Islamic Relief humanitarian organization

Over the past twenty years, Muslim organizations have played an increasingly prominent role in the delivery of international humanitarian aid. Their growth has been underpinned by the striking generosity of growing Muslim communities in North America and Europe and by zakat – the religious obligation to give 2.5% of disposable income to charity.

My own organization, Islamic Relief, is one of the largest. We have offices in over 40 countries, and invested $250 million in humanitarian aid and development programs in 2014. Around three-quarters of our aid and development expenditure goes on emergencies such as … providing life-saving food, shelter and medical aid. The rest funds education, health care, clean water, orphan sponsorship and projects to help families earn their way out of extreme poverty.

Islamic Relief prides itself on its commitment to humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality and on its multi-faith approach, working from Haiti to the Philippines with partners as diverse as the Lutheran World Federation and World Jewish Relief. We are trusted by hundreds of thousands of individual donors around the world to assist people in need, as well as by UN agencies, the US and UK governments and the European Union.

The truth is that none of these major donors would come near us if we were “directly linked to financing terrorism”, as alleged in a recent article in the Washington Times.

Islamic Relief is a purely humanitarian organization that abhors terrorism. Our work is subjected to dozens of independent audits mandated by donors each year, and not one has found a shred of evidence of terrorist links. Read more

Kerry calls for 30 percent hike in international aid for refugees

US Secretary of State John Kerry called for a 30-percent increase in humanitarian funding from the United Nations for refugees.

Kerry told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that the US wanted to “increase by 30 percent the response to UN humanitarian funding appeals”. The State Department said this call would amount to an increase in international humanitarian aid for refugees from $10 billion (9.2 billion euros) in 2015 to $13 billion in 2016.

Kerry said President Barack Obama would host a summit on refugees at the UN General Assembly in New York later this year. “This summit will be the culmination of a sustained, rigorous effort to rally the world community on several fronts,” Kerry said.

[AFP]

Failure in Syria not humanitarian but political says UN

Senior United Nations relief officials working on the front lines of the conflict in Syria stressed today that only a political solution will end the five-year war, insisting that humanitarians have been doing all that they can to assist millions of desperate people who have lost nearly everything and are “now beginning to lose hope that the world cares.”

“The failure in Syria is most definitely not the humanitarian organizations’ failure, it is a political failure,” John Ging, the Operations Director for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva at a press briefing. “That is why we are now looking, with great hope, for this political process to do what is needed, which is to deliver us a solution which will end the conflict and put people back on the track and the path which they deserve,” he added, referring to the intra-Syrian talks scheduled to begin on Friday in the Swiss city.

Describing their work as “heroic,” Mr. Ging said the heads of the Syrian offices of OCHA, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) –Yaacoub El Hillo, Hanna Singer, and Elisabeth Hoff respectively – work with many colleagues who risk their lives on a daily basis to help others, leading convoys into conflict zones.

Last night in the north of the country, another humanitarian worker lost his life due to an explosive device hitting his vehicle, bringing the total of humanitarian workers killed in the conflict to over 85.

UNICEF says Syria is now probably the most dangerous place on Earth to be a child.

[UN News Centre]

Agencies demand paradigm shift in global humanitarian aid

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last weekend, three of the world’s largest humanitarian agencies and senior representatives from philanthropic and insurance organizations have called for a “paradigm shift” in the world’s approach to humanitarian assistance.

“Over the past decade, the number of people who rely on humanitarian assistance has more than tripled while the cost of responding has increased sixfold,” said Elhadj As Sy, secretary general of the International Federation of the Red Cross. “Our answer cannot be the more of the same. We need to take a longer view, and use more of the resources available to us to strengthen the resilience of communities to be better equipped for the threats that we know they will face.”

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme, and Tony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, also called for a greater focus on sustainable, resilient development rather than emergency aid.

Their comments came at an event to promote the One Billion Coalition for Resilience, an initiative which aims to bring together aid organizations, governments, the private sector, academia and community groups in a collaboration that works to strengthen the safety, health and well-being of one billion people over the next 10 years.

