Title

Fleeing to Live: Syrian Refugees in the OSCE Region

Thursday, June 13, 2013
562 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington D.C., DC 20002
United States
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Benjamin Cardin
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Alcee hastings
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Michael Burgess
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Anne Richard
Title: 
Assistant Secretary
Body: 
Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State
Name: 
Yassar Bittar
Title: 
Government Relations and Advocacy Associate
Body: 
Coalition for a Democratic Syria
Name: 
Michel Gabaudan
Title: 
President
Body: 
Refugees International
Name: 
H.E. Namik Tan
Title: 
Ambassador to the United States
Body: 
Turkey
Name: 
Dr. Zaher Sahloul
Title: 
President
Body: 
Syrian American Medical Society

This hearing will focus on the more than 1.6 million Syrian civilians who have fled the ongoing violence in their country, their impact on the countries that are hosting them, and international efforts to support these refugees as well as the more than 5 million Syrians who are displaced in their own country. The countries that have opened their borders, and in many cases their homes, to the Syrian refugees include Turkey, an OSCE participating State, Jordan an OSCE Mediterranean Partner Country, and Lebanon, a country that has been historically engaged in the OSCE process. OSCE Partner, Egypt, and Iraq have been impacted by this crisis as well.

The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that by the end of 2013 there will be one million refugees each in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.  After more than two years, a resolution to the conflict remains elusive and the suffering of the Syrian people continues unabated. The hearing will examine the U.S. and international response to this unprecedented and expanding humanitarian crisis that threatens to destabilize the entire region. 

