Food crop speculators

According to FAO – the UN’s World Food Organization – the globe’s current agricultural potential could feed at least 12 billion people, if only the food would not be subject to speculation and would be properly distributed. But it isn’t.

Food crop speculators in the US and in Europe, command the price – they literally control who may live and who must die.

According to the World Bank, 80% of the food-price hike induced famine of 2008 / 2009 that precipitated the death of 2 million people in Asia and Africa was the result of food speculation.

[Peter Koenig, an economist and geopolitical analyst,  former World Bank staff]

Afghan Boys: The New Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

17-year-old Elyas is one of the tens of thousands of Afghan teenagers who showed up on Europe’s doorstep last year, in perhaps the most unexpected and challenging aspect of the migrant crisis. In a matter of weeks last fall, Sweden alone received more than 20,000 young Afghans–equaling the number of unaccompanied minors that applied for asylum in all of Europe the year before.

As asylum-seekers stream into Europe, the number of unaccompanied children and teenagers among them overall is soaring. In Norway and Sweden, about one in five last year was a minor traveling alone, up from one in 10 the year before. The exodus has put a new, youthful face on migration into Europe. But it has also strained Europe’s capacity to receive migrants even more, because minors traveling alone are given priority in the asylum process and require attention from social services.

In Norway, two-thirds of the 5,300 unaccompanied minors who sought asylum in 2015 were Afghans. They are now spread out in special shelters across the country. Elyas lives here in a former hostel with about 40 other boys from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea and other countries. Many are traumatized by years of war, oppression and abuse in their home countries, or shaken by an agonizing journey to Europe at the mercy of brutal human smugglers.

Ann Roarsen, one of five nurses working with refugees at the Alta Health Center, says it’s not uncommon for the boys to show stress symptoms, including heart palpitations, sweating, anxiety, muscle pain and difficulty sleeping, once they’ve settled down from their journey. Some get depressed and resort to deliberate self-harm, she says, making a cutting gesture over her arm.

Analysts are still trying to figure out why the Afghan numbers soared so suddenly in the fall. Most cite a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, where civilian casualties of the war rose to record levels for the seventh year in a row in 2015, according to the United Nations. They say the violence, along with a drop in prices for human smuggling and the images of Syrian refugees entering Europe, combined to make Afghan families decide this was the time to send their sons abroad.


Why Canada embraces Syrian refugees, while US is still wary

Canada’s  new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, greeted the first planeload of Syrian refugees to reach Canadian soil under his open-armed refugee policy with handshakes, hugs, and warm puffy coats. “You are safe at home now,” a beaming Mr. Trudeau told the deplaning Syrian families.

Trudeau’s welcome party at the Toronto airport that night reflected a campaign pledge he’d made in the fall campaign to open Canada to up to 25,000 Syrian refugees within months–and to double that to 50,000 by the end of 2016.

But behind that campaign pledge was something deeper, a national ethic and tradition of welcoming the victims of the world’s conflicts that contrasted sharply with the much more modest goals and contradictory–and even vociferously negative–responses to Syrian refugees in the United States.

When Trudeau visited the White House on a state visit, President Obama may have asked him why Canada was able to meet Trudeau’s target of greeting 25,000 Syria refugees in just two months–when Mr. Obama’s comparatively diminutive pledge to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year (US population: 10 times that of Canada) was met with a chorus of outrage from largely Republican governors and anti-immigration groups.

In Canada’s case, the bighearted welcome reflects a number of both intrinsic and practical factors: Canadians generally pride themselves on an openness to the world and a desire to share their national good fortune with the world’s less fortunate. On a practical level, Canada has for decades welcomed refugees under a three-tiered national system of public, private-sector, and individual responses. Read more

Alan Kurdi and why Canada embraces Syrian refugees

“The government of Canada has a long and proud tradition of providing protection to those who need it the most by providing refuge to thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people,” says Faith St. John, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Vancouver.

“I’d really say it’s in our national DNA to stand up and respond to these situations of upheaval and humanitarian crisis around the world,” says Louisa Taylor, director of Refugee 613, a grassroots coalition of individuals and nongovernmental organizations advocating refugee resettlement in Ottawa. “We see ourselves as a nation of immigrants, we can empathize with people in these situations,” she adds. “It’s also important that we’ve responded to these refugee crises for a long time, going back at least to the Vietnamese in the ‘70s, so Canadians tend to say, ‘We can do this, we’ve done this before many times.’”

It would be impossible to explain the outpouring of support and compassion that allowed Canada to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees in a matter of weeks without taking into account the impact on Canada’s national psyche of the death of Alan Kurdi. Alan was the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned while crossing the Mediterranean with his family last September and whose body washed up on a Turkish beach–to be famously photographed as he was picked up and cradled by a Turkish police officer.

For Canadians it became personal when it was learned that his family had relatives in British Columbia and had been trying to legally immigrate to Canada before giving up in desperation and taking to the sea.

Says Ms. Taylor. “When it became known that his family had been trying to get to Canada, it was like a national punch to the gut,” she adds. “People were saying ‘That’s not Canada,’ that if we had been true to our values the Kurdi family wouldn’t have got in that dingy and Alan would be preparing for nursery school in B.C.”

[CS Monitor]

UN says 34 countries don’t have enough food for their people

A new U.N. report says 34 countries, nearly 80 percent of them in Africa, don’t have enough food for their people because of conflicts, drought and flooding.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Crop Prospects and Food Situation report released Wednesday says drought associated with El Nino has “sharply reduced” 2016 crop production prospects in southern Africa.

