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Jordan Distorting the Reality of Syrian Refugees’ Conditions through Misinformation Campaign: Siraj Davis

July 2, 2015

(*Republished from AlWaght News: http://alwaght.com/en/News/12984/Jordan-Distorting-the-Reality-of-Syrian-Refugees%E2%80%99-Conditions-through-Misinformation-Campai)

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Siraj Davis, a Jordan-based journalist and political commentator, says that Syrian refugees are living in miserable conditions in Jordan, stressing that mainstream media outlets and preachers in Amman have launched a misinformation campaign in an attempt to portray a positive image of the migrants’ terrible state and distort the facts about them.

 

“Publications in Jordanian newspapers and on internet forums, are heralding accomplishments of philanthropy and acts of aid for these Syrian refugees, giving an impression that there is sufficient succor, but the majority of the Syrian refugees are NOT ascertaining such help as the preceding boast about in Jordanian news and internet sites,” said Siraj Davis in an exclusive interview with Alwaght news website.

He further added, “Sheikhs [preachers] are convincing the public that refugees begging for aid are really criminals or fraudsters.

Alwaght has interviewed Siraj Davis in a bid to dig a little deeper to uncover the underlying facts about the miserable conditions of the Syrian refugees in Jordan.

The following is the full text of Alwaght’s interview with Siraj Davis:

 

Alwaght: Various reports by world’s rights bodies have exposed the plight of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey and other neighboring countries of the Arab state. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] published a study “Living in the Shadows” last week, revealing the increasingly desperate conditions of Syrian refugees living in urban and rural areas across Jordan. The report’s findings are based on data gathered using questionnaires answered by some 150,000 Syrian refugees, carried out during home visits by UNHCR’s partner International Relief and Development in 2014. Almost half of the households visited had no heating, a quarter had unreliable electricity, and 20 percent had no functioning toilet. Rental costs accounted for more than half of household expenditures, and refugee families were increasingly being forced to share accommodations with others in order to reduce costs. According to the study, two-thirds of refugees across Jordan are now living below the national poverty line, and one in six Syrian refugee households lives in abject poverty, with less than $40 per person per month to make ends meet. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, stated that large numbers of Syrian refugees are sliding into abject poverty, and at an alarming rate, due to the magnitude of the crisis and insufficient support from the international community. What is your take on this as someone who is an eyewitness to the plight of the Syrian refugees?

Davis: The situation of the Syrian refugees in Jordan is accurately depicted by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Anotion Guterres. The Syrian refugees’ lives are quickly deteriorating into the nadir of living below abject poverty. Some are already below such line. Interviews of refugees indicate severe hardship under conditions near to animal existence. Animal existence meaning the aid necessary for life from organizations and Jordanian communities is becoming more limited. A disturbing number of Syrian refugees are beginning to fend for themselves in many aspects, while only their movement is supervised, as if cattle.

Organizations are closing their doors or finding illegitimate excuses to avoid remedying the dire medical and financial necessities of the Syrian refugees. Affluent individuals in the Jordanian communities with a surplus of money or access to facilities for treatment are turning their backs to pleas of aid as well. The mosques and churches are not doing enough. Worse, a couple of the mosques have religious leaders who on top of their anti-Shiite propaganda every Friday sermon, are concocting detrimental canards against all refugees. Those sheikhs are convincing the public that refugees begging for aid are really criminals or fraudsters. They also over-emphasize the fact that some refugees in Jordan have money yet do not care for their own, thus tacitly implying that Jordanian citizens need not be responsible for nor feel guilty for refusing to aid refugees. It’s becoming endemic thought in the Jordanian public unfortunately.

The UN’s $40 a person grant for Syrian refugee households has now decreased to $10. One family we interviewed had a family of eight, yet was only granted $40 for the entire family in consequence to some clerical error in UNHCR paperwork. Exigent medication including blood transfusions and life-saving operations such as heart surgeries for infants and adults, are less accessible as before. One 6-month-old child has been waiting months in order to get a life-saving heart surgery. Another family contains children suffering from Thalassemia. Their medical costs are approximately 1,000 JDs a month and have not received such treatment in several months. There is no one to help the preceding cases. And there are more cases. Publications in Jordanian newspapers and on internet forums are heralding accomplishments of philanthropy and acts of aid for these Syrian refugees, giving an impression that there is sufficient succor, but the majority of the Syrian refugees are NOT ascertaining such help as the preceding boast about in Jordanian news and internet sites.

