Iraqi Kurdish soldiers and Syrian rebels join the battle against ISIS in Kobani, the search continues for missing students in Mexico, and the last U.S. Marines pull out of a key base in Afghanistan. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for a conversation about the week's top international stories.
Particularly harsh winter weather is making life worse for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The International Red Cross called their plight a “staggering humanitarian disaster.” As the Syrian civil war goes on and on, every day 3,000 new refugees flee to camps and villages in neighboring countries. Those over-burdened border nations, as well as aid groups, are begging for more resources. On the diplomatic front, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains defiantly entrenched as international efforts to end the bloodshed stagnate. Diane and her guests talk about the human side of Syria’s civil war.
- Deborah Amos NPR correspondent, back from a recent trip to Syria.
- Anne Richard assistant secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
- Panos Moumtzis regional Syrian refugee coordinator for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The civil war in Syria began nearly two years ago. Since then, 60,000 people have died in the conflict. 600,000 have fled Syria, seeking safety in neighboring nations. Nearly 2 million Syrians are displaced within their own country because of the fighting. Joining me in the studio to talk about the human face of Syria's civil war: Anne Richard of the State Department's Refugee Bureau and Panos Moumtzis of the U.N.'s Refugee Agency.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from a studio in New York City, Deborah Amos of NPR. I hope you'll join the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. DEBORAH AMOSThank you.
MS. ANNE RICHARDThank you very much.
REHMGood to have you here. Anne, give us a sense of the current situation for the refugees who fled the civil war. Where are they living? How are they surviving?
RICHARDFirst, let me thank you for devoting your show to this crisis in Syria and the region. It's a very challenging situation. It's a very dangerous situation for the Syrians themselves. And the world community is coming together to get aid into the region and to the people of Syria, but it is a very, very daunting task.
RICHARDThere are now over 600,000, nearly 620,000 refugees who have taken flight and have crossed the borders of Syria and are trying to find safety in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and parts of Iraq. In addition, as you mentioned before, there are over 2 million Syrians who are displaced in their own country, and many more, some 4 million people inside who need help. And so it's not a good place to be a civilian. There is conflict. There is violence. There is depravation.
REHMAnd, Deborah Amos, tell us about your recent experience in Turkey.
AMOSI have been in two places, both where refugees are, and those are in the camps along the border. But I want to talk a little bit more about the displaced on the other side of the border because those situations are so much more dire. You go to a small town where you find the population has quadrupled, and these are the displaced. They live in schools, sometimes 20 to a room, and they have very little in the way of blankets, food.
AMOSAnd I think what is making this crisis so much worse is that the Assad regime has gone about trying to destroy the health care system in the country, targeting doctors, targeting hospitals. And so what is also happening in these places where there are large numbers of displaced is there's very little medical care. And these people mostly have run from bombings, artillery strikes, being hit by barrel bombs. And so that is what makes the crisis of the displaced so much more dire.
REHMAnd to you, Panos, I know that the cold weather is also affecting refugees. How is that hindering the efforts to get help to them?
MR. PANOS MOUMTZISWell, the really cold weather had made things much worse. I just came from Zaatari camp in Jordan. I was there before yesterday. And, imagine, Jordan received in a week the equivalent of two-thirds of the annual rainfall. So that makes it extraordinary that, while these refugees arrived with very little, they're living in tents in the desert. And right after this rainstorm, there was a snowstorm, which mended for about two days. It snowed nonstop. And to be with a family, with children, with women, elderly people, it's extremely difficult.
MR. PANOS MOUMTZISAll of us -- UNHCR, UNICEF, World Food Program, the NGOs -- worked together on providing this emergency response in this extraordinary weather conditions. We had to evacuate families from the areas that were flooded to containers. We opened the schools to accommodate people, provided extra blankets, heatings, helping people to cope with this extraordinary weather conditions while living in a very, very difficult situation.
REHMAnd, Anne, in many ways, it's the children who are suffering so incredibly.
