Hariri, Pope Discuss Syrian Crisis and Burden of Refugees

Beirut- Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri held separate talks on Friday with Pope Francis and Vatican’s Secretary of State Monsignor Pietro Parolin. Discussions focused on the situation in Lebanon and the regional crises, mainly the war in Syria.

“It was a very good meeting,” Hariri said following the talks at the Vatican.

The National News Agency reported that the Lebanese premier discussed with the pope the situation in Lebanon and the region, and the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon, in addition to ties with the Vatican.

“The Vatican has a responsibility” regarding the burden of Syrian refugees, Hariri was quoted as saying following the talks.

“The Pope will work on this. But what is essential for me and for the displaced, is that no one is preventing any displaced from returning to Syria today. The right way for their return to their country should be found and there must be safe areas in Syria for the displaced to be convinced to return safely to their country and to these areas,” he said.

“In this way, we would have secured the return of the displaced to Syria. The talk about forcing them to return is out of the question, unnatural and inhuman,” Hariri added.

But the PM stressed that the Lebanese authorities had a role in protecting Lebanese citizens, by implementing laws that preserve their jobs.

“We heard from him that Lebanon is important to him and coexistence in Lebanon is an example for the whole region, and must be preserved,” Hariri said about the pope who promised to visit Lebanon.

“We discussed the problems in the region. His Holiness went to Egypt to confirm the importance of dialogue, especially between Muslims and Christians. He accepted to come to Lebanon, hopefully soon, and this is a positive thing,” Hariri added.

Saudi Humanitarian Relief Continues across Syria, Yemen, Jordan

Riyadh- King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid (KSRelief) continued distributing aid to 507,310 displaced people in Syrian governorates of Aleppo and Hama, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

According to the Tuesday SPA statement, aid includes clothes, cooking appliances, family hygiene products, gas heaters, blankets and sponge bed mattresses.

All relief efforts are in compliance directives of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to alleviate the sufferings of displaced people in Syria.

Syria has spiraled down into disastrous humanitarian conditions as civil war ripped throughout the country.
More on the aid foundation’s relief works in the region, KSRelief sponsored the second mosquito pesticide preemption wide-area spray in Yemen.

Mosquitos are carriers of dengue fever. Yemen’s Tarim Directorate and the Hadramout Governorate were a part of the Dengue Control Project financed by the Saudi body.

This campaign is a part of a series of efforts which proved successful with eliminating mosquitoes carrying dengue fever.

No affected case has been registered until this very moment in the Directorate of Tarim, reported SPA. About 153,516 people benefit off the protective effort.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Jordan also contributed to the distribution of 24,000 cattle heads, a part of the ‘Adhi venison’ allocated yearly to the poor. The meat was provided by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and given to refugees and poor people in Jordan.

Saudi Deputy Ambassador in Jordan Mohammed Al-Ateeq visited one of the distribution centers accompanied by representatives of Islamic Development Bank and a delegation from Jordanian Ministry of Interior and were briefed on the distribution mechanism of sacrificial meat in 12 Jordanian governorates.

Sudanese Volunteer Rescues Refugees on Floating Barrels

Sudanese Volunteer Rescues Refugees on Floating Barrels

A Sudanese Red Crescent volunteer crossed the valleys of the Rudum area of ​South Darfur to rescue war refugees from southern Sudan, using a floating bridge made of barrels.

Imad Abu Hala did not hesitate to leave his car, rent a carriage, and walk for two days to help refugees. The volunteer documented his journey through WhatsApp. His image went viral on social media.
Abu Hala said it was one of the most difficult missions he ever went through, and his goal was to reach a refugee camp to provide it with relief and medicines. He transported them on the carriage for 350 meters between Bram and Rudum.

He began his journey on the carriage, but when he reached the valley, he crossed it over a floating bridge made of barrels and tied with wood and ropes. Skilled swimmers pushed the bridge while resisting the stormy waves. The riskiness of this process stems from the nature of the region during the autumn, where the valley is filled with water.

The Rudum region is located south of Darfur, and bordered by the State of Southern Sudan (75 km), as well as the Central African Republic. The region suffers from poor services, especially during the autumn.

The Rudum area features a natural reserve that includes groups of deer, lions, tigers, titillos, buffaloes and some reptiles, near the area of ​​the State of Southern Sudan, which encouraged the refugees to run to it.

Myanmar Says Rohingya Escapees Can Return from Bangladesh

Myanmar told the United Nations refugee agency on Monday its top priority was to bring back Rohingyas who have fled to Bangladesh, but much work was needed to “consolidate stability” in its troubled northern region of Rakhine.

Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s Union Minister, Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, addressed the UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) Executive Committee after UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi called for resolving issues related to Rohingya citizenship and rights.

“Our next immediate priority is to bring back the refugees who have fled to Bangladesh,” Win Myat Aye told the Geneva forum.

