Assad arrived in Beijing on a special Air China plane and began their six-day state visit to China.

Photos of the couple getting out of the plane and walking on the red carpet became an instant hit on Chinese social media. Their brief presence during the opening ceremony of the Hangzhou Asian Games quickly became viral and a top search on Weibo.

Asma was widely praised for both her appearance and temperament. As they visited Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou, local media reported that a woman tourist touched Asma's face and paid her a compliment. Asma also did an exclusive interview with Phoenix Satellite TV and visited Beijing Foreign Studies University with her children to participate in a symposium — she was warmly welcomed and her presence was highly appreciated by teachers and students alike.

During their visit, keywords such as "First Lady", "Desert Rose" and "Diana Of The Orient" trended on China's mainstream social media platforms. Asma, who has dual British and Syrian nationality, was called a "hero" who "resists American hegemony".

If you believe some social media users, Asma is unaware of the real situation of the Syrian civil war, as she is an angel of "wisdom, beauty and kindness" and "the person who has the most fans in China."

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This Happened — September 2: Alan Kurdi Photograph

The Alan Kurdi photograph was taken on this day in 2015.

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Triumph Of Immunity: Why Assad's Return To The Arab League Matters

Two pressing factors have weighed on the Arab League to reintegrate the accused war criminal: refugees and narcotics. But it speaks to a larger weakness of the international community to see that justice is carried out.


PARIS — Sweet revenge! That's how it looked for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, arriving Thursday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to attend the Arab League summit. It's a first appearance in more than a decade, since the exclusion of Damascus from the regional organization. Syria was reintegrated on May 7 and Assad’s presence at the Jeddah Summit marks his great return.

Syria had been excluded from the Arab League when Assad’s regime repressed what was initially a peaceful, popular uprising in 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. It's since been a decade in which he tortured and slaughtered, used chemical weapons, besieged cities. And yet, he’s still here, fundamentally thanks to the support of Russia and Iran.

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Why Are Survivors Of Italy's Shipwreck Being Held In Squalid Conditions?

After a visit to a holding facility, a group of lawyers and human rights activists have charged the Italian government is mistreating nearly 100 survivors of the tragic shipwreck 10 days ago.

CROTONE — At least 70 people: that's the death toll of the shipwreck 10 days ago of the Turkish boat that crashed near the southern Italian coast of Calabria. Sixteen were children.

But there is now also the fate of the 98 survivors to consider. And human rights lawyers have discovered that they are being housed in the former Reception Center for Asylum Seekers of Crotone. Some in Italy may remember that several years ago this same facility was discovered to be part of an investigation of misappropriation of European funds by the Calabrian mafia, the 'Ndrangheta. Investigators then found poor conditions in the center, including the serving of spoiled food to the migrants it housed.

Now the facility is back at the center of the storm because of the conditions of the survivors of the Feb. 26 shipwreck, which occurred on the coast near the city of Crotone.

“They are being held arbitrarily in two sheds that are inadequate not only for those who escaped a terrible shipwreck, but for any human being," says Alessandra Sciurba, professor at the University of Palermo and coordinator of the Migration and Rights Legal Clinic. "It must be closed."

Sciurba pointed out the paradox of the outpouring from Italians over the deaths, and the conditions of the survivors. “On one side there is a country that is moved by this tragedy, on the other side there are people who are denied their rights.”

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Giordano Stabile

Meanwhile In Damascus: Pro-Regime Optimism Far From Aleppo Siege

The worst fear in the capital is a lasting truce between Russia and the United States, which they believe would halt the Assad regime's offensive and delay the total victory.

DAMASCUS — At the Masnaa border crossing between Syria and Lebanon, mothers and children wait in line to return to their homeland. For the first time in Syria's brutal five-year civil war, the flow of refugees has inverted — though just barely. Returnees only number a few dozen out of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees that have fled their country.

The border officials are curt with the new arrivals. "We treat them a little badly at first," says one official. "They were wrong to flee when things were bad, now that things have changed they're coming back. But we'll help them, they are welcome."

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Liz Garrigan*

Syrian Lessons Close To Home, From Paris To Tennessee

PARIS — Our usual spot at Parc Sainte-Périne to plop our blanket and sports equipment for a few hours of recreational escape was already taken when we arrived on Saturday. A group of about 10 young men were sprawled out on the patch, enjoying the sunshine and talking among themselves — in Arabic, I noticed. That must have been why I made a point to put some distance between us, settling on a park bench rather than the green space beside them.

