mercoledì, ottobre 12, 2016


U.N. Providing Care for Christian Refugees

The assertions in Nina Shea’s Oct. 7 op-ed “The U.S. and U.N. Have Abandoned Christian Refugees” about the UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency do serious disservice to your readers, while wielding a wrecking ball of tired U.N. bashing and half-informed claims.
The difficulties and vulnerabilities of Christians and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria are known extremely well to the UNHCR. The notion, however, that we don’t care for them, or that the solution might be as simple as removing these populations from the region—assuming all would wish to leave—is wrong and out of touch with the realities of both refugee resettlement and the complex realities of the Middle East, of whom Christians have for two millennia been a part.
Overall, there are 4.7 million Syrian refugees registered in countries neighboring Syria, of whom about 1.4% belong to minority religious groups. The number of refugees living in camps is about 480,000. The remaining 4.2 million refugees are scattered in informal settlements or shelters in urban and semiurban environments. The UNHCR and our partners have over the past five years set up a full range of assistance programs to all urban refugees. We also work tirelessly to help internally displaced people in Syria and Iraq.
Resettlement, which is normally reserved for the most vulnerable, is one of three traditional solutions available for refugees, that is, for people who have crossed an international border. The others are local integration and, in circumstances where safe conditions allow, voluntary return (neither option is at present possible in Syria’s context). Offering resettlement places isn’t an obligation but requires willingness on the part of receiving countries. And while we have seen progress, especially this year, this willingness is in short supply: The UNHCR refers refugees for resettlement, but countries alone decide whether to accept them.
When it comes to identifying who should be resettled, an internationally agreed process akin to triage applies, with the focus being on people who are at greatest risk. Membership in religious or other minority groups can certainly make a person more or less vulnerable, but so can many other factors. A human-rights focus requires a holistic assessment of individual circumstances that takes all factors into account.
Since 2013, of all the Syrian and Iraqi refugees submitted for resettlement to the U.S., 15.2% are Christians and 3.2% are of other minority backgrounds. In the case of Syrian Christian refugees in Lebanon, the U.S. wasn’t able to conduct resettlement interviews in Lebanon between 2014 and early 2016 due to U.S. security requirements for resettlement interviews. Therefore, all Christian cases referred for resettlement during that time were referred to countries other than the U.S.
Ms. Shea argues that Syrian Christians have had difficulty registering with the UNHCR because of their ethnic or religious background. This is plain wrong. The UNHCR has undertaken particular efforts to encourage and facilitate registration by religious and other minorities, such as mobile registration teams, outreach units and help desks. By way of example, when the Jordanian government facilitated the entry of Iraqi Christians from Mosul in 2014, the UNHCR sent mobile registration teams to a number of churches, as well as to Madaba, a biblical site in Jordan with a high concentration of Christians, to conduct registration.
Ms. Shea neglects to mention that the vast majority of Christians and Yazidis are finding shelter in urban areas of the region, in common with other refugees. She also claims that few reside in camps because of fear of discrimination and becoming targets of Muslim extremists. However, the UNHCR seeks to ensure that Christians and Yazidis are being included in getting the support that they need wherever they are. We help people whether they are in camps or not. Refugees don’t need to be in camps to be referred for resettlement, and in fact most referrals are for people living outside camps.
Ms. Shea makes the astonishing claim that former High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres was of the opinion that Christians in the Middle East shouldn’t be resettled. This is sheer nonsense. A hope expressed for measures to be taken to preserve the religious and cultural fabric of the region isn’t the same as saying that vulnerable individuals should not be considered for resettlement. At the UNHCR, our duty is to help each and everyone, irrespective of creed, race or nationality, who flees persecution or conflict and is in need.
Adrian Edwards
UNHCR Spokesperson

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