RICHARDThat's right. We find that all around the world, the needs of children have -- and other vulnerable people have to be put at the forefront of our response, our humanitarian response. If we can protect the most vulnerable people, which, in addition to children, can sometimes be single women who are heads of households, the elderly, the disabled, we find that then the whole community benefits.
RICHARDBut in the old days, what used to happen was aid would be provided to head men or to the men of a community. And now we support what the U.N. does, which is to try to get aid to people, starting with the most vulnerable.
REHMAnd, Panos, aren't there counseling services available for the children, the elderly, the most vulnerable?
MOUMTZISCounseling is crucial. It's crucial because just if we look at numbers, two-thirds of the refugees are women and children, 50 percent are children. Half the refugees are children. The Syrian crisis, it is a Syrian refugee children's crisis, with so many of that. Many of these children, when they arrive, we see them. They are withdrawn. They're traumatized. They have eye witnessed experiences that most children of the world have not gone through, seeing loved ones killed, their home destroyed, their school destroyed, their world falling apart into pieces.
MOUMTZISWe're seeing parents complaining about their children bedwetting, withdrawing to themselves, so bring them some sorts -- some normalcy: schools in the camps, support from within the community. But also for the women, that's also another tragedy. A lot of the women having gone through sexual (word?) violence inside the country, fleeing because they were afraid, because they were afraid because of the war, but also because they were afraid because of their own gender because of them being very vulnerable in the country.
MOUMTZISSo when they arrive, the NGOs, the U.N. agencies, we have programs to help them with counseling, to help them bring some source of normalcy into having gone through an extraordinary situation. And while many of them will want -- when they arrive, the first thing they want to tell -- to do is to tell their story, to say what is happening.
MOUMTZISAnd, of course, with issues that children are, it's much more difficult to get them to articulate and present. So there are programs also through drawings, through paintings. And then the women is a taboo, obviously, to talk about gender-based violence, and that's even more difficult in that traditional society to deal with it.
REHMDeborah, I'm sure you've talked to many of these women.
AMOSI was in a school in Gaziantep, which is in Southern Turkey near the border, and the municipality gave over a building, and it's now being run as a school by Syrian parents, volunteers and teachers. And they told me about a boy who had come in a couple of days after his home had been bombed, and he didn't speak for three days. And so the way they got him, to try to draw him out is they gave him paper, and he drew closed windows. And then two days later, he drew open windows.
AMOSAnd they asked him what does it mean, and he couldn't speak. He couldn't tell them. The real tragedy, as if this is not, is you have to have a certain level of resources to actually become a refugee. It costs some money to get from inside Syria into Turkey, into Jordan, into Lebanon. This family, they told me, was too poor to stay in Turkey as refugees. So they crossed back across the border, went back to Aleppo because at least they could go back to their village where they had some family support.
AMOSThey were too poor to be refugees. So we have to be mindful of this situation where people are charged to cross the border into Lebanon. They have to be able to get transportation to get to the border in Turkey. So we are seeing a certain level of people who can manage to be refugees, sometimes the middle class. And it's the really poor who are suffering even more because they are part of the displaced.
REHMPanos, how can that be? Why does it cost money to become a refugee?
MOUMTZISWell, the situation inside Syria is so extraordinary that I think we're seeing displacement to all directions. In some places, people are able -- if they live near the border, for example, villages from Daraa near the border, people walk, and they can come and cross the border. If they live from further (word?), it's an extraordinary journey because they might need to take one or more transportation internally, which may be people who would ask them for money because the level of insecurity in the breaking down is quite dramatic.
MOUMTZISAt the moment, the United Nations, we have a program to help 4 million people in need inside Syria, 2 million of whom are internally displaced, and these are people who had to move homes and many multiple times. And we are planning for about 1 million refugees in the neighboring countries. So basically, we're talking about 5 million Syrians, which represents about a quarter of the population.
