A delegate at the Supporting Syria conference checks out an immersive story - Clouds Over Sidra - following the life of one young Syrian refugee living in Za'atari Camp in Jordan. Source: UK Department for International Development

The proliferation of social media and smart technology has helped not only raise awareness of refugee’s plight around the world but also to assist refugees by facilitating communication between family members as well as sending remittances. It has also proven to be an invaluable tool in helping refugees navigate their way through countries and to determine displaced population sizes. Recent technological advances have changed the way we view and experience videos and movies. But so-called “new technology” like Virtual Reality and Drones also plays a part in humanitarian issues. It is able to provide an important layer to humanitarian assistance; Virtual Reality and 360 movies, for example, are known as the “Empathy Machines,” as they are able to transform a mere 2D movie into an all-encompassing experience. The hope is that by doing so, policy makers and audiences are more aware of the often-lost nuances of displaced populations and focus not on providing more aid but more effective aid.

With approximately 4.7 million registered Syrian refugees in the world and millions more displaced, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has developed a unique and efficient way of registering the Syrians. Registering people is a necessary means to understanding who’s entering the country and who’s leaving, especially in the current climate with Syria when so many are choosing to leave neighboring host states and leave for Syria or other parts of the world. Until registered, the asylum seekers are not refugees and thus not entitled to any protection or services and assistance, like shelter, food, healthcare and education.  Instead of using photos and pieces of paper that are often lost or damaged, UNHCR has started to employ iris scans, similar to those seen at airports. More than one million Syrians have already been registered using this technology. Only taking 2-3 minutes compared to half an hour for more conventional methods, electronic registering uses a database can help NGOs and other international bodies involved in the response to monitor aid and personnel more efficiently. Using this technology is certainly an improvement from certain past practices, like that of Czech Republic, when officials wrote numbers on the refugees’ arms in order to register them. This was internationally slammed, as it drew comparisons to Nazis registering Jews in concentration camps during World War II.

Zach Ingrasci, Co-Founder of the company Living on One, explained in a phone interview that using biometric registration methods stems from realization by the United Nations that after registering displaced populations in Pakistan, “[the agency] was missing a large part of the population.” However, problems still persist, as diasporas can be not only afraid of the technology but also uncomfortable of the people doing the registration. Therefore, Ingrasci clarified, it is vital that the process has to be culturally sensitive.

“[Virtual Reality] is not a video game peripheral,” declared Chris Milk, the founder of VRSE, a production company that specializes in Virtual Reality spherical filmmaking, during his TED Talk entitled “How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine” in 2015. “It connects humans to other humans in a profound way [that has never been seen before] in any other form of media.” In his talk, Milk also describes his work with the United Nations on developing a movie called “Clouds Over Sidra,” about a 12 year-old girl from Southern Syria named Sidra who now lives in Za’atari Refugee Camp in Northern Jordan. The movie documents her life from studying in her caravan, eating with her family and her journey through the camp to school. Milk emphasizes that by viewing this movie through Virtual Reality, it does not just allow you to watch Sidra’s daily life and her struggle, it transports you to her world; you are sitting there with her in her school, in her room and with her family. It is, as Ingrasci explained, “the most immersive experience we see out there.”

Ingrasci and his co-director on “Salam Neighbor” (available on iTunes now), Chris Temple, have also recognized the importance of new technology in refugee situations. Together with the HuffPost RYOT, they created the documentary “For My Son” and a six part series called “Jordan’s Refugee Crisis,” both of which are shot and can be viewed in 360 degrees. They realized that it is important not only to raise awareness of the plight of refugees in camps but also to humanize the extreme journeys people make from their home towns to urban host communities, where approximately 80 percent of the Syrian refugee population live.

By bringing an Oculus Virtual Reality headset on their nationwide tour of the acclaimed “Salam Neighbor,” Temple and Ingrasci have allowed thousands of people to not just learn about the Syrian refugee crisis from watching the news and reading about it but also to experience it. “For My Son” tells the story of Firas, a Syrian from Dara’a, and his escape from the country, his reunification with his family in Za’atari and the birth of his now two-year-old son, Mohamed. Audiences that have watched the movie using the Oculus Virtual Reality are able to feel what it’s like to be in Aleppo that is now a desolate city, filled with concrete buildings destroyed beyond recognition with sniper shots audible in the background (using footage shot by HuffPost RYOT), as well as walking through the bustling main street of “Champs Elysées” in Za’atari Camp.

It can often be easy to forget the normalcy that the refugees faced before the conflict, especially for policy makers and given recent rhetoric. But instead of just producing these films for the wider public, Milk, who has started projects using VR in Liberia and elsewhere around the world, brought “Clouds Over Sidra” to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year. By letting those who can really change someone’s life (for example the United Nations) see how people are impacted, the hope is that policy makers are not as disconnected and can gain a more nuanced understanding of the plight of refugees, especially if they are not accustomed to being on the ground helping with the implementation of policies and aid.

