Educational challenges highlighted at World Humanitarian Summit

The underpinnings of the World Humanitarian Summit that took place in Istanbul on May 23-24 can be traced to years of vexation among NGOs, governments and U.N. agencies over failed humanitarian interventions. Some examples include:

The Fuller Project for International Reporting on the difficulties that Syrian refugee children face in accessing education in Turkey:

“Turkey has taken a central role in the response to the Syria crisis, hosting close to 3 million Syrian refugees – more than any other country. Some 330,000 children are already enrolled in Turkish schools, according to the education ministry. [Meanwhile] nearly 500,000 children remain entirely cut off from the education system. Many have been pushed into early marriage or the labor market, while others sit in temporary homes or roam Turkish streets.”

UNWRA’s commissioner general Pierre Krähenbühl on investing in the educational futures of Palestinian children trapped in conflict:

“UNRWA findings are deeply disturbing: 44 percent of UNRWA’s 692 schools across the Middle East – that’s a staggering 302 – have been directly impacted by conflict and violence in the past five years. In Syria, at least 70 percent of 118 UNRWA schools have at some stage of the war been rendered inoperative, either because they were impacted by violence or because we have used them as centers to house the displaced.”

Other challenges highlighted at World Humanitarian Summit

Journalist John Owens on the psychological distance between Istanbul and neighbor Athens: “While Istanbul hosts the World Humanitarian Summit, the woes of tens of thousands of refugees stuck in limbo have remained unheard for months. ..In Greece, in particular, the asylum and relocation system – a central plank in European Union efforts to deal with the refugee crisis – is failing. It has pushed many displaced people into taking desperate measures.”

Journalist Alessandria Masi’s question of whether the summit can be effective: “On paper, the WHS seems like just what the doctor ordered in our modern, suffering global society. … [But] without Syria, Russia and Iran at the discussion tables, any solution to the Syrian crisis, particularly humanitarian aid access, seems unlikely. Saudi Arabia’s absence leaves little hope for progress on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”

Migration consultant Paul Currion on the need to include IDPs in humanitarian response: “The report of the secretary-general [largely] discusses refugees rather than IDPs, and that’s when the proposals become increasingly vague.”

A majority of the civil society actors called for change at all levels of bureaucracy and within governments and the humanitarian sector.

[News Deeply]

Ruined Syrian cities will need decades to recover from war

The end of Syria’s brutal civil war is not in sight. The combatants are locked in a grinding, attritional battle that is as complex as it is cruel. More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed over the past five years, and roughly half of the country’s citizens have been forced to flee their homes.

Some of Syria’s most important urban centers have been devastated by endless street fighting and aerial bombardment.  In 2014, a U.N. study suggested that it would take Syria at least three decades to recover.The housing sector has been literally reduced to rubble.

The World Bank, using satellite imagery of six Syrian cities, came up with assessments for the damage and a conservative estimate on the losses in public infrastructure sits at $6 billion.

According to the World Bank’s analysis of six cities, Aleppo, once Syria’s most populous metropolitan center and financial capital, bore the brunt of the destruction. The damage to Aleppo has doubled in the past two years.

[Washington Post]

What was agreed upon at the Humanitarian Summit

1. The most concrete outcome of the summit was the top 30 donors and aid agencies signing a so-called “Grand Bargain” to make aid more efficient.

2.  As expected, “localization” came out a winner in the discussions, with a target agreed in the Grand Bargain to direct 25 percent of humanitarian funding “as directly as possible” to local and national agencies. Twenty-seven international NGOs also signed the new Charter4Change, committing to passing 20 percent of their funding to national NGOs by 2018.

3. One former Save the Children staffer said she almost cried at the launch of the Education Cannot Wait fund, a recognition – after years of lobbying – that education is just as important as food and shelter in a crisis. On average, less than two percent of humanitarian aid goes towards education (some donors pledged to individually raise that to 30 percent).

