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By Derek Oakley, Project Officer for Nonviolent Peaceforce in the Middle East

“Until now I was without hope. This training has given me hope.”

Simple but powerful words from *Omar. NP has organized intensive workshops in the Middle East to identify civilian efforts to help communities feel and be safer. Theirs are the stories that the world rarely sees or hears about, civilians that dedicate their time and energy for one another. They provide services such as basic health care and crèches (day centers) for children to escape from the stresses of the war. Others provide psycho-social support and legal advice to victims of domestic violence, which often increases in times of war.

However, even for the most dedicated, this vital work can take its toll, emotionally and physically. There are many, like Omar, who have been exposed to constant insecurity and violence for half a decade. After such a long period, one’s belief in the value, worth and efficacy of peace efforts may begin to falter. Nonviolent Peaceforce provides time and space for people like Omar so he can return to his community rejuvenated and energized to carry on his vital work in the midst of war.

Read more: Bringing Hope to the Middle East

Until now I was without hope. This training has given me hope.

Simple but powerful words from *Omar, a participant in one of NP’s intensive workshops in the Middle East to identify civilian efforts to help communities feel and be safer. These are the stories that the world rarely sees or hears about, civilians that dedicate their time and energy to promote nonviolence. They provide services such as basic health care and crèches (day care) for children to escape from the stresses of war. Others provide psycho-social support and legal advice to victims of domestic violence, which often increase in times of war.

However, even for the most dedicated, this vital work can take its toll, emotionally and physically. There are many, like Omar, who have been exposed to constant insecurity and violence for half a decade. After such a long period, one’s belief in the value, worth and efficacy of his or her efforts may begin to falter. Nonviolent Peaceforce believes that these heroes deserve better support that enables them to carry on. NP is providing that support.

Read more: Bringing Hope to the Middle East

If I had known about how I would be treated along this journey, I might have never left my country. Better to die under the bombs in my home than to be treated like this in Europe.

–Syrian refugee, Šid, Serbia, February 2016

In January 2016, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) deployed a team to the Balkans to assess protection needs of migrants and refugees, with a view to inform possible NP program development in the region. In particular, the team sought to understand sources of violence against refugees and migrants in order to determine how unarmed civilian protection could be used to reduce violence along the route.

(Photo 1: Adrianne Lapar and Lisa Fuller of the NP assessment team interview an Afghan
woman and her teenage daughter in a park in Athens. The women reported fear for
their security, especially at night, in their abandoned airport building shelter.)

Visiting key transit points in Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia, the team arrived during a critical turning point in the so-called “refugee crisis.” We arrived to assess protection needs, stemming from the largest mass migration to Europe since World War II, just as borders were shutting. The team witnessed firsthand how states have been struggling to cope with the massive influx: a fine balancing act between guaranteeing the rights and basic humanitarian needs of arriving refugees and migrants, and addressing the needs of their own citizens, including national security and social welfare.

Read more: Nonviolent Peaceforce Conducts Assessment along Refugee Migration Route in Europe

By Adrianne Lapar.

2016 03 06 GR Idomeni resizedKhameel sits on a piece of cardboard in a tent within northern Greece. We are literally a stone’s throw away from the border with Macedonia and far from Khameel's home in Iraq. But suddenly, his home doesn’t seem so distant when he leans in and tells me, “It’s like the conflict is following us.”

Khameel, a young Yazidi man from northern Iraq, has been displaced since August 2014, when the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) seized his hometown of Sinjar. “Daesh took our girls from us,” explains Khameel, referring to ISIL by its Arabic acronym and referencing its sexual enslavement of thousands of Yazidi girls. Khameel, along with tens of thousands of other Yazidis, fled to the Sinjar Mountains, and hid there for about a week before trekking on foot to northeastern Syria. There, he and other Yazidis scraped by for about a week, relying upon the goodwill of Syrian Kurdish civilians, before making their way to Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

Read more: Diary of a Peacekeeper: “It’s Like the Conflict Is Following Us”

Last week, the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) assessment team visited Serbia to continue its assessment of protection concerns facing refugees and migrants transiting through Europe. Their visit was especially timely, as it coincided with significant new border restrictions put in place by five of the major transit countries, including Serbia. These shifts in policy have already had negative implications for the rights of refugees and migrants and have left thousands of vulnerable individuals stranded across the Balkans. The consequences of these policy changes have been perhaps most alarming in Greece, where the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate as the refugee bottleneck grows. Highlighting things they saw in four cities around Serbia, the NP team captured the following photos:

Read more: The Assessment Team Visits Serbia

Now for another update from the Nonviolent Peaceforce Assessment team - These photos capture just a few of the steps that refugees make once they arrive to their first point of entry into Europe. Approximately 60 percent of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece are currently entering through Lesvos, traveling in small and often unsafe boats from Turkey, some 10 kilometres across the Aegean Sea. Upon arrival, refugees and migrants are required to register at the centre in Moria, housed in a former military base. Once registered, most new arrivals proceed by ferry to Athens, where many continue onward towards the Greek-Macedonia border in hopes of seeking asylum in other parts of Europe.

This photo shows the view from outside the Moria first reception centre in Lesvos, Greece:

 

 

 

 

 

 Here you see asylum seekers huddle around a fire at an informal camp outside the reception centre:

Lesbos2

 

 

 

 

 

Read more: Assessment Team Update – Refugees Arriving to Lesvos, Greece

Last week the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) team continued its assessment of ‎protection‬ concerns facing ‎asylum‬ seekers and ‎migrants‬ on their way to Europe. In Athens‬, the team interviewed refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Among those whom NP interviewed was Aatifa*, an elderly woman from Kabul, Afghanistan, who arrived in Athens, Greece, this week. She and her husband left Afghanistan several years ago due to insecurity, in hopes that their three teenage sons could have a better life in Iran.

However, the family was denied asylum and faced discrimination and threats from local authorities. After her husband succumbed to cancer, she and her sons decided to risk the journey for a better life in Europe. Traveling for over two weeks through snowy mountains across Iran, between the hands of smugglers in Turkey, and across the cold waters of the Aegean in an overcrowded raft, they eventually reached Greece.

When NP met them, Aatifa and her boys had little idea of what to expect for the journey ahead. "We don't know if it's safe or not, but we must go," said the mother, grasping the hand of her youngest son.

Stay tuned for the next update and experiences from Lesvos, Greece in a couple days.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the asylum seekers.

At the end of January, a Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) team arrived in Athens, Greece, to start an exploratory mission into areas along refugee migration routes in Europe. Stay tuned for weekly updates from staff as they move around Greece and share their findings of the current situation there.

Here, NP Middle East team director Tiffany Easthom explains the mission’s aims and the photo:
“The mission will assess the protection concerns refugees and migrants face as they travel into and across Europe and the Balkans, and explore ways NP’s approach could help reduce violence and protect the most vulnerable in this context.

Pictured here is Victoria Square, a frequent stop for many refugees transiting through Athens on their way to other locations in Europe. Several times a day, buses leave from near the square to Idomeni, a village in northern Greece. From there, refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan cross the border into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), while refugees and migrants from other countries are turned away, leaving many vulnerable to abuse and exploitation."

More information on Nonviolent Peaceforce Middle East coming soon!

Hosted by NGO Islamic Relief, the United Nations (UNWRA), Lebanese Red Cross, and the MENA regional office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) I recently spent a month in Lebanon - from mid December to mid January. It was most instructive to travel around this country right up to the Syrian border, getting to within just half an hour of starving Madaya that is currently in the media. I spent most of my time studying the conditions under which the recently arrived Syrian refugees live as well as the Palestinian refugees - who have been there for nearly 70 years. At least a third of the 4.5 million population of Lebanon is composed of refugees. Lebanon itself is slowly getting over its own earlier lengthy civil war and invasions from neighbours and remains unstable although as you drive along the Mediterranean coastline and see the booming shopping malls in Beirut, you would wonder what all the fuss was about.

Read more: Board Vice Chair Mukesh Kapila Visits NP in Lebanon