So, if people are aware of the positive impact that Virtual Reality and biometric registration can have on humanitarian situations, what is stopping their wider implementation? First, cost. The three pillars of humanitarian assistance are food, shelter and healthcare. Getting people basic necessities to as many people as possible to ensure daily livelihood in an effective way should be at the forefront of every actor in the international refugee regime. While drones can be used to deliver aid into besieged areas of Syria without having to force a ceasefire or bribing officials, the cost of developing sufficient drones should not be the priority. Furthermore, this technology is still new; it is still developing. Ingrasci explicates that, especially when shooting in 360, there can be problems carrying around six Go-Pros and stitching the different videos together. However, the novelty of the technology also makes it exciting; it means that there is so much more experimenting to be done and that the boundaries of storytelling can be pushed even further.

But as much as we should work to use technology to humanize issues, we also have to temper our moral duty to help with mutual respect. As with registration, it is important to be sensitive. Without cultural understanding or approval by the communities we hope to understand, filmmakers could give the impression of being invasive, selfish and merely going into camps for the sake of “refugee tourism.” Ingrasci and Temple have recognized this importance and brought the final version of “Salam Neighbor,” along with VR technology, to the refugees in Za’atari to ensure that everyone involved approves and is comfortable with the product. Rauf – a Syrian boy featured in “Salam Neighbor” – as Ingrasci explains, loved being transported to and exploring areas beyond the confines of Za’atari Camp.

The aim of using new technology in humanitarian situations is to remind everyone that refugees are neither mere statistics, animals in a zoo nor chess pieces whom higher powers determine the future for. Refugees are human beings just like you and me whose lives have been turned upside down because of, most often, political conflict. Rhetoric can sometimes contradict and blur these notions and I believe it is the job and obligation of humanity to remind people that we are all the same. It is our duty to break down the boundaries and obstacles preventing delivery and implementation of effective aid, to tear past the fake preconceptions that refugees are poor and terrorists, to show compassion, to act, to serve and to ensure that nobody has to endure unnecessary hardship and discrimination and using new technology can only help in the process.

By Jesse Marks

Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014. Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria near the northern town of Kobane in 2014. Photo: UNHCR/I.Prickett


Swelling conflict in Syria has created one of the most complex multilateral and transnational threats facing the Middle East. With over four million Syrian refugees in the Levant and Turkey and nearly eight million internally displaced persons (IDP), the traditional framework of the Levant is quickly transforming the very fabric of modern-day Syria and Jordan, where new challenges arise in maintaining regional stability. Jordan, a nation whose ethnic Jordanian population has become the minority within a matter of decades, faces various threats to its own economic and social stability with the addition of nearly one million Syrian refugees (630,000 registered with UNHCR and an unknown number of unregistered persons as of December 23, 2015). First, the creation of a no-fly, safe zone, enforced by the US-led coalition for Syrians and refugees in southern Syria, is a necessary strategy to provide protection for vulnerable populations in Syria. Second, the provision of work permits to a sizable percentage of legally registered Syrian refugees in Jordan is necessary in insuring a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship between refugees and Jordan. These migrations in Syria and Jordan, if not addressed by the United States and international community, will have negative long-term impacts on regional and international security, human rights, and the resettlement of refugees.

Following the sharp rise of non-state actors (ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra) in Syria since 2014, large swaths of territory and millions of Syrians have fallen under extremist occupation. Many of those facing oppression within their own borders have fled to the Jordanian border or have been scattered throughout more rural regions of Syria. The involvement of international actors via financial, material, and military support, especially lending from Russian airstrikes, further complicates the IDP situation, as attacks often target areas where civilians congregate: markets, schools, hospitals, and residential areas, among other public hot spots. Since July 2015, territorial shifts between combatant groups have inched toward closer to a stalemate in major battleground cities, spanning Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, rural Damascus, and Dar’a according various humanitarian and research organizations (UNHCR, ACAPS, and IOM). Despite the military stalemate, violence continues to escalate, further exposing Syrians in these sensitive areas of conflict, leading to increased displacement of thousands. Among those also affected are Palestinian and Iraqi refugees living in Syria.

Although the situation has steadily worsened since the start of the uprising in 2012, the world only became aware in 2015, when the increasing Syrian IDP exodus, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians fled the Middle East for Europe in search of safety and livelihoods. Increasingly, the option of fleeing to neighboring countries or even risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean became an attractive option for many. There is little doubt that refugees forced to flee to informal camps on the Jordanian and Turkish borders find themselves exposed with minimal access to basic survival needs. Among those are 14,000 refugees currently are awaiting entrance to Jordan’s eastern border just few kilometers from ISIS forces. This highlights the difficulty of accessing refugees and IDP’s who are stranded in informal camps. Because of international borders, negotiations must take place between lead agencies (UNHCR) and governments. These challenges allude to the need of a new strategy to ensure long-term solutions for IDP’s and refugees in Syria.

