A Flood of Refugees



Rabih Shibli and his team from the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service at the American University of Beirut heard about the garage through their close contact with various relief organisations. Mr. Shibli is an energetic man, impatient with posturing. He sees a problem and seeks results. Mr. Shibli’s team, including a young architect Ali Adnan Basma, raised funds from individuals and from charities such as Secours Islamique and Medrar Foundation in order to refurbish the garage. The point was to “make the inside livable”, he said. In a matter of months, their team was able to upgrade the garage so that the refugees could live a less precarious life.

Almost seven hundred thousand Syrian refugees are now in Lebanon, a state weakened by a long civil war, an Israeli occupation and constant threats of the return of both. “There is always that shadow,” says the writer Sahar Mandour, whose novels shine a light onto contemporary Lebanese society. The
15125371Lebanese state, like that of Iraq and Jordan, is not able to manage the crisis by itself. It has come to rely on the U.N. and its specialised agencies to coordinate and even manage refugee relief.

Even the U.N. is overwhelmed. One problem is funds. Much is promised, says the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but little makes it to the ground. The Regional Refugee Response Plan calls for $3 billion toward relief, but only 37 per cent of it has been funded. For humanitarian assistance inside Syria, the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has asked for $1.4 billion but has only been promised 43 per cent of that amount. The funding pledges made at the Kuwait conference in January have yet to materialise. The humanitarian effort is “hampered by lack of funding”, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Because of this, the World Food Program has had to “reduce the size of its food parcels to keep pace with the growing numbers in need. If additional aid is not urgently received, there will be a break in the food pipeline in October”.

To help stem the unfolding crisis, the U.N. has designated Nigel Fisher to be the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator. As of now, five countries in the region have been the recipients of the nearly two million Syrians who have fled their country (an additional five million are internally displaced). Of these, the largest number is in Lebanon (nearing 700,000) with Jordan not far behind (just over 500,000). Parenthetically, the U.S. has only taken in 33 Syrian refugees. Egypt, which was very generous with Syrian refugees from 2011, placed restrictive entry procedures from July 8. Syrians who arrived on aircraft from Latakia and Damascus were sent home if they did not have a visa and prior security approval, according to UNHCR. Most refugees end up in Lebanon and Jordan where the weak states rely upon municipal leaders and ordinary citizens to bear the cost of relief. Over 4150 children have crossed into Syria’s neighbours without an adult, according to Unicef.

In Sarafand, not far from Aaqbiye, Mr. Shibli and his team found Syrian refugees living in substandard tents. Using locally fabricated materials including marine plywood and corrugated sheets, he was able to design a house whose prototype cost $1500 per unit. If he made more of them, he said, the cost would come down by nearly half. The UNHCR has gone into partnership with the IKEA Foundation to make pre-fabricated homes that cost $10,000 per house. The IKEA homes are made in Europe, they are harder to repair and they will not endure high velocity winds, says Mr. Shibli, a believer in local construction for refugee homes. Locally built homes would save the U.N. money, he says, and it would employ local people into economies wracked by the refugee influx.

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (Verso, 2013).

A version of this article originally ran in The Hindu

Vijay Prashad, director of International Studies at Trinity College, is the editor of “Letters to Palestine” (Verso). He lives in Northampton.

Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?
Barry Lando
Syria: Obama’s Bay of Pigs?
Karl Grossman
The Politics of Lyme Disease
Andre Vltchek
Southeast Asia “Forgets” About Western Terror
Jose Martinez
American Violence: Umpqua is “Routine”?
Vijay Prashad
Russian Gambit, Syrian Dilemma
Sam Smith
Why the Democrats are in Such a Mess
Uri Avnery
Nasser and Me
Andrew Levine
The Saints March In: The Donald and the Pope
Arun Gupta
The Refugee Crisis in America
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Lara Santoro
Terror as Method: a Journalist’s Search for Truth in Rwanda
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Elections and Verbal Vomit
Dan Glazebrook
Refugees Don’t Cause Fascism, Mr. Timmermann – You Do
Victor Grossman
Blood Moon Over Germany
Patrick Bond
Can World’s Worst Case of Inequality be Fixed by Pikettian Posturing?
Pete Dolack
Earning a Profit from Global Warming
B. R. Gowani
Was Gandhi Averse to Climax? A Psycho-Sexual Assessment of the Mahatma
Tom H. Hastings
Another Mass Murder
Anne Petermann
Activists Arrested at ArborGen GE Trees World Headquarters
Ben Debney
Zombies on a Runaway Train
Franklin Lamb
Confronting ‘Looting to Order’ and ‘Cultural Racketeering’ in Syria
Carl Finamore
Coming to San Francisco? Cra$h at My Pad
Ron Jacobs
Standing Naked: Bob Dylan and Jesus
Missy Comley Beattie
What Might Does To Right
Robert J. Burrowes
Gandhi Jayanti, Gandhi’s Dream
Raouf Halaby
A Week of Juxtapositions
Louis Proyect
Scenes from the Class Struggle in Iran
Christopher Washburn
Skeptik’s Lexicon
Charles R. Larson
Indonesia: Robbed, Raped, Abused
David Yearsley
Death Songs