Relevant countries: 
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Peace and Security Concerns: Jordanian Perspectives The Israeli-Palestinian issue and the situation in Iraq dominated the staff delegation’s meetings with members of the Jordanian Parliament and other leaders in the government. During official meetings, Jordanian leaders emphasized to the visiting staff delegation that peace and security in the region hinges foremost, upon a resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The U.S. was repeatedly criticized for not exercising adequate leadership and effort to help bring a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict. Broad concerns were expressed by members of the Jordanian government that the U.S. is not listening to the advice offered by regional leaders in addressing problems in the Middle East. Jordanian Prime Minister, Dr. Marouf Bakhit, pointed out that while Jordan shares with the U.S. the goal of a stable and secure Middle East, the U.S. does not give adequate weight to advice from leaders in the region. Dr. Bakhit said that the Palestinian-Israeli issue is the central security concern in the Middle East and the major source of problems between the U.S. and countries in the region. He observed that the U.S. resorted to military tools in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and has remained fixated on military tools, rather than a mixture of political and economic instruments, as they had expected. He continued that there is concern that an anti-Western feeling due to the unjust treatment of the Palestinians is growing, and that there is a perception that the West (U.S.) maintains a double standard where Israel is concerned. He said that this issue has never been addressed and it is fueling resentment. Prime Minister Bakhit told the staff delegation that he was concerned that Iran is the strongest player in Iraq and about the influence of Iranian proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, on regional stability. Dr. Bakhit added that the Islamist parties have 17 out of the 110 seats in the Jordanian Parliament and expressed his optimism that this was due to their “moderate behavior” and participation in the political process. The Prime Minister spoke favorably of the upcoming municipal elections (occurred on 7/31, but the Islamists parties boycotted the elections). The Prime Minister expressed satisfaction with Jordanian-Israeli relations since the signing of the peace agreement between the two countries. He added that the major issue between Jordan and Israel was the Israeli-Palestinian problem, which lies at the heart of the broader Middle East issues. He further said that Israelis and Arabs should both be blamed for not pushing forward by adopting the Arab Initiative, which in his view, would have addressed collective security concerns. Dr. Bakhit said that the Arabs did not adequately market/explain the initiative to the Israeli public. He contended that the U.S. is circumventing the issue by talking about democratization and while “everybody is pushing Abu Masem (President Abbas), everybody is letting him down.” The Prime Minister concluded that perhaps the present situation suits Israel best because the Palestinians are weaker. Members of the Jordanian Senate and House of Representatives added their criticism of the U.S. for not adequately considering advice from Middle East leaders. Several senators, including Senator Leila Sharaf, said that the approaches adopted by the U.S. came from external viewpoints, and that the policies being implemented to address regional problems are not appropriate. As a result, issues such as Iraq and Palestinian conflict for example, are becoming more complicated. Senator Sharaf warned that if the Palestinian problem was not tackled in the appropriate manner and with urgency, the U.S. would see a greater crisis in the region. 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It was also pointed out that Jordan offered a Palestinian security force that they trained to address this concern five years ago, and that the Israelis promised to consider the matter, but failed to act on it. One Senator stated in strong terms that “the Palestinians are the only people who are still under occupation.” He said that “incursions by an occupying country creates instability,” and has led to a rise in fundamentalism. He reiterated that addressing the Palestinian crisis was the most pressing priority and that a failure to do so is hampering U.S. relations with people in Jordan and the region. He further argued that the money being spent fighting terrorism would be better used for investing in the country. In his view, this would be tackling the reasons that terrorism exists, rather than focusing on its symptoms. Stating that the image of the U.S. is steadily deteriorating, he urged that the U.S. reexamine its foreign policy and support the Arab Peace Initiative. The strongest criticism of the U.S. pertained to the situation in Iraq. Members of the Jordanian House and Senate criticized the U.S. for dismantling the Iraqi army and other security infrastructure as well as government institutions. The House Speaker pointed out that anyone that wanted a job under Saddam Hussein’s regime had to be a member of the Baath Party (but was not necessarily a Hussein supporter). He stressed that the U.S. alone could not bring security to Iraq and that the Iraqis themselves have to do so, but that the current Iraqi government resisted rehiring those that were let go, who could help to improve security. The Speaker said that the U.S. is in a very bad position in Iraq; the conflict has become bigger than Iraq; and the instability in the region is affecting commerce as well as the social and political dynamics. He characterized the Iraqi government as weak, noting that Iraq’s military is incapable of defeating the armed militias. In fact, he said, some of the Iraqi forces are militia members themselves. Concerns about adverse Iranian influence in Iraq and Lebanon were also raised. In decrying the many mistakes made by the U.S. in Iraq, including treating the Sunnis as though they were the legitimate leaders, the House Speaker observed that Iran has a very strong influence in Iraq. He argued that the Shias’ underdog status benefited Iran and that the U.S. actions, in this regard, fulfilled the Iranian government’s desire to be a major player in the region. The Speaker advised that the U.S. schedule a withdrawal of its forces as part of a package, including aid to military and other security forces, as well as reconciliation efforts that include all factions. He expressed confidence that a willingness for conciliation exists among Iraqis. He also cautioned that the U.S. withdrawal will bring added dangers as killings increase, Turkey becomes involved, and Iran increases its involvement. On Lebanon, the Speaker expressed concern regarding the ongoing conflict among the various factions. He said that external forces were preventing the Lebanese from reaching agreement. The issues of the approximately one million Iraqi refugees in Jordan and the related economic burden on the Jordanian government were also raised. One speaker stated that while some of the refugees had resources to invest, they do not pay taxes in Jordan. The level of U.S. financial support to Jordan was called insufficient, in comparison to that provided to Israel and Egypt. It was argued that Jordan needs support for its armed forces and police as well as in efforts to combat arms and drug trafficking, economic development, and water projects. The leader of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) in the Parliament argued that the Iraq situation illuminated the lies of the U.S. government regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. He maintained that the U.S. invaded Iraq for oil and for Israel, and criticized the result of U.S. actions in Iraq: one million Iraqis killed; U.S. division of Iraq; and the sectarian violence. He said that the U.S. must set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq. The IAF leader contended that the instability in Iraq is affecting Jordan and its economy, including trade with Lebanon. Noting, “We don’t hate Americans,” the head of the IAF followed that “we hate Zionists.” He charged that U.S. government is biased in favor of the Israelis; the U.S. supports Israeli aggression; and that the U.S. policies and lack of compassion for the Palestinians creates hatred toward Americans. He stated that “people don’t accept Israelis in the region, although regimes deal with them.” He further criticized the U.S. for calling for democracy, then refusing to accept the results of the Palestinian elections. He said “the U.S. wants democracy according to its own terms, not according to the will of the people.” He argued that these actions undermine the United States’ image in the region The staff delegation also met with Prince Feisal, who addressed Jordanian homeland security concerns, and Queen Rania, who noted that the human aspect of the Palestinian issue must be given attention. Prince Feisal observed that today’s concept of homeland security is more comprehensive, incorporating regional cooperation in combating terrorism and the trafficking of weapons into Jordan. He praised Jordan’s cooperation with the U.S. in intelligence sharing, noting that there is greater reliance on technology and information sharing. He added that Jordan has been targeted by Al Qaeda inside and outside of Iraq “because of differences in opinion.” He stated that extremist elements, such as Hamas continue to attempt to push weapons and people into Jordan while working to create allies inside the country. Queen Rania offered that while she understood that Hamas is not an entity with which people want to work, the reality is that a significant percentage of the Palestinian people are living under their control and under the poverty threshold. She added that Fatah will have to demonstrate the ability to deliver and get rid of corrupt elements. The queen said that that the radicals are using the Palestinian situation to spread their message and that all of the radical forces in the region are linked. Noting that today, the U.S. is viewed as a super power in decline, she advised that the U.S. exercise care in how it views the world and how it employs its power.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region Part 1

