DUBAI — The food stalls ringing the interior of Little Manila in Dubai make for a nostalgic evocation of the real thing — and serve as a home away from home for some of the estimated 750,000 Filipinos in the United Arab Emirates. Across Dubai there are dozens of similarly themed restaurants and shops, sometimes even entire streets, catering to expatriate worker communities from India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and several other Asian countries. Much of the talk in these establishments now centers on the thousands of stranded workers who are availing of a temporary amnesty provided by the government to fly home after having any prospective punishments for visa infractions revoked.
ISTANBUL — When the office of Hurriyet, a major Turkish newspaper, was attacked by a crowd of around 200 stone-throwing supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sept. 6, Emre Kizilkaya was not surprised. Kizilkaya, managing editor of Hurriyet’s English edition, says that press freedom in Turkey “has declined dramatically” since the long ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to win an overall majority in June elections and the country lurched toward civil war. After the vote, fighting resumed between the Turkish military and the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), breaking a two-year ceasefire. In the worst violence in the region since the 1990s, more than 100 soldiers and police have been killed since June in Turkey’s southeast, where many of the country’s estimated 15 million Kurds live. Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria have led the fight against the self-described Islamic State, earning admiration in the West but prompting concerns in Ankara that Kurdish gains elsewhere are emboldening Kurds in Turkey, where they make up around 18% of the population. “In this climate of war, media has been affected, with many critical columnists forced out of newspapers and pro-government media accusing independent media, such as ours, of ‘terrorism’,” Kizilkaya told the Nikkei Asian Review.
ZAHLE — Yassir Shebat is still getting used to his new surroundings in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Zahle, a town in eastern Lebanon known for its vineyards and scenic location in a valley between the hills of Beirut and the Syrian border. “In Aleppo, we had a three bedroom house, a nice life,” Yassir Shebat told The Edge Review, leaning against a pockmarked timber buttress supporting the 4-metre-by-4-metre shelter where he and 14 family members have stayed for the past three weeks. “Before the war, I mean,” he added, pointing, resignedly, around the claustrophobic interior of the shack. Syria’s grueling, brutal conflict is just 15 miles from this sun-lit town in the Bekaa Valley, a region that hosts around a third of the estimated one million Syrian refugees now in Lebanon. Around Zahle, the vineyards are interspersed with clusters of shiny white and blue-and-grey tents and tarpaulin-covered shacks.
BEIRUT – It takes him a good 20 seconds to get his bearings, but, sitting up in his bed, Matti Tourrani smiles, and, voice muffled by a drowsy cough, says hello. His right leg is swollen – so much that it is now twice as thick as his left. “It’s not so painful; I’m more concerned about my knee,” says the elderly man. Mr. Tourrani traveled with his wife Maysoun from their small village near Mosul in northern Iraq . He’s in Beirut for knee-replacement surgery, a procedure that will cost more than $23,000 and for which the family mortgaged their house. Their part of Iraq is still violent: Last week a bomb killed two people just a mile from their home. “We’re used to it by now,” Maysoun says. But the family is concerned that they might have traveled in vain. Before any knee surgery, the leg must heal more, says Irad Beldjebel, a doctor who works helping Beirut’s unknown thousands of refugees.
TRIPOLI, LEBANON – Refugee *Ahmed Assam drives a bus in Tripoli, manning a daily run from Lebanon’s second city to towns and villages outside. He’s staying with relatives, who helped him find the job, but he’s lost touch with his siblings in Homs, one of many Ground Zeroes in Syria’s brutal civil war. He is worried. “I haven’t heard from them for many months,” he laments, adding that “there are people coming from there to here every day, but no word about my family. Zooming in on a photo on his mobile phone – a young man sat diffidently on a garden chair – Assam says, “my brother, he’s dead, killed by the army.”
DALHAMIEH, Lebanon – Rolling up a green dress sleeve, 12-year-old Syrian refugee *Reina murmurs “chemical, chemical.” Her arm, what’s left of it, is distorted, wrinked and swollen – looking more more like a fossilized tree root than a human limb. Inside her family’s shelter, a grimy hut made from a frame of uneven-sized timbers nailed together and covered in plastic sheetings and tarpaulin, others gather round. Most decline to have their full name quoted out of fear of reprisals. “Look, look,” says Safaa, 16, pulling down a snot-covered sleeve from her baby daughter Noufa’s arm. Scabs and blotches cover the infant’s wrist and foream. Clasping the child to her chest, she stoops to reveal shins covered in rotten wounds, greying at the edges and crusted over in between. Over the course of Syria’s two-year civil war, both the government and rebels accuse each other of using chemical weapons, a charge both sides deny.
ISTANBUL — For Sarmad, translating e-mails from English to Arabic for fellow Iraqis is a welcome change from the incessant fear of murder he lived with in Iraq. In his hometown, Mosul, attacks on Christians have been an almost-daily reality since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “I was stopped at the university,” Sarmad recalls. People he describes as “terrorists” told the 18-year-old mechanical engineering student, “If you come here again, we will kill you.” Al-Qaeda in Iraq has targeted the country’s fast-disappearing Christian population, describing them as “legitimate targets” and forcing unknown hundreds of thousands to flee in recent years. Out of an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million Christians during the Hussein era, now less than half are thought to remain in the country.
ISTANBUL — Acronyms have long been a favourite of policy wonks and policymakers, shorthand for describing the world and the changes taking place in it. Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist who came up with the now-mainstream “BRIC” catch-all for four quite different economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – has done it again. “MIST” – or Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey – is O’Neill’s latest rhetorical agglomeration, pulling four more far-flung countries together and talking-up the next tier of large “emerging economies.” Pundits might have a field day with this, with MIST obviously more vapid and perhaps lacking the solidity of its BRIC antecedent. Still, all four have in common a number of factors: a large population and market, a big economy at about 1% of global GDP each, and all are members of the G20.
TIBERIAS – The breeze cooling the furnace-like lakeshore funnels down between hills that are redolent of history like so much else in the Holy Land. One, an extinct volcano popularised as the “Horns of Hattin,” marks the site where Saladin defeated a Crusader army in 1187. Closer again is the cliff-face where, over a thousand years before, Jews are said to have committed mass suicide rather than be taken captive by the Romans in 67 AD, 3 years before the destruction of Jerusalem and a better-known mass suicide at the Masada. Downhill is the reed-laden lakeshore along the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus Christ walked. He may well even have preached in what is a startling discovery 200m from the water’s edge at Magdala, a town thought to be the home-place of Mary Magdalene, 5km from Tiberias and around the same from Capernaum. The discovery is a synagogue dating to the first century AD, possibly destroyed during the same Jewish revolt, and uncovered during excavations for the construction of a new Catholic pilgrimage center.