Outward-looking Britain to leverage foreign aid to build new trade deals

Britain will “leverage” its £11 billion foreign aid budget to build a series of new trade deals as it leaves the European Union, the Telegraph has learned.

Priti Patel, the new International Development Secretary, and her ministers will use meetings with foreign leaders from countries that receive foreign aid to “open the door” to new deals. While rules bar Britain from explicitly tying trade deals to foreign aid, Mrs Patel plans to use the department’s budget in Britain’s “national interest” to help with the Brexit process.

“Britain’s international aid commitments mean it gets fantastic access to foreign leaders all round the world,” a Whitehall source said.  “We can leverage existing relationships to strike trade deals. … It will be a completely fresh way of looking at Britain’s aid budget. If ministers have meetings with countries which we’ve given hundreds of millions of pounds to, why can’t we use that to start a conversation about trade?”

Ms Patel said “We will continue to tackle the great challenges of our time: poverty, disease and the causes of mass migration, while helping to create millions of jobs in countries across the developing world – our trading partners of the future.”

[The Telegraph]

First evacuees from Aleppo utilize humanitarian corridor

Russia confirms 169 civilians were able to leave the opposition-held east of Syria’s Aleppo city through a “humanitarian corridor”. Dozens of families were reportedly among the evacuees.

Russia also confirmed 69 rebels had laid down arms and 59 people received medical treatment, according to the statement.

The Syrian news agency SANA said evacuees were welcomed by members of the army and taken by bus to temporary shelters. The agency carried photos showing dozens of people, mostly women and children, walking past soldiers and boarding buses. State television also broadcast footage of residents crossing from the east to the west.

SANA also reported that “armed men from eastern neighbourhoods of Aleppo” had turned themselves in to army soldiers in Salaheddin district.

Russia’s defence ministry announced four additional “humanitarian corridors” would be open from Aleppo. Three corridors had already begun working in the area, it said.

Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the war that began in March 2011 with anti-government protests. It has been roughly divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since mid-2012.

[AFP]

Humanitarian corridors out of Aleppo Syria

Forces loyal to the Syrian government seized the last road into rebel-held areas of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo 11 days ago, effectively rendering them completely isolated.

Russian and Syria have announced they are opening humanitarian corridors out of besieged, rebel-held areas in Aleppo. But NPR has reached civilians in the embattled city who turned back for fear of the ongoing shelling.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in televised remarks Thursday that “Russia and the Syrian government will open humanitarian corridors and offer a way out for opposition fighters wanting to lay down their arms,” The Associated Press reported.

Shoigu said there would be three corridors for civilian use and another for fighters seeking amnesty.

[NPR]

America’s oldest and most noble tradition: welcoming refugees

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy welcomed a Syrian family that had been turned away by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, now Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate.

Meanwhile, 30 Republican Governors and one Democratic Governor officially announced they would not be accepting Syrian refugees. Malloy told CNN that’s “a national embarrassment. … I think the most un-American thing we can do in America is to elect Donald Trump as president based on the things that he has said about refugees, about people’s religion, about women,” Malloy said.

The reason Connecticut is a leader in co-sponsoring Syrian refugees is that there is a strong system in place to provide support for the newcomers. Nonprofit agencies, church groups and volunteers are ready to do everything from driving refugees where they need to go, to teaching youngsters how to count in English.

“Sixty groups have offered to co-sponsor Syrian refugees in the state.” says Chris George, executive director of Connecticut Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. “They’re incredible,” he adds. “They smother them (the refugees) with compassion, love, and friendship.”

He said if Trump is elected, the program will continue. “No single person, not even the president of the United States, can bring this tradition down. This is our oldest and most noble tradition: welcoming refugees from all over the world. We will always do it.”

[CNN]

Fraud among the challenges of delivering aid in a war zone

While the White House has placed humanitarian aid at the heart of its Syria policy, the government agency charged with disbursing it has frozen more than $200 million in contracts, fearing significant fraud.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told the House Foreign Affairs Committee this month it has received at least 116 complaints of abuse, and 25 investigations have been opened, some two-thirds of which relate to theft and fraud.

The problems underscore a wider dilemma: how to deliver aid in a war zone where most fear to travel. The U.S. is the leading humanitarian donor in Syria, but most of the $5.5 billion in American aid has been distributed through the United Nations and a host of partner organizations.

“When USAID learned about possible fraud in humanitarian aid for Syrians, we took immediate action to halt several activities in Turkey and to suspend individuals and third-party vendors from receiving U.S. funding,” spokesman Ben Edwards said. “USAID has learned from this experience and is taking additional measures to protect our assistance, including limiting the amount of relief supplies in any one warehouse, enhancing program monitoring, and ensuring that programs are immediately suspended or terminated in the event of fraud or diversion.”

In southern Turkey, current and former employees of International Medical Corps (IMC), a Los Angeles-based charity, said that a “mafia” of suppliers had conspired to rig bids, accepting substandard goods that did not meet invoiced specifications. “It was like a cartel,” said one senior employee, who, like others, was not authorized to speak to the media or feared repercussions.

Reflecting on the corruption, a former IMC staffer said the investigation should act as a “wake-up call” for aid groups.

[Washington Post]

US to admit more Central American refugees

The White House on Tuesday announced a substantial expansion of a program to admit Central American refugees to the United States, conceding that its efforts to protect migrants fleeing dangerous conditions had left too many people with no recourse.