4. Nearly 100 governments, aid agencies and others signed on to another Charter, committing not to discriminate against people with disabilities in humanitarian action, to better meet their needs.

5. It is a long-established factoid that investing $1 in preparing for crises will save you $7 responding to them, and yet it has proven very difficult to make that shift. The UN’s disaster risk reduction body had called for a “marker” to track DRR spending, though no specific target was set.

6. Facing a funding gap very roughly estimated at $15 billion in responding to crises, the summit emphasized the need for innovative approaches to financing. Several initiatives were announced.

7. Regional inter-governmental organizations have long complained that, despite being well-positioned to respond to crises in their regions faster and in a more culturally sensitive way, they do not have enough of a place at the humanitarian decision-making table.

8. The summit’s structure sought a range of ideas from both civil society organizations and the private sector, meaning many voices that do not traditionally have power were heard.

[Red full IRIN article]

Turkish President irked as major players snub humanitarian summit

Imagine throwing a huge fundraiser. You proudly plan it for months. You invite all the must-have, high-society elites. On the big night, the place is packed, but at the last minute the big spenders — the ones you really want — don’t show. Turkey knows the feeling.

Turkey hosted the first UN World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24 in Istanbul. Former Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan had predicted in January that “all state and government heads will be coming to Turkey.” But they didn’t come.

Official figures from the United Nations were otherwise impressive, showing that 9,000 people from 173 countries attended, including about 50 presidents, prime ministers and ministers or their deputies. Participation from Europe was limited; most of the European countries that attended were those affected by the Syrian refugee wave.

The political heavyweights were noticeably absent this week: Britain, France and China were not represented at all, and the United States and Russia sent delegates at the undersecretary and deputy minister levels. It was no surprise that Russia didn’t send a high-level emissary, given its frosty state of relations with Turkey, but many were hoping the US president would attend.

The US Agency for International Development announced earlier this month that it had suspended assistance to Syrians in Turkey because of corruption. Doctors Without Borders pulled out of the summit, saying it had lost hope that the event would tackle the weaknesses of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities.

In a press conference at the end of the summit, President Erdogan criticized the G-7 countries (United States, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom) for not participating, saying, “It is sad that leaders of G-7 countries, other than [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, have not attended.”

Referring to the 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) the EU had pledged for the refugees, Erdogan said, “We see that their promised support has not materialized. My colleagues say 1 billion euros will arrive before July. Turkey is not asking for charity. This support is for the people in the camps.”

[Al-Monitor]

Oxfam: “We want to see rich countries step up to the plate”

As the first UN World Humanitarian Summit drew to a close in Istanbul, some delegates pushed for a larger overhaul of the system.

“It is shameful that rich countries are moaning, complaining, sending refugees back, cutting deals behind their backs … We want to see rich countries step up to the plate, absorb refugees and give them opportunities in their countries,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of the aid group Oxfam International, told Al Jazeera.

At the center of the summit was a document that lists a number of core commitments – to use global leadership to prevent and end wars, to uphold the norms of humanitarian law, among others.

But the commitments contained in the document are non-binding, making it a declaration of intent rather than action.

[Al Jazeera]

Most people want to accept refugees, survey finds

A new survey of 27 countries found that significant majorities of people would welcome refugees into the country and even consider taking them into their home. The study, commissioned by Amnesty International, says four in five people would “welcome refugees in their country, community or home.”

In 20 of the 27 countries, more than 75 percent of respondents said they would let refugees in their country. Only 17 percent said they would refuse refugees entry to their country.

These statistics, the rights group argues, shows how governments turning their backs on refugees are “badly out of touch with reality.”

Given all the drama sparked by refugees in the West, the figures are quite staggering, particularly in places like Germany, where an influx of migrants has rocked the country’s domestic politics.

Globally, two out of three respondents agree that national governments should do more to help refugees fleeing war or persecution, according to Amnesty International.

[Washington Post]

Turkey hinders millions of refugees getting the help they need

Turkey is host to 2.7 million refugees and seeks $6.7 billion in additional humanitarian assistance from the European Union. Helping the refugees is a moral imperative, but Turkey is unlikely to receive the funding needed until it makes transparency a priority, including refugee registration information.

