IRC in the News
Just a few weeks ago, the Aleppo province town of Marea was a relative haven for Syrians seeking refuge from both the barrel bombs of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the brutality of ISIS warriors to the east.But in recent days, Islamist militants pushing in from their eastern stronghold began pummeling the town with missiles, including shells allegedly loaded with chlorine and mustard gas.
The attacks prompted a fresh wave of Syrians to head to the Turkish border. But even those already in Turkey waiting to return to their town began planning the risky escape across the sea for Europe, activists say.
As the world watches drowned refugees wash up on Europe's beaches, the United States is also under pressure to do more to help the desperate victims of Syria's civil war. David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, also paid tribute to the outsize role the world's biggest economy usually plays, but pointed to a problem.
"There was a record last year of 20 million refugees around the world. Those who are resettled in richer countries are around 150,000 or so. The US takes around 70,000," he told MSNBC, in an interview."But the record from Syria, I'm afraid does not amount to leadership. The United States since the Syria conflict began has taken 1,234 refugees, so more or less 250 a year."
Stunning images this week of the body of a Syrian toddler washed ashore have brought much-needed attention to a global refugee crisis. Desperate masses of people are trying to reach European soil, highlighting this stark statistic: In a world where the Islamic State pillages and dictators ravage, 60 million people were displaced by war, conflict, and persecution in 2014, according to the United Nations. What’s more, over 13 million children from the Middle East and North Africa have been prevented from attending school because of “surging conflict and political upheaval,” according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations.
The numbers are massive and the problem can seem overwhelming, but there are experts on the ground doing the sort of work that desperately needs to be done.
The photographs of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his lifeless body washed up onto a Turkish beach, forced the current refugee crisis onto front pages, home pages and Facebook feeds across the world this week.
"The image resonates personally before it resonates professionally," David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, and the former British foreign minister, told NPR. "Anyone's who got children can't help but think of the worst for the moment."
"In the case of this image it spoke to what's worse than a tragedy — a situation, in a way, that words don't do justice to," Miliband said.
International Rescue Committee president David Miliband on Wednesday called on the US government to resettle 65,000 Syrian refugees before the end of 2016. Anna Greene, IRC’s director of policy & advocacy for US programs, said the 1,500 people the US has admitted thus far “doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is needed and what could really make a difference”.
“We do have the capacity to do this; we know how to do it in the United States,” Greene said. “It’s a question of garnering that public support and making it clear that it’s simply unacceptable that women and children are dying and that one of the most tangible ways that we can help is by resettling the most vulnerable.”
In many European countries, asylum-seekers are given a one- or two-year window to acculturate while their cases are heard. As they wait for refugee status and the accompanying work permits, asylum seekers are given public assistance to sustain themselves and are often offered a crash course in the language.
“In the United States, all of the screening and verification happens before refugees even arrive,” said Harriet Kuhr, executive director of the Charlottesville branch of the International Rescue Committee. Having already been bestowed with refugee status, families are then expected to support themselves within six months.
“Are we actually helping people by pushing them into working a low-wage job?” Kuhr asked. “Some are asking, ‘If we let them study English for six months before looking for a job, would they be making more money three years down the line?’”
Kirk Day, the International Rescue Committee’s Emergency Field Director in Lesbos, described how thousands of refugees slept rough in the middle of the main port on Lesbos, Mytilini on Wednesday night. He says the aid organization has heard reports that the police have stopped registering refugees as they work to provide for the basic needs of the thousands camped there.
"This could not be happening at a worse possible time. The police at the port are responsible for issuing travel documents to refugees that allow them to travel to the mainland. With thousands desperate to leave Lesbos, any suspension in registrations is likely to result in a rapidly deteriorating situation and subsequent rise in tensions," said Day, in a statement released Wednesday. “The international community needs to wake up and respond urgently to the crisis on Lesbos. The registration process needs to be quicker and more ordered."
The migrant crisis in Greece has been particularly severe on the island of Lesbos, which has seen a record number of refugees arriving this year, according to the British charity International Rescue Committee. With facilities on the island strained by the influx, thousands of refugees slept rough at Lesbos' main port overnight on Wednesday, the charity said. It urged police to speed up the registration process to avoid tensions on the island.