The administration said it would broaden an initiative that currently lets unaccompanied Central American children enter the United States as refugees, allowing their entire families to qualify, including siblings older than 21, parents and other relatives who act as caregivers.

It is unclear how many refugees might be eligible, but during its two years, the program for children has drawn 9,500 applicants, which could eventually grow to many times that with the broader criteria.

The White House also said it had reached an agreement with Costa Rica to serve as a temporary host site for the most vulnerable migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras while they wait to be processed as refugees. These migrants would first undergo security screening in their home countries. Costa Rica would accept up to 200 people at a time among those who are found to be eligible, for periods of six months.

 [New York Times]

German public raises concerns over asylum seekers

As Germany grapples with an extraordinary week of violence, critics have raised concerns over the system for admitting and settling asylum seekers and migrants from war-ravaged countries. Many of these attacks, including the Munich shootings, happened in or near the southeastern German state of Bavaria, which is the first point of contact in the country for many Middle Eastern migrants arriving through Greece and then the Balkans.

“The Munich residents were really the ones who came out with big placards saying ‘welcome refugees’ — there was a huge movement to accept refugees at the time,” explained CNN’s Berlin-based correspondent Atika Shubert. “I think that probably now a lot of people might be starting to think: ‘Well, we welcomed a lot of refugees, but is this now coming back to harm us?'”

“Even though these attacks are unrelated — and one was carried out by a German-born national — the public in part see it as a wider threat brought about by the influx of refugees,” said Shubert. “On a normal day, this is not how people feel,” she continued. “But because you’ve got some of these attacks perpetrated by refugees, it’s playing into their worst fears.”

On entering Germany refugees are placed in a reception center, where a long procedure for asylum gets underway. While applications are being considered by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), asylum seekers are given temporary rights to stay while their case is heard. Meanwhile, those granted asylum status receive a temporary residence permit and are given the same status as Germans within the social insurance system — meaning they are entitled to social welfare, child benefits, integration allowances and language courses.

German Chancellor previously said the country may take in 500,000 more refugees in the years to come. Her plan to set aside 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) to house and care for 800,000 new refugee applicants last year is coming under greater scrutiny from the public.

[CNN]

Humanitarian planning for the ‘day after’ Mosul

With plans advancing for the battle to retake Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, from ISIS, the military campaign to seize territory is making such rapid progress in Iraq and Syria that it now presents a daunting challenge: how to get humanitarian and political preparations to catch up.

Defense and foreign ministers from over 30 nations met in Washington July 20-21 to plan how to provide humanitarian relief, reconstruction and government services to care for and try to win hearts and minds of the millions of people expected to be displaced or severely impacted in the operations, most of them Sunnis, so that ISIS — once uprooted — does not find fertile ground again.

“Every victory on the battlefield creates another humanitarian crisis,” Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, told an Iraq pledging conference held at the State Department in Washington July 20.

Some 660,000 people are expected to flee their homes and as many as 1.5 million people will be severely affected in the operation to retake Mosul, Grande said, describing it as the biggest humanitarian challenge Iraq has faced.

[Al Monitor]

British schoolchildren learn empathy for refugees

In a quiet suburban school in northwest London, young children are asked to imagine that they need to leave their homes because Britain is at war.

As they close their eyes and sit in silence, their teacher Teri-Louise O’Brien explains that there are 60 million displaced people in the world right now. “Time to reflect: how would you feel if you had no home? Take a pen, and write your feelings on the paper.”

O’Brien then switches off the lights before playing a short video of Syrian refugees living in camps in Lebanon and Jordan. 10-year-old Naavya, since learning about the refugee crisis, said she no longer finds her classmate, a Syrian refugee, “annoying”.

“I do learn that it can be really hard for him,” Naavya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “I didn’t even know [the Syrian war] was happening when he first came. I kind of feel sad for him because he had to leave [his country].”

Britain is home to 126,000 refugees, according to the British Red Cross, and received nearly 40,000 asylum applications last year of which 45 percent were approved. The largest numbers of asylum seekers were from Eritrea, Pakistan then Syria.

The teacher uses lesson plans, supplied by the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF), to encourage children to ask questions. The students’ parents are also encouraged to discuss the issues at home. “We want them to understand that everybody is human, and everybody is the same and that they need to look after each other,” she said.

[Reuters]

Iraq a worsening humanitarian crisis

The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is one of the largest, most complex and volatile in the world. Over 10 million Iraqis – nearly a third of the population – require some form of humanitarian assistance.

During the next six months, as many as 2.5 million people may become newly displaced along the Anbar and Mosul corridors and in Mosul city. More than 85,000 people fled Fallujah in May and June, joining the 3.3 million Iraqis currently displaced across the country.

Temperatures are reaching over 120 degrees Fahrenheit/50 degrees Celsius. Conditions in the camps are extremely difficult. Few, if any of the children, who have been living under the control of ISIL, have been immunized.

Humanitarian partners, working closely with governmental counterparts, have developed a range of scenarios from limited destruction and limited displacement for a limited period to massive destruction and massive displacement for a long period. In a worst case, nearly US$1.8 billion may be required.

So much is being invested in the military campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and it is increasingly urgent to rebalance the investments being made in Iraq to ensure that more help is provided to the Iraqi civilians who have been caught in the conflict and who have lost everything.

 [OCHA]