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.

TIME Syria

U.N.: $8.4 Billion Needed for Syria and Neighbors Hosting Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres gestures during a news conference for the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 in Geneva
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference to launch of the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Dec. 8, 2014 Pierre Albouy—Reuters

Nations hosting refugees to also benefit from improvements to infrastructure and services

The U.N. is seeking $8.4 billion to help the nearly 18 million victims of the Syrian conflict.

The money will go toward jobs, education, public health and public works, reports the New York Times. The request for development aid is an acknowledgement that the conflict may last for many years and that it has seriously disrupted the lives of the Syrian people.

Syria’s war is still escalating,” said António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, in a statement Thursday. “And the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted.”

For the first time, this war chest includes aid for neighboring countries, which are feeling the strain of the flood of Syrian refugees.

More than 12 million Syrians are displaced inside the country while 3.2 million have fled to neighbors such as Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees will rise to 4.3 million in 2015.

In addition to helping Syrian refugees, the U.N.’s financing plan includes estimates that 20.6 million people in host countries will benefit indirectly from improvements to infrastructure and services.

TIME Macau

Chinese President Xi Jinping to Visit a Restive Macau

China's President Xi attends a meeting with former U.S. President Clinton at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing
China's President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with former U.S. President Bill Clinton at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 18, 2013 Jason Lee—Reuters

Is Macau the next Hong Kong? Not if Beijing has its way

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Macau on Friday to commemorate the tiny enclave’s 15th anniversary of its transfer from Portuguese rule back to China’s hands.

During his visit, Xi will undertake the unenviable task of laying the groundwork to make sure that Macau, a metropolis of casinos and the only place in China where casino gambling is legal, does not go the way of Hong Kong, the rogue city awash in political discontent, Reuters reports.

That will be challenging: amidst Xi’s nationwide crackdown on corruption, Macau’s booming casinos, widely seen as salves to political woes here, are experiencing an unprecedented slump — its six biggest operators saw revenues slashed by about $75 billion this year. Meanwhile, a fledgling democratic movement has emerged out of frustrations with rising inequality and other social ills in this gambling hub.

Macau is in name a cousin to Hong Kong, with which its shares its designation as a Chinese special administrative region and enjoys certain rights and privileges alien on the mainland. However, it has in practice hued much more closely to the mainland than Hong Kong.

Read more at Reuters

TIME Australia

Eight Children Found Dead at Home in Australia’s Far North

Australia Children Killed
Locals sit on the sidewalk near a house police have blocked off as a crime scene where eight children have been found dead in the Cairns suburb of Manoora, Australia, Friday Dec. 19, 2014. Graeme Bint—AP

Community preparing for the festive season receives devastating shock

Eight children, ranging in age from 18 months to 15 years, were found dead inside a home in the northern Australian city of Cairns on Friday.

Police went to the house in the suburb of Manoora after receiving reports of an injured woman, the Associated Press said. On arrival, the police found the bodies of the children inside the residence. They were reportedly stabbed.

The 34-year-old woman, believed to be the mother of seven of the children, is currently being treated for her injuries, according to authorities. Police said they are unable to confirm her relationship to the victims, however, and added that she is not in custody for the time being.

The Queensland Ambulance Service says the woman had a wound to her chest, and is currently in stable condition after being taken to he hospital.

Dozens of police vehicles are at the scene, according to the ABC.

Cairns detective inspector Bruno Asnicar, speaking to reporters at around 4.30 p.m. local time, said the identification of the children is an ongoing process and more details on that front might emerge on Saturday. Asnicar also said that there were no formal suspects as yet. “Everybody who’s had any involvement in the past two or three days is a person of interest, but we’re not identifying particular suspects at this stage.”

The top police official said it was “right up there” with the most serious cases he had dealt with in his career.

“These are trying days for our country,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “All parents would feel a gut-wrenching sadness at what has happened.”

Friday’s incident comes four days after a gunman took more than a dozen people hostage at a café in Sydney, resulting in three deaths including his own.

TIME Revolution

When Fidel Castro Took Power: How TIME Covered the News

The Jan. 26, 1959, cover of TIME
Fidel Castro on the Jan. 26, 1959, cover of TIME Cover Credit: BORIS CHALIAPIN

Castro was on the cover of the magazine three weeks after he seized control of Cuba

When Fidel Castro first ousted Fulgencio Batista at the turn of 1959, there weren’t many non-Cuban journalists there to see it happen — but TIME’s Bruce Henderson was there, and he was soon joined by Bernard Diederich, who would later cover the Caribbean for the magazine. Their presence meant that, throughout that January, TIME’s “Hemispheres” section carried up-to-the-minute news about the changes on the island.