MOUMTZISSo it is an extraordinary situation. And what we hear is this constant, dramatic stories of families having to indeed go through extraordinary conditions to reach safety. I was in Lebanon where I met this woman who was fleeing with her family on the back of a truck that became under attack. She said that her husband was in the front, she was in the back of the truck. The two kids got killed in the back of a truck. So she was devastated, but she didn't want to tell her husband because he himself was injured.
MOUMTZISBy the time they reached the border, the husband has died from hemorrhage. And she's taken to a hospital where both legs are amputated. This is a real story of somebody who survived this extraordinary situation. And, of course, when -- she wanted to tell me the story, and she said, God must have made a mistake and left me alive because I've lost everything. And it is this impossible situation that the refugees have to go through to survive and to continue with their lives where they are.
REHMPanos Moumtzis, he's regional Syrian refugee coordinator for the U.N. Refugee Agency. He spent Friday and Saturday at Camp Zaatari in Jordan. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd in this hour, we're talking about the current refugee crisis affecting Syrians, and many, many have fled the country. But many remain within Syria trying to deal with the cold, with water, with flooding. You can go to our website, dianerehmshow.org, find links to the U.N. refugee agency and other groups with information as to how you can help. Deborah Amos is on the line with us from New York. She recently visited a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. Deborah, tell us what the living conditions were like in Turkey. I know that Turkey has been flooded with refugees.
AMOSThey have. And some of the older camps are five star because they were set up early, and people lived in what's called a container, which means it's a little warm in the summer and a little cold in the winter. But considering what is happening across the region, it is luxury there. There are schools. The USAID just opened up a very innovative program with what looks like ATM cards, and local merchants have three grocery stores in this large camp in Kilis, 15,000 people.
AMOSThey are able to go and buy their own food, cook their own food. There's a certain amount of dignity to it. You can then take a drive that's less than 30 minutes away. You cross the border from Turkey into Syria, a legal border. Turks, you know, stamp your passport, and off you go. And you'll find 1,000 Syrians on the border living in the custom shacks, where there is laundry strung up, where there are kids without shoes. So there is this difference between refugees and displaced.
AMOSThe international community was late in moving inside Syria. They complained that there were no partners to work with. Or, in fact, there were. There were people in each community, coordinating committees, Syrian activists, who have been doing their own work on very little resources. They're the ones who have been dealing with these displaced. And they are only now getting a trickle of international aid that is coming in. But they have been doing amazing work with very little to care for these people.
REHMNow, Anne, speaking of these refugee camps in Turkey that Deborah has called five star, is there a danger that some of these may become permanent?
RICHARDThere's always a danger in any refugee situation that refugees will end up staying in what are first set up as temporary housing for years and years and years. And we see this around the world in other crises. The wonderful thing about these neighboring countries is that they have, for the most part, kept their borders open, and they are allowing people to cross, and they are providing assistance.
RICHARDNo country has provided the type of generosity that Turkey has been able to mount, and that's because Turkey is a relatively well-off country compared to the other neighbors. We also see that in some of the other countries. Refugees are not living in camps. They're living in villages. They're hosted in the cities. They are hosted in empty school buildings or municipal buildings. So, actually, more refugees in this crisis are not living in camps than are living camps. And one of our challenges is to get aid not just to the ones in camps, but also to the ones who are living on the local economy.
REHMBut, Panos, are there limits to which country, like Turkey, is willing to take and house and comfort refugees?
MOUMTZISThere is the -- there is a concern that from the host countries than immediate neighboring countries -- Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey -- about how many people are they going to cross if they keep on asking us.
MOUMTZISBut where is the limit? And indeed, as Anne just said, the maintenance of open border is extremely important because we're seeing civilians fleeing insecurity. And these neighboring countries need every international support to make sure that they cope on the ground. Indeed, 70 percent of their refugees are in hosts' communities or outside camp settings. It is extraordinary.
