The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on Nov. 19 ruled that foreign military draft evaders may be entitled to asylum in the EU. In what was technically a preliminary ruling in an ongoing case, the court held that there is a "strong presumption" that people escaping military service under authoritarian regimes are entitled to asylum, if evasion is motivated by "political opinions, religious beliefs or...by membership of a particular social group." The ruling follows a referral from the Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgericht) of Hanover, Germany, seeking an interpretation of the EU Directive on International Protection. The Directive provides the standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons to be beneficiary of international protection in the European Union.
Nearly a year after the height of a devastating government offensive that forced a million people from their homes in Syria's rebel-held northwest, doctors and aid workers are warning that the region's civilians, especially young children, face a new threat: rising hunger. In Idlib province, the situation is worsened by mass displacement and a population already in dire need after years in the crosshairs of conflict—putting an estimated four million people, including 1.5 million in camps, at particular risk of hunger and malnourishment.
Progressives in the United States show little awareness of the disinformation specially targeting them. Denialism about Russian interference in the US elections, and the horrific realities of Russia's client state in Syria, is now translating into denialism about how dangerous the Trump presidency is. Syria solidarity activists have long been aware of the flood of pro-Assad disinformation on social media. Research from the University of Washington corroborated what activists have observed—it documented four times as many disinformation tweets about the Syrian White Helmets volunteer first-responder group in 2017 compared to factual tweets. In 2016, we saw the same pro-Assad sites and writers post memes and articles that trashed Hillary Clinton, equated Clinton and Trump, or even portrayed Clinton as the worse choice. They dominated "Leftbook" social media and helped depress the progressive vote. Ten million fewer Democrats voted in 2016 than 2012—a decisive factor in Trump's win. We are seeing a replay now. Biden and Harris are denounced far more than Trump on some "left" sites, while Trump's incipient fascism is downplayed.
Human Rights Watch condemned Russia and the Syrian government in a report Oct. 15 for launching at least 46 documented deadly attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria's northern Idlib province. The report reveals that the Russian-backed offensive targeted hospitals, schools, markets, and other essential facilities for over 11 months from April 2019. HRW contends that these attacks violated international humanitarian law and may constitute crimes against humanity. The HRW claims are supported by a similar report from Amnesty International in May 2020, which detailed 18 unlawful air and ground attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria.
Over the past months, dozens of Syrian refugees have been deported by the Jordanian government to Rukban, a desolate camp across the Syria-Jordan border. Authorities say those targeted for deportation have "security" issues, but returnees to the camp deny having had any problems with law enforcement in Jordan. Amnesty International said Sept. 16 that at least 16 refugees had been "forcibly transferred" to Rukban over the past month alone. Watchdog groups say the deportations are a violation of asylum-seekers' rights, and that sending a refugee back to likely harm—known as refoulement—is prohibited under international law. While Jordan has been quietly deporting asylum-seekers for several years, this is the first time it has been accused of forcible transfers to the desert no-man's-land, which experiences scalding temperatures and is largely cut off from food and medicine supplies. "[I]t's still a human rights violation regardless of what [the refugees] are accused of," said Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch. "These deportations have happened with no fair trial or due process."
In a meeting hosted by the Yazidi autonomous territory of Ezidikhan in northern Iraq last month, representatives of tribal peoples and ethnic minorities from across the Middle East and North Africa agreed on a framework for a region-wide alliance of stateless nations struggling for self-determination and autonomy. The meeting at the Ezidikhan seat of Shingal (also rendered Sinjar) was attended by representatives of the Mandaeans and Zoroastrians as well as Yazidis. Messages of support were also sent by the Shabaks of Iraq, Ahwazi Arabs of Iran, Berbers of Libya, and Palestinian Bedouins residing in the state of Israel. Delegates announced formation of a Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Middle East open to all stateless peoples of the region. "We are are expecting even more indigenous nations to sign on," said Ezidikhan Minister of Justice Nallein Sowilo. She noted that the Kawliya and Yarsanis, whose territory is divided between Iraq and Iran, have also expressed interest in joining. "We are all natural allies. That is why we call this an alliance of First Peoples. We represent the Middle East's ancient heritage of ethnic and religious diversity."
Bashar Assad's Russian-backed reconquest of most of Syria over the past two years is beginning to look like a Pyrrhic victory, as protest and even armed resistance re-emerge in regime-controlled territory. Insurgency is especially mounting in southern Daraa province—where the revolution first began back in 2011. Brig. Gen. Talal Qassem of the army's 5th Division was shot dead Sept. 9 by gunmen on a motorcycle near Busra Harir in the northeast of Daraa. He was the second regime general slain in the province since Assadist forces retook southern Syria in July 2018. They were among more than 200 regime soldiers and officials slain in attacks over this period, and the pace of attacks is escalating. Among regime figures slain in the past month are the mayor of the town of Lajat, a military intelligence officer, and a member of the "reconciliation committees" attempting to rebuild regime support.
On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."