NOWHERE TO RUN TO

As 65 mil­lion peo­ple flee for safety, des­ti­na­tion na­tions turn in­hos­pitable

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Bruce Fin­ley Bruce Fin­ley is a Den­ver Post re­porter. E-mail him at bfin­ley@den­ver­post.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @fin­ley­bruce

As 65 mil­lion peo­ple flee for safety around the globe, des­ti­na­tion na­tions turn in­hos­pitable. Read the special report from Is­tan­bul.

W hen Syr­ian high school English teacher Ishan Moazzen, one of the world’s 65 mil­lion up­rooted peo­ple, faced con­scrip­tion into Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s army, he fled his home in the bat­tered city of Aleppo and reached Turkey.

“I could be dead now. Or I could be cap­tured and held in a Free Syria prison,” Moazzen, 30, said in an Is­tan­bul back­street where he was tend­ing shop, sell­ing saf­fron and can­dies to veiled Saudi Ara­bian tourists.

If he stayed in Syria, as a sol­dier, he could have been or­dered to fire on fel­low Syr­i­ans in the war, he said. “I would have to shoot or be shot.”

But his moral­ity-based move has proved pun­ish­ing. A mi­gra­tion cri­sis is shak­ing gov­ern­ments. And a back­lash against refugees (Cen­tral Amer­i­cans flee­ing for U.S. cities such as Den­ver, Syr­i­ans and oth­ers aim­ing for Europe and North Amer­ica) in­creas­ingly im­pedes their search for safety.

Once-re­cep­tive na­tions such as Swe­den, fear­ing over­whelm­ing masses in cities, hold asylum-seek­ers in iso­lated ru­ral camps. Australia de­tains asy­lum­seek­ers for years on a South Pa­cific is­land, Nauru — shrug­ging off hu­man rights crit­i­cism.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity im­pris­ons Hon­duran, Gu­atemalan and El Sal­vado­ran women and chil­dren who fled per­se­cu­tion by gangs. U.S. of­fi­cials now hold some asylum-seek­ers in a third coun­try, Costa Rica, while back­logged ap­pli­ca­tions are pro­cessed.

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has vowed he will build more walls, reg­is­ter Mus­lims, and bar re­set­tle­ment of more refugees in the United States, un­less se­cu­rity vet­ting, to weed out ter­ror­ists, is in­creased, even though mul­ti­ple fed­eral agen­cies al­ready in­ves­ti­gate refugees be­fore they board planes to as­signed cities.

United Na­tions of­fi­cials bris­tle at the back­lash.

“Ac­cess to safety for per­sons in need of in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion in the re­gion (Turkey) and be­yond is cru­cial,” UN High Com­mis­sion for Refugees spokesman Selin Unal said. “We need all coun­tries to keep their bor­ders open for pur­poses of pro­tec­tion and asylum and to pro­vide much needed op­por­tu­ni­ties for those Syr­i­ans in need of hu­man­i­tar­ian ad­mis­sions be­yond the im­me­di­ate re­gion.”

This fall, UN lead­ers held a first global refugee sum­mit. They pro­posed to bring coun­tries to­gether to hash out a co­or­di­nated ap­proach that shares bur­dens, but mem­ber states, in­clud­ing the United States, balked at tak­ing any ac­tion.

No mat­ter how this plays out, the pres­sures up­root­ing peo­ple prob­a­bly won’t go away. En­vi­ron­men­tal change may churn out more refugees.

In our world, peo­ple have been mi­grat­ing since be­fore na­tions were formed. So what does it mean now if the world’s need­i­est peo­ple can’t find safe space to re­set­tle?

Moazzen lamented that, af­ter two years scram­bling to sur­vive in Is­tan­bul with Europe and the United States look­ing in­hos­pitable, he was con­sid­er­ing cross­ing back into Syria. Bomb­ing in Aleppo was in­ten­si­fy­ing last sum­mer as we spoke.

“It feels re­ally bad,” he said, com­par­ing him­self to the fish­er­man in his fa­vorite book, Ernest Hem­ing­way’s “Old Man and the Sea.”

Turkey stands out. It is strug­gling to ab­sorb 3 mil­lion refugees from neigh­bor­ing Syria. Thou­sands sleep on streets. Thou- sands more cram into aban­doned build­ings, squat­ting. Many need health care. Few speak the lan­guage. Chil­dren toil in sweat­shops so their fam­i­lies can eat. Turkey is­sues few work per­mits and grants “tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion” rather than rec­og­nize le­gal refugee sta­tus.

Turk­ish of­fi­cials are track­ing Syr­i­ans, re­quir­ing credit card­sized pa­per ID cards for ac­cess to lim­ited health care and schools. They’ve regis­tered 400,000 in Is­tan­bul (pop­u­la­tion 14 mil­lion) and In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials say many more likely re­side in the city. The sit­u­a­tion is com­pa­ra­ble to a surge of 80,000 non-English speak­ers into metro Den­ver — more than all an­nual refugee ad­mis­sions into the United States.

Euro­pean Union of­fi­cials have been press­ing Turkey to act as a buf­fer, pre­vent­ing mass un­con­trolled mi­gra­tion into Europe. Af­ter 2015, when more than 1 mil­lion Syr­i­ans and Africans en­tered Europe at a time when ter­ror­ism linked to im­mi­grants was ris­ing, the EU ne­go­ti­ated to pay Turkey $6 bil­lion if it ac­cepted refugees turned back from Greece.

