Turkey’s promise to stop the flow of refugees creates a new crisis

Turkey is struggling to cope with the 2.7 million Syrians it hosts, and honor its agreement to stop refugees from crossing into Europe. Meanwhile, renewed fighting in Syria pushes tens of thousands of Syrians closer to the border with Turkey, in a sign that the problem could still get worse.

Turkey is scrambling to create long-term solutions for millions of people it had expected to house temporarily. An analysis released by several think tanks and aid groups in February listed these hurdles for refugees: bureaucracy, unemployment, poor housing conditions and limited access to education. As an example of the bureaucracy, the report noted, “a bank account was required to obtain a residence permit, while a residence permit was required to open a bank account.”

“When people flee from war, they usually do so hoping to return home soon” said Selin Unal, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee program in Turkey. “They move nearby, like just across the border, where they can keep an eye on their homes and livelihoods.”

Most Syrian refugees in Turkey are living along the southeastern border with Syria. But more than one million people are spread throughout the country, in cities and in rural areas. Istanbul alone has nearly 400,000 registered Syrians, according to the Turkish government.

Of the 700,000 school-age Syrian children in Turkey, fewer than half are enrolled. The Turkish government is developing a plan to try to close the gap, including creating schools that will employ Syrian teachers and teach in Arabic.

“After living day to day for five years, many migrants and refugees want to plan for the future, and this means being able to provide for their families themselves,” said Abby Dwommoh, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration in Turkey.

[New York Times]

Behind the global crackdown on NGOs, recognition of their power

Around the globe, from Malaysia to Morocco and from India to Ethiopia, governments have been cracking down on activists who are trying to hold them to account. The worldwide trend constitutes “the broadest backlash against civil society in a generation,” says Kenneth Roth, head of Human Rights Watch, a Washington-based watchdog group.

Different governments use different methods: some simply close non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by decree; others starve them of funds, arrest their leaders, censor their reports, or send secret police to intimidate them.

Last year, according to a report by CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations, there were “serious threats to civic freedoms” in 96 countries. What is behind this blowback against the NGOs? Partly, it seems to be a reaction by authoritarian rulers–and some who claim to be democratic–to the increasingly vocal criticism that ordinary citizens direct at them.

“The resistance [to the NGOs] is more motivated because autocrats see the capacity” of their citizen-critics, adds Mr. Roth.

That resistance is hardening. In China, for example, though the NGO law’s text is still secret, it is expected to make the police responsible for managing foreign groups and to make registration more cumbersome.

Last year, the Indian government revoked the operating license of Greenpeace, the environmental watchdog, which had strongly criticized official mining and nuclear policies. The authorities have banned more than 9,000 Indian charities from receiving foreign funds since last April.

That is an approach taken most ferociously by the Russian government, which has forced NGOs receiving any money from abroad to register as “foreign agents,” a term suggesting traitorous intentions. If they take money from groups branded as “undesirable foreign organizations,” they could be prosecuted.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Red Cross says Afghanistan facing its worst humanitarian crisis since war began

The crisis in Afghanistan has escalated to a new level of urgency, the outgoing head of the International Red Cross said Sunday, citing a record number of civilian casualties and evacuations of war wounded.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Jean-Nicolas Marti said the drawdown of NATO forces has led to a rise in fighting.

The Red Cross says the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high for the seventh consecutive year in 2015, with more than 11,000 innocent men, women and children killed or wounded, Reuters reports.

Marti told The Telegraph that in 2015, the number of war wounded grew by 30 percent from the year before. The 2016 total is expected to exceed the 2015 figure before the summer “fighting season” begins.

Meanwhile, Afghans make up the second largest group of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe behind Syrians, as an estimated one million people have been displaced in the conflict, Reuters reports.

[Fox News]

As drought deepens, African nations struggle to get globe’s attention

The South African sky above Ramoso Pholo’s fields is a glossy, postcard blue, drenching light over his neatly planted rows of corn, beans, and sunflowers. From a distance, it looks bucolic, but up close it is anything but.

