Obama aims to double global refugee resettlement

The White House will on Thursday rally businesses to give jobs to refugees ahead of a September summit where U.S. President Barack Obama will urge world leaders to boost humanitarian funds by a third and double the number of refugees being resettled.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said on Wednesday that the Obama summit during the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations would also aim to get one million refugee children in school and one million more refugees access to legal work in the neighboring countries they fled to.

“The summit is by no means a panacea; even if we hit every target, our response will still not match the scale of the crisis,” Power told the United States Institute of Peace, adding that it would boost the number of countries trying to help.

She said the United States intended to meet its goal of taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees, out of a total 85,000 refugees this year and slammed calls by some Americans to halt the refugee program following attacks in Paris and Orlando. “Ignorance and prejudice make for bad advisors,” Power said.


Child refugees pay the highest price

It is estimated that approximately half of the 19.5 million registered refugees at the global level are children or youths. They are the most vulnerable victims of these conflicts.

Years of conflict have turned Syria into one of the most dangerous places to be a child, according to UNICEF. It is estimated that 5.5 million children are affected by the conflict, a number that is almost double from the year before. More than 4.29 million children inside Syria are poor, displaced or caught in the line of fire.

As a result of the fall in immunization rates — from 99 percent before the war to less than 50 percent now — polio has re-emerged in Syria after a 14-year absence. At the same time, doctors report an increase in the number and severity of cases of measles, pneumonia and diarrhea.

The capacity of the country’s health care system to provide assistance to the population has been seriously affected. Many doctors and health personnel have either been killed or have left the country. Sixty percent of the public hospitals have been damaged or are out of service.

Syrian refugee children are at very high risk for mental illness and have poor access to education. In the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, for example, one-third of all children displayed aggressive and self-harm behavior. According to Europol, Europe’s policy agency, thousands of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children have disappeared, raising fears they are being exploited and used for sex.

The post-traumatic stress disorder rate among Syrian refugee children is comparable to that observed among other children who have experienced war. A study by the Migration Policy Institute shows that refugee children who are not formally educated are more likely to feel marginalized and hopeless, making them probable targets for radicalization.

[Japan Times]

Tens of thousands of child refugees that left for Europe are missing

UNICEF has released two reports on the tragic situation of refugee children who are fleeing areas of conflict and poverty. Between January 1 and May 31 of this year, the International Organization of Migration and others counted 7567 children amongst the desperate refugees who crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Italy. Of them, startlingly, 92 per cent came without an adult.

The International Organization for Migration has estimated that 80 per cent of them are victims of trafficking. What data Italian social workers have been able to accumulate shows that both boys and girls have been sexually assaulted on their journey–some girls even arrive pregnant.

And asylum in Europe is elusive. Children sit in refugee centers or prisons for months on end as their paperwork stutters through the system. Laws in many European states only allow children to be unified with their parents, not their extended families. This means that children cannot be turned over to aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings.

UNICEF finds that 96,000 children cannot be accounted for in the system. The children have vanished into Europe, “some may have fallen prey to criminal gangs.”

On 27 May, UNICEF signed an agreement with the Italian government to monitor the reception of refugees–particularly unaccompanied minors–into Italy.

[Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College]

Somali Diaspora mobilizing in wake of World Humanitarian Summit

8 years ago Abdulkadir Ga’al fled the horrors of civil war in Somalia and ended up in Denmark. Since then, he has built a career as an employment advisor at the Copenhagen Municipality and he has been elected three times to the advisory board of the Danish Refugee Council’s Diaspora Program.

“Somalia is in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, health care, food security, water and sanitation,” Ga’al told CPH Post Weekly. “In March, the drought exacerbated by El-Nino hit Somalia with force and Somali Diaspora mobilized in order to organize fundraising events and send money and remittances to the people affected in those areas.”

According to the World Bank, in 2015 remittances were estimated to reach a total of 9.25 billion kroner (US$ 137,634,022) in Somalia and support 23 percent of the nation’s GDP. These numbers give a clear glimpse of the massive aid and effectiveness provided by Somali Diaspora.

Ga’al’s commitment towards his home country has recently been facilitated by the DEMAC project, which he represented at the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul, Turkey. Ga’al had the opportunity to interact with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, conveying conveyed his concern about the Kenyan government’s plan to close the Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts around 350,000 people. Ga’al stressed that Somalia doesn’t have the capacity to receive refugees back home as the country doesn’t have the resources to relocate the people.

