TIME Crime

Florida Authorities Say 1 Police Officer Shot and Killed

(TARPON SPRINGS, Fla.) — Florida authorities say a police officer was shot and killed in Tarpon Springs early Sunday.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that the shooting occurred at around 3 a.m. in the Tampa Bay-area city and that a suspect has been taken into custody.

Authorities say the suspect fled the scene of the shooting in a vehicle and crashed into a pole and another vehicle. He was then apprehended by police at that location.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said the officer was a member of the Tarpon Springs Police Department, though no names have been released.

A news conference is to be held later today, the statement said.

TIME Crime

2 New York Police Officers Die in Ambush Shooting

Gunman fatally shoots two officers before turning weapon on himself

(NEW YORK) — A gunman who announced online that he was planning to shoot two “pigs” in retaliation for the police chokehold death of Eric Garner ambushed two officers in a patrol car and shot them to death in broad daylight Saturday before running to a subway station and killing himself, authorities said.

The suspect, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on an Instagram account: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs,” officials said. He used the hashtags Shootthepolice RIPErivGardner (sic) RIPMikeBrown.

Police said he approached the passenger window of a marked police car and opened fire, striking Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in the head. The New York Police Department officers were on special patrol doing crime reduction work in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

“They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform,” said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who looked pale and shaken at a hospital news conference.

Brinsley took off running as officers pursued him down to a nearby subway station, where he shot himself in the head. A silver handgun was recovered at the scene, Bratton said.

“This may be my final post,” Brinsley wrote in the Instagram post that included an image of a silver handgun. The post had more than 200 likes.

Bratton confirmed that the suspect made very serious “anti-police” statements online but did not get into specifics of the posts. He said they were trying to figure out why Brinsley had chosen to kill the officers. Two city officials with direct knowledge of the case confirmed the posts to The Associated Press. The officials, a senior city official and a law enforcement official, were not authorized to speak publicly on the topic and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The shootings come at a tense time; Police in New York and nationwide are being criticized for their tactics, following the July death of Garner, who was stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Amateur video captured an officer wrapping his arm around Garner’s neck and wrestling him to the ground. Garner was heard gasping, “I can’t breathe” before he lost consciousness and later died.

Demonstrators around the country have staged die-ins and other protests since a grand jury decided Dec. 3 not to indict the officer in Garner’s death, a decision that closely followed a Missouri grand jury’s refusal to indict a white officer in the fatal shooting of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. Bratton said they were investigating whether the suspect had attended any rallies or demonstrations.

Brinsley was black; the officers were Asian and Hispanic, police said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said Garner’s family had no connection to the suspect and denounced the violence.

“Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases,” Sharpton said.

Brown’s family also released a statement condemning the shooting. “We must work together to bring peace to our communities,” the statement says. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the officers’ families during this incredibly difficult time.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the killing of the officers in the nation’s largest department strikes at the heart of the city.

“Our city is in mourning. Our hearts are heavy,” said de Blasio, who spoke softly with moist eyes. “It is an attack on all of us.”

Scores of officers in uniform three rows deep lined the hospital driveway and stretched into the street, their hands raised in a silent salute, as two ambulances bore the slain officers’ bodies away. The mayor ordered flags at half-staff.

In a statement Saturday night, Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the shooting deaths as senseless and “an unspeakable act of barbarism.” President Barack Obama was also briefed on the shooting, and White House officials were monitoring the situation closely, the White House said.

Early Saturday, Bratton said, Brinsley went to the home of a former girlfriend in the Baltimore area and shot and wounded her. Police there said they noticed Brinsley posting to the woman’s Instagram account about a threat to New York officers. Baltimore-area officials sent a warning to New York City police, who received it around the time of the shooting, Bratton said.

Criminal records show Brinsley has a history of arrests on various charges in Georgia, including robbery, shoplifting, carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct and obstruction of a law enforcement officer. Bratton said his last-known address was Georgia, but he had some ties in Brooklyn.

A block from the shooting site, a line of about eight police officers stood with a German shepherd blocking the taped-off street. Officer Ramos was married with a 13-year-old son, police said. He had been on the job since 2012. Liu had been on the job for seven years and got married two months ago, Bratton said.

“Both officers paid the ultimate sacrifice today while protecting the communities they serve,” he said.