MOUMTZISI was in Lebanon at the borders, and to see that Lebanese families who barely make ends meet themselves, people who are very poor, and yet they would open their house. They would accommodate five, 10 people in their living room with insignificant cost because the electricity, the water, whatever they cook, they tried to share. And this generosity, I cannot find enough words to say how touching is to see people who are very poor, who hosts and to support the refugees who cross.
REHMHow much funding is actually being received from the international community for these refugees?
MOUMTZISWell, we've just launched our appeal for the January to June people -- period for 2013. And on behalf of 55 organizations, this is U.N. and NGO agencies for the refugee assistance to the neighboring countries, we have appealed for $1 billion to help them for a period of six months. This is...
REHMAre the wealthy Arab nations contributing?
MOUMTZISWe have received a lot of support from what I would call the traditional donors, the United States, the Scandinavian countries, European countries, and I really want to say how much we value -- we appreciate. And I want to also say thank you to the American taxpayers because, really, we're very conscious of the accountability and the responsibility. And, of course, the State Department and everybody else has been very, very helpful.
MOUMTZISThe non-traditional donors, this is where we would like to engage them in a closer way, the Gulf States. And actually at the end of the month, on the 30th of January, there is a conference in Kuwait, where we're going there with the secretary general and its invitation is done at the head state of level to try to further engage. There is a lot of generosity that comes to the Gulf. But we want to make sure that this generosity happens in a coordinated way so that we -- there's no duplication of programs and work hand in hand within -- to address the priorities of what needs to take place on the ground.
REHMAnd it's interesting to me that the U.S. is actually doing a great deal. But the U.S. does not specifically label its aid. Tell us why.
RICHARDThe U.S. is the largest contributor to humanitarian assistance related to this crisis. We're providing $210 million in humanitarian assistance to date. And, unfortunately, the needs are quickly outstripping what aid we're providing. So that is why we are looking forward to this Kuwait conference and organizing ourselves to support that in a strong a way as possible. When we provide aid, we like to work through these multilateral organizations.
RICHARDWe think that the U.S. and other countries have helped build up this international humanitarian system that involves professionals working in U.N. agencies and very professional relief agencies or NGOs, as they're called, non-governmental organizations. And we want to see these folks respond very strongly on behalf of all of us. Other countries don't always do that.
RICHARDThey sometimes send in very specific sort of splashy gifts that are not bad to do, but they tend to be one-offs, tents or clinics. And they don't really necessarily fit within this broader response that the rest of the world is pulling together, so one of my jobs is to meet with other governments and to encourage them to fit within and to participate with us in this international enterprise.
REHMDeborah, tell us about your experience with the way the U.S. is giving out aid. You say it's almost invisible.
AMOSI would say it is invisible. Most Syrians believe that the U.S. is doing nothing because they don't see it. They certainly don't see it inside Syria. And for them, it is the Turks who are providing most of the aid outside. And inside Syria, the U.S. is also not supporting this new Syrian political coalition. They have local councils across all 14 provinces.
AMOSNo money has come through from the U.S. to any of these organizations, even though the U.S. pressured them to come together. There was a conference in Morocco. The United States, 100 nations -- countries recognized this organization, and yet it is getting very little support. Qatar gave them $8 million. The French have given them some money. So what has been happening on the ground is a vacuum.
AMOSMy colleague, McEvers, reported this morning something that we have been hearing for some time, and that is al-Nusra Front, an organization that the U.S. labels a terrorist organization, has stepped into that vacuum, has been distributing flour and fuel for free for many people in Aleppo, which is the biggest city in the north. In the town of Binnish, they are giving out free flour and oil.
AMOSSo they are getting the credit. This organization that we think is a terrorist organization is really fighting for the hearts and minds of Syrians in a way that they understand. If you are getting free bread and it's these guys who are distributing it, you will remember that, and you will support them. And they are.
REHMSo -- but, Panos, the U.S. is giving, but simply giving invisibly?
MOUMTZISI would actually not agree to that. I'd say that the U.S. has been extremely generous in supporting the humanitarian needs on the ground, I would say, at all fronts, both for the operation we're having inside Syria, but also in the neighboring countries. What we need to see when we look at the Syrian situation is that it's an extraordinary humanitarian crisis. The Syria crisis today is the largest crisis in the world.