“Ban Ki-moon understood the issue, while he highlighted the Kenyan government’s security concern. Being such a populated camp, it could be infiltrated by the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab,” said Ga’al. Ki-moon pledged to speak with the president of Somalia and the deputy president of Kenya about Ga’al’s concerns.

Moreover, while speaking with Peter de Clercq, the deputy head of the UN’s Assistance Mission in Somalia, Ga’al underlined the need for international humanitarian actors to recognize the Diaspora’s engagements in humanitarian aid as complementary actors, not as competitors. “We have geographical knowledge, we speak the local language, we have access to local community partners, we have relevant and timely information and we are able to provide direct support.” said Ga’al.

[CPH Post]

Increased number of widows globally

Millions of widows worldwide suffer crushing poverty and persecution. Many are left destitute after being robbed of their inheritance, while others are enslaved by their in-laws, accused of witchcraft or forced into abusive sexual rituals.

International Widows’ Day on June 23 was created to raise awareness of the often hidden injustices faced by widows. Here are some facts:

*There are an estimated 258.5 million widows globally with 584.6 million children (including adult children).
*Deaths through conflict and disease have contributed to a 9 percent rise in the number of widows since 2010.
*The biggest jump has been in the Middle East and North Africa where the estimated number of widows rose 24 percent between 2010 and 2015, partly due to the Syrian war and other conflicts.
*One in seven widows globally is living in extreme poverty.
*One in 10 women of marital age is widowed. The proportion is around one in five in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
*A third of widows worldwide live in India or China. India, with an estimated 46 million widows, has overtaken China (44.6 million) to become the country with the largest number of widows.
*A significant number of girls are widowed in childhood–a reflection of the prevalence of child marriage in developing countries and the custom of marrying off young girls to much older men.


Sweden toughens rules for refugees seeking asylum

Sweden, once one of the most welcoming countries for refugees, has introduced tough new restrictions on asylum seekers, including rules that would limit the number of people granted permanent residency and make it more difficult for parents to reunite with their children.

The government said the legislation, proposed by the Social Democrat minority government and enacted by a vote of 240 to 45, was necessary to prevent the country from becoming overstretched by the surge of migration to Europe that began last year.

The country, which has a population of 9.5 million, took in 160,000 asylum-seekers last year.

As elsewhere in Europe, the far right in Sweden has been railing against immigration, a stance that is increasingly resonating with voters. Wealthy countries across northern Europe, including Denmark, Finland and Britain, are increasingly pushing back against calls to accept more refugees amid fears that it could undermine stretched welfare systems, national integration and quality of life.

[New York Times]

Credibility of international community at risk over Syria

With the conflict in Syria now well into its fifth year, senior United Nations officials emphasized that the international community must not lose momentum in attaining a comprehensive and concrete political solution.

Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, underscored that while the UN remains committed and ready to deliver humanitarian aid for civilians in need, such action cannot be a substitute for political action.

“We must show the people of Syria that the world has not forgotten them or their plight and indeed of their country. Not through more words of solidarity, but through immediate and concrete political action that brings an end to this futile cycle of violence and misery. And hard cash for meeting immediate needs – humanitarian needs – is now needed,” he said.

“The future of this and coming generations is on the line. The credibility of the international community is at stake,” he added.

Highlighting that aid agencies are doing all they can to assist millions of Syrians affected by the conflict, Mr. O’Brien said that up to 5.8 million people had been reached with food assistance per month during this year alone.

[UN News Centre]

24 people displaced every minute of every day in 2015

The UN refugee agency says persecution and conflict raised the total number of refugees and internally displaced people worldwide to a record 65.3 million at the end of last year.

“I hope that the message carried by those forcibly displaced reaches the leadership: We need action, political action, to stop conflicts,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees. “The message that they have carried is: ‘If you don’t solve problems, problems will come to you’.”

With stark detail, UNHCR said that on average, 24 people had been displaced every minute of every day last year, or 34,000 people a day, up from six every minute in 2005.

Global displacement has roughly doubled since 1997, and risen by 50 percent since 2011 alone – when the Syria war began.

“There is no plan B for Europe in the long run,” Grandi said. “Europe will continue to receive people seeking asylum. Their numbers may vary … but it is inevitable.”



Over half of all refugees come from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia

A total of 54% of all refugees come from just three countries:
Syria has the highest number of externally displaced people, with 4.9 million fleeing outside the country’s borders.
Afghanistan has 2.7 million and
Somalia 1.1 million.

And a staggering 98,400 of filed asylum applications are by unaccompanied or separated children — mainly Afghans, Eritreans, Syrians and Somalis.


More displaced people now than after WWII

The U.N.’s refugee agency reports that the number of displaced people is at its highest ever — surpassing even post-World War II numbers.