[Public Finance International]

Starving Syrians forced to eat grass

Fresh evidence has emerged of how starving Syrians are being forced to eat grass to survive. Aid agencies say that the Assad regime is using humanitarian aid, which is supposed to be delivered freely under both international law and UN resolutions, as a bargaining chip.

Aid workers claim the crisis has now spread well beyond the town of Madaya, north-west of Damascus, where pictures of emaciated children caused an international outcry.

UN workers who accompanied the convoy to Madaya two weeks ago said conditions were the worst they had encountered in the war. Even since then, residents have continued to die.

While the town of Madaya has a population of 42,000, the UN says 400,000 people in Syria are under siege, and more than four million are in “hard to reach areas.”Aid groups estimate the total number of people who are being surrounded and deprived of aid in this way is in fact more than one million.

[National Post]

Two Danish aid workers charged with “human trafficking” in Greece

Two Danish aid workers from the non-profit organization Team Humanity were arrested on human trafficking charges on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The two men, aged 26 and 33, are now sitting in custody awaiting a trial that could possibly see them get four years in prison. The organization’s chairman said the men were saving refugees from a sinking boat in the Aegean Sea.

Allegedly, they had contacted the Greek coastguard after receiving a distress call, but when the Greek coastguard did not show up, the Danes together with three Spanish volunteers began to help the refugees onto their own boat. Then they called the coastguard again, and this time it responded by escorting them to the island.

Later that day, the volunteers were arrested and charged with human trafficking.

Team Humanity was established spontaneously in the autumn of 2015, when a group of young friends, mostly from Copenhagen, decided to travel to Lesbos to help save Syrian refugees from drowning.

Russian army starts humanitarian operation in Syria

The Russian army has started a humanitarian operation in Syria, Head of the General Staff Main Operations Department Sergey Rudskoy said on Friday.

According to him, while some international non-governmental organizations are delivering humanitarian aid to Syria, “this aid is mostly being delivered to the areas controlled by militants where most of this aid gets into the hands of extremists and is used for bandit formations’ supplies.”

Russian diplomat also claims weapons are supplied to Syria under cover of humanitarian aid.

“A decision has been made for the Russian Armed Forces to launch a humanitarian operation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” the general added.

According to the official, the Russian Defense Ministry has delivered the first humanitarian aid consignment to Syria’s Deir ez-Zor. “Presently, we sent the main assistance to the city of Deir ez-Zor, which had been for a long time seized by the Islamic State terrorists,” the general said.

[TASS]

Regular access of food needed for starving Syrian citizens

The first shipment of foreign aid since October reached the besieged Syrian city of Madaya on Monday, bringing starving residents to tears at the sight, a United Nations source told CNN. The convoy came from the U.N. World Food Programme, International Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent and had been positioned at the outskirts of the city.

“It’s heartbreaking to see so many hungry people,” said Sajjad Malik, the UNHCR representative in Syria. “It’s cold and raining but there is excitement because we are here with some food and blankets.”

Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar al-Ja’afari said, “The Syrian government did not stop any convoys of humanitarian assistance,” he said. “On the contrary: We sent plenty of convoys and we asked the U.N. to send more.”

International Red Cross spokeswoman Dibeh Fakhr said the aid that has just arrived in the Syrian city of Madaya will go only so far. “One short delivery will not be the solution,” she said. “What is needed is regular access.”

Even though Madaya is less than 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital city of Damascus, the cost of food has crippled the city. For example, in Damascus, flour costs 79 cents a kilogram. But in Madaya, a kilo of flour costs $120, and a kilo of rice costs $150. In the capital, milk costs $1.06 a liter. But in Madaya, the price soars to $300 a liter.

[CNN]

International aid reaches town of starving Syrian citizens

Aid convoys from the United Nations and the Red Cross entered the besieged Syrian town of Madaya on Monday amid reports of residents dying of starvation.

Around 20,000 residents from Madaya, which is located 15 miles northwest of Damascus, are being deprived of food and other basic supplies, according to Doctors Without Borders. Twenty-three patients have died of starvation, the aid group said, including six patients under the age of 1.