Be­ing Europe’s buf­fer against mi­grants presents one more chal­lenge for Turkey, a na­tion al­ready tee­ter­ing on the cusp of so much: tra­di­tion vs. moder­nity, sec­u­lar vs. re­li­gion, democ­racy vs. dictatorial rule.

When I was in Turkey, dur­ing the purges the week af­ter the bloody failed coup in July, Turk­ish of­fi­cials in­di­cated they might re­ject the deal — un­less Europe paid the $6 bil­lion as promised and granted Turks ben­e­fits in­clud­ing visa-free travel in Europe.

The surge in mi­gra­tion looms so large at UN head­quar­ters that the re­place­ment for re­tir­ing Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon will be the former UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees An­to­nio Guter­res who has fo­cused on mi­gra­tion since 2005. Here are the key trends: •More up­rooted peo­ple — Be­yond the wars in Syria and Iraq and un­rest in Africa that are churn­ing out record num­bers of refugees, UN agen­cies pre­dict cli­mate change will up­root mil­lions more. The UN es­ti­mates 22.5 mil­lion peo­ple a year were dis­placed since 2008 due, in part, to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and cli­matere­lated fac­tors. The In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, the UN’s global sci­ence ad­vi­sory board, projects an ac­cel­er­at­ing in­crease. “Peo­ple are twice as likely to be dis­placed now than they were in the 1970s,” the IPCC said in a re­cent report. “Un­less strong cli­mate mit­i­ga­tion and adap­ta­tion mea­sures are im­ple­mented world­wide, along­side dis­as­ter-pre­pared­ness and dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion mea­sures, this trend is ex­pected to in­crease.”

•Bur­den shifts to cities — Mi­grants in­creas­ingly shun bor­der­land tent camps and move into cities be­cause of per­ceived bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet ba­sic needs and move on. In Turkey, fewer than than 10 per­cent of the Syr­ian refugees have stayed in refugee camps.

•Clos­ing doors in the U.S., Australia and Europe — Coun­tries that tra­di­tion­ally ab­sorbed the most mi­grants in­creas­ingly re­strict ac­cess. Na­tion­al­ist back­lash move­ments in Swe­den, Nor­way, Germany and France are forc­ing lead­ers to close doors. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, af­ter the “Brexit” driven in part by anti-mi­grant sen­ti­ments, said mi­grants ought to be kept in coun­tries they flee into first — such as Turkey.

•Ris­ing se­cu­rity wor­ries — The ter­ror­ist bomb­ing at Is­tan­bul’s air­port, af­ter the at­tacks in Paris linked to Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, has piqued se­cu­rity con­cerns. UN of­fi­cials have agreed to co­op­er­ate with na­tional author­i­ties to con­duct more care­ful screen­ing of mi­grants who claim to be refugees. “It’s al­ways pos­si­ble that peo­ple that en­ter coun­tries as refugees com­mit crimes and, when some­body does that, the per­son has to be pur­sued ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ple of crim­i­nal law,” UNHCR spokesman Unal said. “The fact that they are refugees does not ex­empt them at all from na­tional law. But it would be dan­ger­ous to gen­er­al­ize and to say that be­cause one refugee, or a few, have done some­thing wrong that all refugees are crim­i­nals. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber refugees are flee­ing for their lives.”

For Moazzen, frus­tra­tion sets in as tourists come and go and he feels his life slip­ping away. The land of the free that pro­duced Hem­ing­way no longer ap­pears to be an op­tion, he reck­oned, say­ing he’s heard that an ap­pli­ca­tion for asylum in the United States would re­quire ev­i­dence he’d be killed within hours if re­turned to Syria.

He shook his head. The claim that Syr­i­ans flee­ing war may be dan­ger­ous Is­lamic State sym­pa­thiz­ers “is pre­text” for re­ject­ing refugees, he said. Is­lamic State fight­ers in Syria and Iraq of­ten are dis­af­fected im­mi­grants from Europe or North Amer­ica, not Syr­i­ans, he said.

Another Syr­ian stuck here — Samer Alka­dri, 42, who fled Da­m­as­cus via Jor­dan with his wife and chil­dren — said he now views Euro­peans who want Turkey to be their buf­fer and Amer­i­cans who re­ject refugees as morally bank­rupt.

He’s given up try­ing to move on. In­stead, he said he’ll make the best of be­ing ma­rooned in a crowded Fatih neigh­bor­hood in Is­tan­bul next to ru­ins of a Byzan­tine church. Alka­dri founded the Pages Book­store Cafe, cater­ing to the grow­ing num­bers of Ara­bic-speak­ing refugees, with a play area for kids and as­pi­ra­tions of be­com­ing an oa­sis for cul­tural mix­ing. The idea is to be sec­ond home that gives in­tel­lec­tual sus­te­nance to refugees who in­creas­ingly are left in limbo.

Pages re­flects a spirit of hu­man­ity at a time when too many peo­ple turn their backs, Alka­dri said.

“We need a new sys­tem,” he said. “for hu­man­ity.”

An­drej Isakovic, AFP/Getty Im­ages file

A boy plays in a pud­dle at a makeshift camp oc­cu­pied by mi­grants and refugees at the Greek-Mace­do­nian bor­der near the vil­lage of Idomeni on March 24.

Syr­ian English teacher Ishan Moazzen faced con­scrip­tion into Pres­i­dent As­sad’s mil­i­tary and fled to Turkey, a moral­ity-based move that is prov­ing pun­ish­ing. Pho­tos by Bruce Fin­ley, The Den­ver Post

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