For the past six months, Mr. Pholo has been waiting for clouds to blot this shimmering horizon and rains to soften his bone-dry fields. Instead, his neat rows of sunflowers have withered, and his corn stalks–normally as tall as he–are frozen waist-high.

“I have been farming my entire life and this is the worst season I have ever seen,” he says, cradling the head of a slumping sunflower. “About 99 percent of my crops are damaged–this year will be a total failure.”

The drought may be the worst Pholo has ever seen, but if forecasters are right, it may not be the worst he ever lives through. For climate scientists, the massive drought sweeping southern and eastern Africa since last year is an ominous signal of how climate change is driving extreme weather, threatening already vulnerable communities where climate and livelihood are closely intertwined.

The current dry weather, parched rivers, and crop failures here, the likes of which have not been seen in at least three decades, are linked to El Niño–a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean–whose current iteration is one of the strongest ever recorded. El Niño occurs on average every three to five years.  But scientists say that rising greenhouse gas emissions are ratcheting up the incidence of super-charged El Niño years like this one. By the end of this century they’ll likely occur every 16 years instead of every 28–and Africa, the world’s poorest and most ecologically fragile continent, will bear much of the brunt.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Three million lack permanent shelter a year after Nepal earthquake

A year after Nepal was devastated in an earthquake, 3 million people are still without permanent shelter and some marginalized groups have missed out on vital relief.

Aid agency Save the Children says about 600,000 families in Nepal continue to live under tarpaulins, bridges and in unsafe buildings in the wake of the magnitude 7.8 quake which hit on April 25 last year. Almost 9000 people were killed in the disaster and about 900,000 homes destroyed or damaged.

The scale of the disaster and logistical problems caused by Nepal’s mountainous terrain and limited road infrastructure have made relief and rehabilitation difficult. Surveys taken during the relief phase found two-thirds of quake victims did not have the information need to get relief and 61 per cent “thought aid was not being provided fairly”, the report said.

Save the Children country director Delailah Borja said, “No formal rebuilding program has commenced in the past 12 months, and that’s in part due to the sheer scale of the disaster and the massive logistical challenges in an extremely mountainous region. Millions of families are still living in the temporary shelter supplied by aid agencies months ago, having already braved a very cold winter and are now facing the prospect of another monsoon season, which will start in June.”

[The Age]

Ecuador earthquake aid

A 7.8-magnitude quake, which struck Ecuador Saturday night, has killed at least 413 people, officials said Monday. More than 2,500 more were injured.

The hardest-hit area of the South American nation was the coastal Manabi Province, where about 200 people died, said Ricardo Peñaherrera of Ecuador’s national emergency management office.

Getting supplies and rescue crews to the affected areas has been a challenge. “The lack of water and communication remains a big problem,” Peñaherrera told CNN en Español. “Many highways are in bad shape, especially in the mountainous area, because it has been raining recently due to the El Niño weather phenomenon.”

Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru and other countries sent rescuers and aid. The European Union said Monday it had released €1 million in humanitarian aid. The United Nations said it was preparing a “major aid airlift,” and private aid organizations have also rallied.

Iraq’s humanitarian workers brace for Mosul influx

A military operation to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group could produce the largest civilian displacement anywhere in the world this year, according to the United Nations — and critics say the UN and Kurdish authorities are unprepared for the influx.

Kurdish authorities, already caring for more than one million displaced people, are reluctant to allow more displaced people into areas under their control, amid concerns about possible infiltration by ISIL sympathizers.

An eventual assault on Mosul could displace more than one million more people, according to UN estimates.

“Even by our most conservative estimates, this could be the largest population movement anywhere in the world this year,” Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, told Al Jazeera.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has vowed that this will be the year Iraqi forces retake Mosul. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is expecting to receive between 300,000 and 500,000 displaced people from Mosul.

A third of Iraq’s 3.4 million displaced people have taken refuge in Kurdish areas, increasing the region’s population by nearly 30 percent, the highest ratio anywhere in the world. The World Bank estimates the displacement crisis cost the KRG $1.4bn in 2015, at a time when its economy was experiencing severe recession.

