Week of October 8

Thousands of migrant workers gather at Asian Town every day from the workers’ dormitories in the desert outside of Doha, Qatar. Credit: Pete Pattisson.

On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad granted a general amnesty for men who deserted the army or have avoided military service. Men inside Syria will have four months to take advantage of the amnesty while those outside will have six months. The move could help boost the return of refugees, some of whom have not been able to go back home because they were blacklisted. While Tuesday’s amnesty covers desertion, it does not cover fighting against the government or joining the rebels, who are regarded by the Syrian government as “terrorists.”

Another questionable advocate encouraging Syrian refugees to return to their homes is a far-right German NGO. Alternative Help Association has started a new campaign, which includes videos shot in government controlled territories in Syria, and is aimed at convincing Syrian refugees in Europe that it is safe to return home. The NGO is dedicated to keeping Middle Eastern refugees out of the west. Earlier this year, they traveled to Lebanon where they tried to convince refugees not to come to Europe. Mario Muller, an AHA worker, told Al Jazeera, “Reasonable help for Syrians can only take place locally: every Euro we spent in our country for social benefits, integration and security related to refugees will do much better in their homeland.” Syrian journalist Wassim characterized the NGO’s mission as “hard to understand,” especially in light of the Syrian government’s brutality.

Meanwhile, the British government is attempting to block the return of at least nine Britons accused of fighting for Islamic State, as prosecutors may not have the power to bring the extremists to justice. The accused terrorists are currently being held in northern Syria. They include two members of the so-called “Beatles,” known as Daesh’s execution squad, as well two unidentified women along with their children. The British government is concerned that these individuals pose a serious threat to British citizens if they returned to the country. It has also tried to have two members of the notorious Jihadi John’s gang deported to the U.S, where they could face execution if found guilty. Abdulkarim Omar, the head of foreign affairs for the de facto autonomous Kurdish enclave of Rojave, also known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, where many of the captured fighters are being held, told the Telegraph that there are nearly 900 foreign IS fighters in their custody, with 400 to 500 wives and 1,000 children from 44 foreign countries. Omar warned foreign governments that the Rojave government will not continue to hold IS suspects forever and called the current situation “untenable.” Britain’s refusal to repatriate foreign fighters shows the growing concern following the defeat of the Islamic State in large areas the terrorist group once held. 

Migrant workers get an early morning haircut in the Industrial Area where their dormitories are located, on the outskirts of capital city of Doha. Credit: Pete Pattisson.

Qatar’s Asian Town, an entertainment and shopping center designed for migrant workers, has drawn mixed reviews, with some praising it for providing a space for leisure activities for Qatar’s millions of workers and others criticizing it for encouraging racial segregation. The Government Communication Office, in an official statement, claimed that the purpose of the government-owned center is to provide a place to buy South Asian goods that the largely South Asian migrant workers might miss. However, not everyone is in favor of the center. The former editor of Doha News, Shabina Khatri, called it “a step closer to segregating Qatar’s migrant worker population from the rest of the community.” The men, who are discouraged from bringing their wives and children with them, are already excluded from living in many neighborhoods because of family-zoning restrictions. Similarly, single men are not allowed in many public areas, such as malls other than Asian Town. Many workers live in labor camps in remote areas outside Doha. Conditions in these camps are often very difficult. One worker, who had recently experienced months without electricity and serious water scarcity, told the Guardian, “Whatever happens to us is of no consequence to [the company]. To them we are like worms and insects.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that, “Israel is everything we want the entire Middle East to look like going forward.” He praised the country for having a democratic government, prosperity, free press, and a desire for peace. He contrasted this with Iran and what he described as the country’s corruption and penchant for spreading terrorism. He underlined this comparison by comparing Obama’s relationship with Iran to Trump’s strong relationship with Israel. Pompeo also spoke about Trump’s forthcoming “deal of the century,” an Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative that the president has claimed will solve the crisis in the region. Pompeo expressed his hope that the deal would be beneficial to Palestinians and that it would eventually accord them “the same kinds of things, the same material, the same opportunities that the people of Israel have.” Earlier the same day, Pompeo denied $165 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority.

American Lara Alqasem, center, sits in a courtroom prior to a hearing at the district court in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner.

An American student has been detained in Israel since October 2nd for her past support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American of Palestinian descent from Florida, is being held at the Tel Aviv airport pending a court decision on her case. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs has stated that she is free to leave the country but Alqasem has chosen to appeal being denied entry into the country despite being in possession of a valid visa. The BDS movement is an international campaign intended to pressure Israel into making certain concessions regarding the status of the occupied territories and the Palestinian people. Alqasem had been accepted as a graduate student at Hebrew University. She was turned away at the airport after security officials performed a Google search that led them to her social media accounts and a right-wing website that follows pro-Palestinian activists on U.S. campuses. The Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said, “Israel, like every democracy, has the right to prevent the entry of foreign nationals, especially those working to harm the country. Therefore we work to prevent the entry of those who promote the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, which calls for Israel’s destruction.” The U.S. State Department affirmed the Israeli government’s right to refuse entry to any American wishing to enter the country. Hebrew University condemned the government’s actions and released a statement arguing that denying entry to someone with a valid visa will deter other academics from coming to the university in the future. Alqasem’s case will be heard by a judge in the coming days. 

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