Humanitarian aid agencies pulling back from Europe’s “Refugee Prisons”

“We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation,” declared Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) official Marie Elisabeth Ingres this week, joining the chorus of major humanitarian institutions pulling their operations from Greek island refugee “hotpots” that have been transformed into nightmarish prisons. “We refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants.”

As ever-increasing numbers of war and poverty survivors reach Greek islands, the land masses have become ground zero for a newly escalated European Union crackdown, which decrees: “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey.” Before being subject to mass expulsion, refugees are being forcibly held in “hotspots” that were created under a separate EU agreement last year.

Since the deal went into effect, 934 people had arrived in Lesvos alone and are “being held at a closed registration and temporary accommodation site in Moria on the east of the island.” Numerous humanitarian organizations testify that the sanitation and public health conditions at this location are dismal. While they have been providing critical humanitarian support for the people at Moria—from medical care to hygiene assistance to daily essentials—they say they can no longer do so in good conscience. This includes MSF, Oxfam, Save the Children, and the Norwegian Refugee Council, among others.

Oxfam announced in a statement it is suspending all aid operations to “protest to the suspension of migrants’ rights by the EU and Turkey.” Save the Children also announced that it has suspended all activities “related to supporting basic services at all detention centers on the Greek islands due to extreme concerns that newly-arrived vulnerable children and their families are in danger of unlawful and unjustified custody for sustained periods of time.”

Giovanni Riccardi Candiani, country representative for Oxfam in Greece, rebuked the detention of people “who committed no crime and who have risked their lives in search of security and a better future.”

[AlterNet]

Why is nobody talking about Africa’s drought?

Since late 2015, Southern and Eastern Africa have been hit hard, and scientists warn that human-aided climate change is likely to make such events more frequent. The El Niño that struck at the end of 2015 was the strongest in nearly two decades and severely delayed rains in both Southern and Eastern Africa, causing immediate crop failure, livestock deaths, and widespread water shortages.

The drought has hit many African countries like a line of falling dominoes. The first to be toppled were farmers, both subsistence and commercial, who experienced massive crop failures in the last two harvests. In South Africa, the continent’s breadbasket, agronomists estimate that 30 to 40 percent of all corn crops will fail this year, and food prices have spiked for consumers across the region. As many as 36 million people in Southern and Eastern Africa now face hunger, according to the United Nations.

But the drought has also reshaped lives in less obvious ways, says Victor Chinyama, chief of communication at UNICEF Zimbabwe. School enrollments are down, for instance, as families are forced to put their children into the workplace to make ends meet. Girls are particularly at risk, he says, as families are forced to contemplate early marriage to reduce their financial burden.

The World Food Program says 10.2 million people are in critical need of food aid in Ethiopia alone, and as many as 49 million people may be affected by drought in Southern Africa. Why haven’t we heard more about this situation?

The simple answer is that so much of the world is in crisis now–from the grueling civil war in Syria to an escalating influx of migrants into Europe–leaving many donor countries unable or unwilling to take on another humanitarian burden.

 [Christian Science Monitor]

Humanitarian crisis in Athens port

Aid agencies in Greece have warned that “appalling” conditions for thousands of stranded refugees are becoming increasingly explosive. In an excoriating indictment of official efforts to handle the emergency, Human Rights Watch said a humanitarian crisis was unfolding in the Athens port of Piraeus that needed urgently to be addressed.

“Thousands of asylum seekers and migrants … face appalling conditions as the crisis for people trapped in Greece due to border closures intensifies,” a report released by the group said on Thursday.

“[People] are sleeping in squalid, unsanitary and unsafe conditions in passenger waiting areas, in an old warehouse, in tents outdoors and even under trucks,” it said.

About 5,000 men, women and children were dependent entirely on volunteers in the absence of any visible government support. Fights had erupted as tensions escalated, with aid workers often forced to intervene.

Close to 50,000 migrants and refugees are trapped in the country. On Thursday, for the first time since a controversial EU deal with Turkey to halt the influx was brought into force, Greece announced that no arrivals had been registered on any of the Aegean islands that have borne the brunt of the flows. Officials, however, were hesitant to say whether the no-shows were due to a Nato flotilla patrolling the Aegean, or gale-force winds that had made crossings from the Turkish coast especially dangerous.

[The Guardian]

Focusing on the moral compass of international aid organizations

In a Geneva conference hall last October, a bespectacled Somali woman, in hijab and flowing robes, took to the stage and began to berate the humanitarian system. The establishment, she said, was failing local NGOs. International organizations had lost their moral compass and local groups were not prepared to put up with it any longer.

