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Middle East Gets Rare Blanket of Snow, Amnesty Slams EU for Failing Syrian Refugees

(FRANCE 24 with AFP), December 13, 2013

Cairo, Egypt, had its snow event for the first time in a century Downtown Damascus, Syria

Jerusalem, Palestine Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon

Much of the Middle East, from Egypt to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, were this weekend experiencing an unusual cold snap that has left much of the region covered snow.

A winter storm brought a blanket of snow to the Middle East Friday, forcing the closure of roads, schools, and piling misery on Syrians in refugee camps across the region.

The storm also buried Jerusalem in snow, flooded parts of Gaza and brought freezing, wet weather to war-ravaged Syria. Egypt experienced its first covering of snow in living memory as temperatures plummeted and torrential rain also lashed the country.

"It is the first time in very many years [that it has snowed in the suburbs of Cairo]", Ali Abdelazim, an official at the meteorological centre, told AFP.

"The whole garden was white," said Karim Kheirat by telephone from the new town of Medinati, northeast of Cairo. "It's the first time in my life that I have seen it like this."

Amnesty slams EU for failing Syrian refugees in satirical video

The Syrian refugee crisis is the greatest ‘inaction blockbuster’ of 2013, according to Amnesty International, who recently published a satirical video denouncing the EU, which has taken in only 12,000 of the estimated 2.3 million Syrian refugees.

Forget ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Star Trek’, the blockbuster of 2013 is called ‘The Apathetics.’

In a satirical video that imitates all the conventions of a Hollywood hit, human rights group Amnesty International has denounced the European Union’s failure to respond to the growing Syrian refugee crisis, as almost 2.3 million refugees prepare for the third winter since the conflict began in March 2011. With snow already on the ground, it’s a winter that promises to be harsh.

The stars are French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron, both singled out for the gap between their ‘talk’ and their ‘walk.’ The video highlights the fact that France has thus far opened its doors to only 500 Syrian refugees and the UK has welcomed zero. The only European country that comes out looking good in the video is Germany, which has accepted 10,000 Syrians, or 80% of all Syrians refugees resettled in Europe.

Excluding Germany, nine EU countries have taken in a total of 2,340 refugees. It’s a tiny number when compared with the 2.3 Syrians who have fled their country. Eighteen EU countries have offered no places at all.

“The EU has miserably failed to play its part in providing a safe haven to the refugees [...] the number of those it’s prepared to resettle is truly pitiful. Across the board European leaders should hang their heads in shame,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

The lucky few who do secure a place in Europe are faced with an incredibly slow administrative process. The 500 Syrian refugees accepted in France, for example, won’t arrive before May or June 2014, said Jean-François Dubost, the head of the refugee department for Amnesty International France, in an interview with FRANCE 24

Seeking asylum

Discouraged by the EU’s timorous overtures of aid, many refugees attempt to come to Europe by their own means and claim asylum once on European soil.

But a migrant’s journey to Europe is perilous, especially through the Mediterranean passage, as evidenced by the recent shipwreck in which many refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia lost their lives next to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Many Syrians undertake that same journey.

“More than 10,000 refugees from Syria are reported to have arrived along Italy’s coast in the first 10 months of this year,” Amnesty International reported.

The journey by land is equally difficult. Refugees seeking to enter the EU through Bulgaria and Greece, the two principal points of entry, are met with “deplorable treatment,” according to Amnesty.

The human rights organisation has collected and published testimonies given by the migrants. Some recount shipwrecks at sea, unlawful pushback operations by Greek authorities and detention for weeks in poor conditions in Bulgaria.

These practices are “contrary to international law”, said Dubost.

UN calls on EU to accept 30,000 migrants

While waiting for Europe to act, Syria’s neighbours Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt have accepted 97% of refugees, according to numbers reported by Amnesty. In Lebanon, the number of refugees has swollen to account for a third of the entire population.

The critical situation is quickly becoming a regional crisis. It’s just one more reason, Amnesty said, that the EU should intensify its efforts.

“The EU sends money but does nothing concrete for the victims of this conflict. It’s not a technical problem, it’s a political decision,” said Dubost.

At the very least, he said, Europe should fulfil UN-set goals by resettling 30,000 Syrian refugees.

For most Syrian refugees, there is no sight yet of a Hollywood ending.

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