Fleeing Syria: Entire Towns Empty As Refugee Crisis Grows

Syrian refugee map

The UN is expecting up to one million Syrian refugees by mid 2013. Click to explore full map.

Faced with shelling and shortages of food, water and fuel, civilians have fled their homes, becoming refugees in neighboring countries or finding themselves internally displaced. Towns and villages across Latakia, Idlib, Hama and Dara’a governorates have been effectively emptied of their populations. Entire neighbourhoods in southern and eastern Damascus, Deir al-Zour and Aleppo have been razed. The downtown of Homs city has been devastated.
—Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. December 20, 2012.

The impact of Syria’s spiraling conflict can be increasingly seen in neighboring countries, as indiscriminate attacks are sending hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing from their homes across borders in search of safety and shelter. According to the latest update from the Independent International inquiry on Syria—released just hours ago—entire towns and villages have been emptied of their populations. The intensified fighting around Damascus and the mounting atrocities across the country are accompanied by increasing reports of sectarian violence. While we can’t predict the outcome of the conflict, one thing seems certain: the cycle of violence and displacement of civilians will go on for months. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Crackdown on Refugees from Burma

The humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is reporting that the Bangladesh government has launched a crackdown against the Rohingya community around the Cox’s Bazar district (see map).  The site of the crackdown is a makeshift camp of refugees in Kutupalong that is not recognized by the Bangladeshi government and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has limited access to the area.  From MSF’s press release:

More than 6,000 people have arrived at the makeshift camp since October—2,000 in January alone,” said MSF Head of Mission in Bangladesh Paul Critchley. “People are crowding into a crammed and unsanitary patch of ground with no infrastructure to support them. They are prevented from working to support themselves and are not permitted food aid. As the numbers swell and resources become increasingly scarce, we are extremely concerned about the deepening crisis.”

The Myanmar government (note that Amnesty International requires use of the UN-recognized name of the country widely known as Burma) refuses to acknowledge that the Rohingya are from Myanmar rendering them stateless.

MSF is asking that the UNHCR increase protections to these Rohingya seeking protection in Bangladesh.  At the moment, only 28,000 of the estimated 200,000 of the refugees in Bangladesh are recognized as refugees.  The result, in an already overcrowded and poor country, is that the Rohingya are vulnerable.  Human rights groups have been campaigning on the plight of the Rohingyas for a number of years, but Myanmar’s neighbors have grown impatient with the scale of the humanitarian need.  But, as MSF makes clear, the international community must support the Government of Bangladesh and UNHCR to adopt measures to guarantee the unregistered Rohingya’s lasting dignity and well-being in Bangladesh.

Darfur Refugees Raped in Chad Camps

A new Amnesty International report draws a shocking picture of the fate of women and girls who fled the violence in Darfur to neighboring Chad: Instead of finding safety in refugee camps across the border, many become victims of sexual violence. Chadian police, trained and supported by UN forces, do little to protect women from sexual attacks in and outside the camps. In a statement to the Associated Press, a spokesman for the Chadian government denied any responsibility for protecting the refugees: “If there are cases of rape in the camps we cannot prevent them. The government is not responsible for security in the camps.”

The conclusion of the report – titled No place for us here. Violence against refugee women in eastern Chad (pdf) – is devastating and speaks for itself:

Refugee women and girls continue to face the risk of rape and other serious violence in and outside refugee camps in eastern Chad despite the presence of the MINURCAT and the full deployment of the DIS [Detachement Integre de Securite; UN trained Chadian police force] in the 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Outside refugee camps, women and girls face a range of abuses, from harassment and threats of physical attacks to rape and other forms of violence. Within the camps there is little safety from rape and other violence at the hands of other refugees, including members of their own families. In some cases women and girls even face the risk of rape and other violence from staff of humanitarian organizations, whose task is to provide them with assistance and support.

Perpetrators of rape and other forms of violence against refugee women and girls are very rarely brought to justice. This is the case even when survivors report instances of rape and other violence to the local Chadian authorities, the DIS or to refugee camps leaders. There is a deeply entrenched culture of impunity throughout eastern Chad when it comes to rape and other forms of violence against women.