“We are demanding change,” Degan Ali, executive director of the Kenyan-based NGO African Development Solutions (Adeso), told the audience. “Be prepared to be uncomfortable.”

She wasn’t kidding. Over the last few years, Ali has led the charge of small, local, predominantly southern organizations – the kind who do most of the work, yet receive the smallest share of funding – against the northern humanitarian establishment. She has highlighted the derisory 2% that local organisations currently receive directly of humanitarian funding, and accused the entire sector of racism.

On paper, Ali is an unlikely revolutionary. Born in Somalia to a political family, the family moved to the US with her diplomat father when she was nine. When war broke out they stayed, and Ali went to high school, and then university in the US. Bilingual, educated, she cut her teeth as a social activist on the notorious south side of Chicago, but never lost sight of her desire to go back to Africa. So, with the offer of a job with the UN, she returned to Somalia where her mother had set up Adeso, then a small organization.

What she found was a shock. “I saw my mother doing great work, but it was the most humiliating and depressing thing to watch her fundraise, to try and bang on the doors of the donor establishment, because she came from a local NGO,” says Ali.

“I left the US thinking I was going to leave behind a system of institutionalized racism. Unfortunately, I found a different form of institutionalized racism in the humanitarian system.”

The humanitarian sector has long recognized there’s a problem. Evaluations and policy papers alike have castigated responses and agencies for their failure to put local responders at the center of any crisis response, but little has changed in practice. And little that might endanger the current balance of power.

[Read full Guardian article]

Europe reaches deal with Turkey to return new migrants

The European Union has reached an agreement with Turkey that it hopes will ease the migrant crisis that has roiled the Continent for the past year.

Under the deal struck Friday, asylum seekers who take clandestine routes to Greece from Turkey are to be sent back, a significant step in the bloc’s effort to deal with the migrant exodus. The leaders of the 28 nations in the bloc and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey approved the accord over strenuous objections from humanitarian groups, who warned that the deal violated international law on the treatment of refugees.

The plan, which took effect over the weekend, faces many challenges. There are many alternative routes into Europe, and it is unclear how effective the Turkish and Greek authorities will be at rounding up migrants who use boats to cross the Aegean and sending them back to Turkey. Turkey is also in the midst of its own security crisis, raising questions about the country’s ability to implement the deal and cope with the huge numbers of migrants on its soil.

The deal calls for Turkey to receive about $6.6 billion in aid to help organizations look after the migrants there. Also promised are visa-free travel for Turkey’s citizens in most of Europe by this summer if Turkey meets certain conditions, and the eventual resumption of negotiations with Turkey on membership in the European Union.

The European Union also will resettle one Syrian from a camp in Turkey in exchange for each Syrian who used an irregular route to reach Greece.

The first exchanges could take place as soon as April 4, European Union officials said.

[New York Times]

The fallacy of a ‘humanitarian’ war

Excerpts of an article by Graham E. Fuller, former senior CIA official

We are, of course, well familiar with Republican and neocon readiness to go to war, but the reality is that many Democrat Party leaders have been no less seduced into a series of optional foreign military interventions, with increasingly disastrous consequences. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is today one of the leading exponents of the idea, but so are many of the advisors around President Barack Obama.

The new excuse for U.S. imperial wars is “humanitarian” or “liberal” interventionism.

In his new book The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention,  Rajan Menon offers powerful argumentation skewering the concept of “humanitarian intervention,” demonstrating how it operates often as little more than a subtler form of an imperial agenda. Naked imperial ambitions tend to be recognizable for what they are. But when those global ambitions are cloaked in the liberal language of our “right to protect” oppressed peoples, prevent humanitarian outrages, stop genocide, and to topple noxious dictators, then the true motives behind such operations become harder to recognize.

What humanitarian could object to such lofty goals? Yet the seductive character of these “liberal interventionist” policies end up serving — indeed camouflaging — a broad range of military objectives that rarely help and often harm the ostensible objects of our intervention.

From a humanitarian point of view, can the deaths of half a million Iraqis and the dislocation of a million or so more be considered to have contributed to the well-being of “liberated Iraq?” As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said, she regretted the death of 500,000 Iraqi children who, in Saddam’s Iraq, had been deprived of medicines under a long U.S. embargo, but, she concluded, “it was worth it.” One wonders to whom it was worth it?

Pros of Foreign Aid

1. It can help ease poverty in poor countries.
Supporters of foreign aid posit that if rich countries will work hand in hand to help developing and poverty-stricken countries, this can help solve the problem of impoverished nations, and better the lives of the people.