Rosie Orengo, a friend of Ramos, said he was heavily involved in their church and encouraged others in their marriages.

“He was an amazing man. He was the best father and husband and friend,” she said. “Our peace is knowing that he’s OK, and we’ll see him in heaven.”

The president of the police officers union, Patrick Lynch, and de Blasio have been locked in a public battle over treatment of officers following the grand jury’s decision. Just days ago, Lynch suggested police officers sign a petition that demanded the mayor not attend their funerals should they die on the job. On Saturday, some officers turned their backs on de Blasio as he walked into the hospital. At a news conference, Lynch said there is “blood on many hands” tonight, explicitly blaming the mayor and protesters.

The last shooting death of an NYPD officer came in December 2011, when 22-year veteran Peter Figoski was shot in the face while responding to a report of a break-in at a Brooklyn apartment. The triggerman, Lamont Pride, was convicted of murder and sentenced in 2013 to 45 years to life in prison.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Tom McElroy in New York and Juliet Linderman in Baltimore contributed to this report.

TIME Infectious Disease

WHO: Recorded Ebola Deaths Top 7,000

Grave digger walks past fresh graves at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone
A grave digger walks past fresh graves at a cemetery in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec. 20, 2014. Baz Ratner—Reuters

(CONAKRY, Guinea) — The worst Ebola outbreak on record has now killed more than 7,000 people, with many of the latest deaths reported in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued his tour of Ebola-affected countries in West Africa on Saturday.

The three countries hit hardest by Ebola have now recorded 7,373 deaths, up from 6,900 on Wednesday, according to WHO figures posted online late Friday. A total of 392 of the new deaths were in Sierra Leone, where Ebola is spreading the fastest.

The new totals include confirmed, probable and suspected Ebola deaths. The WHO says there have also been six Ebola deaths in Mali, eight in Nigeria and one in the United States.

The total number of cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia now stands at 19,031, up from 18,569.

Ban arrived in Guinea, where the outbreak’s first cases were confirmed back in March, on Saturday after touring Liberia and Sierra Leone on Friday. After meeting with President Alpha Conde, he expressed concern about the situation in the country’s southeast forest region, where he said the number of infected people “seems to continue to grow.” The region borders Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, and Ban called for cross-border collaboration to bring the disease under control.

He urged all Guineans to commit themselves to eradicating Ebola, saying that the U.N. and its partners “are there to help you.”

“It has never been so important to work together,” he said.

Guinea has recorded 2,453 Ebola deaths and 1,550 cases, according to the WHO. This past week, officials in Conakry, the capital, announced a ban on New Year’s Eve celebrations such as fireworks displays and beach gatherings in a bid to curtail transmission.

Ban was expected to travel to Mali Saturday evening.

TIME Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Peacekeepers to Leave Somalia Mission

Sierra Leone African Union Peacekeeper Somalia
Officers from the Sierra Leonean Contingent serving with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Individual Police Officers (IPO) walking during a medal parade at the AU Mission's headquarters in the Somali capital Mogadishu, March 15, 2013. Sierra Leone is withdrawing from the African peacekeeping force in Somalia. AFP/Getty Images

(FREETOWN, Sierra Leone) — A Sierra Leone military official says the country is withdrawing from the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia after being blocked from rotating its soldiers over concerns about the spread of Ebola.

Maj. Gen. Samuel Omar Williams, the chief of defense staff, said Saturday the troops currently in Somalia will be sent back to Freetown in January “and will not be replaced.”

In a statement Saturday, the African Union mission said 850 Sierra Leone troops deployed for 12 months starting in 2013, but the AU halted their rotation in response to Ebola, which the World Health Organization says has killed more than 2,400 people in Sierra Leone.

The mission said Sierra Leone’s soldiers will be replaced by soldiers from other countries “until the virus has been fully contained.”

TIME North Korea

N. Korea Proposes Joint Probe Over Sony Hacking

(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korea on Saturday proposed a joint investigation with the U.S. into the hacking attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, warning of “serious” consequences if Washington rejects a probe that it believes would prove Pyongyang had nothing to do with the cyberattack.

The proposal was seen by analysts as a typical ploy by the North to try to show that it is sincere, even though it knows the U.S. would never accept its offer for a joint investigation.

