“Pakistan’s Mother Teresa” passes on to his reward

Prominent Pakistani philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi has died at age 88 in a Karachi hospital.

Edhi was born in 1928 in a village called Bantva inside what is now India’s Gujarat state. In 1986 he  received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service. The Edhi Foundation operates ambulance services, orphanages, women’s shelters, dispensaries and morgues in several Pakistani cities.

Revered by many as a national hero, Edhi created a charitable empire out of nothing. He masterminded Pakistan’s largest welfare organization almost single-handedly, entirely with private company and donations.

He was known as Angel of Mercy and was considered Pakistan’s “most respected” and legendary figure. In 2013, The Huffington Post said that he might be “the world’s greatest living humanitarian.”

It was said that Edhi’s war was against prejudice, cruelty. No politics, no fatwas, no greed. Just humanity for the sake of humanity.

[Al Jazeera / Wikipedia]

Syrian refugees throughout the Middle East facing even greater poverty

More Syrian refugees in the Middle East are falling into debt and facing poverty, partly as a result of exhausting their savings with shortages of essential aid worsening their plight, according to U.N. agencies and local governments.

Some 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon are living below the poverty line, compared with 50 percent in 2014. In Jordan, 90 percent of registered Syrian refugees in urban areas have fallen below the national poverty line, while more than 67 percent of families are living in debt.

Families have been forced to cut out meals, spend less on healthcare, borrow money, and pull children out of school and send them to work, the report said.

“…The specter of poverty [is] hanging over the Syrian refugee populations and host communities in the five countries that take the most refugees–Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan,” Leo Dobbs, spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Exodus documentary shot by refugees to air on BBC

A few hours into Hassan Akkad’s crossing from Turkey to Greece in an overcrowded dinghy, he realizes things are not looking good for him, or the 50 other refugees squeezed in beside him. He notices that there is half a foot of water in the boat. Gradually, the mounting alarm is caught on camera, as Akkad films the doomed journey on a hidden camera, and helped create the most powerful and moving account of the refugee crisis to date.

We’ve read about these terrible crossings too many times in the past year, but this is the first time footage has revealed so powerfully what is it like to be on a sinking boat, the engine no longer working, drifting somewhere between Greece and Turkey. The passengers study their mobile phones to see where they are, and whether they have crossed into Greek water. A while later, someone asks: “Is water still coming in?” Akkad manages to maneuver his phone so he captures the rising water levels between a tangle of legs. Soon, half the passengers are out of the boat, hanging on to the edges, trying in vain to bale out the water with small plastic water bottles.

The desperation of such refugees has become a familiar element of news bulletins, but what is different about Exodus – an extraordinary three-part documentary to be broadcast next week on BBC2 – is the way the film is pieced together with footage shot by refugees as they document their own journey. We are with them every step – as they negotiate with the people smugglers for a crossing to Greece (“€2,000 per person, kids half price, every kid under two-and-a-half goes free”), as their dinghy capsizes, as they climb in the back of the container lorries to be smuggled under the Channel, and find themselves near to suffocation when things do not go to plan.

Another family paid €12,000 for eight adults and eight children. Had they been able to take the ferry, it would have been safe and it would have cost €22 each.

Akkad says: “When you watch the news and see the movement of millions of people, you don’t identify with any of them. I wanted to humanize the story. I want people to understand what made us leave and what happened to us on the way.”

[The Guardian]

Use of satellite in humanitarian work

Charity organization World Vision International operates in more than 50 countries around the world, providing support for a multitude of humanitarian efforts ranging from combating disease and malnutrition to addressing refugee crises and improving access to education. With efforts in a diverse range of countries and geographies, the nonprofit relies on satellite communications to facilitate programs in hard to reach areas. World Vision also uses portable satellite phones and Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) modems for voice and data communication.

The nonprofit uses GPS for tasks such as mapping and monitoring water points, and in the past has used satellite-based tracking devices to track vehicles in some of its field offices. Citing a more recent situation where World Vision deployed satellite communications, Anthony Kimani, IT and business analyst, points to Africa.

“We have operations in South Sudan, where infrastructure is lacking in many locations. As a humanitarian organization, we needed to set up an office to provide assistance to people displaced by the fighting there. To ensure that our staff were able to communicate, we used a VSAT, and provided our staff with satellite phones,” he said.

