Omar, a refugee from Syria, was just 12 years old when he accidentally arrived alone in Sweden. It took months of tears and worry, emails and phone calls before his parents and big brother could join him. As Denmark proposes delaying family reunification for up to five years, their story shows why the right to a family life is worth fighting for.
“I slept in jeans, not pyjamas,” says Maha Khadour, Omar’s mother, recalling the summer of 2012 when bombs starting falling on their neighbourhood in Syria. “You just didn't know when you’d have to flee."
Despite being a veterinarian, not a doctor, her husband Mohannad gave medical help to injured neighbours who feared being arrested if they sought help at a public hospital. When rumours started circulating that the government was looking for Mohannad, he and Maha fled with their two sons, Ali, now aged 19, and Omar, now 14, to neighbouring Turkey.
Horrific images and stories are emerging from Syria. Amnesty International has spoken to residents in the besieged town of Madaya in the Damascus Countryside governorate, and gathered fresh accounts of conditions in al-Fouaa and Kefraya in the Idleb Countryside governorate. The starving residents described how families are surviving on little more that foraged leaves and boiled water. The villages are due to resume receiving aid following a deal involving the Syrian government, struck on 7 January 2016.
These harrowing accounts of hunger represent the mere tip of an iceberg. Syrians are suffering and dying across the country because starvation is being used as a weapon of war by both the Syrian government and armed groups. By continuing to impose sieges on civilian areas and only sporadically allowing in aid at their whim they are fuelling a humanitarian crisis and toying with the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
These four Kurdish Syrian family members are traveling on foot. This group of brothers and a slightly older uncle left the town of Amuda located in the Kurdish region of Syria 10 days ago. As ISIS fighting was closing in to only 30kms from Amuda, they decided to leave. After making their way to the Turkish border and meeting their smuggler contact, they each had to pay 350 USD to cross the Turkish border on foot, under the cover of night. They made their way to the coastal city of Izmir from which they embarked on an inflatable boat for a perilous 15 minutes journey to Mitilini, Greece. They all had to pay 1200 USD each for this part of the trip. Upon arrival in Greece, they registered as EU refugees and then took a ferry to the Greek mainland where they then travelled by bus to Serbia.
By Gloria Nafziger, Refugee Campaigner for Amnesty International Canada
What is it like to be a refugee in Lebanon? The answer you'll get will be different depending on whether you speak to a women, girl, man, or boy.
Early marriage and street harassment are just a few of the serious issues uniquely faced by refugee women and girls in Lebanon. And because of legal restrictions imposed on Syrian refugees by the Lebanese government, many refugee women and girls feel unable to report threats, harassment, or violence to the police. Refugee women and girls living in Lebanon, especially those in women-led households, are at risk of experiencing human rights abuses.
As part of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign, Amnesty International is sharing the stories of two refugee women living in Lebanon.
Learn more and take action today!
By Diana Semaan, Syria campaigner at Amnesty's International Secretraiat.
With reports in the news of a new push for negotiations to end the conflict in Syria, and Western countries contemplating the future of Syria and Bashar al-Assad as Russia engages in combat, a crucially important goal—accountability for countless war crimes and other violations committed by all sides in this conflict—appears to be slipping off the agenda.
Despite an international outcry over the killing of civilians by the Syrian government, in reality most of the world—including Western governments—have turned a blind eye to events in the country, utterly failing to agree on effective measures to protect civilians from the brutality of the Syrian government.
Their main priority appears to be combating the armed group calling itself the Islamic State and keeping refugees from reaching their borders. Any pursuit of accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity has taken a back seat.
Three years after her father’s disappearance, 24-year-old Raneem Ma’touq tells her family’s story.
Raneem Ma'touq is the daughter of Khalil Ma’touq, a human rights lawyer and the director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research, who disappeared on 2 October 2012, along with a colleague, while they were on their way to work in Damascus. It is believed he was arrested after being detained at a government checkpoint, and has been held in conditions amounting to an enforced disappearance ever since. Today marks three years since he was arrested.
When Raneem Ma’touq’s father disappeared nearly three years ago, she was 21 years old. She and her family felt as if their whole world had fallen apart.
“[His disappearance] left a huge hole in our lives. For a young woman in our neighborhood, it was like hell living without him,” she said.
As a human rights lawyer defending political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Syria, her father, Khalil Ma’touq, was no stranger to threats, harassment and intimidation by the Syrian authorities. Even before the Syrian conflict began, he was subjected to a travel ban.
More than 4 million refugees from Syria (95%) are in just five countries Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt:Lebanon hosts approximately 1.2 million refugees from Syria which amounts to around one in five people in the country Jordan hosts about 650,000 refugees from Syria, which amounts to about 10% of the population Turkey hosts 1.9 million refugees from Syria, more than any other country worldwide Iraq where 3 million people have been internally displaced in the last 18 months hosts 249,463 refugees from Syria Egypt hosts 132,375 refugees from Syria The UN humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is just 40% funded.
