Russia to support weekly 48-hour humanitarian ceasefires in Aleppo

As a means to broaden the scale of the humanitarian mission in Aleppo, the Russian Defense Ministry is ready to back the UN proposal to introduce 48-hour pauses each week, which would allow the city’s population to be supplied with food and medication, and for vital infrastructure damaged by terrorist shelling to be restored, the ministry’s spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said.

A test-run of the 48-hour truces could be organized next week to see if relief can reach civilians safely.

The Russian Ministry of Defense proposed that humanitarian aid be delivered to Aleppo by two separate routes to western and eastern parts of the city, as the eastern part of Aleppo is controlled by militia while the western part is controlled by government forces.


A wounded child in Aleppo

5 year old Aleppo resident Omran DaqneeshSurrounded by shouting, he’s completely silent.

The child is small, alone, covered in blood and dust, dropped in the back of an ambulance with his feet dangling off the edge of a too-big chair.

He doesn’t cry or speak. His face is stunned and dazed, but not surprised. He wipes his hand over his wounded face, looks at the blood, wipes it off on the chair.

And he stares.

The world is staring back. This tiny moment in Aleppo has resonated in a new way.

The Associated Press reports: “A doctor in Aleppo … confirmed he was brought to the hospital Wednesday night following an airstrike on the rebel-held neighborhood of Qaterji.”

“We were passing them from one balcony to the other,” said photojournalist Mahmoud Raslan, who took the iconic photo. He said he had passed along three lifeless bodies before receiving the wounded boy.

“A doctor later reported eight dead, among them five children.”


Preserving our humanitarian gains

Recently six of the biggest humanitarian organizations issued a joint plea for international action, in a report that warned of “a dramatic increase in protracted conflict and displacement, combined with an ever-increasing number of natural disasters [which have] resulted in widespread human suffering, loss of dignity, dashed hopes and death”.

The organizations, which included CARE, International rescue, Oxfam, Save the Children and the World Food Program, presented a doomsday scenario. “Preserving and enhancing the gains civilization has made over the past few centuries is at serious risk,” the report said.

“Unfortunately the needs are running at an unprecedented level of increase across the entire global community,” World Food Program (WFP) chief Etharin Cousin said.

Most of the programs of the WFP used to be disaster-related. But now 80 per cent of its large emergency responses are conflict related, Cousin said. And the trouble is, aid doesn’t end war. “If conflict is what is driving you and… you don’t have political solutions to the conflict, it requires us to continue to provide support.”

The “ongoing plea” is “that the world not turn away from those in need… We live on a small planet and we are all responsible”.

[The Age]

The humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo

With fighting intensified around Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, rebels fighting the Syrian government began a new offensive to break an ongoing government-backed siege of the city. The rebels have been led in part by an offshoot of the Nusra Front, which, up until last month, had been aligned with al-Qaeda.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has described the fighting for Aleppo as, quote, “beyond doubt one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times.” The United Nations is warning of a dire humanitarian crisis, as millions are left without water or electricity.

U.N. spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said: “The commission is gravely concerned for the safety of civilians, including a reported 100,000 children living in eastern Aleppo city, where violence has reached new heights in recent weeks as asymmetric warfare intensifies over control of armed group-held neighborhoods and their principal remaining supply lines.”

Overall, the death toll in the five-year Syrian conflict has reached close to half a million people. The ongoing war has displaced about half the prewar population, with more than 6 million Syrians displaced inside Syria and nearly 5 million Syrian refugees outside Syria’s borders.

According to the humanitarian group Physicians for Human Rights, there have been more than 370 attacks on 265 medical facilities during the five-year conflict, as well as the deaths of 750 medical personnel.

[Democracy Now!]

With rise of Nationalism, the demise of Internationalism

Yves Daccord, the director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, cautiously agrees that a [number of industrialized countries] are responding to a rise of nationalism, and a withdrawal from internationalism, manifesting in Brexit, in America’s Trump, in France’s Front Nationale and Greece’s Syriza, among many others.

In part he puts it down to the global economy. “Despite what the market is telling us, the reality for most of the people around the world is the situation has not improved since [the] 2008 [crisis],” Daccord says.

“If you are middle income, lower income, the reality is your life has become more difficult, from Europe to Africa, Asia, whatever. And this why people are coming back somewhat to what they know: ‘my community, my own interests, my border’.

He complains that, worldwide, “the big discussions have been about the financial crisis and about the security crisis. And that’s not enough”.

“What we are really lacking right now is political will at the international level.”

[The Age]

Refugees find the welcome no longer so warm

I’ll never forget my first encounter with Sawsan Shahoud. She was scrabbling out of a dinghy on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, her husband and seven-year-old son beside her, they were terrified and bewildered.

I had asked Sawsan why she had put her child’s life at such risk. She didn’t hold back with the answer. “We’re running from Assad, we’re running from ISIS, we’re running from everyone,” she screamed at me. “No-one is helping us, we have no choice but to do this. Do you think I would choose to risk the life of my child?”

Fast forward nine months, and a smiling Sawsan welcomed me into the room she now calls home in a small town outside Frankfurt. But in the few short months she’s been here, things have changed. Attitudes have hardened, the welcome is no longer so warm.

