World Refugee Day: 50 million forced from their homes worldwide

More than 50 million people worldwide currently are refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced within their own countries, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday, in a new report released to mark World Refugee Day.

That figure is more than the entire population of Spain, South Africa or South Korea, or more than double the population of Australia.

The 51.2 million registered for 2013 is also 6 million more than the 45.2 million reported in 2012, according to the UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report — a big jump in the wrong direction.

The huge increase was driven mainly by the war in Syria. Major internal displacement was also seen last year in Africa, in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, where conflicts have taken on an increasingly ethnic nature.

“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.

[CNN

Aid workers freed in Somalia after nearly two years’ captivity

Three aid workers kidnapped in Somalia have been released after nearly two years in captivity. International Aid Services said the kidnappers seized their employees in July 2012 in Puntland, Somalia.

“Extended discussions with the actual kidnappers resulted in the release of the hostages,” the relief agency said in a statement.

The three were abducted while traveling in two cars that included three local police officers, who were wounded but not kidnapped during the attack.

The three hostages, Janet Kanga, Martin Kioko and Abdinoor Boru, were released Thursday, according to the relief agency.

[CNN]

Children ride The Beast up to the US border

There’s a network of freight trains that runs the length of Mexico, from its southernmost border with Guatemala north to the United States. And despite the many deadly challenges it poses, more and more children — both with adults and alone — have been making this risky journey. That prompted President Obama this week to warn of “an urgent humanitarian situation.”

It’s estimated that up to half a million migrants now ride The Beast each year, sitting back-to-back along the spine of the train cars, trying not to get knocked off their roof-top perch. These aren’t passenger trains; there are no panoramic windows, seats, or even a roof to guard from sun or rain. People call the train La Bestia or The Beast. Some call it the Death Train.

“People are taking the journey because you do want a better future and you’re willing to do whatever takes,” Lis-Marie Alvarado an immigrant from Nicaragua says. “There are a lot of people who aren’t going to make it.”

Many Beast riders have suffered physical injury or death falling off the train or getting sucked into the wheels trying to board it in motion. In some areas, that’s the only way on.

One of the things that strikes you is just how many kids are riding the train. … Most estimates predict more than 60,000 minors will be detained at the U.S. border this year alone. Most of those making this 1,450-mile trek are not from Mexico. They come from Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, which has the world’s highest murder rate.

“A lot of the people are not fleeing because of economic hardship,” says Dannemiller. “A lot of them are fleeing because the increase in the drug violence and threats, extortion, and that’s a different phenomenon.”

[Read full KPBS story] 

Child refugees flooding into the United States

Since 1980, when formal U.S. refugee resettlement began, 1.8 million refugees have been invited to live in the United States, with recent annual refugee arrivals typically falling between 40,000 to 75,000. About 35 to 40 percent of refugees resettled in the U.S. are children, until recently the vast majority of which—about 95%—resettle in the U.S. with their parents.

But now the flood of migrant children alone trying to cross the Mexican border into the States has become an “urgent humanitarian situation”. In the past eight months alone, 47,000 children have been apprehended at the southwest border. The government estimates that as many as 60,000 children, mostly from Central America, could be caught at the border this year. That would be a nearly 10-fold increase since 2011.

Rampant crime and poverty across Central America, and a desire to reunite with parents or other relatives, is thought to be driving many of the young immigrants.

Late last week, the Obama administration asked Congress for $1.4 billion in extra funding to help house, feed and transport the tens of thousands of children being caught trying to cross the border illegally, and turned to the Defense Department to help temporarily house more than 1,000 of the children.

Obama’s director of domestic policy, Cecilia Munoz, said the increase in 2014 is larger than last year and the group also now includes more girls and larger numbers of children younger than 13. The increase appears to have caught the administration by surprise, despite growing increases over the past few years.

Corruption poses threat to Afghan stability

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on corruption in Afghanistan:

Q: The question many people have about Afghanistan is about the corruption. There’s a sense that it is sort of out of control. We’re talking about bagfuls of cash – millions and tens of millions of dollars – all this international aid that has been provided. Do you have any specific idea about how to deal with this, how to tackle it?

A: The first thing which is necessary is the recognition of the threat which corruption is posing to the stability in the country and to the wellbeing of the Afghan people.

It’s a serious challenge. … As a whole, we think that it’s a priority, and it will be a priority for the future government of Afghanistan and it has to be dealt with in outright manner. Corruption is not just the issue of international assistances. Within the system, nepotism and certain other aspects of this, part of it is due to the problem of drugs, narcotics, in the country. Part of it is the absence of rule of law.

So there will be an opportunity to deal with this challenge. And I’m sure that the people of Afghanistan will be supportive of any effort in this regard, because the people are suffering on a daily basis because of widespread corruption at different levels of the government.

[CNN]