More talk won't help Syrian refugees

Another touring fact-finding delegation is not what cold, desperate Syrians in Lebanon and elsewhere need, an editorial says. Today's other topics: Tunisia two years later and UAE mortgages.

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Syrian refugees may freeze to death before somebody decides to come to their assistance

The government of Lebanon has called for an urgent Arab League meeting to discuss the crisis of Syrian and Palestinian refugees crowding onto its territory, the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi noted in its editorial on Monday.

Lebanon, the paper explained, is failing to meet the needs of the refugees, who are taxing its already overstretched economy.

Several Arab foreign ministers agreed to send a delegation to Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq to assess the situation of Syrian refugees on the ground.

"The decision emphasises the negligence of the Arab countries, many of which had encouraged the armed uprising against the regime in Syria, which transformed the conflict into a civil war and eventually caused hundreds of thousands of Syrians to flee to miserable refugee camps."

More than half a million Syrians are reported to have fled the devastation and are living in dire conditions in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. In addition some 230,000 are in Turkey, Egypt and North Africa, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The numbers continue to climb on a daily basis as the confrontation in Syria escalates.

"Their deteriorating situation doesn't require a delegation to appraise it," the newspaper editorial said. "By the time a committee is formed and sent to inspect the three camps, and by the time it comes out with a report and files it at the donor states meeting in Kuwait … a large number of those refugees and their children will have perished due to the harsh weather."

The disaster started with the demeaning treatment these displaced Syrians received initially, the paper said.

Arab ministers and their states, rich or poor, are well aware of the plight of refugees. "However, they resort to the bureaucracy of the Arab League and its staff to wriggle out of their responsibilities", the paper said.

On the same issue, Saudi columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashid wrote in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat, also criticising the Arab League's attitude towards the crisis and the refugees.

"Historically, the League has been known for its incapacity and its weak stances, but it has never stooped this low," the writer said.

During the meeting in Cairo on Sunday, the Arab League secretary general Nabil Al Arabi talked about sending a peace corps to oversee the transition of power in Syria.

But, the writer asked, what peace can there be to preserve when the warring sides haven't yet begun to discuss a peace agreement?

"The Arab League's position is shameful. It is failing to fulfil its duties while it hides behind the positions of pro-Assad Arab governments such as those of Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and, to a less clear degree, Egypt," he added.

UAE mortgage caps will hurt real buyers

In a New Year's Eve announcement, the UAE Central Bank said it had restricted borrowing for expatriates to 50 per cent for their first property and 40 per cent for subsequent properties. Emiratis will be able to borrow up to 70 per cent for their first homes and 60 per cent thereafter.

Commenting on this development yesterday, the editor of the Dubai-based newspaper Al Emarat Al Youm, Sami Al Reyyami, wrote: "We don't disagree with the Central Bank's intentions, but we certainly disagree with the measures it has taken."

Certainly, the Central Bank's goal is to "rebalance" the real estate market and prevent the kind of rampant speculation that led to the property crash a few years ago, he wrote.

But the regulator's blanket decision will punish many genuine aspiring homeowners, the editor observed, arguing that a gradual introduction of these borrowing caps would have made more sense.

"There are folks who really want to build or buy their dream home - and many among them are Emiratis - but they … are now unable to do so because they most certainly cannot afford the new down-payment ratios."

The average price for a suitable home in the UAE is between Dh2 million and Dh3 million, the editor said. But does everyone have Dh900,000 sitting in the bank to cover the down-payment?

"I doubt it," he wrote.

Post-revolution Tunisia still plagued by woes

Yesterday, January 14, marked the second anniversary of the departure of Tunisia's former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled less than a month after the outbreak of mass protests against his rule, Amjad Arrar remarked in the UAE-based newspaper Al Khaleej.

The political players in post-revolution Tunisia should not let this occasion go by without a critical review of the situation, which must be driven by people's interests rather than partisan politics, the writer said.

This applies to both those forces that have stayed out of power in the new Tunisia and those that took office. Unfortunately, neither party has convinced Tunisians that a pivotal change has occurred, the writer said.

Two years after the former president ran away, internal strife is still commonplace, with Tunisians engulfed in uncertainty over their future. There has been a constant decline in freedoms. The economy is stagnant. Remote areas are still marginalised. And poverty is on the rise, with university graduates making up a third of the unemployed.

The accumulation of frustration and distrust was encapsulated when the population of Sidi Bouzid, the epicentre of the uprising, hurled stones and tomatoes at President Moncef Marzouki, the writer noted.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk