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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


Canadian pledges $358 million to Iraq

Prior to co-hosting of a major meeting in Washington to discuss Iraq’s current and long-term needs, the Canadian government pledged its humanitarian support to Iraq.

The Canadian Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau, said in a statement, “Canada has pledged to provide $158 million over three years to support humanitarian and stabilization efforts for the people of Iraq, and up to $200 million as additional financing to the Government of Iraq.”

Canada is co-hosting the Pledging Conference in Support of Iraq with Germany, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States in Washington, DC, the objective to raise much-needed humanitarian and stabilization assistance.

More evidence-based US foreign aid

During a time of historic gridlock, the US Congress did something remarkable: It passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2016. This bill makes permanent many of the efforts to make foreign aid programs more evidence-based.

The biggest potential, according to Casey Dunning, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, comes from the bill’s focus on estimating the bang for the buck that each aid program is getting. “What it attempts to do is connect the dollar to the result of the dollar,” Dunning says. “Actually being able to know what we can get dollar by dollar across the agencies could have huge potential in making sure our resources are going to places with the highest impact.”

But the bill is short on specifics about how to actually generate that information, providing relatively little guidance on what kinds of evaluations should be done or how to compare the effectiveness of programs with less quantitative goals, such as initiatives promoting democracy and the rule of law.

Dunning’s biggest grievance is that the bill mostly exempts US military and security aid to other countries, which makes up a huge fraction of total foreign aid budget. (Case in point: Israel, a rather rich country by any metric, is our top aid recipient.)

There’s no reason this kind of aid couldn’t benefit from rigorous evaluations, too. “We know the dollars that are put into these programs, and in some cases the budgets are quite large,” Dunning says. “But they have no idea of the output/outcome results of these investments.”


Six richest nations host just 9 percent of refugees

The six richest countries – which make up more than half the global economy – host less than nine percent of the world’s refugees, aid group Oxfam has said.

The United States, China, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom hosted 2.1 million refugees and asylum seekers last year – just 8.88 percent of the global total, the report from the Britain-based Oxfam said.

Poorer countries, in contrast, have accommodated most of those looking for safe havens, Oxfam said. “Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa as well as the Occupied Palestinian Territory host over 50 percent of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers but account for under two percent of the world’s economy,” it said.

“While Germany has recently welcomed far more refugees than the other of the wealthiest nations, there still remains a major gap with poorer countries providing the vast majority of safe havens for refugees.”

Oxfam called on governments to host more refugees and to give more help to countries sheltering the majority of them – ahead of two major summits about refugees and so-called economic migrants in the US in September.

“It is shameful so many governments are turning their backs on the suffering of millions of vulnerable people who have fled their homes and are often risking their lives to reach safety,” Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam, said. “Poorer countries are shouldering the duty of protecting refugees when it should be a shared responsibility, but many richer countries are doing next to nothing.”


Venezuela Colombia humanitarian corridor

Thousands of hungry and needy Venezuelans crossed the border into Colombia for a second time this month to buy the bare necessities.

Heavily armed with umbrellas, to combat torrential rain, thousands of Venezuelans went shopping in Colombia for food, medicines and even toilet rolls, which can`t be found in their own supermarkets.

Smuggling of subsidized foods and gasoline into Colombia, led to armed gangs, and a sealed Border has created this bottleneck.

Venezuela`s President Nicolas Maduro blames international enemies combining with home grown subversives, sabotaging the economy.  The Opposition insists it`s decades of sole dependence on the declining petroleum industry, rampant corruption in official circles and chronic mismanagement.

Many are now calling for the border to be completely, officially and permanently re-opened so the bridge between the two countries can serve as a vital lifeline in a time of severe recession.

[Vatican Radio]

A more outward looking Britain than ever before?

In his final days as British prime minister, David Cameron hailed Britain’s 12 billion pound ($16 billion) foreign aid budget as one of his greatest achievements. Britain last year enshrined in law its commitment to spend 0.7 percent of its national income on aid every year, making it the first major industrialized nation to do so.

On Thursday, Priti Patel was appointed as the Secretary of State for International Development by the new Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Ms Patel said: “Successfully leaving the European Union will require a more outward looking Britain than ever before, deepening our international partnerships to secure our place in the world by supporting economic prosperity, stability and security overseas. That’s why my department will be working across government, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the new Department for International Trade, the Home Office and others.

“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.”

Ms Patel’s comments about aid and trade could give some clues to the direction she might take the department in. In 2013 she said: “A long-term strategic assessment is required … in order to enable the UK to focus on enhancing trade with the developing world and seek out new investment opportunities in the global race. It is possible to bring more prosperity to the developing world and enable greater wealth transfers to be made from the UK by fostering greater trade and private sector investment opportunities.”

[The Independent]

Continuing to fund the lost Afghanistan war

The longest war in US history just got even longer. As NATO wrapped up its 2016 Warsaw Summit, the organization agreed to continue funding Afghan security forces through the year 2020.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced at the summit that thanks to an additional billion dollars in NATO member-country donations, the organization had come up with close to the $5 billion per year that it has pledged to the Afghan government.

Of that $5 billion you can guess who is paying the lion’s share. That’s right, the U.S.

We send $3.45 billion every year to, according to Transparency International, the third most corrupt country on earth — while Americans struggle with unemployment, stagnant wages, and inflation. That is why I always say that foreign aid is money stolen from poor people in the United States and sent to rich people overseas.