MOUMTZISThe dangers are tremendous. The risks even for destabilization in the neighboring countries are tremendous. And inside Syria, we're working in an extraordinary situation, both in terms of security, in terms of access, in terms of being able to move, to being near the people where they need to be and at the same time, of course, responding in the neighboring countries to the best of what we can.
MOUMTZISWhat I would say is that the speed with which the crisis has been deteriorating over the last six, nine months is greater than the ability of the international community to respond to any need on the ground. So, of course, the funding although has been very generous, there are many sides getting 3,000 refugees a day constantly now for months on end, 100,000 a month, getting more and more in terms of displaced people in the country.
MOUMTZISIt really stretches the capacity of any country around the world to be able to respond. It really underlines the heart of the matter, and the heart of the matter is that there is a need for a political solution. Clearly, no humanitarian answer can be the answer to a political crisis. So this is where the pressure is really at the moment.
REHMPanos Moumtzis, he's regional Syrian refugee coordinator for the U.N. Refugee Agency. If you'll go to our website, drshow.org, you can find links to the U.N. Refugee Agency and other groups, with information as to how you can help. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have a number of callers. We'll open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Fakhdi (sp?) in Dearborn, Mich. Good morning to you.
FAKHDIHello, Diane, and I love your show.
FAKHDII just would like to comment about my situation. I am half-Iraqi and half-Syrian. And I have cousins in Syria right now that I got in contact to, and they're -- and they are now in the city that is held by the rebels. And they are saying that those rebels are not letting them to go to schools and just torturing them and things like that.
FAKHDIAnd my other question is, why does the U.S. and the European countries support the rebels in Syria, but they are against the rebels in Mali? And those two groups are the same now, radical Islam. And I'm -- I am Muslim, by the way, but I am against those radical Islam people.
REHMAll right. Deborah, do you want to comment on the political situation there?
AMOSI think you can't make a comparison between the FSA, the Free Syrian Army, and the rebels in Mali. I think that they are very different. There are radical Islamists in northern Syria. Al-Nusra Front is in that category. The U.S. has labeled them a terrorist organization, taken sanctions against them. The Free Syrian Army is an unwieldy organization.
AMOSTry though they might, they have not been able to come to some real organization. But over the last 18 months, what you've seen is a military council. These are defected officers. In no stretch could you call them Islamic radicals with links to al-Qaida. It is very different than Mali.
REHMDo you want to comment, Panos?
MOUMTZISIndeed. I mean, from our perspective as humanitarian actors, we work with everybody, actually. We have worked -- our objective is to be able to reach people in need and to respond to this life-saving, quite dramatic situation in a rapid response with the humanitarian emergency. We work everywhere. We work in Damascus.
MOUMTZISActually, I have been working for a number of years helping Iraqi refugees, in close collaboration in Damascus, helping them where they are, the Palestinian refugees who are also there, half a million Palestinians who have been hosted very generously for a number of years. And now with this extraordinary situation, we are non-political. Our objective and action is humanitarian. We're guided by the humanitarian principles, and we want to help people in need wherever they are.
REHMAnne, do you want to comment?
RICHARDYes. Thank you. As the president has said, we believe that the Syrian opposition coalition is a broad-based representative group, and, in fact, we have been talking to its representatives and talking about ways to get more aid into Syria. We support the approach that Panos just outlined, which is to get it to Syrians, to the innocent civilians, no matter where they are in Syria. In some cases, that will be regime-controlled areas. In some cases, that will be opposition-controlled areas.
RICHARDIt is very, very challenging to do that, given all the fighting going on, given the battle lines that move, given the danger to aid workers. Eleven aid workers have been killed themselves, and, as mentioned earlier, medical clinics had been targeted. But we are determined to get aid in using whatever channels we can, whatever opportunities to get access to people who need it. We're getting in medical assistance, food aid, household items and supplies to people who have been chased out of their homes, shelter and assistance and also supplies for the winter.