Safe Zones

The creation of a no-fly, safe zone, enforced by the US-led coalition in southern Syria would provide a long-term solution to meet the humanitarian and protection needs of vulnerable Syrian populations. Many key factors in southern Syria play a vital role in the conception of such a zone including existing relations between southern tribes and Jordan, the presence of the Free Syrian Army, and a large refugee population in Jordan that originated from southern Syria. These factors make southern Syria the ideal location to secure and enforce a safe-zone. This safe-zone will provide alternative settlement for IDPs, as well as ease of access for humanitarian groups to build a community infrastructure, provide human services (healthcare and education), and revitalize economic trade with Jordan- a pillar of Jordan’s economy is agricultural trade with southern Syria. Additionally, the safe zone alleviates the financial and economic burden on Jordan to provide long-term settlement options for refugees by allowing Syrians in Jordan the option to return to southern Syria (where nearly 60% originated according to UNHCR). Likewise, it would slow IDP migrations to the Jordan’s eastern border where border policies have led to the establishment of two informal camps.

The largest obstacle to the establishment of a no-fly, safe zone is the question of enforcement and security. Securing the zone would require two forms of defense, areal and ground. A no-fly zone would be implemented similarly to the no-fly zone established in northern Iraq from 1992 to 2003 enforced by the US-led coalition. The no-fly zone alleviates the greatest threat in the south, aerial barrel bombs. Large areas of southern Syria are protected by the coalition-backed forces in Dar’a, the Free Syrian Army (who have been supporting refugees in the south since 2012). The FSA is comprised of numerous factions of religious, national, and tribal fighting groups. The connection between the FSA and southern Syrian tribes is a major reason for continued Jordanian support for the FSA because of the tribal ties between northern Jordan and southern Syria. Overseeing the defense and the enforcement of the zone as well as municipalities and daily operations would be a government elected in free, open elections overseen by the Syrian National Council.

Legal Employment for Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Due to relative stability, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan remains to be a cornerstone of US strategic interests in the Levant. Yet, in last few years, Jordan’s economy has been significantly strained by the addition of nearly one million Syrian refugees. In September, the Kingdom requested $4.5 billion from donor countries to continue providing for refugees. However, the amount of financial support Jordan receives is expected to decrease in 2016 as the EU tries to stabilize member states receiving large numbers of refugees. With limited space outside of refugee camps, urban refugees (refugees who live outside of camps and are 80% of the total) have limited options for shelter, legal employment, and funding for food. Therefore, many are driven to lower income areas of the country to re-establish themselves (Mafraq, East Amman, Irbid, etc). Housing and food prices have risen significantly while water scarcity continues to worsen. Key players like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program are providing refugees with limited financial assistance, but there is still a distinct lack of support.

Nearly 440,000 vulnerable refugees either lost all financial assistance or faced large cuts in September 2015. The best strategy to ensure Jordan’s stability amidst a refugee crisis is providing legal work permits for Syrian refugees. Providing financial stability for refugee communities in Jordan is intrinsic to Jordan’s long-term stability and security. The United States, who has invested over $4.5 billion into Syrian humanitarian response since 2012, has a strategic interest in the stability of Jordan (as stated in U.S.-Jordan Third Loan Guarantee Agreement signed in May 2015) whose further intake of refugees threatens its own security. The threat of instability among refugee populations is linked to various factors including access to legal employment opportunities, lack of financial assistance (from international organizations), and negative host community perceptions. Indeed, in the face of difficulty, there is opportunity. Syrians provide a work force to Jordanian employers, both dedicated and highly skilled. Syrians are willing and skilled to work a greater variety of jobs that many Jordanians refuse. According to the WANA Institute (research institute founded by Prince Hassan of Jordan), most Jordanians are largely employed in public administration and defense and represent only 7% of those working in construction and only 2% of those working in agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Because Syrian participation will largely be focused in these sectors, there will not be increased competition for Jordanian jobs. Instead, it provides competition to the large illegal migrant population currently seeking these types of jobs in Jordan. Systematically, illegal migrant workers in Jordan will be replaced with a skilled, legal labor force.

Providing employment for Syrian refugees heavily reduces reliance on the humanitarian sector and international community. It increases financial stability for Syrian refugees thus decreasing the number of refugees requiring resettlement. Employed refugees do not rely as heavily on financial assistance relaxing the burden on international organizations, international donors, and the Jordanian Government. This will have a broader impact and will shift host community perceptions of Syrians as burdens on the economy to active members improving the economy. With increased economy and stability, social development (education, culture, art, and more) can flourish.

In conclusion, certain steps must be taken to ensure the safety of Syrians in Jordan and Syria amidst uncertainty facing the region despite hopes for a peaceful solution in the coming year. Providing safe settlement option is the best strategy that both decreases the number of IDP’s and allows the international community to continue fighting non-state actors. With no solution to the Syrian conflict in sight, intervention must be aimed at lessening the impact of population and refugee migrations in the Middle East and at the international level. Addressing the threat of population movements is necessary for maintaining Jordan’s stability, protecting Syrian IDPs, and slowing the flow of Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe.

A law in Jordan designed to counter the threat of ISIS has led to a crackdown on free speech and civil liberties.
By Alyssa Sims

Amman, Jordan. (Photo: JPRichard/Shutterstock).

The following piece, originally published on July 30, 2015, has been offered up by the author for syndication on our blog. To read the piece as published on New America’s Weekly Wonk, click here.