U.S. officials blame North Korea for the hacking, citing the tools used in the Sony attack and previous hacks linked to the North, and have vowed to respond. The break-in resulted in the disclosure of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files, and escalated to threats of terror attacks against U.S. movie theaters that caused Sony to cancel the Christmas Day release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On Saturday, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman in Pyongyang proposed the joint investigation with the U.S., saying the North knows how to prove it’s not responsible for the hacking. He also said Washington was slandering Pyongyang by spreading unfounded rumors.

“The U.S. should bear in mind that it will face serious consequences in case it rejects our proposal for joint investigation and presses for what it called countermeasures while finding fault with” North Korea, the spokesman said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.

“We have a way to prove that we have nothing to do with the case without resorting to torture, as the CIA does,” he said, adding that the U.S. lacks any specific evidence tying North Korea to the hacking.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University, called the North’s proposal a “typical” tactic the country has taken in similar disputes with rival countries. In 2010, North Korea proposed a joint investigation after a South Korean-led international team concluded that the North was behind a torpedo attack that killed 46 South Korean sailors, though Pyongyang denied its involvement. South Korea rejected the North’s offer for the joint probe.

“They are now talking about a joint investigation because they think there is no conclusive evidence,” Koh said. “But the U.S. won’t accede to a joint investigation for the crime.”

On Friday, President Barack Obama declared that Sony “made a mistake” in shelving the satirical film about a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, and pledged that the U.S. would respond “in a place and manner and time that we choose” to the hacking attack on Sony that led to the movie’s withdrawal.

“I wish they had spoken to me first. … We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship,” Obama said at a year-end news conference, speaking of executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony said it had had no choice but to cancel distribution of the movie because theaters were refusing to show it.

U.S. options for acting against North Korea are limited. The U.S. already has severe trade sanctions in place, and there is no appetite for military action. Even if investigators could identify and prosecute the individual hackers believed responsible, there’s no guarantee that any located are overseas would ever see a U.S. courtroom. Hacking back at North Korean targets by U.S. government experts could encourage further attacks against American targets.

North Korea and the U.S. remain in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The rivals also are locked in an international standoff over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and its alleged human rights abuses.

Earlier Saturday, North Korea angrily denounced a move by the United Nations to bring its human rights record before the Security Council and renewed its threat to further bolster its nuclear deterrent against what it called a hostile policy by the U.S. to topple its ruling regime.

Pyongyang “vehemently and categorically rejects” the resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly that could open the door for its leaders, including Kim Jong Un, to be hauled before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, according to a Foreign Ministry statement carried by KCNA.

The Security Council is due to meet Monday to discuss Pyongyang’s human rights situation for the first time.

The meeting caps almost a year of international pressure, and even though ally China could use its veto power to block any action against the North, the nonbinding resolution has broad support in the General Assembly and has drawn unusually strong and vitriolic protests from Pyongyang.

TIME Australia

Australian Woman Arrested in Deaths of 8 Children

Australia Children Killed
Emergency services workers cover off the perimeter fence of a house where eight children have been found dead in a Cairns suburb in far north Queensland, Australia, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Graeme Bint—AP

(SYDNEY) — An Australian woman was arrested for murder in the killings of eight children, seven of whom are believed to be her own, police said Saturday. The children were found dead inside the woman’s home.

The 37-year-old woman, who is recovering in a hospital from stab wounds, was under guard and speaking with police, Queensland Police Detective Inspector Bruno Asnicar said. She has not yet been charged.

Police haven’t said how the children died. But Asnicar said they’re examining several knives in the home that may have been the weapon used to kill them.

The children ranged in age from 18 months to 14 years, Asnicar said. The woman is thought to be the mother of seven of the children. The eighth is believed to be her niece.

Queensland police were called to the home in the Cairns suburb of Manoora on Friday morning after receiving a report of a woman with serious injuries. When they got to the house, they found the bodies of the children.

The woman, whose name has not been released, was also found in the home with the children, suffering from stab wounds to the chest. Asnicar said she is in stable condition, lucid and talking to police.

“We’re not looking for anybody else — we’re comfortable that the community at large is safe,” Asnicar said.

A coroner was conducting autopsies to determine the causes of death, and police were continuing to comb through the house for evidence.

“They’re looking to establish 100 percent what happened in that house when these offenses were committed,” Asnicar said.