In regards to living conditions, Syrian refugees are residing in cramped quarters that are unsanitary. Some even are living in the basements, roves, kitchens, or living rooms of relatives of other kind-hearted community activists. The other option is to reside in the camps where there is no electricity and tents as housing. Although Syrian refugees are not allowed to work, it is tacitly understood the majority do. The majority of their expenses are spent at housing costs. In many cases, Syrian refugees’ rents exceed their income which leaves them little opportunity but to find other alternative means such as asking family members abroad for money, begging in the streets, or working illegally.

One aspect not mentioned often, is the protection and rights these refugees lack. Those working must be in constant fear of being caught and deported. One man ran from police when they raided his place of employment only to get away with a broken leg, no employment, and a medical bill. Another Syrian refugee was working in a salon when it was raided by police, but the owner paid 50 jds for the law enforcement to overlook her. Refoulement has increased as a measure not retained for infractions by Syrian refugees, but as an instrument to depopulate Jordan of them. Palestinian Syrian refugees receive the worst brunt of immigration standards. For example, one man was deported back to Syria because the immigration officer mistakenly identified him as a Palestinian Syrian, when he wasn’t. His mother and pregnant wife remained in Jordan while their 12-year-old child earns income by working at a coffee shop. Another aspect of basic lack of rights is the Jordanian government’s de facto and de jure omission of crimes against Syrian refugees. Officials view the reporting of crimes against Syrian refugees as unfairly raising the crime statistics of the nation so some officials do their best to downplay or efface complaints by the refugees. In one case, a husband was tied to a tree and whipped with a belt in front of screaming children and silent neighbors for late rent, by the landlord of the apartment. The wife and her husband reported the crime but no action was taken. There are also complaints of rape and discrimination that are never addressed.

In summation, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Anotion Guterres’ observations are accurate for refugees but either outdated, or incomplete. The situation is much worse today. The Syrian refugees are living without basic medication, medical treatment, finances, decent housing, and protection that normal citizens and humans of every nation enjoy. It is point-blank, a tragedy. It is hell. Organizations in Jordan are incapable and the Jordanian community unwilling. The international community is failing miserably here in Jordan. There is a scary consensus among Syrian refugees and Jordanian citizens (including government and NGO workers) that the money allocated toward Syrian relief is being pocketed. These reports have not been confirmed though. However, the numbers of refugees crossing into Jordan is increasing, Jordanian authorities and citizens are becoming impatient, and some horrible event is the only foreseeable occurrence with the current trajectory. It is as Angelina Jolie described, “a sea of excluded humanity.”

Alwaght: Syrian and Iraqi refugees streamed across the border after the terrorist group launched an offensive in Iraq in early June 2014 and later in some parts of Syria. The US formed an international coalition in September to battle ISIS terrorists operating in Iraq and Syria through aerial bombardments. The air strikes have so far failed to stop the military gains of the Takfiri group. According to a report published by Fox News on May 29, US military pilots carrying out the air war against the ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria are voicing growing discontent over heavy-handed rules of engagement hindering them from striking targets.

 

For what purposes are such attacks being launched? Why have former and current US officials repeatedly raised the specter of a prolonged war against the ISIS terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria?

Davis: The US Intel and infiltration of extremist groups in Syria have been occurring at least since the 1980s according to CIA memorandums. The US recognized that the only potential force to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, were these extremists. US interests and activity in Syria were severely hindered, but not entirely severed, after Stephen Meade and Whappen and Straggle. Nevertheless, the Agency has been there in Syria with the goal of eliminating a tough opposition to the 2 state solution in Palestine/Israeli regime. And they still are.

The extremists have a purpose for the US. Always have had one. They allow the US to weaken Syria until a viable option presents itself and to convince the Iraqi government that it’s in their best interest to cooperate with the opposing demographic population and to maintain equilibrium between US/Iran relations.

Simultaneously, the US may keep its body count of American soldiers low, thus avoid draining popular support for US operations in Iraq and Syria, as what occurred in Vietnam. The US has decided to engage in an El Salvadoran choice for Iraq and Nicaraguan Contra choice for Syria. Furthermore, if Iraq crumbles, it allows the blame to be placed upon the Iraqi government and military as with the ARVN in Vietnam. The ultimate goal of the US is to discover what they describe as ‘moderate’ forces. Those ‘moderate’ forces are not defined by whether they are extremists or not. They are defined by whether they will recognize the Israel. The military persistent costs of defending Israel and recent engagement in wars to topple dictators in Western Asia is not beneficial, unless Israel’s security and Western cooperative governments are set up afterwards.