    The hearing focused on trends regarding freedom of the media in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) participating States, including developments in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. In particular, the hearing highlighted the fact that journalists continue to face significant challenges in their work in numerous OSCE countries, such as acts of intimidation, abduction, beatings, threats or even murder.

  • The 2007 Turkish Elections

    Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, presented an analysis of the parliamentary election in Turkey and what the results would mean for the future of U.S.-Turkey relations. The elections were deemed to be largely successful, and were decreed as free, fair, and transparent with an 80% voter turnout. This briefing also noted the difficulties of finding a balance between the Islamic and secular establishment and the rising tensions between Turkey and the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Research Council, Washington Institute; and Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy of the American Foreign Policy Council – focused on Turkish domestic politics and Turkish electoral relations after the elections. An optimistic view of government stability in light of the election results was presented. The activities of the PKK inside Turkey was identified as one of the main factors in shaping the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

  • Hastings and Cardin Wish Turkey Succesful Elections

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) issued the following statement in the lead up to the Turkish parliamentary elections, which will take place on Sunday, July 22: “Given the myriad of difficult challenges facing Turkey, it is our most sincere hope that Sunday’s elections will be free, fair, and conducted without any intrusion. The world has continued to watch this crisis unfold and it is critical that the issues, which could potentially affect security and stability in the region, are settled. We wish the people of Turkey successful elections and look forward to continuing to strengthen this historic partnership that we have shared over the past fifty years,” Hastings and Cardin said. The U.S. Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 10:00 a.m. in room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing entitled, “The 2007 Turkish Elections: Globalization and Ataturk’s Legacy,” will focus on Turkey’s July 22 parliamentary elections and the future of U.S.-Turkish Relations. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.  

  • Hastings to Hold Briefing on Turkish Elections and the Future of U.S.-Turkish Relations

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will hold a briefing on Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 10:00 a.m. in room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing entitled, “The 2007 Turkish Elections: Globalization and Ataturk’s Legacy,” will focus on Turkey’s July 22 parliamentary elections and the future of U.S.-Turkish Relations. Congressman Hastings will also be joined by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe Chairman Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL). The tensions between Turkey’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the military have continued to escalate. Public protests broke out in response to the AKP’s nomination of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as its presidential candidate, where many in Turkey believe that his nomination is a threat to secularism. The continued deadlock over Foreign Minister Gul’s nomination led to the announcement of early parliamentary elections to be held on July 22. These intensified clashes between secularists and Islamists as well as the Turkish government’s tension with the Kurds in northern Iraq, will have the world watching to see if Turkey can emerge from this crisis. Invited Speakers include: His Excellency Nabi Sensoy, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey Dr. Soner Cagaptay, Director, Turkish Research Program, The Washington Institute Mr. Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy, American Foreign Policy Council The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Pipeline Politics: Achieving Energy Security in the OSCE Region

    This hearing focused on the security of supply and transit of oil and gas and its role in conflict prevention.  Those testifying identified important factors for ensuring the reliable and predictable supply and transit of oil and natural gas. This hearing also discussed the United States’ role in its own energy security, and in Eurasian energy security.