As Diederich recalls in his book 1959: The Year That Changed Our World, the assignment was an unusual one:

Henderson assigned me to cover Fidel’s arrival in Havana. I leaped onto a tank with a group of 26th of July female fighters and rode in Fidel’s wake into Camp Columbia, once the bastion of Batista’s army. It was January 8. Rodríguez Echazábel was already at the camp headquarters when I arrived. My Santiago-issued laissez-passer did wonders too. I was introduced to bearded rebel comandante (Maj.)Maj. Camilo Cienfuegos to whom I explained my challenging assignment. Time would want a full description of Fidèl’s first night in Havana. Would the 26th of July leader choose to dance, date, or dive into bed after his arduous trip up the island from the Sierra Maestra to Havana. Camilo smiled broadly when I also told him that I needed to know the color of Fidèl’s pajamas—if he wore them!

Though those “female fighters” were the subject of a story in the Jan. 19, 1959, issue, Castro’s pajamas did not. (Actually, his blue cotton PJs did get their moment, but it wasn’t until that May.)

However, Castro got even more focus from TIME the following week, when he was featured on the cover of the magazine, in a story that focused on matters a lot more important than his sleepwear choices. Rather, the article opened with Castro pushing for the executions of those who had abetted the Batista regime:

…Castro was in no mood for mercy. “They are criminals,” he said. “Everybody knows that. We give them a fair trial. Mothers come in and say, ‘This man killed my son.’ ” To demonstrate, Castro offered to stage the courts-martial in Havana’s Central Park—an unlikely spot for cool justice but perfect for a modern-day Madame Defarge.

In the trials rebels acted as prosecutor, defender and judge. Verdicts, quickly reached, were as quickly carried out. In Santiago the show was under the personal command of Fidel’s brother Raul, 28, a slit-eyed man who had already executed 30 “informers” during two years of guerrilla war. Raul’s firing squads worked in relays, and they worked hour after hour. Said Raul: “There’s always a priest on hand to hear the last confession.”

Read the full 1959 cover story, free of charge, here in the TIME archives: The Vengeful Visionary

TIME conflict

U.S. Kills 3 ISIS Leaders in Iraq Strikes, Officials Say

ISIS Jihadi
A member loyal to ISIS waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. Reuters

The three killed were mid- to high-level leaders of ISIS

Three leaders of ISIS have been killed by American air strikes in Iraq in the past month and a half, U.S. defense officials said Thursday.

They were identified as Haji Mutazz, a deputy to the ISIS leader; Abd al-Basit, the top military commander; and Radwin Talib, who is in control of ISIS in Iraq. They were described as mid- to high-level leaders.

One official called the deaths of Mutazz and al-Basit in particular a “serious blow to ISIS command and control.” The official said that the setback may be temporary because ISIS has plenty of willing replacements…

Read the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Suspected in Mass Kidnap in Northeast Nigeria

The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014.
The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014. AP

The latest in a string of abductions

Islamist militants of the group Boko Haram are suspected of abducting at least 100 women and children, and killing nearly three dozen others, from a remote village in northeastern Nigeria.

Gunmen in trucks raided Gumsuri last Friday and staged an attack that ended on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing members of a local vigilante group. Gumsuri is located near Chibok, where 276 schoolgirls were abducted in April. The number of abductions in the new attack varies between news outlets, hovering between more than 100 and above 200.

Mike Omeri, a government spokesman, told TIME that the government is “outraged and deeply saddened by this deplorable act” and said the real number of those abducted isn’t known yet.

“It is impossible to verify the number of those missing at this early stage because it is presumed that many civilians fled during the attack,” he said in a statement. “As soon as government agencies and our local partners have together determined the credible number of missing civilians, we will provide that information to the public.”

The recent raid, the latest in a string of similar abductions in the restive region, comes about two months after the Nigerian government claimed it had reached a cease-fire with Boko Haram and that the group planned to release the schoolgirls. The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau later denied that a deal had been reached and said the girls had already been married off.

Read next: Girls Who Escaped Boko Haram Tell of Horrors in Captivity

TIME Cuba

White House Open to Raul Castro Visit

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium, Dec. 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium, Dec. 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

President Barack Obama is not ruling out meeting Cuban President Raul Castro at the White House, as his administration works to restore ties to the communist country.

A day after the president announced the beginning of efforts to normalize relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama would be willing to host the Cuban leader, comparing it to visits from leaders from other countries with checkered human rights records.

“The president has had the leaders of both Burma and China to the United States, and for that reason, I wouldn’t rule out a visit from President Castro,” Earnest said Thursday.

The two leaders spoke on the phone for nearly an hour on Tuesday evening reviewing the agreement to release American subcontractor Alan Gross and to take steps scale back the longstanding American embargo and travel ban. The two met briefly in South Africa last year at a memorial for Nelson Mandela.

In an interview with ABC News Wednesday, Obama wouldn’t rule a trip himself to Cuba. “I don’t have any current plans, but let’s see how things evolve,” he told David Muir. In a statement Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he was planning to visit Cuba. “I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba,” he said.

