Mood swinging against refugees

More than 250,000 people have died since 2011 when violence broke out in Syria, and at least 11 million people in the country of 22 million have fled their homes. Syrians are now the world’s largest refugee population, according to the United Nations.

Most are struggling to find safe haven in Europe. The mood was already turning against the millions of Syrian men, women and children driven into destitution by a war that has gone on for four and a half years.

Some countries have told them to stay out. Hungary even built a razor-wire fence along its border, and neighboring countries have been following suit. And previously generous countries like Sweden and Germany that welcomed thousands were already pulling back.

In the United States, where candidates running in upcoming presidential elections comment on most major issues, the Paris attacks had already triggered caustic opposition to Obama’s plans to scale up the number of Syrian refugees.

Then on Sunday, came news that one of the Paris bombers carried Syrian identification papers — possibly forged — and the fear of Syrian refugees grew worse.


Out of the lab and into the field

Most appeals for refugees focus on immediate necessities: clothes, food, shelter. But medium and long-term innovation is needed, and that’s where developments across STEM disciplines really come into their own.

Engineering is a clear starting point: sanitation, shelter and supply lines are all essential in any crisis. Dr Hayaatun Sillem, of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) agrees: “Many critical aspects of humanitarian relief efforts rely on excellent engineering, from design and layout of refugee shelters to maximize their capacity, to the creation of efficient communication and transport networks that allow information to be shared and resources moved quickly across a humanitarian supply chain.”

Up to 115 people die every hour in Africa from diseases linked to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation, particularly in the wake of conflicts and environmental disasters. Dr Askwar Hilonga recently won the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize, which is dedicated to African inventions with the potential to bring major social and economic benefits to the continent. Hilonga has invented a low cost, sand-based water filter. The filter combines nanotechnology with traditional sand-filtering methods to provide safe drinking water without expensive treatment facilities. It has the potential to save thousands of lives and provide a cheap, efficient and quick way for refugee camps and emergency shelters to provide safe drinking water from any source.

[The Guardian]

Canada’s Syrian refugee resettlement plan

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with his cabinet today where one of the top priorities was to discuss a plan to resettle 25,000 refugees.

The fast-track Liberal plan needs to work out the logistics of how to get them here before year’s end, and where to house them once they arrive.

“We, as a country, are going forward to provide quick and substantial help to some of the most distressed people on the planet,” said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum  after the cabinet meeting.

The Canadian Armed Forces is expected to play a crucial role in the refugee resettlement process.

It’s expected refugees will be chosen from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and Canada’s representative at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees says U.N. staff are trying to keep expectations realistic.


UN warns of humanitarian crisis for Nepal’s children

The UN has warned that Nepal’s children, already hit by devastating earthquakes, are facing a new humanitarian crisis as the country reels under political strife and blockade in the Terai region bordering India, severely impacting their health.

United Nations Children Fund (Unicef) executive director Anthony Lake commented,
“The declining stocks of gas, food and medicines, together with the closure of schools due to political strife in the Terai plains and shortages of fuel throughout the country, are not only inflicting damage to the lives of the children now they threaten the future of the country itself,” he added.

Warning that shortage of fuel, food and medicines could severely impact the capacity to deal with diseases like pneumonia, Lake said that the misery would be more intense in winter, which is just weeks away.

Nepal is facing acute shortage of essential goods as Madhesi groups have enforced over a month-long blockade of all border crossings in the Terai region with India, demanding proportional representation in the new constitution.

Lake also expressed concern about children being out of the school. “When the doors of the schools are closed on children, they close also to their dreams and ambitions. And thus to the futures of their families, their communities and their nation,” Lake was quoted as saying by the Kathmandu Post. According to the Unicef, more than 1.5 million children are out of school in the Tarai region now.

[Times of India] 

The Living Dead in Palestine

Nothing sums up the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to a recent NBC News report, more than the video of the Palestinian teen Ahmad Manasrah, who was left to bleed in pain and distress on camera for the whole world to watch.

