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Life is no different for Refugees who fled Islamic State Terrorist Group, Trail of Ghastly Trauma Continues

Across this camp of more than 30,000 displaced people, families had stories of ruined relationships and lives, property destroyed and ghastly trauma

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At this camp about 50 kilometers away from the nearest fighting, families say they fled Islamic State militants sometimes several times, and when they arrive at camps like this, there is a long wait for shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan, Oct. 20, 2016. VOA

Without prompting, 10-year-old Maha rattled off her story as if she had told it several times before: Her father is in jail now, she said, after he was attacked by Islamic State fighters and later accused of joining them.

“He was beaten so bad he couldn’t walk,” she said to anyone who would listen.

Across this camp of more than 30,000 displaced people, families had stories of ruined relationships and lives, property destroyed and ghastly trauma.

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On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said forces are moving faster than expected toward Mosul, where Islamic State (IS) militants have been in control of the country’s second-largest city for more than two years.

Already short of food, clean water and medical care, camps surrounding the Islamic State controlled areas are bracing for a wave of people that could turn this humanitarian crisis into a humanitarian disaster, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Oct. 20, 2016. VOA
Already short of food, clean water and medical care, camps surrounding the Islamic State controlled areas are bracing for a wave of people that could turn this humanitarian crisis into a humanitarian disaster, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Oct. 20, 2016. VOA

Despite fears that a million more people may soon flee the city, cracking an already strained aid system, displaced families here said, for them, the final battle cannot come soon enough.

“We hear from the people we know still in Mosul, that they just want Islamic State militants to be gone at any cost,” said Umar, a former autoworker who went back into IS territory when the militant group demanded that residents working out of town return or their families would be killed. He gathered his children and fled.

“They are ready for the militants to get out, at any cost,” he repeated, about ridding Mosul of IS.

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Layla, a mother of three, has been living at the camp for three months. Her two daughters, ages 15 and 16, are being held by IS after they were kidnapped, and her son, accused of being an IS member, is in prison.

“When Mosul is free, I will go on camera and tell everything,” she said.

Without any natural shelter, the sweltering summer will soon turn into a cold winter and aid workers say they don’t have enough housing for the expected influx into the region of approximately one million people, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Oct. 20, 2016. VOA
Without any natural shelter, the sweltering summer will soon turn into a cold winter and aid workers say they don’t have enough housing for the expected influx into the region of approximately one million people, in Iraqi Kurdistan, Oct. 20, 2016. VOA

Unprepared

The Debaga camps, about 50 kilometers from the nearest battleground, are filled to capacity, said Rzgar Abed, a senior manager with the Barzani Charity Foundation at the camps.

The displaced keep coming, Abed said, and the camps are not prepared to handle a large influx of traumatized, desperate people. Many wait days, or even a week, just to get a tent or a mattress after they arrive, he added.

However, delaying the rush of people by leaving IS in place would be worse than the looming crisis, he said.

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“As long as the operations drag on, there will be more displaced families,” Abed said. “Winter is soon coming, and it will be a big problem. We can’t provide homes for all of them.”

His organization and others are scrambling to get funding for emergency camps, he added.

“The Mosul campaign, in a worst-case scenario, is expected to be the largest and most complex humanitarian operation in the world in 2016 due to mass forced displacement of people fleeing military operations,” the International Organization for Migration said on its website Thursday.

Over the next 45 days, the organization is planning on overseeing the building of 7,500 plots to house displaced families. Initially, these structures will only offer the most basic services, such as shelter, water and sanitation, the organization said.

Children here readily describe horrors, like loved ones being kidnapped or beaten by IS and later being arrested and imprisoned in suspicion of supporting the group by the militants’ enemies in Iraqi Kurdistan, Oct. 20, 2016. VOA
Children here readily describe horrors, like loved ones being kidnapped or beaten by IS and later being arrested and imprisoned in suspicion of supporting the group by the militants’ enemies in Iraqi Kurdistan, Oct. 20, 2016. VOA

But with no where left to run, residents of the camp insist the only way out of the disaster is not more aid, but for IS militants to be defeated.

Outside an old schoolhouse, now packed with newly arrived women and children, 27-year-old Ibrahim explained that for families like his, there will never be a resolution.

His 19-year-old brother joined the IS militants for reasons he didn’t understand and later threatened to kill his family. Their father was livid, shouting at his son for even considered joining the group.

“If he is killed in the battle, I will cry,” Ibrahim said. “But he went willingly.” (VOA)

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Thousands of Asylum-Seekers on Border Wait Lists, Stay at Threshold of US

Parents and children sleep in tents next to bridges leading into Texas for weeks on end, desperately hoping their names and numbers are called so they can be let in

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FILE - A migrant in Matamoros, Mexico checks a typewritten list of more than 800 people seeking asylum in the US, April 30, 2019. Those marked with the word "rio," Spanish for river, are believed to have crossed the Rio Grande to enter the US without authorization. VOA

For thousands of desperate asylum-seekers, there are many ways to wait — and wait, and wait — at the threshold of the United States. Parents and children sleep in tents next to bridges leading into Texas for weeks on end, desperately hoping their names and numbers are called so they can be let in.

Some immigrants complain of shakedowns and kidnappings by gangs and corrupt officials. Others pay bribes to get to the front of the line; the rest, determined to enter the country legally, wait patiently, even if it takes months. This is what has happened since the Trump administration placed asylum in a chokehold.