Humanitarian groups that rely on satellite often have specific needs. Often called into emergency response or disaster situations — natural or man-made — they are more reliant on rapidly deployable equipment with immediate access to capacity. Because of the high cost of satellite communications, many operators and equipment vendors often provide resources to NGOs more so out of generosity than financial gain.

[Via Satellite]

A joint humanitarian and longer-term response to refugee crisis

The ongoing refugee crisis is unprecedented in scale and affecting people and places far from the scene of civil war and conflict. For years, most of the response to this crisis was entirely shouldered by a handful of countries and by humanitarian workers who risked their lives every day to confront an emergency that shows no sign of abating, and could last a generation or more.

And with the number of people fleeing their homes growing, it underscores the great need to find new solutions to help refugees and people in countries torn apart by conflict. For far too long, humanitarian and development groups have not worked together, but the situation today demands that we do so — immediately.

In particular, development organizations such as the World Bank Group can bring much greater levels of financing as well as experts who know how to put children in school and create jobs for refugees as well as people living in the host countries. Working with humanitarian actors and with countries hosting refugees, [World Bank is] developing financing with long-term, extremely low-interest loans that can support development projects at the appropriate scale.

The World Bank Group and six other multilateral development banks have agreed to collaborate more closely on creating jobs, increasing financing, analyzing the root causes of fragility and violence, and helping the Middle East and North Africa region recover once conflict ends.

Last year, the Bank Group developed a financing facility for the Middle East and North Africa, the goal in the next five years is to raise $1 billion in funding and turn that into $3 to $4 billion in long-term, very low-interest financing. Recently, the European Union joined eight nations pledging more than $1 billion in grants, loans, and guarantees to this fund supporting Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon, as well as recovery and reconstruction across the region.

[The plan is] to provide resources to low- and middle-income countries hosting refugees across the world, to be launched in September at the UN General Assembly.

[Huffington Post]

First truck of humanitarian aid from Turkey reaches Gaza

The first truck carrying humanitarian aid from Turkey has entered Gaza through Rafah border crossing on Monday.

The aid consisted of flour, rice, sugar, food packages and toys. The Turkish Red Crescent are putting efforts to swiftly transfer the aid and distribute to Gazans.

After a six-year hiatus, Turkey and Israel reached an initial reconciliation agreement last Monday.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries were suspended after Israeli troops stormed a Gaza-bound aid ship called Mavi Marmara in international waters in 2010, killing 10 Turkish activists. The Mavi Marmara aid ship was among six civilian vessels trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza when Israeli commandos boarded it.

In 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced regret for the attack.

Under the new deal, in addition to agreeing to Turkey’s humanitarian presence in Gaza, Israel will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.

[Daily Sabah]

Turkish humanitarian aid heads to Gaza via Israeli port

Turkey sent thousands of tons of humanitarian aid, including rice, flour and toys, to Gaza on Saturday, days after reaching a deal to normalize relations with Israel.

A Turkish cargo ship docked in the southern Israeli port city of Ashdod on Sunday afternoon in accordance with the recent reconciliation agreement signed between Israel and Turkey.

The rapprochement and consequent aid to Gaza came as unemployment in the Palestinian strip has reached 43 percent, electricity is available for only eight to 12 hours a day, and water resources are drying up. Unless radical steps are taken, “it is not a question of if but rather when another escalation [eruption of violence] will take place,” warned Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Turkey also intends to build a power plant, a desalination facility, a hospital and houses there. Israel is going along with these plans. It no longer seeks to topple Hamas, realizing that the alternatives to it are Islamic radicals or chaos.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been extremely sensitive to the situation in Gaza, which since 2007 has been governed by Hamas, a Muslim party like his own party, AKP.  He was furious when Israel raided Gaza and when it forcibly foiled a 2010 attempt to break a maritime blockade of Gaza.

In that incident, Israeli marines stormed the Mavi Marmara aid ship, one of six civilian vessels trying to break the blockade, and killed 10 Turkish activists on board. Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and froze military cooperation after a 2011 U.N. report into the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara largely exonerated the Jewish state.

But there was a breakthrough this past Sunday after months of talks between the two countries. And by Monday, Turkey announced that a deal would be signed normalizing relations with Israel.