REHMAnne Richard, she's assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd as you can well imagine, there are lots of listeners out there who'd like to know how they can help. They want the names of some charities, Anne, that would be providing aid.
RICHARDI always recommend that Americans who want to help go to the website of InterAction, the coalition of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations. Its website is www.interaction.org, and there they'll find a list of all sorts of organizations and they can review them and do their due diligence and consider which ones really appeal to them in terms of what they're interested in funding.
MOUMTZISI would like to add that for the support to the refugees, to the operation that UNHCR is providing, any listeners could really go into the website of USA for UNHCR, which is www.usaforunhcr.org. The contributions that individuals can make are tremendously important. So every dollar that can be given to support this really life-saving, dramatic situation is desperately needed at this moment.
REHMAre you worried that we have heard about so many desperate situations in the last few years that people may be less than willing to come forward?
MOUMTZISI find always that the general public, once they hear the individual stories, once they hear the story, there is always a compassion for giving. I think what's extremely important is for any donor, government or private, to feel, first of all, the confidence of whether the money would reach the needy person, the accountability that we really feel seriously entrusted for us to be transparent and to ensure that the aid reaches the people on the ground.
MOUMTZISSo, yes, there are so many crises that happens all the time, but, really, I think the compassion and the mobilization of the private individuals, companies, anybody, every dollar helps.
RICHARDHaving traveled to the region -- I've been to Jordan a couple of times, Turkey, Lebanon, in the last few months -- I see how resilient people are, that they can do a lot for themselves. We think of them as victims, but actually they're survivors. And they're pretty, pretty tough people. They -- we think about how great the needs are, but in actual fact, sometimes people just need a little bit of help, and it'll make a major difference.
RICHARDSo when one thinks what good would it do if I contribute, what good will it do if I take an interest in this, they should remember that a little bit of help can actually make a major difference. I've seen it over and over again. People are not asking for the moon. They just need a safe place. They need a place to make sure their children are warm and maybe a safe place for them to start going back to school. It's not outrageous amounts of needs. It's key needs that these groups know exactly what to give people.
AMOSI think that we have to acknowledge some silent heroes in some of the early work, and that is Syrians themselves: Syrian expatriate organizations, the Syrian-American Medical Society that have sent doctors out, who have crossed the border, who have taken six weeks vacation. I've run into them everywhere inside Syria, somebody who was a pediatric surgeon in Tennessee, who I find in a clinic in Adana, stitching up civilians who've been hit by artillery.
AMOSThere are Syrians across the globe who are putting in money. But I want to say one thing about, you know, this program and this push and a billion dollars. This crisis will not be over anytime soon. And even if the regime changes, if the civil war is over, the amount of destruction inside Syria is so profound that...
REHMWe've seen photographs, and I do agree with you, Deborah. It's just horrifying to see.
AMOSIndeed. I think that you will -- I mean, I get the sense every time I'm in Southern Turkey that there are many, many Turkish businessmen who already have the keys in the ignition, and they're waiting to cross that border in trucks to build the country again. And so I think that that part is taken care of. But there's going to be hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have lost everything.
REHMHere's an email -- this for you, Deborah -- from Jeanne in Aspen Hill, Md., who says, "Are U.S. economic sanctions adding to the refugee crisis by destroying the commercial sector and creating unemployment?"
AMOSI think that story is past now. There were sanctions on Syria. It does, in little ways, affect some of the aid going in. I was just talking to somebody recently who is helping a radio station in Aleppo through U.S. government funds. Because of those sanctions, there's all kinds of crazy requirements. You know, if anything in an FM transmitter was made in the United States, you just have to file reams of paper work because of the sanction. Legally, those sanctions are still there.