The Associated Press visited eight cities along the U.S.-Mexico border and found 13,000 immigrants on waiting lists to get into the country — exposed to haphazard and often-dubious arrangements that vary sharply.

The lines began to swell in the last year when the administration limited the number of asylum cases it accepts each day at the main border crossings, leaving it to Mexican agencies, volunteers, nonprofit organizations and immigrants themselves to manage the lines.

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Cuban migrants queue to enter El Paso, Texas, for their appointment to request asylum in the U.S., at the Paso del Norte international border crossing bridge, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, April 1, 2019. VOA

In some cities, days pass without anyone being processed, the AP found. In San Diego, up to 80 are handled each day, but the line in Tijuana, across the border, is the longest anywhere — about 4,800 people.

Each day at each crossing, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials alert Mexican counterparts how many people they will take — a system the government calls metering. Then the keeper of the list lets immigrants know who can go into the U.S. for asylum interviews.

A federal lawsuit says the administration is violating U.S. and international law by refusing to take asylum-seekers when they show up at a crossing. U.S. authorities argue that processing capacity dictates how many people it can handle.

“It’s not turning people away, it’s asking them to wait,” then-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner and current acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in October.

But some feel they cannot. They try to enter illegally, sometimes with tragic consequences. A Honduran family, arriving at Piedras Negras, Mexico, decided the line was too long. Crossing the Rio Grande, they were swept away; a father and three children, including a baby, are believed to have died. Here is a snapshot of the wait list systems along the border:

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FILE – Immigrants from Honduras seeking asylum wait on the Gateway International Bridge, which connects the United States and Mexico, in Matamoros, Mexico, June 24, 2019. VOA

Ciudad Juarez: Black ink, wristbands, and thousands in line

The sprawling industrial city began its waiting list in October when many Cuban asylum-seekers began sleeping on the narrow sidewalk of a busy international bridge. Mexican authorities decided they had to go.

asylum-seekers were then registered and had numbers written on their arms in black ink to show their number in line. That was abandoned in favor of plastic wristbands, which were scrapped because so many people were selling or counterfeiting them. Now it’s a digital-based system. There are currently about 4,000 names on the list.

Reynosa: ‘River owners’ run the show

The challenges faced by asylum-seekers waiting in Reynosa, across from McAllen, Texas, are compounded by rampant violence. Gunfights between cartels and police occur daily, and the U.S. State Department has warned Americans not to travel there. Few Americans are willing to visit the shelter that controls the list or the other churches and hotels where asylum-seekers wait.

Jennifer Harbury, a longtime human rights advocate in Texas, spoke recently to a large group of asylum-seekers at the Senda de Vida shelter and met with people who had been kidnapped by cartels. “The owners of the river, you know who they are,” Harbury said. Several nodded.

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Migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Guatemala wait at bridge between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas for immigration officials to allow them to turn themselves in and ask for asylum in U.S., Nov. 12, 2018. VOA

Piedras Negras, Mexico: The WhatsApp List

When asylum-seekers arrive at a migrant shelter in Piedras Negras, they are given a phone number to text on the messaging service WhatsApp. They’re supposed to send the names and photos of everyone in their group. Then they’re told to wait.

Managing the list is a local restaurateur named Hector Menchaca, who also serves as the local government’s liaison to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. About 360 people are on the list, with another 200 people waiting to join it because the government has closed it to new entrants for the time being, Menchaca said.

The list includes people from Central America, Mexico, Brazil, and countries an ocean away like Cameroon. They aren’t told how close to the top they are, only that they might wait for two or three months. But many people say they can’t wait — among them the four who are believed to have drowned in the Rio Grande last week.

Nogales: A family affair

A woman whose family manages shelters in Nogales keeps the list of new arrivals in Nogales. Before she was involved, Brenda Nieblas says hundreds of migrants would wait at the border crossing and many would try to rush in when U.S. authorities called people for processing.

When they first arrive, some of the migrants are sent to a Red Cross first aid station. They are then connected with Nieblas, who puts them on the list, assigns them to a shelter in Nogales and notifies them when their time comes.

Asylum-Seekers
Indians are ranked among highest number of asylum seekers. Wikimedia

Tijuana and Mexicali: A notebook, and waiting for the phone call

Tijuana is most experienced with a numbering system, having established one in 2016 when Haitians had to wait in Mexico for a chance at refuge in the United States. Its waiting list stands at about 4,800.

Grupos Beta, a unit of Mexico’s immigration agency that provides food, transportation and aid to migrants, keeps guard at night over tattered notebooks and hands them over to volunteers during the day to register new arrivals. On a recent Saturday, there were nearly 100 people in line to get a spot in the notebook — almost exclusively Cameroonians who arrived the previous day.

In nearby Mexicali, Grupos Beta employees in bright orange shirts call out those whose numbers are up. Mexicali — a city of about 1 million across from Calexico, California — has about 800 names on its list.

San Luis: ‘There really is no schedule’

Darwin Mora manages two giant white boards with hundreds of numbers in black marker, each one representing a family or single adult. When CBP tells Mexican authorities how many people it wants, it falls to Mora to have them ready. Each family that crosses or cancels is marked with an X.

Mora says U.S. officials can call any day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. During those hours, he never strays far from the boards under a green canopy, which are divided in neat columns and rows. In the lower left corner of each box is a number to represent the number of people in the family. “There really is no schedule,” he said. There are about 900 people on the list, assuming three people per family. Recent arrivals are expected to wait at least five months.