 

TIME Canada

Canadian Driver Who Stopped Car to Rescue Ducklings Gets Jail Time

Emma Czornobaj
Emma Czornobaj, shown here in this June 3, 2014, file photo at the Montreal Courthouse in Canada, was found guilty in the deaths of two motorcyclists who collided with her car after she stopped for ducks on a Montreal-area highway. On Thursday, a judge sentenced her to 90 days in jail. Graham Hughes—AP

Motorcyclist and his daughter died after crashing into Emma Czornobaj's stationary vehicle

A Canadian woman who stopped her car on the highway to rescue ducklings, inadvertently causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his daughter, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and banned from driving for 10 years on Thursday.

Emma Czornobaj, a 26-year-old woman from the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay, was sentenced Thursday to serve three months of jail time on the weekends, CBC reports. She was convicted in July on two counts of criminal negligence in the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his 16-year-old daughter Jessie, and had faced a possible life sentence.

In June 2010, Czornobaj parked her Honda Civic in the left lane of a highway in a Montreal suburb after seeing seven ducklings in the road. She said she was trying to gather the ducks and take them home. As she left her parked car to round up the ducklings, Roy crashed his motorcycle into the back of the stationary vehicle.

The incident has been divisive in Canada. A petition on Change.org signed by thousands of people pushed for the country’s legal system to be lenient on a woman who they believe only had the best of intentions in saving the ducks. The victim’s family members, however, have expressed frustration with Czornobaj over the fact that she hasn’t reached out to them.

[CBC]

TIME Foreign Policy

Bush Commerce Secretary Says Obama Gave Cuba ‘a Major Political Win’

The 1st China Conference Of Quality
Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez gives a speech during the opening session of the 1st China Conference of Quality at The Great Hall Of The People on Sept. 15, 2014 in Beijing. Feng Li—Getty Images

"The U.S. has given so many concessions and not received anything in return," Carlos Gutierrez tells TIME

Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told TIME Thursday that the U.S. “will have egg on our face” following President Barack Obama’s move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in half-a-century. Gutierrez, a Cuban-born former Kellogg CEO who worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, is now a consultant at the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Here’s his Q&A with TIME, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How much flexibility will businesses have if Congress doesn’t actually act to lift the embargo?

How much flexibility there will be for U.S. businesses will depend on how much flexibility the Cuban regime gives to U.S. businesses. That’s the aspect of this that has brought down these agreements. At the end of day, if the Cubans don’t change regulations to allow businesses to go in, invest, and make money [there is not much they can do]. There is talk about opening the Internet, but Cuba is one of most closed Internet countries in world. We have to see this with a certain amount of skepticism that they really are going to allow citizens to have Internet.

Read more: How Pope Francis helped broker the Cuba deal

There’s always been exception [in the embargo law] to be able to do commerce in the telecommunications industry because communications inside the island and communications outside island can only be a benefit. That’s the rationale. But the roaming rates are outrageously high. Who is able to buy a cell phone in Cuba is a matter of public policy, and there are very strict laws, so you know, what we haven’t seen is what the Cuban government is going to do.

This has been a very lopsided agreement, and I can tell you that the Cubans today feel that they have had a major victory. This is a major political win for Raúl Castro; the fact that we recognize them diplomatically is a major political win. They are going to go to Summit of the Americas [in Panama in April], and Raúl Castro will be the man of the hour. President Obama will be comfortable, with the Latinos cheering him on, but the real test really happens after the summit, and the standing of the U.S. in the hemisphere after the U.S. has given so many concessions and not received anything in return.

Which industries are likely to take advantage of loosened restrictions?

Theoretically, the telecommunications industry, to some extent the agriculture industry, to some extent the pharmaceutical industry. The extent to which they will take advantage of this will rely on the good will of the Cubans. Business will only succeed if the Cubans want business to succeed, and everything we have seen from the Cubans over the last 50 years is that they will not allow business to succeed. Why is it different this time? They need to demonstrate that it is different.

What impact will this have on the Cuban economy?

It has some benefit in that the amount of remittances has increased. What we need to remember is that the average Cuban gets paid $20 a month. A rationing card for 30 days only lasts 17 days. The Cuban government has total control. If they let U.S. businesses, let telecommunications, and let credit card companies set up shop freely, the government will lose control. You can use your credit card Cuba, but the banks have to set up inside Cuban banks, and there will probably be a fee that goes to the Cuban government. All of these things are designed to strengthen the government’s hold on the economy, and history suggests that they will not give up an ounce of control.

Will this have any impact on the U.S. economy?

Cuba is an extremely poor country. It is not as if a McDonalds is going to open in three weeks, or we are going to start exporting cars. It doesn’t work like that. People say, now in Cuba you can buy a car and that shows it has opened up, but a car costs $50,000 in Cuba, that’s a heck of a price if you make $20 a month. The big risk here is for President Obama. The Cubans know this agreement can be derailed easily in the U.S. because of politics and because of Congressional intervention. The moment that happens, it is an excuse to blame the U.S. In the meantime, the Cuban government has pocketed all of the concessions. They have been victorious, and they will move on to have the same type of regime they have today, and we will have egg on our face way that President Carter did and other presidents have. That’s the thing to watch, that’s thing to stay close to and not believe that somehow magically Cuba is changing.

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