He dismissed rumors that the house had been the subject of calls from the Department of Social Services.

“It’s not a problem house as has been speculated,” he said. “This is an ordinary neighborhood — a lot of good people, a lot of kids in the area. This is something that has caught everybody by surprise. It’s just an absolutely tragic thing.”

Lisa Thaiday, who said she was the injured woman’s cousin, said earlier that one of the woman’s other sons, a 20-year-old, came home and found his brothers and sisters dead inside the house.

“I’m going to see him now, he needs comforting,” Thaiday said. “We’re a big family … I just can’t believe it. We just found out (about) those poor babies.”

The tragedy comes as Australia is still reeling from the shock of a deadly siege in a Sydney cafe. On Monday, a gunman burst into the cafe in the heart of the city and took 18 hostages. Two hostages were dead along with the gunman after police stormed in 16 hours later in a bid to end the siege. Police had earlier said there were 17 hostages in the cafe, but revised the number after a new count.

“The news out of Cairns is heartbreaking,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement. “All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened. This is an unspeakable crime. These are trying days for our country.”

TIME National Security

U.S. Not Fully Prepared for Nuclear Terrorist Attack or Large-Scale Catastrophe, Report Says

The report cited a lack of coordination among federal agencies

(WASHINGTON) — The federal government isn’t fully prepared to handle a nuclear terrorist attack or large-scale natural catastrophe, lacking effective coordination, and in some cases is years away from ensuring adequate emergency shelter and medical treatment, congressional investigators have found.

The report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, obtained by The Associated Press before its release, found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency didn’t always keep track of disaster efforts by agencies, hampering the nation’s preparedness even after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. That storm hit a large swath of the eastern U.S., including New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, which received federal disaster money.

“FEMA is not aware of the full range of information,” according to the report. The investigation relied in part on internal documents from the Homeland Security Department, which oversees FEMA, including previously undisclosed details from a 2013 disaster plan that highlights needed improvements in the event of an attack from an improvised nuclear device.

The GAO said it would still take one to five years to develop a strategy to determine whether people were exposed to unsafe levels of radiation and five to 10 years to plan for a full medical response. Guidance also was lacking as to communication among first responders and making shelters and other basic needs available.

Investigators said FEMA, which leads an interagency group in creating a disaster response plan, needs to set clear deadlines and estimated costs to ensure that agencies fulfill the goals.

It is one of several reports that the office plans in the coming months on the level of disaster readiness.

“This report makes clear that there are some areas of our country’s preparedness that need strengthening up,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who co-chairs the Senate Caucus on Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism.

As to natural catastrophes, the report said FEMA should take a bigger responsibility in leading a coordinated response, setting clear minimum standards for agencies and collecting regular status reports. It said the Energy Department did not effectively coordinate with state agencies and the private sector during Superstorm Sandy, which was blamed for at least 182 deaths and $65 billion in damage.

It also cited a lack of coordination among federal agencies in deciding whether to send law enforcement personnel to the affected region.

Jim Crumpacker of Homeland Security said the agency would work to put into place GAO recommendations by June but noted it did not have legal authority to compel other agencies to take action.

“FEMA will continue to coordinate and collaborate with other federal departments and agencies,” Crumpacker wrote in a response included in the GAO report.

According to the report, 39 of 102 corrective actions identified by federal agencies after Superstorm Sandy still need to be done. Among them:

— Improving emergency coordination with states.

— Boosting training in the use of electronic medical records and other care.

— Ensuring adequate transportation of injured victims.

TIME Cuba

Spy’s Parents Search for Son After Cuba-U.S. Deal

Cuba US Spy
Rolando Sarraff Trujillo AP

Rolando Sarraff Trujillo named as American spy traded for three Cuban agents jailed in the U.S.

HAVANA — The parents of convicted spy Rolando Sarraff Trujillo feared the worst when their son failed to call home from prison and they were told he had been taken away at dawn. But officials assured the couple that their son was now better off.

Sarraff was publicly identified by a former intelligence official in the United States on Thursday as the unnamed spy traded for three Cuban intelligence agents jailed in the United States, one who U.S. President Barack Obama hailed as one of Washington’s most valuable assets.

But neither Cuban nor American officials have confirmed that Sarraff was spirited off the island and his parents have not heard from their son since he supposedly was freed.