In 2014, the government of Jordan sued Naseem Tarawnah and his former organization for reporting the news. A controversial law, amended in 2012, required news websites to obtain a license to continue reporting. Tarawnah and his colleagues did not apply for one, and their website was repeatedly blocked by the government.

Today, journalists like Tarawnah are being indicted under another law—Jordan’s anti-terror law, originally passed in 2006 and amended in May of last year. The law is part of a push by the Jordanian government to increase security in response to the rise of ISIS. While the targets of the newly revised law are sympathizers of ISIS living in Jordan, among its side-effects has been the restraint of free speech inside the country. For critics, the reason for the crackdown on free speech is simple: The law is ambiguously written and its vague definition of terrorism leaves journalists—or even everyday citizens using technology—vulnerable to arrest and prosecution before a military, not civilian, court.

“Vague language allows the state (through the courts) to manipulate situations under the guise that everything is open to interpretation,” said Tarawnah, who now operates the website, in an email interview. He cited the example of Hisham Moussa, a 21-year-old Jordanian who was arrested under the law after allegedly forwarding a message on WhatsApp, an instant messaging phone application.

Under the law’s authority, activists and opposition leaders have been indicted on different charges that stem from expressing unpopular or contentious ideas.

Tarawnah and other opponents of the law argue that because it defines what is and isn’t terrorism in vague terms, people can be arrested for emails they send or things they post on social media. Under the law’s authority, activists and opposition leaders have been indicted on different charges that stem from expressing unpopular or contentious ideas. Early this year, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan Zaky Bin Irshaid was sentenced to 18 months in prison for a Facebook post criticizing the United Arab Emirates.

Jordan’s prosecution of Irshaid and others under state security court, a special authority overseeing internal and external threats, is especially unsettling because Western allies and media so often praise Jordan for its comparatively progressive character alongside more repressive regimes in the region. It’s clear that some Jordanian journalists and experts take a different view. They say that the threat of ISIS is being used as an excuse to justify how the anti-terror law has expanded the power of Jordan’s security apparatus.

“Where, say a protest in Saudi Arabia might end very quickly with people being beaten, killed, locked up and tortured immediately (along with Syria or Egypt), Jordan plays it smart. It manages the situation using soft containment, while taking down names,” Tarawnah said in an email. “When the news cycle moves on (and any international spotlight fades), the names are called in. Sometimes they’ll wait months for an activist to slip up and then take them down. Kind of like getting Al Capone on tax evasion.”

Following Tarawnah’s logic, the threat of ISIS is a new means to the security state’s end of policing, and in some cases, curtailing free speech. He also isn’t alone in his critique of the regime’s actions, regardless of its motives. Think tanks and NGOs like Human Rights Watch have acknowledged the military prosecutions of political activists and dissenters under Jordan’s anti-terror law as a threat to freedom of expression. HRW highlighted major problems with amendments to the law, which include its vague wording, in a report released last year.

Jordan’s increased security measures are evident not only in its new uses of anti-terror legislation; they are especially visible along the new border infrastructure. In years past, the borders between Jordan and its neighbors, Syria and Iraq, were porous at best. People could walk back and forth across them without carrying their passports or spending hours at a checkpoint.

But early last month, Jordan completed final construction on a new surveillance system to monitor and control its border with Syria. Built by Raytheon and partially funded by the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency, this new system—reportedly worth $79 million—boasts cutting-edge radar and surveillance towers in addition to key command, control, and communications capabilities.

Jordan’s border system will also receive additional support from Raytheon in the coming months: software, infrared cameras, power systems, and training for Jordanian operators of the high-tech equipment. Essentially, this system will enable border forces to detect potential infiltrators from miles away. It has been hailed as a big step forward in keeping Syria’s jihadis out of Jordan.

While successful in this respect, however, it has—like the anti-terror law—had unfortunate and unintended consequences. Several major border entry points have been closed and the flow of goods has been disrupted as a result of the new system, which has in turn had damaging economic effects on Jordan’s border communities.

Jordan’s own response to its security challenges also runs the risk of becoming a long-term setback for political freedom and economic stability in the country.

Unfortunately, Jordan’s increased border-security efforts to thwart ISIS have also left many asylum-seekers from Syria stranded in the desert with limited access to food, water, and medical assistance. “Jordan has gone to great lengths to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch in an article posted on their website last month. “But that is no excuse to abandon newer arrivals in remote border areas for weeks without effective protection and regular aid access.”

Many in the international community understand that ensuring the stability of Jordan is paramount in containing ISIS within the terror network’s self-drawn borders. At the same time, Jordan’s own response to its security challenges also runs the risk of becoming a long-term setback for political freedom and economic stability in the country.

Jordan is not likely to change its policies without objection from the international community, but this seems equally unlikely, demonstrated by the U.S.’s large investment in Jordan’s border project. Maintaining the stability and security of Jordan in light of the advances of ISIS just outside the country’s borders is undeniably of paramount importance; however, security and human rights need not be mutually exclusive.

