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BuzzFeed News

New York


Refugees, Benghazi, Mers: A May Grab Bag

Joshua Hersh

An assortment of articles from May, mostly reported from Turkey:

Syrian Families Living Outside Turkish Refugee Camps Face Tough Conditions

May 22, 2014

NARLICA, Turkey -- Back in Syria's Hama province, where he is from, Ali once had a beautiful home, with ornate tile work, a pair of cars and a driver to help him get around.

But after he was imprisoned briefly for anti-government political activity, the Syrian army seized his home and all his possessions, he said, even stopping to dig up the valuable floor tiles.

Today, Ali lives with his extended family in a cramped, one-story building in this remote suburb of Antakya, where he struggles to find enough money to feed his family, and often fails to make rent.

"We have nothing," said Ali, who asked to be identified only by his first name, as he sat on a thin mattress in his home's simply appointed sitting area.

In one corner of the room, three young children watched Turkish-language "Tom and Jerry" cartoons on an antiquated 20-inch television. In another, Ali's aging mother, who suffers from diabetes and chronic pain, cried softly for her daily treatments.

Turkey has earned praise for its management of the massive inflow of refugees from Syria, especially the quarter million or so who have managed to find rooms in one of the pristine government-run camps.

But the vast majority of Syrians taking refuge in Turkey -- half a million or more, by United Nations estimates -- live outside these official structures, in major cities and rural slums, where, they say, they have received little or no assistance from the government, and have reached the limit of their welcome.

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Experts See Benghazi Controversy Creating 'Remote Control' Diplomacy In Conflict Zones

May 12, 2014

ISTANBUL -- In early January, as a violent rebellion flared across South Sudan, the world's youngest country, the U.S. State Department announced that it would contribute $50 million to emergency programs to alleviate the suffering.

The money, which brought America's humanitarian commitment to the troubled nation to more than $300 million (it is now over $400 million), would be allocated by the U.S. Agency for International Development to local aid organizations and United Nations agencies to help combat food and water shortages, improve medical conditions, and "support reunification of families separated by the fighting,"according to a USAID press release.

It was a welcome gesture for a country in crisis, but there was one small problem: Almost all of the American officials responsible for managing those funds were 7,000 miles away, in a temporary office in Washington, D.C.

In the days prior to the announcement, U.S. officials had been evacuated from the embassy in the capital of Juba, along with the rest of the mission's "non-emergency personnel" -- a move that for the next few months would leave Juba with as few as one American staffer from USAID and a "skeletal" selection of other diplomatic officials.

The decision to empty out the embassy in Juba came amid a frenzy of violence in South Sudan, including rebel attacks on the capital itself, which officials say left embassy staff in grave danger. Four American service members were wounded by gunfire during the evacuation itself.

But the move was also made, several current and former U.S. officials with Africa experience say, in an atmosphere colored by the ongoing political fallout from the September 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead and caused a surge of partisan outrage on Capitol Hill.

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MERS Experts Fret About Deadly Virus' Great Unknowns

May 4, 2014

ISTANBUL -- With cases of a virulent and highly fatal pathogen on the rise, includingthe first-known occurrence in the United States, epidemiologists and public health officials say some of their biggest concerns about the disease lie in the basic information that they still don't have about it.

The virus, called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is closely related to SARS, which spread rapidly across Asia a decade ago, leaving some 800 people dead. So far, MERS, which has a higher fatality rate than SARS and no known vaccine or cure, has proven to be much less of a public health risk because its transmission rate, or how easy it is to spread between humans, has remained low.

But there are anecdotal hints that the disease could be bucking that trend, includinga dramatic uptick in the number of sick patients in Saudi Arabia, where the outbreak is centered. More than 400 people have been infected with the disease so far, almost all of them in the Middle East. The virus, which can cause "severe acute respiratory illness," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has killed about one-third of those who have contracted it.

Official health groups like the European Center for Disease Prevention and Controlstill describe the risk of worldwide pandemic as low, but epidemiologists and public health experts say critical blank spots in the scientific understanding of the virus need to be filled in order to be sure.

"We don't know exactly what's happening," said Dr. David Swerdlow, the head of the MERS monitoring team at the U.S. CDC. "I think there are still some questions that are unanswered about how it's transmitted, how commonly it's occurring, what the prevalence is in the population, what is the spectrum of illness."

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