Women Seeking Safety Encounter Abuse in Syrian Refugee Camps

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Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 00:33 a.m. DST, 10 April 2014

Syria Bedouin Woman, Photo by Marc VeraartDAMASCUS, Syria – By every metric, the Syrian countryside is a war zone. Suburbs are subject to aerial attacks and corner stores have become foxhole retreats from city gunfights. The death toll now exceeds 150,000 lives. Massacres waged by Syrian troops and rebel forces alike continue to raise questions about the legitimacy of either side's agenda. All the while, ordinary people either defend their community or seek stability in a less contentious Syrian locale or border country.

Amidst the chaos, the international community places bets on either the Syrian Army or various rebel collectives. The United States, Russia and Iran make high-stakes wagers in the form of assault rifles, chemical weaponry and large-scale explosives. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also seated around this international card table. Given the current political landscape and the violations of basic human rights by the establishment and the rebellion, global efforts to arm either side are a gamble indeed.

One thing is certain. With increased weaponry provisions, a commensurate level of unfathomable bloodletting has followed throughout major cities like Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Latakia. The widespread violence and continued threat of biological warfare has been a powerful impetus for Syrian migration to more stable nations. Over two million nationals have escaped the perimeter of their home country, while millions more try to cope in the crossfire. There, they face the reality of suicide bombers and large-scale attacks carried out by both factions.

Lebanon has been the principle destination for those people fleeing the ongoing turf war. To date, over one million Syrians have claimed refugee status in Lebanon, a staggering influx for a nation numbering less than five million before civil war broke in Syria three years ago. Thousands more seek safety in the Mediterranean nation every day. Lebanon has been a gracious host to Syrians seeking asylum, forgoing required permit fees upon entry and allowing their neighbors to live outside of designated treatment centers and refugee shelters.

Syrian migrants exercise this right, but not without adversity. Women are particularly affected by sexual abuse following their relocation. Human Rights Watch reports that female refugees are subject to improper advances and verbal abuse on a regular basis while living in their makeshift communities in Lebanon. Perpetrators range from employers to volunteers from religious institutions, according to HRW. The actual scope of abuses remains unknown, as many victims presumably have outstanding residency payments or have little faith in the criminal justice system. Assailants continue to act in the shadows of fear and silence.

For many of these women, leaving home meant a better life for themselves and their children. Rape is used in Syrian warfare as a tool of power and coercion against men, women and children indiscriminately. While President Bashar al-Assad and top leaders of various opposition forces have not openly condoned sexual assault of the enemy, the act is permissible and never punished internally. Externally, retaliatory rape is not uncommon. In a society where rape is taboo, victims are hushed and assaults go unreported. But anecdotal evidence confirms the disturbing and rampant nature of the mistreatment.

Journalist Lauren Wolfe directs The Women Under Siege project and discusses abuse against Syrian women in her feature Syria Has a Massive Rape Crisis. Wolfe cites a report from Ya Libnan news website in which a member of the Syrian Army was commanded to rape teenagers in late 2012. The girls were later slaughtered. Similarly, Wolfe describes a young rebel soldier who was arrested by Syrian forces. During his imprisonment, the man was forced to watch while Syrian security raped his fiancée, sisters, mother and other female acquaintances. Belligerents in both camps resort to these barbaric measures.

The mass-exodus of Syrians will continue so long as lawlessness persists. Massacres such as August's Ghouta chemical attack on civilians and the execution of 51 loyalist prisoners in July have only added fuel to vehicles of hate and violence. While the United States is heavily invested in the success of the rebellion, the White House now knows that many of these renegades are affiliated with al-Qaeda and other terror organizations. If history repeats itself, these weapons may be trained at their supplying nation in the future.

If the efforts of the States involved more non-lethal aid, certainly the people of the world would be grateful. The need for the increased protection of women is self-evident. When better mechanisms to report and convict perpetrators of sexual abuse are established in refugee camps, these facilities will truly be places of refuge.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom

The Prophet's Children | Khalil Gibran

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Child at Water Fall Wall, Photo by Cuba GalleryYour children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite. And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hands be for happiness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, So He loves the bow that is stable.

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Migrant Worker Abused in Lebanon Takes Life

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:17 AM EDT, 21 March 2012

BEIRUT, Lebanon - An Ethiopian domestic worker, Alem Dechasa, was taken to a psychiatric hospital following an attempt by a group of Lebanese men to kidnap her outside the Ethiopian embassy.

First aired by Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI), the video shows Dechasa lying on the ground, crying while her employer Ali Mahfouz’s repeatedly tries to drag her toward a waiting vehicle.

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Asaminew Debelie Bonssa, Ethiopian general consul in Lebanon, told The Daily Star newspaper that Dechasa subsequently committed suicide by hanging herself, despite expressing a desire to return to Ethiopia.

The barbarity of the ill-treatment of migrant workers throughout the Middle East has been of grave concern to human rights watch groups. Many of these workers are in effect indentured servants who are treated more like slaves than domestic help.

Immigrants from Africa and Asia, come to Lebanon seeking opportunities to improve their lives but quickly become disillusioned. They discover that despite promises, Lebanese laws do not protect their rights, and as second class citizen’s they are not guaranteed basic healthcare, vacation, or equitable wages.

Additionally, because the sponsorship system ties the domestic worker to one employer, unscrupulous people can keep workers in bondage by withholding their passports, visas, and work permits ostensibly for ‘safe keeping.’

Rola Abimourched, program coordinator at KAFA (Enough) Violence and Exploitation, spoke passionately about the Dechasa incident. We hope that this case may become the catalyst that galvanizes the Lebanese government to introduce stronger laws to protect migrant workers and other immigrants to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again.

Khalil Gibran | Ode to Beauty

All these things have you said of beauty. Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied, And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy. It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth, But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted. It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear, But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears. It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw, But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight. People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and your are the mirror.” ~ Khalil Gibran

View video of more beautiful Arabian eyes here.

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