I know now that I was acting on some kind of automatic bias. The November attacks in Paris, where 130 people were massacred, are still pretty raw for those of us who live here. And though all of the murderers and accomplices have been identified as European citizens, they were, let's face it, radicalized Muslims with Arabic names.

As my boys, ages 7 and 8, took their soccer ball and began to play, about three of the guys, who looked to be in their early twenties, joined them — kicking back and forth, teaching their young protégés some fancy moves, high-fiving and tousling their hair along the way. My little guys were all smiles, and would wind up playing with their new friends for nearly three hours.

At one point, I joined the scrum, managing a long kick that made the young men's eyes wide with delight and surprise. (Once a jock, always a jock, middle age be damned.) We exchanged friendly greetings, and from up close it was clear that they were not only fun for my boys, but kind and utterly charming.

I also noticed that their French, though probably better than mine, was not perfect, and eventually we asked where they were from. Over the past year, each one of them had arrived in Paris from Syria. The "European refugee crisis' — and the Syrian civil war itself — which I read about every day had arrived in my neighborhood park.

The men had escaped their own government's barrel bombing and chemical weapons, dodged sniper fire from different rebel groups, and the barbaric oppression of the ISIS terror group — a three-sided inferno of misery — only to arrive after an inhumane journey onto a continent where xenophobic-fueled political movements are demonizing them.

But there I stood, part of the problem, at least for those few moments when I'd isolated my family from what I initially took to be a cluster of humanity best avoided. The lesson, of course, is that instead of maintaining a blind allegiance to our worst instincts, we should work to resist them — and be willing to admit when we've succumbed to them.

Back home

Back in my home state of Tennessee, there are scant signs of any such self-reflection. The state Senate recently approved "one of the most extreme anti-refugee" legislative efforts in the entire country, as one immigrant advocate put it. It demands that the state sue the president and federal government to stop Syrian refugees from resettling in Tennessee.

Though the legislation has no likelihood of changing anything, it illustrates a dangerous and apparently widespread sentiment. For context, the Tennessee Senate is led by a man who believes that freedom of religion doesn't necessarily apply to the "cult" of Islam. After refusing federal health care dollars that would cover 200,000 of the state's sickest and most vulnerable citizens, his flock recently named an official state rifle: the Barrett .50 caliber, "which is so powerful it can blast commercial airliners out of the sky," my friend and political writer Jeff Woods notes.

But if the success of Donald Trump's presidential primary candidacy tells us anything, it's that feckless Tennessee lawmakers are hardly swimming against the prevailing political currents. Fear of the "other," and more specifically immigrants and Muslims, has risen to the point where scare tactics are used to describe a desperate flock of people fleeing war in Syria.

In Europe, the tide against refugees began to turn in earnest not so much after the Paris attacks as after a series of assaults against women in Cologne, Germany, on New Year's Eve. Rhetoric about immigrants that was considered too coarse one day became utterly acceptable the next.

Law and order had completely broken down in pockets of a progressive country like Germany, exposing hundreds of young women to terrifying experiences at the hands of non-German immigrants who quite clearly had no regard for our accepted standards of decency and respect. People were angry, and the recent flood of refugees into Europe was to blame. I was among the angry masses.

But again, uninformed indignation gets us nowhere. What we have learned since those crimes were reported should inform our rhetoric. Not a single refugee, Syrian or otherwise, was among the Paris attackers — and only three of the 58 men arrested in Cologne were from Syria or Iraq. Most of the offenders were economic migrants from North African countries such as Algeria and Morocco, whose circumstances are entirely different from those of the Syrians.

Long ways away

Likewise in December, the Islamic terror attack in San Bernardino, California, provided fodder for Americans looking to block Syrian war refugees. But here too, the killers — an American of Pakistani origin and his Saudi Arabian wife — had nothing to do with Syria.

The world is a complicated place, and migration makes it even more so. There are economic migrants and there are desperate people fleeing death. Surely we can make a distinction between the two.

But somehow logic has evaded not just Tennessee and a sizeable percentage of the American Republican electorate — who simply want to keep all Muslims out, no matter where they're from — but much of Europe too. War refugees from Syria, people who have left everything behind and risked their lives to give their children a life away from bloodshed and starvation, are being portrayed as somehow a threat. It's plainly wrong, an exercise in willful ignorance that has become frighteningly mainstream.

