IRC in the News
It was April 2013, and he was walking to his job at a healthcare company in the southern city of Deraa. Sometimes his mother would accompany him because then the soldiers were less likely to bother him.On this day, however, Faez was alone. As he neared a government checkpoint, he found himself cornered by soldiers who were pursuing a young man.
That was when the stranger appeared and vouched for a man she had never met. “An old lady came by, crying and pleading with the soldiers to let us go. She said: ‘He’s my son,’” he said. Faez never found out who the woman was, but he is convinced that her intervention saved his life.
It is not quite clear when Europeans woke up to the largest movement of refugees on their soil since the upheavals of World War II, but Sunday, August 16, may have been a decisive turning point. In a television interview that day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, returning from her summer vacation, said that the European Union’s single greatest challenge was no longer the Greek debt crisis. It was the wave after wave of Syrians and others now trying to enter Europe’s eastern and southern borders. It is “the next major European project,” she said. It “will preoccupy Europe much, much more than…the stability of the euro.”
International aid workers said that some holding areas had now become the most squalid in the world. At Kara Tepe, a makeshift reception center on the island of Lesbos, the International Rescue Committee, an emergency aid group working in forty countries, reported that there were just two showers for two thousand refugees; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) described conditions as “shameful.”
Producer, engineer, songwriter and musician Greg Wells is looking to raise thousands of dollars for Syrian refugee families by offering to produce a song for one successful eBay bidder, and donate 100% of the proceeds to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Wells has also enlisted the help of five-time Grammy Award winning engineer Chris Lord-Alge, who has agreed to provide his mixing services for the job.
Known for his work with Katy Perry, Adele, Rufus Wainwright, Pink, Jamie Cullum and many more, Wells has sold around 85 million albums in total. Lord-Alge's credit list includes huge projects for the likes of James Brown, Green Day, U2, Muse, David Bowie, Tina Turner and My Chemical Romance.
The money – $35,000 is the current 'Buy It Now' price with just over a week to go – will be directly allocated to help Syrian refugee families arriving in California start a new life with legal work papers, and apply for permanent residency a year after entering the US.
A panel on the future of humanitarian aid at Mashable's sixth-annual Social Good Summit Monday began with a very direct question for former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: Is America doing enough with the scale of the current refugee crisis?
"I don't think we are," she said. "I think we are a large and generous country, with a real reputation always for welcoming people ... Given the scale of the numbers [of refugees], and our capability, I don't think we're doing enough."
Albright was joined on the panel with two aid experts — David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, and Kyung-wha Kang, assistant secretary-general and deputy emergency relief coordinator at OCHA — who could speak to this issue. The bottom line: Rethink humanitarian aid.
On the island of Lesbos, where half the refugees entering Greece land, officials report several thousand arriving every day in a trend likely to continue.
"If people continue to make the trip as we anticipate they will, we could very likely see more deaths," said David Miliband, head of humanitarian relief group International Rescue Committee. "We think this is indicative of the degree of despair setting in in Syria."
The death toll in the eastern Mediterranean has already surged. More than 70 people died at sea in September—the deadliest month for refugees trying to cross to Greece in two years, according to the International Organization for Migration.
"Even in amazingly strong winds, the traffickers put people in the boats when it is almost certain that they will sink," said Laura Pappa, head of Greek aid organization Metadrasi.
It's a distinction no country wants. In its most recent report on global trends, the U.N.'s refugee agency reported that Syria last year "had become the world's top source country of refugees, overtaking Afghanistan, which has held this position for more than three decades."
Since 1979, Afghans have been fleeing their country due to war, political repression, food shortages and lack of opportunity. It's the "largest protracted refugee situation" in the world, the U.N. says, with no end in sight.
Ahmed Ogeel is the luckiest of unlucky men. He left Egypt a week before that country's Jan. 25, 2011, revolution for his native Syria. Six weeks later, the marine engineering student returned to Egypt to take an exam. Three days after flying back to Alexandria, Egypt, the first major Syrian uprising took place – followed by the regime’s brutal crackdown. He never returned home.
Ogeel is one of 4 million Syrians living outside Syria – pushed out by a civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people. He now lives on the Greek island of Lesbos, which has received the highest number of refugee arrivals in Greece: So far this year more than 100,000 have arrived on this island. Unlike the majority of refugees, for whom Lesbos is little more than a transit point on the way to northern Europe, Ogeel has made Lesbos his home
As an aid worker leading the International Rescue Committee’s humanitarian relief team in Greece, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Syrians as they flee the war into Europe. I’ve worked with refugees around the globe in almost every war zone in the last 15 years; while the desperation for the safety and wellbeing of their families is the same the world around, one thing has struck me during all of the interviews I’ve done: I recognize the lives the Syrian refugees used to live, and want to live again.