AMOSAnd I am also hearing from the State Department, people who watch the State Department, that there are lawyers within the government who are arguing that if we support -- U.S. government support goes even to the civilian political structures that we become combatants within Syria. So there's been some hesitation, some slowdown of moving aid through those organizations supporting them, building some structure into the rebel-held areas in the North. So there are some impediments that are bureaucratic and not just a matter of political will.
REHMAll right. To Lafayette, Ind. Akram (sp?), you're on the air.
AKRAMHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
AKRAMAnd thanks for the panel, especially for the person who mentioned the generosity of the people around who are taking the Syrian refugees. I'm a U.S. citizen, originally from Syria, and I have family who are still in Syria. I have a brother who had to leave. He couldn't stay. He was worried about his three daughters. You know, when we hear about the rape and the killing of people that is happening, he couldn't stay there.
AKRAMSo he had to leave, and he went to Egypt. And we don't hear a lot about Egypt. From -- what I heard from him is there's at least between 500,000 to 1 million Syrians staying in Egypt. Most of them are not registered as refugees. And people there in Egypt are so generous. They are helping. Actually, a friend of ours gave his new house to my brother to stay in for the time being.
AKRAMAnd my question to you and to the panel is, if the U.S. government and the State Department is so slow in reacting, and by doing that, they are encouraging radicalization of what's going on in Syria, if they don't want to support the people in Syria, can they at least make it easier for the people who have families in the U.S. to bring their families into the U.S.?
AKRAMWhen I applied for my brother to join me and come to the U.S., it takes between six to 10 years for the paperwork to go through. And, you know what, during that time, I'm going to send him money. We are losing that money. If he comes here, he will work. I'll keep my money here in the U.S., and he would become a taxpayer.
REHMAll right. Anne.
RICHARDWell, the caller covered a number of issues, so...
REHMWell, specifically, as to bringing a relative here who has fled from Syria to Egypt.
RICHARDWell, he is right that there are a lot of people from Syria fleeing to Egypt. There are 14,000 who registered with the UNHCR, and all of these numbers are usually are more people who are living there. We would be open to working with the High Commissioner for Refugees to assess the need for resettlement of Syrian refugees from countries in the region to the United States. You know, we have a proud tradition in the United States of bringing people here.
RICHARDMy sense is that many of the displaced inside Syria have tried very hard to stay in Syria and have only fled when it's just become unbearable. And so we are now trying to get them aid where they are living in the hopes that they'll be able to go home, and many of the ones that I've talked to want to go home. But, that said, I wouldn't close off the possibility of bringing refugees to United States.
MOUMTZISI can hear in Akram's voice his pain and the difficulty, of course...
MOUMTZIS...supporting the family. And we've had so many Syrians in the diaspora and around the world. In terms of registration in Egypt like in every other places, I want to say that there is unity or has a registration open. I would like to invite anybody who's in context to come over and come forward and register. So far, we have only registered fraction, and we're continuing on a daily basis to take people as they come in. The moment in terms of support through the U.S. and other donor support, we do help refugees where they are, including in Egypt.
MOUMTZISIt's really helping the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, helping people who are in extraordinary situation. We do have, at the moment, a very small program of resettling those who are in an extreme difficult situation and protection wise from a vulnerability point of view. But what is interesting is the vast majority of the Syrian refugees, when they arrive, they -- unlike other situations around the world, they say they would like to go back.
MOUMTZISThey would like to go back as soon as, of course, the security situation allows it to -- there's a strong bond. I met with so many, for example, of the farmers who came out from Daraa area, some of the Syrians who have gone into the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon and so on. And the first thing they want to say is about returning but also concern if their home in Homs or Hama was destroyed. They say, and what would we go to? We want to make sure that there is also support for the next steps.
AMOSHere's what I hear in Akram's comments. It's what I was talking about before about who can afford to move and who can't. There are many, many Syrian businessman who, yes, have gone to both Cairo and Istanbul, and they can do it because it doesn't take a visa to get to either of those places. And they've taken what money they have and many of them -- it's -- Syrians are the most industrious entrepreneurial of any Arabs that I know. And so off I go, they start their businesses. The danger is going to be, will they come back?