Both the Kurds and the UN say humanitarian funding is grossly lacking. So far, donors have pledged just $75m of the $861m that the UN has asked for in Iraq this year.

[Al Jazeera]

Pope Francis shows solidarity with refugees in Lesbos

At a ceremony in the Greek island of Lesbos, Pope Francis said he understood Europe’s concern about the recent migrant influx. But he said migrants are first of all human beings “who have faces, names and individual stories” and deserve to have their most basic human rights respected.

During the Pope’s visit, Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the archbishop of Athens, Ieronymos II, signed a joint declaration calling on the international community to make the protection of human lives a priority and to extend temporary asylum to those in need.

In his remarks to the refugees, Francis said, “We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity,” he said. “May all our brothers and sisters on this continent, like the Good Samaritan, come to your aid in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity that has distinguished its long history.”

Human rights groups have denounced the EU-Turkey deportation deal as an abdication of Europe’s obligation to grant protection to asylum-seekers. The March 18 deal stipulates that anyone arriving clandestinely on Greek islands on or after March 20 will be returned to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. For every Syrian sent back, the EU will take another Syrian directly from Turkey for resettlement in Europe. In return, Turkey was granted billions of euros to deal with the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees living there and promised that its stalled accession talks with the EU would speed up.

Making sure not to violate the deal, the Vatican said 12 Syrians coming to Italy with the pope had been in Lesbos prior to March 20, and thus were not subject to possible deportation.

“The world will be judged by the way it has treated you,” Bartholomew told the refugees. “And we will all be accountable for the way we respond to the crisis and conflict in the regions that you come from.”

[Yahoo News]

Iraq may soon reach a ‘point beyond repair’

The vulnerability of internally-displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq has reached boiling point, with the situation aggravated by ongoing armed conflict. If diverse ethnic communities fail to co-exist, Iraq may soon be “beyond repair,” a new report warns.

There are currently 3.2 million IDPs in Iraq, which is in the middle of a war with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). IDPs originating from Anbar – the Sunni heartland of Iraq – comprise the largest group of displaced people in Iraq. The Iraqi capital, Baghdad, hosts the second largest IDP population of nearly 600,000 persons.

More than 8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, the report from the Minority Rights Group International and partner charity Ceasefire Center for Civilian Rights has stated.

Protection of IDPs in Iraq has become next to impossible due to the “collapse of the rule of law, widespread impunity, territorial or tribal disputes and the inability or sometimes unwillingness of the Iraqi government and the Regional Government of Kurdistan to respond to the sheer scale of the crises,” the report noted. “If communities are unable to co-exist, Iraq may soon reach a point beyond repair,” it added.

IDPs originating from Anbar – the Sunni heartland of Iraq – comprise the largest group of displaced people in Iraq. The Iraqi capital, Baghdad, hosts the second largest IDP population of nearly 600,000 persons.

“Unless a coherent strategy for return and reconciliation is put in place, the possibility of a democratic, multicultural Iraq will be gone within the next few years,” the executive director of the Minority Rights Group International Mark Lattimer added.


If history is a guide, Europe’s refugees are in trouble

There are obvious parallels between the current flow of refugees into Europe and the massive displacements produced 70 years ago by World War II. And that, according to a new study by the Kiel Institute of Economic Research (IfW), is not good news.

The big problem for both groups, the comparative study concluded, is employment. “The first generation of current refugees basically doesn’t stand a chance in the German job market,” says economist Sebastian Braun, author of the report.

World War II refugees struggled to find gainful employment all the way up to the 1970s, Braun and his colleagues found. The jobs they did find tended to be poorly paid–“even though their level of education was quite high and they already spoke German,” the researcher explains.

Up to 8 million people came to West Germany from the splintered remains of the former Third Reich between 1945 and 1946. By 1950 their share in the total population of Germany was nearly 17%. For the sake of comparison: German authorities registered nearly 1 million refugees last year, equivalent to only 1.2% of the country’s current population.

Authorities decided it would be best to settle them in rural areas, away from the destruction of the large cities. But then, as now, there were fewer job opportunities in the countryside than in urban areas.