The needs of those in refugee camps are not difficult to determine. But there are an estimated 2.5 million non-camp refugees inside Turkey whose conditions are unknown. The Turkish government has not conducted large-scale surveys of non-camp refugees, and international organizations report that they cannot get permission to conduct surveys themselves. Only one government survey of refugees–conducted in 2013–has ever been made public. It found that 97 percent of Syrian women in Turkey could not find work and that 78 percent did not have enough money for food.

The situation is dire for refugees in the region. In Lebanon and Jordan, child labor and child marriage rates are skyrocketing. To feed their families, parents are forced to send their children to work.

It is time to rise above politics, lay out the facts and work together to address refugees’ problems–before they get worse. The humanitarians gathering in Istanbul must reaffirm their commitment to humanity and speak out against systems of secrecy that hinder aid. Transparency, in all its forms, is essential to an effective humanitarian response.

[Washington Post]

World Humanitarian Summit launches

More than 125 Heads of State and Government are expected to join representatives from the UN community, civil society, the private sector, academia and thousands of other participants at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS).

Four years ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the World Humanitarian Summit to be organized, recognizing that the status quo could not continue. Since then, 23,000 people were consulted in over 150 countries.

The outcome of this global exercise is the Agenda for Humanity, a guiding document for the Summit in which Mr. Ban calls for people’s safety, dignity and right to thrive. It calls on world leaders to commit to five core responsibilities:

[UN News Centre]

Generosity to refugees is the answer, not fear

Generosity is the answer, not fear. This is the message of Angelina Jolie, special UN envoy, to the international community as she urged governments from around the world to respond to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the World War II.

In a speech in London earlier this week, Jolie opined that everybody has a responsibility to alleviate the sufferings of those fleeing their home countries and should not allow politics of fear to get in the way.

Currently, the number of refugees arising from conflicts in various regions, including in Syria, is estimated at 60 million. With this, Jolie said that she understands why many people are angry with the inaction of various institutions that should be dealing with the refugee issues.

“It has created the risk of a race to the bottom, with countries competing to be the toughest in the hope of protecting themselves whatever the cost or challenge to their neighbors, and despite their international responsibilities,” Jolie said.

Jolie stressed that strength lies in being unafraid, referring to those who are afraid to take in refugees for reasons rooted in fear. She reiterated her call for generosity towards refugees, adding that every human being has an equal right to stand in dignity.

[Christian Post]

First humanitarian summit May 23-24

Human rights groups on Friday called for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit to result in meaningful action in tackling crises affecting millions of people around the world. The Istanbul meeting, convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, aims to end conflicts through political leadership, managing refugees, dealing with natural disasters and climate change, empowering women and girls and preventing widespread diseases.

The World Health Organization said aid organizations are dealing with emergencies “of unprecedented scale. The geographic scale, magnitude of populations affected, duration, danger and complexity of emergencies today is unparalleled.”

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam Great Britain, said the summit “needs to be more than an expensive talking shop.”

“Governments have already made numerous commitments which they have not followed through on relating to ending sex discriminatory laws, banning FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and ending other forms of violence against women,“ Equality Now spokesman Brendan Wynne told USA TODAY. “Women and girls can’t continue to wait any longer.”

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said leaders must address a “widespread disregard for international law. Mass violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law are behind this global refugee crisis,” he said. “Conflicts are fast becoming a free-for-all with the price paid by civilians.”

[USA Today]

Syrian refugee entrepreneurs boost Turkey’s economy

A wave of Syrian refugees is taking advantage of the opportunities and relative ease of doing business in Turkey — to the benefit of the country’s economy. Since 2011, 4,000 new businesses have been set up by Syrians or Syrians with Turkish partners — and the number is accelerating.

According to the Economic Policy Research Foundation, an Ankara-based think-tank, 1,600 were set up in 2015, with 590 more established in the first three months of this year alone.