The total at the end of 2015 reached 65.3 million — or one out of every 113 people on Earth.

A little under 1% of the earth’s population is either “an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee” according to the UNHCR report, which was released Monday.

The global population of forcibly displaced people today is larger than the entire population of the United Kingdom. If they were a country, the forcibly displaced would be the 21st largest in the world.

The report was released on World Refugee Day, which is observed by the agency annually to commemorate “the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees.


Addressing the multibillion food waste problem

American businesses could save nearly $2bn a year by cutting the amount of half-eaten entrees, unsold milk and other foods that get tossed into trash bins across the US by 20% over the next decade, according to a new report. The report, Roadmap to Reduce US Food Waste, lays out strategies that companies, along with governments, consumers and foundations, can implement to reduce the amount of discarded food in the country.

The report claims that strategies in the report, if implemented, would create 15,000 more jobs and provide 1.8bn meals of recovered food donations to nonprofits a year–double the current amount–as well as save 1.6tn gallons of fresh water, and cut carbon emissions by 18m tons per year.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that cutting waste by just 15% would provide enough food for more than 25 million people each year.

Every year, the US spends $218bn growing and selling food that gets uneaten and tossed away. That food waste amounts to 63 million tons per year and could serve 1.8 billion meals if it were donated to nonprofits.

The US isn’t alone in trying to eliminate the streams of throwaway food.

The European Commission is considering proposals to slash the 100 million tons of food waste generated annually in the European Union.

 [The Guardian]

US, UK, China, France and Russia called out for not attending UN Humanitarian Summit

Irish President Michael D Higgins has hit out at the leaders of the UK, US, China, France and Russia for not attending a United Nations humanitarian summit.

In an address on the migrant and refugee crisis, Mr Higgins warned some countries are not living up to their pledges for aid and funding for war-ravaged regions such as Syria. But he singled out the five countries who have permanent positions on the UN Security Council, for not attending a conference in Istanbul last month organized by secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

“When one considers the wider context of the stalled peace process in Syria, and the daunting challenges of resolving conflicts, restricting the flow of arms to war zones, and building peace in the long term, the absence of senior leaders from any of the permanent members of the Security Council was more than disappointing,” he said.

“The responsibility of the prosperous – especially those who have historically prospered through colonialism and domination – cannot be traded away,” he said.

Mr Higgins added: “We are at a critical moment in our history. The refugee and migration crisis is great in scale and is likely to remain at the center of the EU and international agenda for several decades to come.

[Belfast Telegraph]

Refugee statistics

Nearly 60 million people around the globe are displaced from their homes due to war, conflict, and persecution.

That’s the highest number ever on record– one in every 122 humans on this planet.

And the responsibility of sheltering refugees disproportionately falls upon poor countries. The UN’s Refugee Agency estimates that 86% of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries such as Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon.

Lebanon alone is single-handedly hosting around the same number of refugees who took shelter in all of Europe in 2015.

It is a complex and difficult situation: refugees arrive in countries already stricken by economic challenges, and the systems in place to process and integrate them are not equipped to handle so many people. There are legitimate security and integration challenges host countries must grapple with to ensure safe resettlement. And the resettlement process is made more complicated by widespread misinformation, racism, and apathy.

I have followed the “refugee crisis” in Europe from my safe and distant harbor in Los Angeles for the past year. I’ve wondered about the humans behind the numbers, the circumstances that lead them to leave behind home and kin, and what life is like in the camps. It was with these questions in mind that I decided to volunteer at two refugee camps in Europe. Read more

Refugees up close and personal

I spent my first stint at Ritsona, a camp about two hours north of Athens. Nearly 900 people live there–about two thirds are Syrian, others are from Iraq and Afghanistan, others are stateless: Palestinian, Kurdish, and Yazidi. The old military base  has no running water or electricity, and residents live in tents with no flooring. Many have built stoves out of mud and dirt and tapped into a nearby power line to charge their phones. Volunteers from several non-profits distribute meals, clothing, and medical attention.

I went to help serve meals. The lead volunteer explained how meals work: Residents are given food and water according to their family size, which is noted on their meal card. Adults get a meal, bread, and plastic ware. Children get all that plus juice. If they ask for water, they get one bottle per family member. … It seemed simple enough.  I went to work, taking cards and distributing meals.

Midway into my shift, a woman with gentle eyes and a warm smile handed me her card. It read: 2 adults, 3 children. I did the calculation: 5 meals, 5 breads, 3 juices. I placed all the items in a bag and handed it back to her. She took it from me, then pointed at the bottles of water behind me.

