HEADLINES: Refugees

Almost 100 years after genocide committed by the Ottoman Empire caused a mass exodus of Armenians into Syria, Armenian families are finding themselves in flight once more, now back to their homeland most barely recognize.  Syria is noted for being one of the most diverse countries in the Middle East, religiously, culturally, and ethnically, but as the number of fleeing Syrians is set to reach 700,000 by the end of the year, many are questioning the “future of Syrian diversity.”  While the 6,000 Syrians seeking refuge in Armenia are a minute fraction of the greater refugee population, they are indicative of the troubles Syria will face in rebuilding after the war is over.  Traditionally, Armenia’s diaspora has helped ease tensions between the Christian country and its Muslim neighbors, and Syrian Armenians have held significant wealth and power.   For now, however, Syrian Armenians have no choice but to leave their adopted homeland and move back to a country they left long ago. [Nytimes]

Last week, Pakistan extended refugee status for over a million Afghanis living within its borders for an extra six months.  Pakistan has housed a significant Afghani refugee population ever since the Soviet invasion of the 1979.  The government in Islamabad said that there are 1.6 million registered Afghanis in Pakistan and 1 million unregistered.  Despite the fact that refugee status is still set to expire in 2014, Pakistan has said it will not forcibly remove Afghanis.  Many Afghani refugees have children who were born in Pakistan and have never set foot in their home country. [Washpost]

The Syrian refugee crisis is no longer simply confined to Syria’s immediate neighbors, as Greece has recently come under fire for allegedly returning Syrian refugees without first processing them, a direct violation of international law.  As Greece has faced austere financial problems, anti-immigrant zeal has flourished, and Greece has poured its limited resources into stemming immigration.  Syrian refugees, however, are continuing to flood over the border seeking refuge in the EU.  Many of those stopped at the border then simply attempt more dangerous water crossings.  58 people died in a boat sinking earlier this fall.  Kelly Grivakou, a lawyer at Athens-based human rights NGO Atima, said, “It is well known.  It is illegal.  When you enter a state and you need protection, and the state has ratified the Geneva conventions, the state has obligations to protect you.”  In the first half of this year over 14,000 unauthorized migrants were caught trying to cross the Turkish-Greek border.  [Guardian]

In response to the millions of displaced people across the continent, the African Union signed a treaty that went into force last week that protects and assists people displaced within their own countries.  So far, fifteen African nations have ratified the treaty, which has been “praised by humanitarian groups as a groundbreaking legal mechanism that binds governments to protect the rights of and help internally displaced people.”  37 states have signed but not ratified the treaty, and advocates are hopeful that most of Africa’s 53 states will ratify the treaty soon.   The “Norwegian Refugee Council, which praised the treaty as a historic achievement, puts the number of Africans internally displaced at 9.8 million.” [Abcnews]

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