Employment prospects improved for the second and third generations, but for the first wave, the job situation was always precarious. “It will not be any different now,” according to the researcher, who expects it will take newcomers up to 15 years to have any real hope of finding a job. Braun thinks this development pattern is about to be repeated.

But unlike many of their World War II counterparts, todays refugees lack German language skills, satisfactory educational training and job qualifications.

[Die Welt]

Call for a humanitarian revolution

A confluence of factors has pushed humanitarian needs to a level surpassing what was seen at the end of World War II, but aid experts assert in a just-released report that the tools and know-how exist to meet the challenge.

The authors of the report point to opportunities to apply some of the same innovations that allowed for impressive global development gains since 2000:

  • Greater involvement of local actors in meeting their own needs.
  • Private-sector participation.
  • Emphasizing crisis prevention where before crisis response sufficed.
  • Steady streams of funding.

Such steps, the report’s authors say, can and must be used to build a humanitarian assistance system for the 21st century.

“We’re not saying the current humanitarian system is broken, but what we are saying is that we need to adapt it to make it work better to meet today’s needs,” says Rick Leach, president and CEO of World Food Program USA, one of seven humanitarian relief organizations that together authored the new report, A World at Risk. “And we’ve learned some important lessons that can be applied to deliver a more effective system for this new situation.”

What won’t work is sticking with the old pattern of begging the world’s wealthy to open their hearts and wallets at periodic crisis-specific donors’ conferences, and then sending in outside experts to try to make things better.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Changing the world from Seattle

At Cascade Designs, just south of downtown Seattle, something new is coming off the shop floor: a compact, no-frills water purifier designed to bring clean water to struggling populations in rural Africa.

The device, able to chlorinate water by the 55-gallon drum, was designed with help from several big nonprofits, including one funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private philanthropy, and the United States military. And it is an example, in its mix of altruistic and profit-seeking motives, of how fortunes earned a generation ago at Microsoft, the computer software giant, are still shaping economic life here.

Microsoft, co-founded by Mr. Gates and Paul G. Allen, put Seattle on the map as a tech-rich city before the boom of dot-coms. Mr. Gates and Mr. Allen then took some of the billions they made and, starting in the early to mid-2000s, set out to work on global health at the Gates Foundation, and fundamental science in cell and brain research at the Allen Institute.

The result: In trying to change the world, they are also changing their backyard. Their causes, such as clean water, sanitation and health, are spawning a new ecosystem of global health care companies, research institutes and academic expertise at places like the University of Washington.

A study sponsored last year by the Washington Global Health Alliance said that global health–a mix of research, logistics and manufacturing–now accounts for more than 12,000 jobs in Washington state and nearly $6 billion in economic activity. In addition, there are growing networks of second-generation, nonprofit leaders who were schooled at the Gates Foundation or Allen Institute, and have now filtered out to form a kind of self-reinforcing army. Seattle is first in the nation in private foundation revenue per capita, according to the Urban Institute, with two and a half times the amount of the No. 2 city, San Francisco, where philanthropic technology wealth has also soared.

[NY Times]

Western humanitarian interventionism

How stingy a friend Britain proved to be when – following much political grand-standing and calls for a very ‘humanitarian intervention’ against the Gaddafi regime in Libya – it could only muster £50,000 towards Libya’s reconstruction for 2016.

Beyond the humanitarian lunacy Britain just demonstrated by allocating such a budget, it is the underlying condescending tone which annoys me the most. Has PM David Cameron lost all common sense and decency here? For all the millions, and billions of dollars, pounds, euro Britain, and other NATO-members stand to make by siphoning Libya’s natural resources (all legally of course, Western powers are not in the business of looting). this is what Britain offers Libyans as a token of its undying support.

The truth remains that Western interventionism absolutely ruined Libya… You could ponder over a decade of failed military and political meddling, and a veritable trail of failed states, and think maybe the West has learned its lesson. But it has not. Why would they and most importantly why should they when a thriving military industrial complex continues to zeroes upon zeroes to its bottom line?