Sometimes we must be reminded to check our bigotry at the door — and check the facts too. Last Saturday, on a sun-dappled soccer pitch in Paris, I learned this important lesson anew. It was one first taught to me by my parents, both natives of Tennessee.

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Why The U.S. Should Emulate Canada On Syrian Refugees


When the photo appeared Sept. 2 of Alan Kurdi, a lifeless 3-year-old boy facedown on a beach, the plight of refugees from Syria's civil war shocked the world. In Canada's election campaign, rivals responded with pledges to accelerate their resettlement. The election winner, Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party, outlined the most ambitious agenda, to bring 25,000 refugees to Canada by year's end. Trudeau has extended the deadline eight weeks, out of prudence over the logistical challenges. It is a small adjustment to a generous response that serves as a rebuke to the senseless xenophobia heard lately in the United States, and that should serve as a model.

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Benjamin Barthe

At The Syria-Turkey Border, Suddenly Shut Off To Refugees

After the Paris attacks last month, an emergency accord between Turkey and the European Union has sealed a border that was once so porous. It has real-life effects on desperate refugees, and entire towns.

ANTAKYA — It's midnight, and the bus stop in Antakya, capital of Turkey's southwestern Hatay province is dark, with the exception of a single cafe brightened by neon lights. A few voices break through the nighttime quiet near the Syrian border, as the bus depot's night workers gather around a thermos of hot tea.

"Just a few weeks ago, hundreds of Syrians were sleeping here, even on the asphalt, waiting to board buses to Izmir or Istanbul," one driver says. "But now, the authorities have deployed police officers in the forest, along the pathways favored by travelers. The Turkish government is closing the border."

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Migrant Lives
Subhi Franjieh

Worth The Risk, Syrian Refugees Have Their Say

BODRUM — When the photograph of Alan Kurdi's lifeless body spread around the world, the plight of Syrian refugees suddenly came into focus like never before. Yet Kurdi was just one of many who have died making the perilous journey to Europe, where they hope to attain asylum as the ongoing Syria civil war in their homeland continues to claim countless civilian lives.

Turkey, which currently hosts some 1.8 million exiled Syrians, has increasingly become a departure point for a perilous sea journey toward Greece in flimsy rafts and ill-equipped boats to get inside European territory.

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Stefan Laurin

Salafists In Germany Target Refugees For Recruitment

Arriving in Germany every day, Syrians who have fled civil war are now the targets of the Salafi movement, radical Muslims who include those who espouse Islamis jihad.

BERLIN — Each day trains full of Syrian refugees arrive from southern Europe. They have escaped war, the barrel bombs of Bashar al-Assad's regime and the terror of ISIS. But in Germany, it's not just aid organizations and volunteer humanitarian workers awaiting them. There are also the Salafists, who see them as potential recruits for their fanatical religious convictions.

Pierre Vogel, a German-born convert and Salafi leader living in Bergheim, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, has published a list of recommendations for the followers within this Sunni Muslim movement specifying the most effective techniques for approaching and recruiting refugees. Vogel advises followers to locate and visit, in groups, all surrounding refugee camps.

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Alain Frachon

As Iran Plays The Nuclear Card, Syria Is Left To Burn


PARIS — How often are war crimes being committed in Syria? Is it every time a helicopter from President Bashar al-Assad's regime drops a barrel bomb on a school, a hospital, an apartment block? Every time a fighter-bomber launches a strike in the middle of a town? Or every time a group of Islamist rebels slaughters people — sometimes by crucifiction — or abducts and tortures them?

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Ahmad Khalil

Shelter For Syrian Refugees Where Stray Dogs Once Slept

A visit to an abandoned corner of Istanbul, where 40 families who fled Syria live in squalor.

ISTANBUL — In a deserted neighborhood on the outskirts of Istanbul, 40 Syrian families have taken shelter in what was once a refuge for packs of stray dogs. Amid the old crumbling homes, refugees have set up a humble camp.

They are just steps away from the bustling Fatih district, known for its ancient Byzantine walls and a mosque of the same name. But in this forgotten corner there are no utilities — no water or electricity in the abandoned area, now strewn with trash. But the families are desperate to provide a roof over their children’s heads during the long, cold winter.

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