“They are saying his name out there,” his mother, Odesa Trujillo, told The Associated Press at her home in Havana. “I don’t care where he is, just that he’s in good health.”

Chris Simmons, the former chief of a Cuban counterintelligence unit for the U.S Defense Intelligence Agency, identified Sarraff as a cryptologist in Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence working on “agent communications,” the codes used by Cuban spies abroad to communicate with their handlers in Havana.

“When you’ve got someone doing agent communications, they hold the keys to the kingdom, because they are gonna know where are the flaws in your processes,” Simmons told AP.

Before his downfall, Sarraff helped the U.S. crack the “Wasp Network,” in Florida, a Cuban spy ring that included members of the Cuban Five, the last three of whom were released in exchange for the Cuban spy. Cuba also released 53 other prisoners as well as American Alan Gross.

The Cuban Five were convicted in 2001 of being unregistered foreign agents, and three also were found guilty of espionage conspiracy for failed efforts to obtain military secrets from the U.S. Southern Command headquarters.

Sarraff’s parents say they know nothing about that.

His father, also Rolando Sarraff, is a retired lieutenant colonel in Cuba’s armed forces and a former journalist with the state news agency Prensa Latina. He and his wife claimed ignorance of the details of their son’s work, and only knew that he had been convicted of being a CIA spy nearly 20 years ago.

The father said he considers himself a revolutionary and raised his children to be the same. “But my son is my son, he could be a thief or whatever and I am never going to abandon him. I’ll never turn my back on him.”

On Wednesday, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced that the two countries would be restoring diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of enmity. Gross was released as part of that deal after serving five years in jail in Cuba for bringing in sensitive communications equipment without permission as part of a cover USAID program.

The younger Sarraff, now 51, was arrested by state security agents in 1995. A sister, Vilma Sarraff, said the family first learned of his arrest when three Cuban generals showed up at their house to break the news.

Vilma Sarraff said that at family dinners her brother would question the communist government and “the lack of democracy and freedom in the country,” but she never thought of it as being out of the ordinary.

She and another sister, Katia, moved to Spain shortly after their brother’s arrest and spent years trying to raise awareness about his case among Spanish politicians. Both sisters spoke regularly with him over the years and Vilma said she visited her brother in Cuba 12 years ago. That was the last time she saw him.

“My brother is a journalist, painter and writer. He is a very refined man,” she said.

The father and mother, who live in the upscale Havana neighborhood of Playa, would visit their son in prison every week. For the past years, he has been held at Villa Marista, a maximum security facility at the edge of Havana. Sarraff would also call his parents in the afternoons, but failed to do so on Tuesday.

When they hadn’t heard from him by Wednesday, they went to see officials at Villa Marista.

“We were desperate when they told us at Villa Marista that they took him out at dawn,” the mother said.

But then officials gave them reason for hope. The father says they told him not to worry, that it was “for the better.”

Since then, they’ve been trying to find out where he is.

“We have been everywhere and they tell us they have no information,” the father said.

TIME Spain

Spanish Police Probe Car Attack on Ruling Party Headquarters

Spanish riot police walk past a bomb detector outside the headquarters of Spain's ruling People's Party (PP) in Madrid December 19, 2014. Paul Hanna—Reuters

A man rammed a building in downtown Madrid with a car containing gas cylinders

(MADRID) — Spanish police have cordoned off streets around the headquarters of the ruling conservative Popular Party and are searching for possible explosives after a man rammed his car into the building.

A police robot could be seen close to the Genova Street office in downtown Madrid, and ambulances lined a nearby road in apparent preparation for an emergency situation.

A police spokeswoman said bomb disposal experts were searching the area. She said police found two gas cylinders in the car and an unidentified substance.

She said the driver has been arrested.

Leading Cadena SER radio cited police as saying said the man admitted attacking the party headquarters Friday because he had lost his business in the economic crisis.

The officer spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with police regulations.

TIME Middle East

Syrian War Refugees Born Across the Middle East Risk Statelessness

In this Tuesday, March 11, 2014 file photo, two aid workers measure 1-year-old Syrian refugee Jawad al-Abbas at a medical clinic in the town of Kab Elias in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Bilal Hussein—AP

In Lebanon, nearly 30,000 children risk a life deprived of basic rights

(BEIRUT) — Nearly 30,000 Syrian children born as refugees in Lebanon are in a legal limbo, not registered with any government, exposing them to the risk of a life of statelessness deprived of basic rights.