Applauded into railway stations last summer, refugees like her are now treated with suspicion by many Germans. A series of terror attacks across Europe have made this country question the wisdom of allowing so many people in.

“This word, refugee” she tells me “will follow us forever. I don’t know if the people here will let my son study with their children. I really worry about all that. It’s not our fault, you can’t blame us for the actions of a few crazy people.”

It’s hard to argue with that. All Sawsan wants is a life at peace, her basic human right. She dreams that her son may study here and grow up a proud citizen of his new adopted country. She wants him to have the same chances our children have. It doesn’t seem too much to ask.


Immigrants and refugees helped create 1.3 million jobs in Germany, study finds

In 2014, entrepreneurs and small-business owners with foreign backgrounds created some 1.3 million jobs in Germany, according to a new report.

The study, put out by the Bertelsmann Foundation, one of Germany’s largest nonprofits, found a 36 percent rise in such job creation over the past decade; This advance came while the number of people with immigrant backgrounds in Germany increased by just 9 percent during the same period.

“We show with our study that people with a migrant background in Germany do not take away jobs from anyone–quite the opposite,” said Aart de Geus, chairman of the Bertelsmann Foundation, as cited by Deutsche Welle.

The new data comes at a moment when the conversation on immigration and the role of foreigners in German society has taken a darker turn. Starting in 2015, the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and other asylum seekers has roiled German politics. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had opened Germany’s doors to those fleeing Syria, has suffered considerable political blowback after asylum seekers were implicated in incidents of sexual harassment and violence.

 [Washington Post]

The Olympic Refugee Team has its own flag and anthem

At the opening ceremony in Rio, the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team marched in the Parade of Nations carrying flags emblazoned with the five-ring Olympics logo. It was a powerful unifying gesture in a time marked by global unrest; these ten athletes were representing not just their war-torn countries, but the world. But in a certain light, assigning this team the most universal sporting symbol on Earth was to deprive them an identity of their own. What this group really needed was its own symbol.

Now, members of the Refugee Olympic Team have that option. A non-profit called The Refugee Nation commissioned artists to develop a flag and national anthem for the Olympic team that would represent the athletes and the growing number of refugees around the world. “We felt they deserved a more unique identity.”

Refugee FlagThe flag is a banner of bright orange crossed by a single black band—colors that evoke the life jackets so many refugees have worn on their journeys to safety. “If you’ve worn a lifejacket as a refugee, you will feel something when you see this flag,” says Amsterdam-based Syrian refugee Yara Said, who designed the flag. “It’s a powerful memory.”

“The flag is a statement,” she says. “We are here, we are strong, we are human, and we’re going to go on.”


Aid workers in Gaza fear an Israeli campaign against international charities

Concern is mounting in the Gaza Strip over Israeli charges against employees of international aid organizations who are accused of diverting funds to Hamas. The worry is that the could be the start of a campaign against international charities that could discourage and disrupt the flow of aid to the blockaded enclave where the overwhelming majority of Gazans depend on it.

“These international organizations are working to alleviate suffering in Gaza. We are concerned that these allegations and claims and this campaign will lead to withdrawal of some organizations and more restrictions of work and projects on the ground” for those that remain, said Amjad Shawa, Gaza director of the Palestinian NGO Network, which co-ordinates between local and international NGOs on the provision of agriculture, health and development aid.

Mr Shawa expressed fears the controversy would affect reconstruction efforts that are urgently needed to help the tens of thousands of Gazans still waiting to rebuild homes destroyed in the 2014 war.

Concerns began last week when Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, released a statement alleging that World Vision’s Gaza director was “active in the military wing of Hamas and [had] exploited the organization’s budget and resources for Hamas”. The global Christian charity is one of the biggest donors to Gaza.

In the second indictment a Gaza engineer for the United Nations Development Programme was charged with utilizing UNDP resources for Hamas.

The Shin Bet indicated there were other similar cases that had not yet been publicized.

“The spotlight now seems to be on aid organizations as a whole,” said a foreign staffer of a Western aid organization who asked for anonymity. “We continue to watch what happens. Ultimately our concern is that as a sector we want to continue to assist almost the entire 1.8 million population of Gaza. That’s our real concern, to make sure these people continue to get the aid they need.’’

[The National-UAE]

Refugee swimmer makes history at the Olympics

When Yusra Mardini dove into the Olympic pool, she made history. It wasn’t her time on the scoreboard — it was simply that she was there.

Last August, four years into the Syrian civil war, the 18-year-old fled her home. Like many other refugees, she and her sister ended up on small boat bound for the island of Lesbos off the coast of Greece. The boat began to sink, and Yusra jumped in the water. For three hours she and her sister pushed the boat to shore, saving nearly 20 lives.

Yusra traveled 1,500 miles through Turkey and central Europe before settling in Berlin, Germany, where she trained for the Olympics. She’s now part of the first refugee team to ever compete in the Games.

“When you have a problem in your life that doesn’t mean you need to sit down and cry like babies. The problem was the reason why I am here, and why I am stronger and I want to reach my goals.”

While Yusra won’t be leaving Rio with an Olympic medal, it doesn’t matter. She already swam the race of a lifetime.