Privately sponsoring a Syrian refugee family in Canada – Part 1

Aliye El Huseyin, a Syrian refugee, arrived by plane in Toronto on Feb. 29, with her husband, Omer Suleyman, and their three children, after a 14-hour flight from Ankara and an equally long drive from Mardin, the city in southeast Turkey where they had lived since fleeing the catastrophe of Aleppo.

They were carrying everything they owned in five 20-kilogram bags: 1,500 Syrian lira (under $10, all the money they had); three Syrian coffee pots, three kilos of Syrian coffee; four kilos of Syrian tea; a Tupperware container of her favorite seasonings; a bar of Aleppo’s famous olive-oil soap; her Koran; 20-odd hijab headscarves, … a cracked cellphone containing the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of everyone she knew; and, tucked carefully away, the keys and deed to her apartment in Aleppo.

Now living in the greater Toronto area of Scarborough, Aliye, and Omer have cooked 25 dishes for their guests, to break the day’s fast on the first night of Ramadan. Aliye is a gifted cook, and Omer made his living for a while as a chef in Turkey.

They’ve invited the core of their sponsor group, the private citizens who stepped up last fall as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, helping to make Canada the second-most-generous country in the world last year in terms of all resettled refugees.

Whatever else an outsider might call the band of Torontonians who sponsored Aliye and Omer Suleyman as refugees – privileged bleeding hearts and citizens who don’t know how else to address an unsolvable world are two options that come to mind – the sincerity of their commitment is undeniable.  Read more

Privately sponsoring a Syrian refugee family in Canada – Part 2

The Rosedale United Church had taught the [private sponsor] group how best to resettle refugees. There are three ways this can happen, one of which is as Privately Sponsored Refugees (PSRs: Canada is the only country whose immigration laws mandate its citizens’ right to do this). Of the promised 25,000 Syrian refugees who arrived by the end of February, a third were purely private sponsorships. (Many thousands more are currently coming through the system.)

Raising private money for the Syrians turned out to be as easy as melting butter in a pan. The sponsoring group had $40,000 in hand in a scant six weeks. Other groups moved just as quickly. A posse led by a broadcaster bagged $130,000 with a single group e-mail she sent to 50 people.

This sponsor group split into a slew of subcommittees: liaison, logistics, housing, finance, education, resources, employment. While Mary McConville scoured potential apartments in four neighborhoods, Lawrence and his team searched for schools. Meanwhile, Jane Gotlib solicited furniture and clothes from volunteers. So much stuff was proffered, she created a registry to track what the Suleymans still needed. The sponsors stocked the refrigerator, too, from a Middle Eastern supermarket.

The six core members met every two weeks, with two-page written agendas and e-mailed follow-ups. Medical checkups and immunizations? Arranged and chauffeured. ESL lessons? Booked. After three years of war stress and no dental care, the Suleymans, like many Syrians, were experiencing a crisis of their own: The group instantly raised another $6,500 for all their dental work, but a dentist pal of the group’s refused to take payment.

The government pays refugees like the Suleymans a $1,486 monthly stipend, for six months (government-sponsored refugees get it for a year), and $1,350 a month in ongoing child tax credits. The Suleymans have saved somewhere between $12,000 and $18,000 as a cushion at the end of their first year in Canada, just as the group steps away, financially.

They’ll need it. “Without our contribution,” one of their sponsors said, “they’ll both need full-time minimum-wage jobs to have the same level of income they have now with our contribution.”

[The Globe and Mail]

Jihadists kept off terror list by US attack UN humanitarian convoy in Syria

Militants from an Al-Qaeda-linked group, Jaysh al-Islam, have shelled a UN humanitarian convoy near Damascus, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) is a coalition of Islamist militant groups based near the Syrian capital, Damascus. The group positions itself as “brother” fighters of the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda that is recognized as a terrorist group by the UN and many nations, including Russia, Iran and Egypt.

Jaysh al-Islam had previously admitted to using chemical weapons against Kurdish militias in Aleppo earlier this year. It is also known to have used human shields and published ISIS-style execution videos.

Yet, Jaysh al-Islam has a delegation at the UN-backed Syria peace talks in Geneva. And in mid-May, Washington blocked a Russian proposal at the UN to delegitimize Jaysh al-Islam over their regular violations of the ceasefire. Britain, France and Ukraine sided with the US.

Washington said it would continue to back the group because they were “vetted” by the Saudis and play a role in the Syrian political process.