By Veronica Baker

Protestors wave the Moroccan flag during the 20 February protests in 2011. Source: Hasna Lahmini

The Arab uprisings of 2011 yielded diverse results: Libya, Syria, and Yemen are in states of violent disarray; the Gulf monarchies crushed dissent and carried on as usual; Egypt saw its revolution crumble with the ascent of Al-Sisi; and Tunisia has risen as a cautious, yet promising, example of democratization done right.

The results of the protests in Morocco and Jordan, on the other hand, are less clear. Their governments reacted quickly, acknowledging the legitimacy of their citizens’ complaints of economic trouble and rights violations. In the past four years, Morocco and Jordan have passed reforms: some real, some symbolic.

Abdullah II of Jordan pledged to promote the role of citizens in political life and the decision-making process. Initiatives included the creation of new elections laws, a constitutional court, and a national integrity commission. However, little change has actually materialized. The monarchy has so far succeeded in preserving power by using instability on the country’s borders to justify maintaining the status quo.

Mohamed VI quickly gave Moroccans the opportunity to elect a new parliament and promised modifications to the constitution, effectively pre-empting the revolution. Constitutional reforms gave parliament the ability to pass laws on most issues, took steps towards protecting the independence of the judiciary, and increased the role of a number of independent commissions. However, these reforms are hollow: while they appear to shift power away from the king, there are plenty of ways still available for him to circumvent the parliament and judiciary to pursue any policy he wants.

On Friday, July 1, Moroccans  voted on a constitutional referendum to approve changes put forth by the King in a speech a week earlier. The banner on the right reminds people to register. The banner on the left yes, "Yes to the Constitution". Source: Christopher Rose
On July 1, 2011, Moroccans voted on a constitutional referendum to approve changes put forth by the King in a speech a week earlier. The banner on the right reminds people to register. The banner on the left reads, “Yes to the Constitution”. Source: Christopher Rose

Models of reform?

Some academics and journalists have expressed support for Morocco and Jordan’s respective strategies of “reform.” Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi made news in 2014 when he declared Morocco and Jordan “successful Arab Spring models.” Foreign Policy, Christian Science Monitor, The Tower, Brookings, and others have echoed the idea that the Moroccan and/or Jordanian responses to the 2011 uprisings could serve as examples for the rest of the Middle East to follow.

Such positions are rooted in idealistic notions of what Morocco’s and Jordan’s kings have done, and not in the reality these countries now face. The reforms in Morocco and Jordan have been overwhelmingly symbolic and have not truly bestowed upon the people the rights they fought for in 2011.

Morocco and Jordan are the unfinished stories of the Arab Spring. The economic and human rights situations in both countries remain troubled. The instability surrounding Jordan will only serve as a successful excuse for police state-type activity for so long; such an approach is simply unsustainable. Morocco, while in a less precarious state, still has plenty of problems left to face, especially concerning everyday violence, the contested state of the Western Sahara, and terrorist organizations within and directly outside its borders.

Legitimizing the so-called reforms made in Jordan and Morocco will only result in further instability in the future. The shifting of political powers, edits to the constitution, and changes to the penal code mean nothing if new laws are not enforced and human rights do not become a priority. To maintain peace in Jordan and Morocco, more legitimate reforms must be made.

Neither government has transferred significant power away from the royal establishment and into the hands of democratic institutions. Economic and social conditions in Morocco and Jordan will not improve without an independent and accountable judiciary; a truly free press and internet; a strong network of NGOs that protects the rights of women, minorities, and other at-risk groups; a massive overhaul of both countries’ inhumane prison and detention center conditions; and the legitimate implementation of laws that enshrine the rights of individuals to express themselves without fear of abduction or arbitrary arrest.

Graffiti in the streets of Casablanca photographed in 2010. Source: Jeremy Salmon
Graffiti in the streets of Casablanca photographed in 2010. Source: Jeremy Salmon

Opportunities for change

At their core, reform movements in the Middle East are calls for human rights. In the West, democracy is often seen as the vehicle for attaining those, but it is not the only option.

Supporters of Moroccan and Jordanian-style reforms have a valid point. If the pathway to rights is more likely forged through a stable political system, then perhaps a revolution is not necessary.

However, both countries have a long way to go. Both are signatories to such conventions as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Despite this, the Jordanian and Moroccan governments are both frequently caught in the headlines for violating human rights, such as by restricting freedom of association, deporting refugees, trying civilians in military courts, and failing to respect freedom of expression.

Citizens in Morocco and Jordan do not have the political leverage to effectively demand their rights be taken seriously. The kings have little reason to shift the status quo themselves. Thus, influence must come from the outside. Morocco and Jordan are two of the greatest allies of the United States in the region. This provides a unique opening for dialogue and positive pressure for human rights.

Just as the United States needs Jordan and Morocco, they also need the U.S. Through the fiscal year 2015, total U.S. aid to Jordan and Morocco has amounted to approximately $15.83 billion and $2.7 billion respectively. The U.S. should exercise influence on the governments to which it supplies aid to support the well-being of that country’s people.

It is in the interest of the United States to support the will of the Jordanian and Moroccan people pressing for peaceful change. In the face of extremism (ISIS in the Levant, as well as AQAM and other militant groups in West Africa), it is necessary that the citizens of Morocco and Jordan continue to feel connected to and empowered by their state. Marginalization of citizens, particularly youth, will only serve to further destabilize the region.