Funding shortages mean that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon receive just $13.50 per month or less than half a dollar a day for food assistance.
More than 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan living below the local poverty line.Conflict in Syria
Around 220,000 people have been killed and 12.8 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria
By Gauri van Gulik, Deputy Europe Director at Amnesty International. Follow Gauri on Twitter @GaurivanGulik.
A solemn moment of silence. The world over, this is the traditional response when lives are cut short by tragedy.
It has also been a common response to tragedies in Europe and off its shores which have ended the lives of thousands of refugees and migrants. Not killed by bombs in Syria, but killed while making terrifying journeys in search of safety and better lives in Europe.
But the scale and rapid succession of these tragedies calls for breaking the silence.
In the space of a week, along with people across the world, I recoiled in horror as four new tragedies added to a growing list of events that have already brought a record number of refugees and migrants to untimely deaths this year. According to UNHCR, 2,500 have already perished en route to Europe since 1 January 2015.
On 26 August, 52 bodies were found inside the hull of a ship about 30 nautical miles off the coast of Libya.
Work on Maher Arar’s case has been one of our most intensive campaigns for justice spanning well over a decade. Here are some of the highlights:
The following statement was read by Monia Mazigh, Maher Arar's wife, as a press conference earlier today.
I welcome today's announcement by the RCMP to lay criminal charges against Colonel George Salloum who was directly responsible for my torture while I was detained at the Palestinian Branch of the Syrian Military Intelligence.
Since I launched my complaint in 2005, I gave the RCMP investigating team, during the many interviews I had with them, the information they needed to advance their investigation. This lengthy international investigation took the officers overseas to gather evidence. As a result, they were able to better understand the nature of interrogations in Syrian detention centers. Upon their return, the investigators were able to pass on their knowledge to other RCMP staff.
I believe this is vital for the RCMP to grasp given the increased urge to share information even with regimes who don't respect our understanding of basic human rights.
By Giorgos Kosmopoulos, Director of Amnesty International Greece
The view was staggering upon my arrival in the village of Idomeni, near Greece’s border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Macedonia).
Up to 4,000 refugees, many of them from Syria including many families with children, were trapped after Macedonia’s government designated the southern border just outside the town of Gevgelija a “crisis area”, closing the border crossing and bringing in military backup. The refugees were all trying to pass through Macedonia on their way to northern European countries.
By Geoffrey Mock, orginally published on Amnesty USA blogWhat happens when a crisis so prolongs that the world tires of it?
You get 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
You get stories like the one told by this woman living in a refugee camps. She has been in a Lebanese camp for three years with her two sons, one of whom is autistic. She has necessities, but little else; what she dreams of is that her children get an education.
“We don’t go to anyone, we don’t visit anyone because dealing with him is so difficult,” the woman told Amnesty International researchers. “People stay away because they are afraid he will hurt their children. This little room is our bedroom, it is our living room, it is our everything. Our financial situation doesn’t allow us to register him in such [specialist] schools… That is why we need to resettle in another country, to get help for our child. This will make it better for him and for us.”
By Noor Al-Bazzaz of Amnesty International’s Syria team
Five months to the day after being abducted and held hostage by the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS), a group of 25 students from Kobani were unexpectedly set free on 29 October.
They were the last remaining captives from a group of around 150 schoolchildren from the embattled Kurdish-majority city in northern Syria who were returning from their final year examinations in Aleppo in May when IS members stopped their school bus at a checkpoint and abducted them all. In the months that followed, they were sporadically released. Those we spoke to had horror stories to tell about life in IS captivity.
In Suruç, a town in Turkey merely 10km from Kobani, refugees from the besieged city told me how the students’ harrowing experience was typical of the many abductions by IS in the year and a half since the armed group besieged their city.
One of the released students, a 15-year-old boy who chose to remain unnamed, described the four months he spent in the hands of IS, detailing the armed group’s use of torture against students who broke the rigid rules, or attempted to escape.
Neil Sammonds, Amnesty's Syria Researcher, blogs from Kobani on the Turkey-Syria border
A dust cloud from the US air strike drifts across the border from Kobani and blurs our view from the overlooking Turkish hilltop. Most if not all of those watching – all Kurds, it seems, from both Syria and Turkey – agree that the damage caused to the city by air strikes is a price worth paying. Many believe the city’s defence, led by Syrian Kurdish fighters, would have collapsed without them.
“My home may get destroyed but if it forces out Da’esh”, as the armed group which calls itself the Islamic State (IS) is usually referred to locally, “then I am happy,” says one.
Fighters from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) lead the city’s defence against the armed group widely loathed by Kurds.
Residents of the scores of villages outside Kobani, and then the city itself, fled ahead of the rapid IS advance, well aware of the atrocities committed by the group against Iraqi Kurds in Sinjar and elsewhere. Some 200,000 fled into Turkey, two-thirds of them in just four days in September this year.