Let’s consider how many countries the West has “helped” since 2001. There was Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen… that’s for the Middle East, and then of course Ukraine – that would be the Eastern European front. Bottom line, how many of those countries are thriving today? How many of those countries have been burnt by wars, unrest, terror and abject poverty? How many of those countries have seen foreign troops/mercenaries on their ground? All of them – without exception.

[Read full article by political analyst Catherine Shakdam writing in RT]

Just 10 percent of World Military Spending could knock out poverty

World military spending rose 1 percent in 2015, the first annual increase in four years, a Stockholm think tank said.  The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said military expenditure nudged up to almost $1.7 trillion last year, with the United States accounting for by far the greatest amount despite its spending dipping 2.4 percent to $596 billion.

China was the second largest spender for the second year in a row with spending up 7.4 percent to $215 billion, while Saudi Arabia passed Russia to take third place and Britain came fifth.

SIPRI said military expenditure amounted to 2.3 percent of global gross domestic product–and 10 percent of this would be enough to fund the global goals agreed upon by United Nations’ 193 member states in September to end poverty and hunger by 2030.

U.N. figures show an estimated 800 million people live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger, with fragile and conflict-torn states experiencing the highest poverty rates.


Syrian refugees choose to live in no man’s land

On the border between Greece and Macedonia, buses are part of an evolving effort to coax refugees out of the Greek village Idomeni. Nearly 12,000 people linger here in the hopes that the border will one day open, and they will be able to move on toward Western Europe.

For the past few months, Idomeni has been a flashpoint for the refugee crisis in Greece. The islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos and others are being cleared of asylum-seekers under the terms of a recent deal between the European Union and Turkey; starting this week, refugees who arrived in Greece after March 20 can be deported to Turkey. But that deal does not affect the people who’ve already made it as far as Idomeni—they’re just stuck.

Tents sprawl across rocks and dirt. Derelict trains and abandoned buildings have turned into coveted residences. Some refugees have clocked a month or more waiting here, and many are running out of money. Unlike official Greek refugee camps which are run by the army, Idomeni has effectively been run by NGOs and volunteers.

Official camps in Greece are said to offer better living conditions than Idomeni, but not everyone is tempted. “I would prefer to stay here until the last minute, until the border opens,” says Aseel, 19-year-old asylum-seeker from Syria. “Rain. Snow. Mud. We will live here,” echoes Abdul, a 65-year-old from Syria.

On Mar. 28, the parliament of Macedonia (FYROM) passed a measure declaring a state of emergency along its borders until the end of 2016, which means that border crossings will remain closed at least until the end of the year. Nevertheless, the people waiting here remain, citing hopes that the border could soon open and fears of being forgotten.

In Idomeni, asylum-seekers may sleep rough but they are visible. News vans, some adorned with satellite dishes, dot the road leading into the camp. Photographers trudge along, two or three cameras hanging off their shoulders. Reporters jot down notes as they listen to the myriad stories that paint a picture of lives eviscerated by war.


Canadian residents sponsor additional Syrian refugees

Families and groups across Canada have spent time and money to sponsor Syrian refugees to their country. Now the federal government is saying it could be the end of 2016 or even 2017 before they are granted entry to Canada.

A group of residents in the town of Collingwood, Ontario, are counting themselves lucky after learning that one of two Syrian refugee families they are sponsoring will be arriving in Canada within the next eight weeks.

The Syrian family bound for Collingwood — one girl and four boys under the age of 12, along with their parents — will be coming from Ankara, Turkey. The mother is said to be pregnant with a sixth child due some time in June.

But hundreds of Canadians who responded to the government’s plea for help in resettling Syrian families continue to grow frustrated with the slow pace of arrivals.

Some 1,053 privately sponsored refugees and 284 blended visa office-referred refugees have been approved for sponsorship as of March 29 but have yet to arrive in Canada, said department spokeswoman Bourque.

The Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada told CBC News last Friday the government had put in place “additional resources and special measures” to bring a further 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, but only for a temporary time. “We know refugees and sponsors are disappointed that expedited processing is not continuing, but the accelerated pace of recent months could not be sustained indefinitely,” spokeswoman Jennifer Bourque said in response to an inquiry from CBC News.