In the video that went viral on social media, Israeli vigilantes, mobs and bystanders recorded themselves hurling a barrage of obscene invectives and expletives on the squirming, bleeding Palestinian teen Ahmad. Prior to this, the young boy was run over by an Israeli settler’s vehicle, with some saying it was a military vehicle. One of the vigilantes is heard urging a police officer to “do him a favor and give him a bullet in the head,” a fact that was omitted from NBC’s report. The video also shows a police officer stomping over the boy and pushing him down on the ground to continue writhing in his agony, while paramedics denied him medical care.

Fortunately, Ahmad did not perish in the attempt to kill him. However, the time that he was left to endure and suffer in expectation of his ultimate death demonstrates that the dehumanization of the Palestinians is taking on a specific form at this stage in the Palestinian struggle for freedom. The issue here is not only the extrajudicial executions captured in these images, but more importantly, the deferral of Palestinian death and the suspension of the victims’ lives between two deaths, one biological and the other symbolic.

In recent weeks, an increasing number of videos and images representing summary or extrajudicial executions and other forms of violence against Palestinian teens by trigger-happy Israeli state agents, settlers, vigilantes, mobs and bystanders have gone viral on social media. These videos and images show that the teens  … often shot at point blank range or in direct contact, left to bleed for some time, hanging there not only between life and death, but between two deaths. As they lay there, soaked in their blood… the shooters can be seen or have been reported to be seen either roaming around and taunting the victim, stomping or pinning them down, encircling them with their guns pointed at them or chasing them and repeatedly shooting them.

[Read full Truthout article]

German reception centers to help speed up process of accepting or repatriating refugees

Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the agreement on Thursday to set up three to five reception centers nationwide that would expedite the process of either accepting or repatriating refugees.

For weeks, opposition parties have been urging Merkel to reduce the number of the refugees in the country, saying that local authorities are struggling to deal with the refugee influx.

About 758,000 have already arrived so far this year, with around one million expected to reach the country by the end of 2015.

In addition, Germany is facing pressure from its neighbors eager for Europe’s top economy to take the refugee task off their shoulders.


Charity smuggling spy equipment for US Govt endangers NGOs worldwide

Was a Christian non-governmental organization funded by the Pentagon used to smuggle spy equipment into North Korea?

The story goes something like this: in 2004 the Pentagon, fired up by the need to “protect the country” post 9/11, was keen on muscling in on the CIA’s virtual monopoly on strategic intelligence collection. A scheme [was devised] to smuggle electronic monitoring equipment and other spyware into top priority target North Korea. … A religious charity called Humanitarian International Services Group (HISG) was developed [to enable] the smuggling of monitoring equipment into North Korea under cover of shipments of used clothing.

The HISG charity was funded by the Pentagon to the tune of an estimated $15 million during the course of the operation. It is reported that short wave radios and some electronic devices intended to monitor nuclear programs as well as interfere with North Korean military communications were smuggled into the country by unwitting Christian missionaries, aid workers, and Chinese smugglers, but whether they provided any critical intelligence is unclear. The operation continued to run [until] 2013.

Now it will be plausibly believed that Christian charities are actually hotbeds of American spies and the likely response will be commensurate with that perception. Using a Christian charity to spy puts at risk all the employees and volunteers linked to that specific organization while helping propagate the myth that any indigenous Christian is a potential traitor.

Using unwitting and unfocused humanitarian charity volunteers and employees to smuggle in spy gear was a non-starter right from the beginning and should never have been attempted. The United States government does in fact impose a ban on recruiting certain categories of individuals as spies. Clergymen are off limits partly for ethical reasons but more because the exposure of such a relationship would be devastating both to the religious organization itself and to the United States government. Use of the U.S. taxpayer-funded Peace Corps is also banned because exploiting it would potentially turn its volunteers into targets for terrorists.