“The repatriation process can start any time for those who wish to return to Myanmar. The verification of refugees will be based on the agreement between the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments in 1993,” he said.

“Those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem and with full assurance of their security and their access to human dignity.”

Bangladesh and Myanmar had agreed on Monday to set up a working group to plan the repatriation of more than half a million Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to Bangladesh to escape an army crackdown, Reuters cited the Bangladeshi foreign minister as saying.

The status of Rohingya remains unsettled in Myanmar where they are denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants, despite claiming roots in Myanmar that go back centuries, with communities marginalized and subjected to bouts of communal violence over the years.

Many refugees are gloomy about the prospects of going back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar, fearing they will not be able to furnish the documents they anticipate the government will demand to prove they have a right to return.

UNHCR Raises Concerns at Violence against Rohingyas in Sri Lanka

The United Nations on Wednesday raised concern for the safety of stateless Rohingya Muslims seeking asylum in Sri Lanka after Buddhist monks and hardline nationalists forced them to flee a UN shelter in the capital Colombo.

According to Reuters, in Tuesday’s incident, the Sri Lankan monks and nationalists stoned the shelter, prompting its 31 Rohingya occupants – mainly women and children – to flee for their own safety, witnesses said. No injuries were reported.

In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the incident was alarming, saying the refugees had been victims of violence and persecution in Myanmar, from which some 422,000 Rohingya have fled to nearby Bangladesh over the past month.

“UNHCR emphasizes that (the) refugees … need international protection and assistance. UNHCR urges the public and all those concerned with refugees to continue extending protection and to show empathy for civilians fleeing persecution and violence.”

It said the Rohingya had been staying in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka with the Colombo government’s approval and UNHCR was providing assistance “until longer-term solutions can be found”.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s government condemned the attack on the refugees as “shameful” and urged police to hunt down the perpetrators.

The Rohingya group fled Myanmar in 2012 and lived in India as refugees for nearly five years before trying to migrate illegally to Sri Lanka, a lawyer representing them told Reuters.

There has been an exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state since Aug. 25, when attacks by Rohingya militants triggered a military crackdown that the United Nations has branded “ethnic cleansing”.

Trump Administration Asks US Supreme Court to Lift Refugee Ban

The United States Justice Department on Monday filed an emergency application at the US Supreme Court seeking to block an appeals court decision that curbed President Donald Trump’s effort to bar most refugees from entering the United States.

According to Reuters, the department did not ask the court to immediately block a separate part of Thursday’s ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals that said grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of legal US residents should be exempted from Trump’s ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries.

On that not , protecting young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” from deportation may also help lower the risk of mental health problems for their US-born children, a recent study suggests.

The Trump administration this week announced plans to revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed about 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children to remain in the country.

For the study, researchers examined data on 5,653 mothers in Oregon born just before and after the cutoff for DACA eligibility. To qualify they had to have entered the US before they turned 16, no earlier than June 15, 1981.

When mothers qualified for DACA, 3.3 percent of their children had a range of mental illnesses that can be provoked by stress such as intense feelings of sadness or hopelessness, anxiety and depression.

But when mothers weren’t eligible for DACA, 7.8 percent of their kids had these mental illnesses.

“Mental illness in early childhood can have serious downstream effects,” said lead study author Jens Hainmueller, co-director of the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford University in California.

“It can impair school performance and cause health issues such as substance abuse, obesity or cardiovascular diseases,” Hainmueller said by email. “So the costs for individuals, as well as society at large, are likely to be vast.”

About 4 million children born in the US have at least one parent who is an unauthorized immigrant, researchers note in the journal Science.

To assess how fear of a parent’s deportation might influence mental health, researchers examined data on 8,610 children born to undocumented mothers in Oregon between 2003 and 2015.

The mothers had pregnancy coverage through Oregon’s Emergency Medicaid program, which pays for care provided to immigrant women who do not qualify for traditional Medicaid. The children, as US citizens, were then covered by Medicaid, so researchers could see whether health records revealed a mental illness.

Researchers focused on mental health disorders that might develop in children afraid of being separated from their parents by deportation. This included what’s known as adjustment disorder, which is often triggered by a stressful life event and can result in poor performance in school or work, behavior problems, sleep difficulties, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.

The 4.5 percentage point drop in the proportion of children diagnosed with adjustment or anxiety disorders during the post-DACA period “provides evidence that mothers’ DACA eligibility sharply improved their children’s mental health,” the authors write.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove that DACA directly caused an improvement in kids’ mental health.

Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement Renews Call for ‘Direct Dialogue’ with Damascus


Beirut – Lebanese Foreign Minister and head of the Free Patriotic Movement Jebran Bassil reiterated on Saturday that there can be no resolution to Lebanon’s Syrian refugee crisis “without dialogue with the Syrian regime.”

He therefore urged the Lebanese government to launch direct dialogue with the regime in order to return the refugees to their homeland.

“We support their safe return to their country, whether in communication of the regime or not,” he added.

“This is not a condition for their return. Some of them may return without contacting the regime. Syria will not mind that. The return of others may require contacting Syria…. This can be arranged during a time and through a mechanism that ensures Lebanon’s interest and unity,” he continued.

“The remaining refugees require a longer time and better circumstances for them to return,” said the minister.

“The return can be organized in phases, but it is important that this process begin,” stressed Bassil.

“If the gunmen can return, why can’t the regular people?” he wondered.

“Should we wait for an international green light? This will not happen any time soon,” he noted, saying that the refugee file “is a national, urgent and existential issue in Lebanon.”

“Can such a pressing matter be linked to something that will not happen any time soon, such as the departure of regime head Bashar Assad?” Bassil asked.

Syrian Regime Releases 104 Nusra Captives in Keep with Arsal Deal

Beirut- Al-Nusra Front revealed on Sunday in a media broadcast aired on its affiliate outlet, Ibaa News Agency, that the Syrian regime had committed to releasing some 104 of its members, among which were 24 women.

All detainees will be released from prisons in Homs, Hama and Damascus.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” has entered the third phase of implementing the Arsal agreement. The militants of Saraya Ahl Sham have begun leaving Arsal’s outskirts after a turbulent 48 hours, which included their leadership stalling the evacuation.

According to Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency, some 400 fighters began leaving the Wadi Hmeid area of Arsal for the eastern slopes of the Qalamoun Mountains in Syria.

“The Lebanese security forces began Sunday the implementation for sending off 400 armed terrorists from Saraya Ahl Sham with their families,” an NNA correspondent said.

The NNA added that the fighters would leave Arsal heading for Ruhaiba in Syria with their light weapons.

It is to note that the Lebanese Red Cross will also accompany Saraya Ahl-Sham to the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Reporters were not allowed to enter the area. A media operation run by Hezbollah posted video of a caravan of buses rolling through the dusty hills.

Buses were expected to begin transporting 3,000 Syrian fighters and civilian refugees from a remote area in northeastern Lebanon to Syria on Monday morning.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it was coordinating aid for 5,288 people who had arrived in northwestern Syria from the Arsal area under the earlier deal to transfer 9,000 people.

The status of the remaining people was unclear.

IOM: 600,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home


London – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced on Friday that large numbers of Syrians, who had fled the war in their country, have started to return home.

It announced that some 603,000 people have returned to their cities and villages, in what that IOM said was the largest wave of returning refugees.

The refugees making their way back came from various regions insides Syria and outside the country, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan or Iraq.

The IOM explained that Syrians decided to head back to their country out of the need to protect their homes and property. It also said that an improved security and economic situation in the country was another motivator.

Problems of integration in the host country was another factor in their desire to return.

Some 800,000 people remain internally displaced in Syria, added the IOM.

The Syrian war, which has entered its seventh year, has left hundreds of thousands of dead and displaced nearly half of the population of 22 million.

36 Hours Behind ‘Closed Windows’ from Arsal to ‘Unknown Fate’ in Idlib


Beirut- Thousands of civilians arrived to Idlib from Lebanon on Friday, ending up, once more, as refugees inside local camps, with no hope to move again to Euphrates Shield-controlled areas in the north of Aleppo, or even to Turkey.

“The trip from Lebanon to Idlib took 36 hours, and had begun on Wednesday morning by assembling at the outskirts of Asral before proceeding in the afternoon to the Lebanese-Syrian borders in the presence of the Lebanese Red Cross,” one refugee told Asharq Al-Awsat. He said that on its way, the convoy stopped at a Syrian regime checkpoint in the Syrian town of Flita.

According to the refugee, “Hezbollah” members had ordered the closure of the buses’ windows to “prevent any disputes.”

The buses carrying civilians were weapons free, while al-Nusra militants were placed in special buses with their arms and families, he said.

“Civilians face a difficult situation and an unknown fate: the road between Idlib and the Euphrates Shield areas is still impassable whereas the border with Turkey is closed,” the refugee said.

A convoy of 113 busses carrying around five thousand militants and civilians has departed from Arsal on Wednesday, heading towards northern Syria through the region of Flita.

Twenty ambulances escorted the convoy, amidst measures by the army and the General Security.

Their departure is part of a swap deal between “Hezbollah” and “al-Nusra Front,” after the release of “Hezbollah” prisoners in exchange for “al-Nusra” militants detained by the Lebanese security forces.

The next phase of the deal would allow militants and civilians to leave for the town of Al-Rahiba in eastern Qalamoun, while the third phase of evacuation will include civilians wishing to return to their villages in western Qalamoun.

The refugee said that after arriving to Flita, civilians were divided between two refugee camps in the countryside of Idlib: Sa’ed and al-Qariya al-Tiniya in Maarat al-Ikhwan near Maarat Masreen.

He said buses carrying al-Nusra militants were sent to the city of Idlib.