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Condemns Kyrgyz Return of Uzbek Refugees

    Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed outrage about the forced return of Uzbek refugees by the Kyrgyz Government. Four refugees and one asylum seeker were deported on Wednesday to Uzbekistan, from which they had fled. “I am profoundly disappointed that Kyrgyzstan has forcibly returned these five individuals,” said Senator Brownback. “Kyrgyzstan did allow the UN to resettle to third countries the majority of refugees fleeing the Andijon shootings. I do not understand this change in policy, which certainly damages Kyrgyzstan’s international reputation. The consequences of this decision may be life threatening for the refugees.” “I urge President Bakiev to ensure this grave mistake is not repeated with other Uzbeks seeking shelter in Kyrgyzstan from the repressive Karimov regime,” added Senator Brownback. “I also urge President Karimov to allow the international community access to the returnees.” Four individuals were recognized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which had reportedly found third countries to accept their resettlement. Despite repeated UNHCR requests to Kyrgyz officials to allow the transfer, Kyrgyz authorities deported all five individuals to Uzbekistan on Wednesday. UNHCR had not been granted sufficient access to the fifth individual to determine whether he qualified as a refugee. “The forcible return of refugees to Uzbekistan, an egregious human rights abuser, is unconscionable and outrageous,” said Rep. Smith. “I had hoped the United States had found a reliable partner in President Bakiev, but apparently he’s more interested in pleasing Tashkent by offering up these poor souls for likely mistreatment than in upholding international commitments.” “Considering this and the recent expulsion of two American diplomats on specious grounds, we should take a long and hard look at the policies coming out of Bishkek and how they will affect the bilateral relationship,” said Rep. Smith. The four Uzbeks were being detained in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh for over one year due to an Uzbek extradition request. They were part of a larger group of over 400 refugees that crossed into Kyrgyzstan fleeing the shootings by Uzbek security forces in May 2005 in the Uzbek city of Andijon. UNHCR recognized the entire group as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory. The group was transferred to Romania last year for resettlement processing. Under the nonrefoulement obligation of the UN Refugee Convention, Contracting States must not forcibly return individuals to situations where their life and freedom would be threatened. In addition, Kyrgyzstan is obligated by the UN Convention Against Torture to not return individuals if there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

  • Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe

    The hearing, led by the Hon. Christopher H. Smith,  the Hon. Sam Brownback , and the Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, focused primarily on the legal restrictions on religious activities and other attacks on religious freedom, lagging efforts to combat trafficking in persons, discrimination and violence against Roma, and the prevalence of official corruption and organized crime. The efforts to encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to move beyond the limitations imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement will be discussed. Further, the plight of the displaced and minority communities of Kosovo, and the need for Serbia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal will also be covered.   

  • From Promises to Practice: Implementation of National Policies on Roma, Sinti and Travellers