As the U.S. successfully supported Tunisia in its transition, it must now turn to Morocco and Jordan and stand as a supporter of human rights. In doing so, we have the ability to shift the dying legacy of the Arab Spring.

In its current trajectory, the legacy of the “Arab Spring” will be of Tunisia’s singular success story all but overshadowed by the death and destruction in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. It is essential that we, as a prominent economic and political actor in the region, do what we can to turn that around. By holding the Jordanian and Moroccan governments accountable and pressuring them to enact real, not symbolic, reforms, the United States has a chance to serve as a positive and enabling force in the Middle East.

By James Abate

Alia and Basma, both aged 12, tackle a maths question at a temporary school in northern Lebanon, set up by UNICEF and Lebanese NGO Beyond Association with the help of UK aid. Source: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development.

A formalized educational system within a nation is necessary not only to cultivate productive citizens but also to provide a structured system for children to realize how the world around them functions. The molding of children into educated adults by way of schooling is severely hindered, however, for refugees displaced by war or genocide.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) described the Syrian Civil War as “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.” Almost half of the causalities of the conflict are children, and millions of refugees continue to flee into neighboring Lebanon and Jordan. UNHCR reports that Lebanon, a country with a population of only around 4 million, houses 1.2 documented refugees within its borders. That number swells to an estimated 2 million when taking unregistered refugees into consideration. Within Jordan, 700,000 refugees have been granted asylum, with that number projected to increase to around 1 million by the end of 2015.

Education in the region provides refugees an indisputable opportunity for advancement far beyond mere survival. However, for the 400,000 Syrian children and young adults who are registered in Lebanon’s education system, proper education is a luxury; many of young refugees believe their dreams of attending school are a lost cause. The UN reports that, as of March, “in Lebanon, there are more school-age refugees than the entire intake of the country’s public schools” and of those refugees only 30% of them are receiving a proper education. While the Lebanese Ministry of Education has traditionally covered all costs for the various stages or cycles of education, the country is facing a massive crisis trying to accommodate this dramatic increase in enrollment.

Apart from the sheer magnitude of students now being placed into the Lebanese educational system, various linguistic, cultural, and curricular barriers continued to prevent Syrian children from receiving this necessary experience. In Syria, the curriculum for students is taught completely in Arabic, while in Lebanon many subjects are taught in French or English. Consequentially, Syrian children placed into this system face a massive language barrier. At the same time, teachers in the Lebanese schools are forced to delay curriculum to work on the basics of English or French with these students. Many Lebanese families have begun to pull their children out of the public school system in favor of private schools, despite the debilitating economic circumstances. Beyond just “soft” barriers, Syrian children have been known facing violence such as bullying and harassment within their schools. According to one Syrian mother, “her child, Mazin, was ‘humiliated and beaten’ at a Lebanese public school.”

Whether or not we blame the failing Lebanese educational system or the various NGOs and non-profits such as UNICEF and UNHCR who provide funding for refugee education, we must recognize the gravity of this lack of education for Syrian children in order to move forward. Not only does the lack of a formalized educational experience eliminates any semblance of normality or structure in a refugee’s life, but the lack of knowledge and liberal learning for Syrian youth also represents something even more detrimental to Syria’s future. In addition to being plunged into one of the worst civil wars of the past 25 years, Syria has now lost a generation. This generation will not be able to continue on to shape the post-war region and will not be able to restructure their homeland. It is indeed quite frightening to wonder about the future of this nation knowing that those who should have been the ones to lead lack the education to do so.

By Patrick Lim

Za’atari Refugee Camp in Northern Jordan, the country’s fourth largest “city.” It is home to over 80,000 refugees. Its main road – the “Champs Elysees” – is visible in the center of the picture. Source: State Department.

March 15 marked the fifth year since the start of the Syrian Civil War, a war that has claimed over 220,000 people and displaced millions more. This crisis has resulted in the international aid’s inability to keep up with the growing demand on the ground, sparking criticism from aid agencies and requiring the countries involved to the rethink the actions they should take.

The effects of the war are evident throughout the region: Lebanon and Jordan have welcomed almost two million refugees. In Jordan, a survey of 40,000 refugees found that two-thirds were living below the poverty line and, in Lebanon, half of the Syrian refugee population are living in insecure dwellings. The resources of both countries are being pushed to the limit and it is not certain how many more refugees they can support and for how much longer.

Why is there a lack of aid?

It is not only because of increasing number of refugees, but also the lack of action of the international community. A report entitled “Failing Syria,” which was signed by more than twenty aid agencies including Oxfam and Save the Children, criticizes the actions of states and their failure to implement resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191 from United Nations Security Council. Resolution 2139’s provisions included: protecting civilians, increased humanitarian access and a comprehensive approach “leading to a genuine political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.” The report calls on all parties to ensure to “go beyond words and ensure that the resolutions are fully implemented.”