Food, medical items, blankets and other materials were delivered by convoy, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement. This comes after shocking photos of starving Syrians — including young children — were published online and broadcast by many media outlets around the world.

Around 400,000 Syrians live in besieged areas “with little or no access to basic supplies or assistance,” according to Doctors Without Borders.

“I look like a skeleton covered only in skin,” a Syrian man identified only as Mohammad told Amnesty International last week. “Every day, I feel that I will faint and not wake up again.”

Like many in the long-besieged town of Madaya, Mohammad spent his days searching for food, resorting at times to eating the leaves off of trees in order to gain some nourishment.

A stark reminder of Europe’s migrant crisis

In a stark reminder of the depth of Europe’s migrant crisis the bodies of 34 people, seven of them children, washed up on Turkey’s Aegean coast yesterday.

The latest victims were among the thousands attempting the perilous crossing to Greece despite rough seas and cold winter weather.

Each day this week more than 2,500 people, including many fleeing Syria’s civil war, have traveled by sea from Turkey to Greece, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

In all, 3,771 migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe in the past 12 months.

Sexual assaults challenge Germany’s welcoming attitude toward refugees

The consequences of dozens of sexual assaults and robberies reported in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve, with the perpetrators described as “Arab and North African men”,  has been felt elsewhere: in the thousands of refugee centers across Germany.

There is no evidence that refugees were involved in the attacks. Nevertheless, even the possibility of their involvement was enough to inflame parts of German society.

In an effort to prevent a backlash against refugees, the Berlin-based tabloid B.Z. printed two front pages Wednesday. The first read: “Group of a thousand asylum seekers out of control.” An explanation accompanied the headline: “This is how the B.Z. would look if we trusted the Internet.”

On its second page, the newspaper presented its real cover, which read: “Those are the facts: We do not know who the perpetrators are.”

Many other Germans, however, have reached a different conclusion.

[The Washington Post]

The impact of the refugee crisis on Europe’s open borders

The year 2015 was the year Europe felt “swamped” by refugees and other migrants. It was also the year border-controls were re-imposed – officially only temporarily – across Europe.

On Monday Sweden imposed ID checks on those crossing from Denmark, especially on those coming by train bus, or ferry. Deputy CEO of southern Sweden’s Chamber of Commerce reacted,  “The commuting system is the blood system of a metropolitan economy,” he said. “It will stop the blood flowing.”

The Oresund Bridge is Europe’s longest road and rail link. As such it has been touted as a poster boy of EU unity and of passport-free travel through peaceful post-war Europe (amongst the member countries of the borderless Schengen agreement).

No longer. Sweden says it has imposed the controls to limit illegal immigration. Public services have become compromised after Sweden received more migrants (refugees and others) per capita than any other European country in 2015.

Denmark reacted to the Swedish move today by imposing controls on its border with Germany. Again, migrant-related but almost inevitably also politically motivated.

Germany then reacted by declaring that Schengen [the 1985 European treaty that provided for the removal of border controls between participating countries] could well be doomed.

[BBC]

Humanitarian disaster looms as Syrian refugees left stranded in Jordanian ‘no man’s land’

Amnesty International says Jordan must take immediate action to assist up to 12,000 refugees who have been denied entry to the country and are struggling to survive in desperate, freezing conditions in “no man’s land” on the Jordanian side of the border with Syria. Those stranded include pregnant women, young children, elderly people and people suffering from serious medical conditions.

Hundreds of refugees have been arriving on a daily basis in recent weeks but have been denied access to Jordan by the authorities. UNHCR announced on 8 Decemberthat the number of refugees on the border has risen sharply since the start of November, from 4,000 to 12,000 following the recent intensification of conflict in Syria.

Since 2011 Jordan has granted refuge to more than 632,000 Syrian refugees but its policy on allowing those fleeing the conflict has become increasingly restrictive.

Jordan is one of five countries in the region hosting 95% of refugees from Syria and is struggling to cope with the added strain of this influx. Lebanon and Turkey have also effectively closed their borders to Syria’s refugees.

[Amnesty International]