“There is now enough evidence that they are now doing something positive and contributing to the Turkish economy,” Guven Sak, the think-tank’s head, said. “It’s not just people on the street; there are many people who came with some kind of funding, and have figured out ways to invest it.”

A report this week by Standard & Poor’s also concluded that the new arrivals, who now account for almost 4 per cent of the population, have boosted Turkey’s growth. Frank Gill, the report’s author, depicts the migration as a “positive shock” increasing Turkey’s attractiveness to investors as a country with a young, economically active population.

Most of the Syrian migrants live outside refugee camps, some in abject poverty, with beggars on the streets of almost every Turkish town. But many are middle-class, with savings of their own or the ability to borrow.

[Financial Times]

Turkish President criticizes Europe over Syrian suffering

According to the Turkish news agency Anadolu, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently criticized the alleged indifference of some European countries towards suffering Syrians in need and stressed that the EU is more worried about rare species of turtles and gay rights, rather than the fate of refugees.

“Shame on those who in the West divert their sensitivity to the so-called freedoms, rights, and law shown in the debate over gay marriage away from Syrian women, children, and innocents in need of aid,” Erdogan said, cited by the media source. “Shame on those who divert their sensitivities to the living space of the whales in the seas, seals, [and] turtles away from the right to life of 23 million Syrians,” he added.

According to the Turkish leader, neither Europe nor the US care about hundreds of thousands of Syrians who had to flee their home country amid increased violence.

Earlier in March, Brussels and Ankara agreed on a deal under which Turkey pledged to take back all undocumented migrants who arrive in the European Union through its territory in exchange for Syrian refugees accommodated in Turkey, on a one-for-one basis. In return, the 28-member bloc pledged to accelerate the Turkish EU accession bid and introduce a visa-free regime between Turkey and the Schengen area.

However, the refugee deal is on the brink of failure. The European Parliament has temporarily suspended its work on the visa-free program for Turkey, since the latter has not fulfilled 72 conditions necessary for the visa-free travel to enter into force.

[Sputnik]

Iraq humanitarian crisis ‘one of the world’s worst’

Recently, the United Nations described Iraq’s humanitarian crisis as “one of the world’s worst”, saying that more than 10 million Iraqis, making up almost a third of the population, are in need of immediate humanitarian aid. This number has doubled from last year.

In a statement to the Security Council, UN Envoy to Iraq, Jan Kubis, warned of the potential mass displacement of an additional two million Iraqis in the coming months. He also called on the international community to provide aid to those in Fallujah, whose conditions were described as alarming.

The war against ISIL has created more than 3.4 million internally displaced people (IDPs), many living in camps without access to medical care, water and clothes, according to one UN official.

According to the UN, approximately 2.6 million Iraqis have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis in January 2014 when ISIL overran large swaths of the country. Additionally, more than one million Iraqis fled between 2006 and 2008 due to the sectarian war in Iraq, following the US-led invasion and occupation in 2003.

Iraqi government forces, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes and advisers, have managed to regain some of the territory seized by ISIL. However, the group still controls vast areas of northern and western Iraq.

[Al Jazeera]

Don’t just condemn humanitarian law violations. Stop them.

The recent airstrike on a camp for Syrians displaced from their homes is the latest in a long line of tragedies resulting from the disregard that certain parties to conflict hold for international humanitarian law. The UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, the UN high commissioner for human rights, the French foreign ministry, the White House and many others have all spoken out against this horrific attack, yet frustrations abound with the inability of the international community to stop them from happening.

This frustration has prompted the withdrawal of the highly respected Médecins Sans Frontières‎ (MSF), one of the integral cogs in the humanitarian system, from participation in the first world humanitarian summit, due to take place in Istanbul this month. In announcing their withdrawal, MSF said: “We no longer have any hope that the summit will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations.”