However, it is not only the lack of action on behalf of the international community, but also the difficulty of getting aid to the people that has not helped the situation.  According to the report, 4.8 million people reside in areas the United Nations define as “hard to reach.” For example, early March saw the arrival ofthe first aid convoy in Damascus in three months.

What should countries do?

Although it is crucial to meet the basic necessities of refugees now, it is equally as important to think of the future. There is not foreseeable end to the conflict and, as a result, refugee camps are starting to show signs of permanency despite the hopes of millions. Some fortunate families in Za’atari live in caravans, which demand concrete foundations. Furthermore, the main road of the camp is a bustling street with hundreds of shops. Azraq Camp has a well-stocked hospital and supermarket, and includes metal shelters for families.

Two trends should make countries think about distributing more aid to the urban populations. First, certain countries have made it more difficult for refugees to flee across their borders, citing national security reasons, especially with ISIS threatening to send fighters in disguise. As a result, many refugees may seek to escape without being officially registered, although this would deny them many benefits. These refugees would therefore settle in areas with access to benefits, such as cities, which is where the majority of Syrian refugees have settled in Jordan. Second, refugees have recently expressed a reluctance to live in the camps because of the rough conditions, despite having access to daily needs. Coupled with the lack of proper security in camps (Za’atari, for example, had many issues with uprisings and crime in its early days), these trends could cause the urban refugee population to swell even more, putting an ever greater strain on their already limited resources.

Countries must also find different avenues to distribute aid, with a special focus on Syria. Of the thirty-four border crossings in the country, only five are open for humanitarian convoys, nine are restricted, and the rest are closed.  Negotiating with the Syrian government to find more avenues into the country is an option that some countries are not willing to entertain. However, working with government officials, local law enforcement, or more local NGO representatives may open up more channels. This would certainly improve the present situation by limiting regional spillover while simultaneously bringing aid to the people rather than forcing them to flee to receive it.

Finally, Turkey has nearly 1.7 million Syrian refugees – the most of any country – and has spent $6 billion to help them, granting them access to free education and health care. Following Turkey’s lead, providing greater access to necessities and benefits is something more countries have undertaken and other should begin to explore. For example, the Netherlands welcomes thousands of Syrians every month; Canada and Germany are known for funding scholarships, even offering Permanent Residency to lucky recipients in some cases as well.

The refugee crisis that has arisen because of the Syrian Civil War is being called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. The world can neither continue to ignore this atrocity nor accommodate the present situation for much longer.  We, the international community, must help those in need and, more importantly, show that we have not given up on them and their future.

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By Yasmin Faruki

Abdullah II meets with U.S. President Barack Obama. Source: Executive Office of the President of the United States

The world is reeling from recent demonstrations of terror by Daesh (also known as ISIS, or ISIL). In Jordan, citizens are aghast by the brutal immolation of Lt. Moaz al-Kasesbeh, a 26 year-old pilot whose plane crashed during a coalition mission in December. In the week prior, Japanese citizens mourned the loss of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yakawa. The latest string of events has important implications for future of Daesh’s support in the region, as well as the resiliency of the U.S.-led coalition.

The fact that Lt. Kasabeh’s died as a result of immolation is very significant. According to the New York Times, burning someone alive is strictly prohibited in Islam because it is considered an act only punishable by God in hell. Though beheadings of hostages are not at all favorable among Muslims, its application has been at least rarely accepted in certain contexts; Saudi Arabia, for example, uses beheadings as a state-sponsored form of capital punishment. Muslims are already sickened by Daesh’s exclusive focus on takfirism (the belief that the Muslim community has been weakened by deviation in the practice of Islam) and wicked distortion of Islam’s teachings. The first widely publicized immolation of a Muslim hostage has therefore struck a very sensitive nerve in many Muslims throughout the world, and raises important questions for Arab partners in the coalition.

The Jordanian government intends to dial up the ante. Before the release of the immolation video, King Abdullah had considered releasing two Iraqi prisoners affiliated with Daesh – Sajida al-Rishawi and Ziad al-Karbouli. Within a matter of hours of the video released yesterday morning, King Abdullah ordered the execution of the two prisoners during his visit in Washington in an act of vengeance. Though there remains a small contingency of Jordanians who disagree with their country’s involvement in the coalition, Lt. Kasabeh’s death has brought out a hardened and confrontational attitude in the King, who has vociferously vowed retaliation and continued involvement in the U.S.-led coalition.

Though Kasabeh’s grisly killing has fostered greater acceptance of the war against Daesh in Jordan, some partners are not assured of contributions to the fight.  One country has already withdrawn from the coalition in fear of retaliation by Daesh. This is in fact the United Arab Emirates, one of the United States’ most important Arab partners in matters relating to counterterrorism. Other key countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have been defending their participation in the coalition despite unfavorable public opinion regarding involvement in Syria. Continued vetting and solicitation of support from majority-Sunni Muslim nations is therefore crucial to sustain the coalition and its credibility.