Therefore, the US bombing campaign is only a tactical surgery which allows the US to be a participatory arbitrator playing periods of a football game, wherein it seems beneficial. US strength as WWI and WWI demonstrates is that of a bald eagle. A bald eagle waits till the fishing hawk catches its prey, then the eagle steals the fish from the fishing hawk when the latter feeds its nest. In addition, Sunni and Shiite differences aggrandized by extremism avoid a unified front by the former and latter which would threaten the US as a tiny King Bird chases the eagle when determined. Finally, the restraint on the US bombing campaign affords the opportunity for ISIS to proliferate to an extent wherein it may convince Arab nations to support and collaborate with US efforts more and also highlight the benefits of modernization and secularism and Israel (though the latter two are an oxymoron because Israel is a Jewish entity) over Islamic government and rule. The US does not want to obliterate ISIS. If the US truly did, a convoy of death as what occurred in Iraq would be commenced without a blink of the eye in Syria and Iraq. This is a chess game. As Alexander Downs “Targeting Civilians” reveals statistically, innocent non-combatants will be the majority of the victims who will pay the ultimate price.

Alwaght: The ISIS terrorist group has been committing heinous crimes in Iraq and Syria, including mass executions and beheading of men, women and children. Many political commentators maintain that an international fact-finding commission ought to be formed in order to prosecute the ISIS and its backers under international law. What do you think?

Davis: I believe that an international fact-finding mission is pertinent to highlighting the abuses of extremism and should be conducted.

However, I feel it should be applied to all sides of the conflict not exclusive to ISIS. Like an Amnesty to all sides based on disclosure of truth supervised by the EU as with El Salvador. Otherwise, a fact-finding mission may not be as effective as some may feel because fresh memories of American (Abu Ghraib, rendition, etc.) and other entities’ atrocities (such as death squads by Col. Steele, Negroponte, and Ford) are still in the minds of the population in Western Asia. Therefore, the effect of such mission would be stymied by the proceedings’ very fact. Furthermore, the effectiveness of a fact-finding mission would also be atrophied because ISIS is now transforming its strategy. Interviews with refugees from Syria and Iraq indicate that ISIS is now engaging in a battle of legitimacy instead of solely military warfare. For example, refugees reported that ISIS is offering public services that former governments did not provide (consistent water and electricity, lower prices for bread, trash clean up). They are also granting payment and jobs to former unemployed residents (e.g. $200 for the unemployed). They are also offering free health care. The preceding is very dangerous and needs to be addressed. Thus, exposing the atrocities of ISIS by principles must be performed, yet its effectiveness in the propaganda aspect is questionable in regards to its timing and its conduct.

It is my belief that a more balanced approach with the El Salvador Peace and reconciliation commission scenario would be much more effective and longer lasting. It would eliminate accusations of bias and reveal real lessons humanity could appreciate and learn from. Even if ISIS were destroyed in name by revealing its inhumane acts, its members, like gangsters on the streets of the US, would only jump from ISIS to Ahram Al Shams, Jabat Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, Naqshbanid, GMCIR, and even moderate elements such as the [so-called] Free Syrian Army. The nature of insurgency precludes destruction of a single group to quell social unrest, only political resolutions can do such. Part of the political solution, a part, but an important role, is reconciliation. Iraq and Syria need this exigent aspect if they intend to survive in the future. We all as humans, as officials, as governments, need to be direct to the point with prudence toward each opposing side’s goals and desires, transparently honest, and forgiving in order to reach unity. The simple formula of placing peace above war includes the prior and if the affluent in a community really desire peace, it will appear. And all parties including Shiite, Sunni, Iran, Saudi Arabia, US, and so on should be involved.

Siraj Davis has a Master of Arts in History and is currently a teacher with a command of six languages and a freelance journalist for human rights issues. He has spent eight years researching examples of violent and non-violent insurgencies and counterinsurgencies or Low Intensity Conflicts across the world, in various contexts and backgrounds. His first book was “Religious Fanaticism and Abolition: Early 19th Century Marginalization of David Walker and Nat Turner” and he is currently working on his second book “The Pursuit of Love against the War on Terrorism.” He has also published various academic journal and newspaper articles. He has organized and lobbied for human rights and immigration reform with organizations such as Amnesty International, American Families United, SOA Watch, US Campaign for Burma, the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights, and more. Davis is president of the Collective Consciousness human rights organization and a constituent of the Truth Justice and Peace Movement. He is currently focused on the Free Ziyad Yaghi Campaign, Peace in Palestine/Israel Conflict, and all refugees.

Interview by Javad Arab Shirazi

 

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