With attacks on medical facilities continuing, MSF’s anger is widely shared. But the cross-party international development committee believes that the summit can and must bring about action to uphold the law. First and foremost is action on international humanitarian law. As the report points out, the problem is not the absence of binding laws, but the persistent failure to comply with or enforce them. In his pre-summit report, the UN secretary general refers to the flouting of law as “contagious” – when states disrespect the basic rules governing the conduct of war, they invite others to do the same.

[The Guardian]

Turkey’s humanitarian role worldwide

Turkey is presently hosting almost 3 million refugees fleeing war zone regions and conflict, including 2.7 million Syrian refugees, according to official statistics.

Turkey’s official development aid supplies to more than 140 countries across the globe. Turkey’s successful provision of humanitarian and emergency aid is thanks to several institutions, including the Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), and the Turkish Red Crescent (or Kizilay).

Turkey’s development aid provided via TİKA more than quadrupled from $85 million in 2002 to $3.59 billion in 2014. Over the same period, total humanitarian aid from Turkey increased 47 percent to $6.4 billion, a rise of 42-fold. According to preliminary figures, in 2015 Turkey’s official development aid reached $3.91 billion.

TIKA drilled over 1,000 water wells in 2013-2014, including 423 in Asia and 337 in Africa. TIKA also provided over 250 health centers with equipment during the same period. It has also supplied refrigerators, ovens, eating/cooking utensils, and food packages to refugees fleeing Daesh terrorism living in camps in northern Iraq’s Kirkuk, Erbil, Dohuk and nearby areas.

It also launched an emergency campaign for Somali, which suffers from drought, supplying food and healthcare equipment. When Pakistan was hit by an earthquake two years ago, 12,000 food packages were supplied to victims of the quake. TIKA also runs charity activities in Palestine.

The Turkish Red Crescent is number two in world rankings with its ability to provide emergency shelter and food for 300,000 people. Carrying out humanitarian aid activities in countries and regions such as Pakistan, Chad, Haiti, Libya, Somalia, Arakan, Palestine, Mauritania, Senegal, Niger, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Philippines, Iraq and Lebanon, the Turkish Red Crescent was also the first relief organization to help disaster victims after the Pakistan floods.

[Anadolu Agency]

Turkey to host landmark World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24

Turkey will play host to the ground-breaking World Humanitarian Summit, the first such summit of its kind, on May 23-24, in Istanbul. The summit, spearheaded by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is aimed at discussing humanitarian issues in detail.

The high-profile summit will attract up to 5,000 participants, including statesmen, businessman, NGOs, international agencies, and representatives of communities affected by refuge crises. The summit will suggest to countries sustainable policies and measures to address shortcomings and difficulties in the humanitarian system.

Turkey itself is currently home to the world’s largest refugee population, and it has spent $10 billion on the refugee crises on its soil since 2011.

In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranking of aid allocated, Turkey came in second with $2.42 billion following the U.S.. However, in terms of aid as a percentage of its gross national product (GDP), Turkey ranks first.

[Anadolu Agency]

Doctors Without Borders pulls out of World Humanitarian Summit

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) announced that it will not be participating in the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, calling it a mere “fig-leaf of good intentions” that will not actually hold states accountable for their failure to address the humanitarian crisis in the world today.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon previously called on world leaders to attend the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which will be held in Istanbul later this month. But news that Doctors Without Borders will not be attending the summit reveals how little faith some international aid organizations have that the summit will bring about true change.

“We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations,” Doctors Without Borders announced in a statement on Wednesday. “As shocking violations of international humanitarian law and refugee rights continue on a daily basis, WHS participants will be pressed to a consensus on non-specific, good intentions to ‘uphold norms’ and ‘end needs.’”

The announcement comes mere days after a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital in Aleppo, Syria was attacked, killing at least 50 people, including one of the last pediatricians in the city. It also follows recent news that 16 U.S. military personnel involved in the horrific bombing of a Doctors Without Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October 2015 received “disciplinary measures,” but no criminal charges were made. These cases are not new. According to the organization, 75 hospitals managed or supported by Doctors Without Borders were bombed last year.