It is a problem that is replicated, to varying degrees, in nations across the Middle East where more than 3.3 million Syrians have found safe haven from the intractable civil war in their homeland.

The life of a stateless person is a life without a nationality, without citizenship, without the basic documents that establish an individual’s identity and give him the rights accorded everyone else. Without a birth certificate, identity papers or other documents, even basic things like getting married, going to school or finding a job can be next to impossible.

“If you can’t prove your nationality, it means you can’t get legal documentation, can’t cross borders legally, can’t enjoy any other basic rights that citizens of a country are entitled too,” said Isabella Castrogiovanni, a senior child protection specialist with UNICEF. “So the consequences are obviously huge.”

The United Nations launched a major campaign last month to try to end statelessness for an estimated 10 million people around the world within 10 years.

Syria’s civil war is one of the major trouble spots, with more than 3 million people fleeing to neighboring countries to escape the bloodshed. For Syrian refugee women who give birth, acquiring the legal documentation with the local government is a chief concern. And yet, an estimated 70 percent of the 42,000 children born to Syrian parents in Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011 remain off the books, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

That figure only relates to the 1.1 million refugees registered with UNHCR. Lebanese officials estimate there are another 500,000 unregistered Syrians in the country. It is not known how many children have been born among that population, but whatever the number, they likely have an even lower rate of registration.

The daily hardships of life as a refugee keep many Syrian parents from registering their newborns: no money, no documents, little time off from work. The process is complicated, with multiple steps that require travel from one government office to another, money for fees and, most importantly, a slew of documents. Without the parents’ marriage license, for example, the birth of a child cannot be registered. But many Syrians had to flee their homeland on short notice and so left legal papers behind, or their papers were destroyed along with their homes.

At a natal clinic in a run-down neighborhood in south Beirut on a recent dreary December morning, around a dozen Syrian mothers with children in tow sat on green plastic chairs waiting for a checkup with the resident midwife. Most of the women said they were aware of the need to register their newborn, but only around half of them had.

Outside, one mother named Khawla from the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria cradled her newborn son in her arms as her curly-haired two-year-old, Mohammed, stomped around the damp pavement.

“It took us eight months to register Mohammed. We’re thinking we may not register him,” she said, nodding at her baby boy, Yousef, asleep in a bundle of clothing in her arms. “My husband works from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day in a grocery store, so he doesn’t have time to go through the whole process. We’re waiting for a miracle to register Yousef.”

For another young mother, who gave her name as Zeinab, the barrier to registering was with the paperwork required by Lebanese authorities.

“I want to register my two youngest,” she said. “The problem is they asked for documents from Syria, but we can’t go back.”

Both women declined to give their last names out of fear of causing trouble with Lebanese authorities.

In Lebanon, the process begins when the child is born and new parents receive a birth notification from an authorized doctor or midwife. The parents must then take that, along with their own identification cards, to the local mayor to get a birth certificate for a small fee.

Then they have to register the birth certificate with a local government department handling family status records. Finally, they must register it again at another office, the provincial personal status department. Each of those steps has its own fees.

The haphazard conditions of refugee life add complications. If the parents married as refugees in Lebanon without getting the proper papers, the process hits a dead end. If a woman gives birth without an authorized midwife or doctor, she can’t even get the birth notification that starts the process.

“We’re getting to the stage where awareness about it is more widespread, but the procedures are a bit difficult to understand … and there are barriers that cause people problems,” said Jocelyn Knight, the protection coordinator for the International Rescue Committee’s office in Beirut.

“I think just because of the number of steps involved, it can be quite daunting for new parents and they’re not really sure what to do.”

The U.N. refugee agency and non-governmental organizations have been pushing to raise awareness among Syrian refugees across the Middle East of the need to register their children.

The situation is markedly better in Jordan than in Lebanon, for example. There, UNHCR says 70 percent of Syrian babies have been registered.

U.N. officials say progress has been made in the past six months to raise awareness in Lebanon.

“If you think in terms of the hope for these children to go back to Syria one day, if and when conditions allow, not having any legal document will make them like ghosts going back to their country,” UNICEF’s Castrogiovanni said.

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