AMOSYou cannot de-mob a huge number of armed men in Syria without jobs for them to go back to. They have to become the bakers and the dry cleaners and the taxi drivers and bus drivers that they were before this revolt began. And it's those businessmen that will have to be convinced to come back that it is common off, that it is stable enough for them to come back and open businesses again in Syria. So whenever I hear about people going to Cairo, I think I hope that they are as committed as the farmers, that Panos is talking about, to come back to Aleppo and rebuild and that economy.
REHMAkram, thank you for your call. A number of people have asked, what kinds of fuels the refugees and the internally displaced persons are using for cooking and heating water, Panos?
MOUMTZISWell, in the camps -- and 30 percent of the refugees do live in camps -- we have taken the option of giving them gas, gas bottles for cooking, because from an environmental point of view, at least, is the one that is -- now, inside Syria, it's much more difficult because, of course, with fuel prices, with insecurity, it's extremely difficult for people, but also there's a lot of resilience and creativity. People always try to find ways.
MOUMTZISWhat I find different with the Syrian people -- and I lived in Syria for three years up until 2009 -- is this strong feeling of dignity, of respect. And you see it with everybody, with old people, with younger people, and a tremendous solidarity within the community, neighbors helping one another. This mosaic of many religions and groups, everybody helping one another, and that is extremely strong even in these extraordinary situations today.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I hope our listeners will forgive the sound of my voice today. I'm afraid like everyone else I've been hit with that nasty little thing that's flying around the country. Let's go to a caller here in Washington. Heeba, (sp?) you're on the air.
HEEBAYes. Good morning. Thank you, Diane, for taking my call.
HEEBAI came in to the conversation a bit late. I'm a Syrian-American. I was born in Damascus, Syria. And I had so many things to say, but I wanted to say this one comment, which is that I've been trying to see if there was any mention throughout this last hour of actually this situation in the Zaatari refugee camp. And I'm not sure why, and no one touched on that.
HEEBAAnd specifically, the horrific conditions under which the refugees are living, the flooding, the snow, the death of children from frozen weather and the actual fuel that was mentioned now and the gas that was the -- that your guest mentioned was provided. As a matter of fact, I know that they were actually burning plastic bottles 'cause there was nothing else to burn to actually use as fuel.
REHMAll right. Deborah, do you want to comment?
AMOSWe have talked -- and I'm sorry that your listener missed the beginning of this program because you can't talk about refugees. That particular camp is now, you know, is a headline. And we all read over the weekend in The New York Times a long story...
AMOSFront page. And the image that sticks in my mind, of course, is a little boy without shoes. We know how cold it is. It's cold as it was in New York. And I think that Panos was just in the camp and talked passionately about what he saw there. So, yes, I think the community, the international community is quite aware of what is happening in that Jordanian camp.
REHMPanos, what happens next?
MOUMTZISWhat happens next is a big question for all of us. We're trying on the humanitarian side to be ready, to be ready, I'm afraid, for the worst. We hope not to need it, but (unintelligible) contingency planning. We are preparing. We're stockpiling. We're mobilizing. We're talking to everybody because while we're hoping, of course, for peace, we're hoping for a political solution. Unfortunately, we don't see it happening.
MOUMTZISSo our thoughts as 2013 started is kind of more -- the last meeting I attended before coming is looking at the regional stocks, looking at preparedness, the emergency preparedness and the scaling up for the remaining of the winter and the remaining months. We do hope to see a breakthrough on the political side. Every morning when I put on the news, there's story on Syria.
MOUMTZISMy heart every time stops hoping and that somebody is going to come and say, you know what, we have come with a model forward to bring together a political solution that has to come from within Syria to bring an end to this humanitarian crisis and to the suffering of millions of people who are going through a very difficult situation.
REHMAnd let us all hope for the best. By the way, the website address, Panos, you gave apparently should be unrefugees.org. So that's how you can help. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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