In its decision to withdraw from the summit, Doctors Without Borders called for greater accountability for these violations of international law, as well as greater attention to the refugee crisis, which the U.N. has said is the largest the world has seen since World War II, with nearly 60 million refugees in the world today.

On Tuesday, the president of Doctors Without Borders, spoke in front of the U.N. Security Council in New York City, and called for an end to the bombing of hospitals throughout regions of conflict. “What are individuals in wars today? Expendable commodities, dead or alive,” Dr. Joanne Liu said. “In Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, hospitals are routinely bombed, raided, looted or burned to the ground. Medical personnel are threatened. Patients are shot in their beds. Broad attacks on communities and precise attacks on health facilities are described as mistakes, are denied outright, or are simply met with silence. In reality, they amount to massive, indiscriminate and disproportionate civilian targeting in urban settings, and, in the worst cases, they are acts of terror.”

[Médecins Sans Frontières ]

Nepal’s recovery only just beginning a year after earthquake

Many people here in Nepal pin their hopes on promises of foreign aid: After the disaster, images of collapsed temples and stoic villagers in a sea of rubble were beamed around the world, and donors came forward with pledges of $4.1 billion in foreign grants and soft loans.

But those promises, so far, have not done much to speed the progress of Nepal’s reconstruction effort. Outside Kathmandu, the capital, many towns and villages remain choked with rubble, as if the earthquake had happened yesterday. The government, hampered by red tape and political turmoil, has only begun to approve projects. Nearly all of the pledged funds remain in the hands of the donors, unused.

The delay is misery for the 770,000 households awaiting a promised subsidy to rebuild their homes. Because a yearly stretch of bad weather begins in June, large-scale rebuilding is unlikely to begin before early 2017, consigning families to a second monsoon season and a second winter in leaky shelters made of zinc sheeting.

Visitors who came here to assess the reconstruction expressed shock at how little had been done. In March, a German lawmaker, Dagmar Wöhrl, publicly warned Nepal’s leaders that private donations to foundations and nongovernmental organizations would no longer be available if Nepal did not use the aid soon. She said it was the first time in her seven years as the head of Parliament’s economic development committee that she had given such a warning.

“I had the feeling that someone has to raise a voice and give an input from outside, because time is running out,” Ms. Wöhrl said in an interview. “It does not help a single Nepalese if there are millions of dollars of donation money on charity accounts. The money has to be invested now.”

The Nepali authorities say they must maintain control over the actions of nongovernmental organizations and foreign donors. Bhishma K. Bhusal, an under secretary of the reconstruction authority, said, “We didn’t want to make Nepal like Haiti, where more than $14 billion has been spent, but still people are living in tents.”  Mr. Bhusal acknowledged that the reconstruction agency remained weak, with more than half of its 208 positions unfilled, because civil servants were refusing to accept transfers to an overloaded, much-criticized division.

[New York Times]

Australia’s foreign aid budget hits rock bottom

Cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget as introduced last year are being maintained in the 2016 Budget. The latest reduction follows the biggest cut on record, with $1 billion slashed from the aid program 12 months ago.

Indonesia once again bears some of the brunt of the cuts, losing another 5% of funds, around $15 million, on top of a 40% cut last year. Two key nations involved in the government’s offshore refugee processing program, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia, emerged unscathed in the latest savings.

The government’s failure to restore the Australian aid budget is short-sighted and likely to damage Australia’s international reputation, aid agency CARE Australia has warned.

CARE Australia CEO Dr Julia Newton-Howes welcomed a modest increase to funding for humanitarian emergencies, but said the nation turned its back on the world’s poor.

“The Government’s refusal to reverse the final scheduled cut to the aid budget means Australia will become the least generous we’ve ever been with the lowest ratio of aid to the size of our economy ever,” she said. “Overall, the cuts will still be damaging to Australia’s international reputation and to our long-term interests, especially at a time when many other developed nations are increasing aid budgets.”

[Business Insider]