    By Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law A recent conference on Romani issues provided a positive benchmark on how far the international community has come in addressing discrimination toward Europe’s largest ethnic minority group.  The meeting also served to highlight how much more national governments have to do to address the needs of Roma in their countries.  On May 4 and 5, 2006, the Government of Romania, along with several inter-governmental and non-governmental partners, hosted an “International Conference on the Implementation and Harmonization of National Policies for Roma, Sinti, and Travellers:  Guidelines for a Common Vision.”  The two-day meeting, conducted in Romani, Romanian, and English, was well attended and focused on housing, employment, community policing, and the status of Roma in Kosovo. Although one opening speaker joked that the magnitude of logos on display for the numerous hosts reminded him of medieval European heraldic insignia, the meeting demonstrated that at least in one area – Romani issues – two major players in this field, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, are able to put aside institutional rivalries in favor of cooperation.  The conference hosts included the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Union Monitoring Center, the European Roma and Travellers Forum, the OSCE, the Project on Ethnic Relations, and the Romanian Government in its capacity as Chair of the Council of Europe and as President of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.  The Bucharest conference was convened to follow up on a similar meeting held in October 2005 in Warsaw. The title of the meeting underscored one of the key goals of Romani activists: turning promises into practice.  For national governments, this means developing both the legal framework as well as the political will necessary for the full implementation of national policies and practices that meet the needs of their Romani minorities.   Currently eight countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia – participate in the “Decade of Roma Inclusion.”  The Decade is a multilateral initiative, supported by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the World Bank, designed to establish measurable national goals for improving the situation of Roma in four priority areas:  education, employment, health, and housing.  In the context of this initiative, all of the countries involved have adopted national action plans as a basis for addressing these specific areas during the period 2005-2015. Romani leaders look to opportunities like the Bucharest conference to push for improved implementation of the action plans.  Nicolae Gheorghe, a veteran of the Romani civil rights movement who will soon conclude his tenure as the OSCE Senior Advisor remarked that, 16 years ago, he thought the impetus for change would come from international organizations.  Today, he suggested, change must be implemented by national governments. The focus of the conference was by no means exclusively on the eight Decade countries.  While these eight countries collectively are home to roughly half of Europe’s Romani population, the addition of Central Europe’s large Romani minority into an expanded European Union has also served to heighten the attention given to Romani issues in Western Europe.  This heightened awareness was reflected in the inclusion of speakers from countries such as Finland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  Indeed, one Council of Europe speaker drew pointed attention to problems “in some of the oldest members of the European Union.” The situation of Roma in Kosovo as well as Kosovo Romani refugees and internally displaced person was addressed in a plenary session that underscored the widespread concern over the precarious situation of that particular Romani community.  The plight of Kosovo Roma remains a top priority for Romani activists across the region.  Some speakers argued that Romani representatives should be included in the ongoing status talks on Kosovo. The conference also addressed the issues of housing, employment, and police relations as they relate to the Romani communities.  A Council of Europe official suggested that, in the aftermath of Romania’s recent floods, the Romanian Government should take advantage of the opportunities presented in the post-emergency context to regularize the legal status of Romani housing in flood-affected areas.  A Hungarian Romani police officer noted that the inspiration for his transnational Romani Police Officers Association came from a meeting in New York with representatives of the National Black Police Officers Association. Changes Bring New Challenges As a benchmark for progress, the conference clearly showed how far the international community has come in addressing Roma issues.  In 1994, the OSCE held its first seminar on Romani human rights issues.  At that meeting, two interventions illustrated clearly the chasm that separated governments from the experiences and perspectives of their most vulnerable citizens.  On one side stood Florina Zoltan, who described the brutal pogrom in Hadareni, Romania, that one year earlier had left her a young widow.  On the other side, an Italian Government official welcomed the opportunity to attend a meeting where one could finally talk about that pesky “Gypsy crime problem.”  There was little room for dialogue, let alone mutual cooperation. Twelve years later, the landscape has changed dramatically.  Many government delegations to the Bucharest conference included Romani officials, and the improvements made in protecting the basic human rights of Roma now leaves enough political space for the discussion of other factors which contribute to the marginalization of Europe’s largest minority.  (At the same time, this development prompted one Romani NGO to lament the virtual decapitation of the Romani civil rights movement:  as more Roma move into government and inter-governmental positions, there are fewer independent Romani voices to hold those authorities accountable.) As the number of international meetings on Romani issues has increased in recent years, organizers of such meetings face considerable challenges in meeting the ever higher expectations for them, and governments, non-governmental actors, and international organizations must work hard to avoid duplication and create a sense of forward motion and real change.  And, as suggested in concluding remarks by a Council of Europe representative, such conferences must figure out how to reach out to local governments, national parliaments and, above all, the majority populations which are the source of the discrimination Roma face.

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