In areas of Central America and the Caribbean, the report says dry conditions linked to El Nino may affect the planting of crops for the main growing season for the third consecutive year.

The report says expectations for harvests in Morocco and Algeria have also been lowered due to dry conditions.


Report paints grim picture of kids’ lives in Syria

Save the Children, an international humanitarian organization, painted a grim picture of life in Syria’s besieged cities, where young people have lost any hope for the future, living in constant fear of aerial bombardment and lacking access to food and proper medical care.

Save the Children said in a report published Tuesday that access to besieged areas by humanitarian organizations is virtually non-existent and only about 1 percent of food aid from the U.N. reached Syrians in besieged areas in 2015. About 250,000 children live in besieged areas, according to the report.

“Children have really lost any sense of the future,” Sonia Khush, the organization’s regional director for Syria told a news conference at U.N. headquarters on Monday.

She described a life in which parents and their children are surrounded by warring groups and access to medicine or physicians is limited or non-existent. Children “barely know what fresh fruits and vegetables are” because the government or other combatants have blocked access to them, Khush said.

Syria’s five-year war has killed at least a quarter million people and displaced half the country’s population.


Turkey-EU deal on migrants

Turkey said Monday that it would do more than the European Union has asked of it to curb the flow of migrants across the Aegean Sea, but only in return for billions of dollars in aid and a new hearing on Turkish membership in the 28-nation group.

The proposal, which came at the beginning of a bargaining session in Brussels, caught E.U. negotiators by surprise, and what had been planned as a one-day session was prolonged.

The E.U. had hoped to pressure the government in Ankara into accepting a plan under which non-Syrian migrants who had reached Europe would be sent back to Turkey. The Turks clearly saw this as an opportunity to exert some leverage in response.

According to Human Rights Watch, Turkey does not provide adequate protection for refugees and has frequently sent asylum seekers back to Syria. Although it has ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, Turkey is the only country in the world that recognizes refugee status only for citizens of certain countries. Among those in the current migration, only Syrians can claim such status.

[Washington Post]

Outsourcing a humanitarian crisis to Turkey

European countries plan to send thousands of refugees back to Turkey in a deal aimed at preventing people from trying to reach the EU by sea.

In what is being described as a “one in, one out” deal, anyone washing up on the shores of Greece will be sent back to Turkey, with one person being transferred from a Turkish refugee camp in their place.

But the deal, which is yet to be finalized, is flawed from the outset. Denying refugees the right to apply for asylum as they reach the EU is against international humanitarian law. And refusing protection to unarmed people fleeing war and persecution by sending them back to Turkey, a country under threat of a civil war, is unconscionable.

European Union leaders must be both desperate and clueless to pursue this.

The refugee crisis is the biggest challenge the European Union has ever faced. According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, it dwarfs even the eurozone debt problem.

[Middle East Eye]

Rapidly escalating refugee problem a wake-up call for the EU leaders

Leaders from the European Union and Turkey are convening an emergency summit in the Belgian capital Brussels on Monday, in order to address the continent’s rapidly escalating refugee problem.

The meeting comes after U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Babar Baloch declared a “humanitarian crisis” on the Greek-Macedonian border, where some 13,000 people are living in temporary shelters designed for 2,000, or out in the open. They are hoping to cross Macedonia to reach Western Europe, but local authorities are only allowing 250 people to enter the country each day, al-Jazeera reports.

Baloch has described the gravity of the situation as “a wake-up call for the E.U. leaders.”

The summit’s objective is to contain the flow of migrants into Europe, with E.U. leaders offering Turkey more than $3 billion to house them and reportedly rehabilitate those who fail to find asylum in Europe, the BBC says.

More refugees arrived in Europe by boat during the first six weeks of 2016 than during the first four months of last year, according to the UNHCR. At least 18 people drowned off the Turkish coast on Sunday in an attempt to reach Greece.


Europe’s new border controls exact a high cost to Europeans

More than two decades after much of Europe began abolishing border controls under the so-called Schengen Agreement, the free movement of people and products between countries has helped transform the European Union into the world’s largest economy.

Today, Belgium is the latest country to suspend the rules of the Schengen accord allowing the free movement of citizens across most of Europe’s internal borders. Since autumn, Austria, Denmark, France, Norway and Sweden have joined Germany in imposing and extending temporary border checks. Fences have gone up on various other borders including ones in Hungary, Serbia and Croatia, and along the Austrian-Slovenian frontier.

But as the bloc now grapples with the biggest migration crisis since World War II, the revival of checkpoints on some of the region’s most important transport routes is crimping commerce and threatening to cost billions of euros in lost business just as Europe is recovering from a six-year economic slump.

With 57 million vehicles a year and 1.7 million workers a day crossing Europe’s frontiers, the European Union could face up to 18 billion euros, or $19.6 billion, each year in lost business, steeper freight and commuter costs, interruptions to supply chains, and government outlays for augmented border policing, according to a recent report by the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm.

Should the European Union revert to permanent border checks to slow Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi migrants traveling through Greece and the west Balkans toward Northern Europe, the long-term cost could exceed €100 billion, the French government calculated in a separate study.

With no end to the migrant crisis in sight, some national governments are pushing to expand the number of checkpoints around Europe and extend their use for up to two years. While some calls for suspending Schengen might be political posturing, critics worry that border controls will become a fact of life.

[New York Times]