[From American Conservative article by Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer]

Why are half the kids in Uttar Pradesh India stunted?

India is a vigorous democracy that has sent an orbiter to Mars. Yet its children are more likely to starve than children in far poorer nations in Africa!

In a remarkable failure of democracy, India is the epicenter of global malnutrition: 39 percent of Indian children are stunted from poor nutrition; according to government figures (other estimates are higher). Stunting is worse in India than in Burkina Faso or Haiti, worse than in Bangladesh or North Korea.

In Uttar Pradesh, a vast state of 200 million people in India’s north, the malnutrition is even more horrifying. By the government’s own reckoning, a slight majority of children under age 5 in this state are stunted–worse than in any country in Africa save Burundi, according to figures in the 2015 Global Nutrition Report.

A couple of bold new theories are emerging to explain why India does so poorly in child nutrition:
The first is that the low status of women leads to maternal nutrition in India that is much worse than previously believed. Women often eat last in Indian households–and 42 percent of Indian women are underweight before pregnancy, according to Diane Coffey, a Princeton University economist. Then during pregnancy, Indian women gain only half the recommended weight. Many children are malnourished in the uterus and never recover.

The second new theory is poor sanitation, particularly open defecation, with about half of Indians defecating outside without using toilets. The result is that children pick up parasites and chronic infections that impair the ability of the intestines to absorb nutrients–and 117,000 Indian children die each year from diarrhea, according to UNICEF.

[Nicholas Kristof writing in NY Times]

Mass migration of refugees has only just begun

They arrived in an unceasing stream, 10,000 a day at the height, as many as a million migrants heading for Europe this year, pushing infants in strollers and elderly parents in wheelchairs, carrying children on their shoulders and life savings in their socks. They came in search of a new life, but in many ways they were the heralds of a new age.

There are more displaced people and refugees now than at any other time in recorded history–60 million in all–and they are on the march in numbers not seen since World War II. They are coming not just from Syria, but from an array of countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, even Haiti, as well as any of a dozen or so nations in sub-Saharan and North Africa. They are unofficial ambassadors of failed states, unending wars, intractable conflicts.

The most striking thing about the current migration crisis, however, is how much bigger it could still get.

While the flow of migrants to Europe this year already represents the biggest influx from outside the Continent in modern history, many experts warn that the mass movement may continue and even increase–possibly for years to come. “We are talking about millions of potential refugees trying to reach Europe, not thousands,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.

[New York Times]

Refugee children settle in long dreamed of life in Europe

The bags are packed, the goodbye hugs done. The Afghan, Eritrean and Sudanese boys are on the move again, but this time it’s a happy occasion: After months of hardship traversing continents, the teenage refugees are finally on the way to English homes where they can settle down for a long dreamed-of life in Europe.

The dozens of boys are unaccompanied child refugees who have come to the end of a long, risky journey by boat, foot, truck and train. Upon reaching the shores of Dover they were brought to a reception center in Kent, southern England, where they were given temporary shelter. As the teenagers leave for more permanent social housing or foster homes, they are seen off by another group of boys who are eagerly awaiting their turn.

Europe’s migrant crisis has seen a record surge of unaccompanied child asylum seekers fleeing civil war, conscription and poverty at home to countries including Britain and Sweden, which have scrambled to provide care for thousands of newly arrived minors. Most are boys aged between 14 to 18 hailing from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan.

“I’m happy to leave today,” said Sadiq, a shy 17-year-old Sudanese, who said he wanted to become an engineer. Like all the refugees interviewed at the center, his full name cannot be reported because they are minors under government care.

Like the other youngsters, Sadiq had made it to Europe alone after leaving behind his family, and may never see his loved ones again. He lowered his head when asked about his homeland, where a years-long conflict has killed thousands and driven millions from their homes.

“Since I left I have had no information, I don’t know anything about my family. I’m very sad because of that, but what can I do?”