“You want water?” She nodded her head. “Okay, one sec.” I told the volunteer hunched over the distribution papers the woman’s tent number. She traced her finger down the paper and found the correct tent.  “You’ve already gotten your water. I can’t give you anymore.” Another volunteer said something in Arabic to the woman, and then turned back to us. “She said she used the water to cook. She says she needs another bottle for her children to drink.” The lead volunteer glanced back at the dwindling piles of water bottles behind us. “I’m sorry. She’s had her water for the day.”

Yesterday, I arrived home to a spacious apartment in Venice Beach and watched Game of Thrones until I fell asleep. This morning, my young friends in Ritsona awoke on her palette in a dusty tent with no clear path to a safe and permanent home.

It was not until last night that I finally cried. I cried for the Syrian woman who watched her sister drown when their boat overturned on the way to Greece. I cried for the Palestinian man I met–just a few years younger than me–who had lived his entire life in refugee camps. I cried for the little girl who pressed her heart against mine, and the charismatic boy with the posh haircut. I cried because their situation is incomprehensible.

[Huffington Post]

UN hesitates on delivering humanitarian aid by air to Syrians

The United Nations said it is focusing on delivery of humanitarian aid by road to millions of Syrians in need of help in the war-torn country despite an earlier announcement that it would formally ask Damascus to allow more costly and difficult air drops to besieged areas.

The U.N. had requested access to 34 locations to help 1.1 million people in June and Syria approved 23 requests in full and six partially, while rejecting five.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters that the U.N. is now concentrating on continuing land-based deliveries rather than parachuting pallets of supplies to the needy or sending aid by helicopter.

“At this point the focus is on land deliveries,” he said, noting that safety and logistical issues make air drops less than optimal.

The 5-year-old civil war in Syria has killed some 250,000 people, displaced millions and left vast swaths of the country in ruins, enabling the Islamic State extremist group to take control of large areas of the country. A Russia- and U.S.-brokered truce began on Feb. 27, but fighting has continued in many areas.

[Associated Press]

World Humanitarian Summit kicks can down the road

From an Opinion by Christina Bennett, research fellow with the Overseas Development Institute:

When the World Humanitarian Summit came to a close in Istanbul, a lot of people (myself included) felt conflicted. Was the all the expense, energy and intellect invested really worth it?  Were the interests of people in crisis served?

As expected, the Summit failed to secure a top line-up. The meeting failed to bring in political heavyweights. Angela Merkel was a stand-out presence but even the normally sanguine Ban Ki-moon expressed public disappointment that other G7 leaders were absent.

The meeting did deliver a Grand Bargain agreement on humanitarian financing. And its 10-point plan includes some important commitments including greater transparency, the increased use of cash instead of material assistance and making it easier to fund local responders. These are important steps in the right direction.

However, the woolly and qualified diplomatic language (‘The aim is to aspire to achieve…’) makes it unconvincing as a blueprint for reform. … We are no closer to ending the world’s most devastating conflicts than before the Summit began. So, as far as Summits go, the outcomes on the official front were underwhelming.

The Summit showcased the humanitarian system’s heightened focus on capturing the capacity and ingenuity of people and organizations beyond the old guard. It mobilized individuals and organizations – many of whom operate on the fringes – to take matters into their own hands and begin making the changes that have eluded the more established humanitarian sector.

But the Summit was long on rhetoric and short on action. Unfortunately, on the issues that matter most to refugees, the Summit only kicked the can down the road. Let’s hope it’s a new road.

The lost generation: Children in conflict zones

A catastrophic by-product of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East is a lost generation of unschooled children. These children find themselves, through no fault of their own, not only displaced but lacking the opportunity for proper schooling and thus, denied a chance to learn and develop the necessary skills to become fully functional members of society. This lost generation is the tragedy of our time.

According to a 2015 report by UNICEF, conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region has driven 13 million children out of schools.

Unschooled children are not only a moral challenge, but also one that has negative short-term and long-term consequences both for the refugees, but also for their societies.

Besides providing an education, schools serve an important function by socializing children. In addition, children in conflict zones face severe trauma through the loss of family members to violence.

The lack of education, coupled with a sense of despair and hopelessness creates the perfect conditions for the radicalization of refugee children.  Children tired of working long hours in sweatshops for little pay tend to find the offer to fight at a salary of $400 a month particularly enticing.

Jordan and Turkey have absorbed an estimated 200,000 and 300,000 children respectively in their schooling system, which has put an incredible strain on their existing educational infrastructure.

[Al Jazeera]