The Taliban are stronger than ever in Afghanistan. They control more territory than at any time since the original US invasion in 2001. Despite 15 years of US interventionism, nearly 2,500 dead US soldiers, and well over a trillion dollars, Afghanistan is no closer to being a model democracy than it was before 9/11. It’s a failed policy. It’s a purposeless war. It is a failed program.

It’s time to end this game and get back to the wise foreign policy of the founders: non-intervention in the affairs of others.

[Excerpts of article by Ron Paul, former Presidential hopeful and US Congressman]

EU announces $161 million in humanitarian aid for seven African countries

The European Commission has announced over €145 million ($161 million) in humanitarian assistance for Africa’s Sahel region in 2016 to address the basic needs of the populations, tackle malnutrition and provide food to the most vulnerable people.

The Sahel is one of poorest regions in the world, with 2 million children severely malnourished and more than 6 million people in need of emergency food assistance.

Funding will be provided to people in need in seven countries: Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Chad and Cameroon. The EU is working hand in hand with humanitarian organizations to help the most vulnerable”, said Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides.

The Sahel region continues to face a food and nutrition crisis. The prospects for 2016 are worrying, as surveys conducted in 2015 indicate a continuous increase in the number of children affected by severe malnutrition in many countries in the region. The European Commission has supported the creation of the Global Alliance for Resilience (AGIR) in West Africa which has set a ‘zero hunger’ goal by 2032.

Mormon Church provides $40 million per year in welfare and humanitarian efforts

[LDS spokesman] Elder Dallin H. Oaks said that each year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spends about $40 million on welfare, humanitarian and other LDS Church-sponsored projects around the world and has done so for more than 30 years.

That would account for approximately $1.2 billion on welfare and humanitarian efforts over the past 30 years. Elder Oaks also said that in the last year alone, Mormon volunteers have devoted 25 million hours of labor.

“In the year 2015 we had 177 emergency response projects in 56 countries,” Elder Oaks said. “In addition, we had hundreds of projects that impacted more than 1 million people in seven other categories of assistance, such as clean water, immunization and vision care.”

“Last year, LDS Charities responded to 132 disasters of one kind or another in 60 nations of the world, including a major typhoon in the Philippines, a destructive cyclone in the Kingdom of Tonga, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and extensive refugee assistance for Syria and Iraq.”

“In addition to such emergency relief we found calmer circumstances along the way, allowing us to provide wheelchairs in 48 countries, maternal and newborn care in 42 countries, vision care in 34 countries, clean water and sanitation projects in 26 countries, gardening projects in 17 countries and medical immunizations in nine countries.”

Elder Oaks emphasized to the audience at Oxford that these humanitarian efforts are separate from the LDS Church’s worldwide missionary efforts. “Our humanitarian aid is given without regard to religious affiliation, because we want our missionary teaching to be received and considered without influence from force or food or other favors,” he said.

[Deseret News]

US humanitarian assistance for Syrians

Secretary John Kerry announced that the United States is providing nearly $439 million in additional lifesaving humanitarian assistance for those affected by the war in Syria. This new funding brings U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to this conflict to nearly $5.6 billion since the start of the crisis.

Through this humanitarian funding, the United States continues to provide emergency food, shelter, safe drinking water, medical care, humanitarian protection services, and other urgent relief to millions of people suffering inside Syria and the more than 4.8 million refugees from Syria in the region.

The humanitarian assistance supports the operations of the United Nations, other international organizations, and non-governmental organizations. Through these organizations, the United States is able to provide assistance in all 14 governorates of Syria.

[US Dept of State]

Funding to encourage Syrian refugees to stay put

Many Syrians in Jordan who fled their country’s civil war have been working illegally. Now under a shrewd, delicate experiment that grew out of Europe’s desire to contain the influx of foreigners to its shores, Jordan has been persuaded to let these Syrians make an honest living–in return for potentially big financial rewards.

Jordan has 650,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations inside its borders, along with high unemployment among its citizens. Under the new experiment, the government has given out 13,000 work permits to Syrians, and is promising to issue up to 50,000 by year’s end–and tens of thousands more in the future.

In exchange, the World Bank is giving Jordan a $300 million interest-free loan, the likes of which are traditionally reserved for extremely poor countries in Africa. Western nations, including the United States, have offered roughly $60 million to build schools to accommodate Syrian children. And Jordan is close to clinching what it wants most: tax-free exports to the European Union, especially garments stitched in its industrial export zones.

In short, Western leaders are using their financial and political leverage to convince Jordan that it is worthwhile to help refugees improve their lot in this country so they do not cross the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy rafts in search of a better life in Europe. It is a stark shift for both donor countries and Jordan, which, after absorbing generations of refugees from wars across the Middle East, had tried to keep Syrians from establishing a permanent foothold.

Jordan is not the only country trying to leverage Europe’s anxiety about refugees and migrants. Turkey has negotiated a deal that involves taking back most of those who traveled across the Aegean Sea into Greece in exchange for $6.6 billion in European aid and a proposed waiver of visas for Turks entering Europe.

Libya is getting assistance from Europe to keep migrant boats from crossing the Mediterranean, an approach that Human Rights Watch describes as outsourcing “the dirty work to Libyan forces.”

[New York Times]