So where does Daesh stand, following the death of Lt. Kasabeh? Daesh’s latest showing of terror will ultimately hurt its movement in the long term. Though the organization might appeal to the most extreme of extremists, this particular killing repels more potential supporters than it attracts them. Given Daesh’s dampened momentum in Kobani, Diyala, and Mosul, it appears foolish to turn away potential recruits. Nonetheless, Daesh maintains controls 50,000 square kilometers of Iraq and approximately 30% of Syria;its presence is far from diminished. The United States’ and coalition members would raise the campaign by publicly exploiting Daesh’s latest strategic miscalculation and supporting each other during the grave loss of human beings.

By Terrence Kim

In only a few months the Syrian conflict will mark its fourth anniversary, regrettably marking the continuing calamity that has distorted a once colorful and blossoming nation into the harrowed and war-stricken land that it is today. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that by the end of 2014, 6.5 of 22 million Syrians will be classified as internally displaced persons, while over 2.5 million will have fled Syria as refugees. This struggle has displaced millions of people, while claiming the lives of over 190,000. While international aid organizations invariably endeavor in the minimization of casualties, their equally meaningful objective is providing educational opportunities for Syria’s youth. As war rages on, efforts to educate and nurture the generations that will rebuild Syria must endure.

The Syrian conflict was never meant to last this long. It was supposed to be a minor inconvenience of which some government, or some deity, was to resolve so that shopkeepers could continue selling their teas and coffees and so that teachers could continue shaping their tullab (students) into the country’s future doctors, teachers, lawyers, and parents. Months turned into a year and a year turned into four. Parents, backed by confidence in their imminent return to Syria, had initially scoffed at the idea of matriculating their children into their host-country’s schools. This mindset is causing students to be out of school for so long that re-admittance into public education is no longer an option for many. International aid organizations, such as the U.N., have been campaigning continuing education efforts for students into either host-country schools or specialized programs for refugee and displaced children.

The United Nations, in partnership with international aid organizations like Save the Children and Mercy Corps, launched the No Lost Generation Initiative (NLGI) about one year ago in October 2014. No Lost Generation calls for a $1 billion investment in expanding access to learning, providing a protective environment, and broadening opportunities for children and adolescents in Syria and neighboring countries. According to a UNICEF report on the war’s impact of the conflict in Syria, almost all of Syria’s children were enrolled in school and 5% of the country’s annual GDP was spent on public education before the war; with the conflict approaching four years, almost 3 million school-aged Syrian children are no longer in school.

For the children who remained in Syria, more than 18% of schools have been damaged, destroyed, or occupied by displaced people or military personnel. The lack of schools and perilous environment make getting to schools a difficult, off-putting struggle. And for the refugees who sought asylum outside of Syria, host governments are struggling to accommodate not only educational needs for children, but are also adjusting political and economic policies in dealing with rising costs of basic services, food, and rents.

So what has #NoLostGeneration accomplished a year into its inception? Note: the following reflects samples of rounded data gathered from No Lost Generation’s first year report.In Syria:

  • 440,000 more children in school over the last year than the previous year
  • 46% temporary learning spaces established inside Syria
  • 32 (of 4,200) damaged schools repaired
  • 1.5 million children in 14 governorates received school supplies
  • 350,000 students are engaged in school feeding programs
  • 550 teachers received psychosocial training
  • 70,000 children have received psychosocial support
  • 27,000 children have received life skills and vocational training, remedial secondary classes, and psychosocial support

Neighboring Countries:

–  489,000 student increase in formal and non-formal enrollment in schools
–  587,000 children have received psychosocial support
–  27,000 students are engaged in school feeding programs in Jordan and Iraq

Lebanon: ‘Reaching All Children with Education’ (RACE) committed to 413,000 Syrian students for the next three years by opening second shifts in public schools

  • Targets 630 high-risk Syrian and Lebanese children formerly associated with armed parties to the conflict
  • Psychosocial support
  • Activities on conflict resolution
  • <span “font-family:wingdings;mso-fareast-font-family:wingdings;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” wingdings”=””> Vocational training
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Access to health, legal, and protection services
  • Ministry of Social Affairs established decentralized national case management system which is the first tertiary-level child protection program in the country
  • 200,000 caregivers received psychosocial training
  • Doctors and nurses received training on clinical management of sexual violence

Jordan: public schools are operating on double shifts

  • Hygiene, recreation, psychosocial, and educational programs

Turkey: progress has been made in normalizing the status of Syrian refugee teachers

  • Strengthened capacity of local child protection actors
  • Child Protection in Emergency Training

No Lost Generation Initiative is an effort to not only rebuild childhoods, but to shape futures that will restore Syria into the bourgeoning nation it used to be. There are roughly 4.3 million children in Syria affected by the conflict and more than half of Syrian refugees are under the age of 18. The greatest victims of this conflict are indisputably the young and vulnerable who hold no say in any political agenda. These children are growing too old too soon. Innocence is lost as their lives are compelled into violence with Kalashnikovs forced into their hands to fight a war that is not their own. Political matters aside, the international community holds a fundamental responsibility to Syria’s vulnerable youth in promoting peace and providing aid through education initiatives. Education’s catalytic effect on children’s well-being and development may potentially be paving the path for peace, stability, and economic development.


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On several occasions throughout her campaign, Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has mentioned that part of her plan to defeat terrorist organization “The Islamic State...