2. It is beneficial to involved countries, the donor and recipient.
Giving foreign aid is between two nations and this humanitarian activity is not only a good thing for the country receiving help but also to the giver of financial aid. By helping another country, diplomatic relations will be nurtured.

3. Extending foreign aid will help other countries be more independent.
Advocates say that by helping poor countries and giving them financial assistance and helping them in times of natural disasters and providing medical help like vaccines for diseases, a time will come that these countries will be able to improve their economies. Eventually, these countries will not be needing aid anymore but instead, be the ones to pay it forward like Peru, Japan and China.

4. It can help other nations fight drugs and other problems like HIV/AIDS.
Many organizations are helping in the dissemination of information about transnational problems like drugs and HIV.

Now read The Cons of Foreign Aid

Cons of Foreign Aid

1. Foreign aid does not go to the people because of corruption.
Opponents of foreign aid argue that in most cases, help fails to reach the right people who are really in need of assistance. There are poor countries with corrupt officials who use the fund for themselves and that little or no aid is given to the poorest members of the communities.

2. Favoring selected countries over another can be a problem.
Critics of foreign aid say that oftentimes, developing countries which can give back benefits are the ones given assistance instead of nations which really need help. They also argue that some countries who give aid use this as a tool to control the recipient country in terms of favors like setting up military bases.

3. Giving financial aid like loans only leave these poor countries deeper in debt and poverty.
People who are against giving loans to under-developed countries say that the IMF can sometimes be reckless in approving loans for programs that are not really beneficial to the recipient country but instead, more harmful. They also point out that these countries become poorer because instead of using their funds to invest in profitable projects and channel their income to other investments, they use what they have to pay their debts.

4. Questioning foreign aid when there is now so much poverty in donor countries.
Another setback that is apparently clear is that instead of using the fund to improve the lives the poor in the donor country, a big chunk of the money goes to other countries which, sometimes, do not deserve to be helped.

Conclusion – Giving financial aid to despondent nations is a humanitarian gesture and promises several benefits. However, critics are also correct in saying there are loopholes in the system. The best way to address this is to come up with a structural design to ensure aid is given to the right recipients and that it is properly implemented, with utmost focus on corruption.

[Green Garage]

Airlander a game changer for humanitarian airlifts

A new titan in eco-friendly transportation is taking over the European skies. The HAV (Hybrid Air Vehicle) Airlander 10 is the biggest airship in the world designed specifically for humanitarian uses.

With a cargo capacity of 10 tons and the ability to fly for weeks without landing, the ship can soar to any location carrying supplies and resources to communities in need.

Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden and key investor in the Airlander, told the New Yorker,“You want to put a hospital into Africa? You put the whole hospital in the inside of this – whoosh. Start the generator. … With these vehicles, you could drop off a 20-ton slab of water that is clean, drinkable, to an African village. It’s astonishing what you can do that you just can’t do with anything else.”

As well as being the largest philanthropic vehicle of its kind, the Airlander only uses a quarter of the fuel regular airplanes do because of its reservoir of helium that creates buoyancy.

Even though it’s as long as a football field and the height of two double-decker buses, the ship can land vertically on any terrain – including water – making it especially capable for search and rescue missions.

“I’m not expecting to get my money back anytime soon, I just want to be part of it,” Bruce said regarding his $380,000 investment. ”Being a rock person, I could put it up my nose, or buy a million Rolls Royces and drive them into swimming pools, or I could do something useful. There are very few times in your life when you’re going to be part of something big.”

The ship’s maiden test flights are scheduled for later this month over the hangar’s airfield in Bedfordshire, England so it can accrue the air time necessary to be validated by the Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

[Good News Network]

Humanitarian catastrophe on the border of Macedonia

The refugee camp at the Greek village of Idomeni near the Greek border with Macedonia is slowly turning into a humanitarian catastrophe as more than 12,000 people have been stranded here by border closures.

Idomeni was originally established as a transit camp designed to hold no more than a few thousand people.

With overloaded boats daily crossing the Aegean Sea towards the shores of the Greek islands of Lesbos and Kos, the number of people venturing in the direction of Idomeni keeps growing.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has accused the European authorities of violating basic principles such as solidarity, dignity and human rights while applying restrictive measures by erecting fencing along their borders and refusing entry on the basis of nationality.

The refugees and the aid organizations working at the camp report a shortage of blankets and tents which leaves people exposed to the elements, as well as sub-standard sanitary conditions with only cold water available for washing. There are no warm meals and refugees must wait for hours to receive food. The camp is also lacking in availability of medical equipment and assistance.

[Al Jazeera]