Aid agencies call for investigation into UN operations in Syria

More than 70 humanitarian groups have suspended information-sharing cooperation with the UN in Syria, accusing the world body of being influenced in its operations, including in the distribution of aid, by the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Besides suspending participation in a program in which groups share information to help in the delivery of aid across Syria, the letter’s signatories also called for a transparent investigation into the “political impact that the Syrian government has on humanitarian actors”.

The UN is accused of complacency amid Syrian government interference in the delivery of humanitarian assistance, including blocking aid to besieged rebel-held areas, removing medical aid from convoys, and marginalizing humanitarian workers for political reasons, according to a copy of the letter sent to Al Jazeera.

UN officials in Syria are aware of the situation and remain silent, the letter states. “This deliberate manipulation by the Syrian government and the complacency of the UN have played hand-in-hand. The people of Syria have suffered ever more as a result.”

[Al Jazeera]

New Syrian ceasefire offers humanitarian hope and more

The United States and Russia hailed a breakthrough deal on Saturday to put Syria’s peace process back on track, including a nationwide ceasefire effective from sundown on Monday.

“Today, Sergei Lavrov and I, on behalf of our president and our countries call on every Syrian stakeholder to support the plan that the United States and Russia have reached, to … bring this catastrophic conflict to the quickest possible end through a political process,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that despite continuing mistrust, the two sides had developed five documents that would enable coordination of the fight against armed groups and a revival of Syria’s failed truce in an enhanced form.

The Syrian government accepts the agreement and will cease hostilities in the besieged city of Aleppo for “humanitarian reasons,” according to the state news agency SANA.

The UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura described the deal as a “window of opportunity”, and said he would discuss with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon when stalled political negotiations can restart.

[Al Jazeera / CNN / Bloomberg]

Nearly half of all refugees are children

Children now make up more than half of the world’s refugees, according to a UNICEF report, despite the fact they account for less than a third of the global population.

New and on-going global conflicts over the last five years have forced the number of child refugees to jump by 75%, the report warns, putting these children at high risk of human smuggling, trafficking and other forms of abuse.

The UNICEF report–which pulls together the latest global data regarding migration and analyses the effect it has on children–shows that globally some 50 million children have either migrated to another country or been forcibly displaced internally.

“Though many communities and people around the world have welcomed refugee and migrant children, xenophobia, discrimination, and exclusion pose serious threats to their lives and futures,” said UNICEF’s executive director, Anthony Lake. “But if young refugees are accepted and protected today, if they have the chance to learn and grow, and to develop their potential, they can be a source of stability and economic progress.”

[The Guardian]

50 million children are refugees or migrants

Nearly 50 million children worldwide have been uprooted from their homes due to violence, poverty and other factors out of their control, according to a new report released by the U.N. children’s agency, “Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children.”

Of that total, 28 million are child refugees who fled conflict. An additional 20 million are child migrants who left their homes in search of better lives.

Children account for more than half of all refugees fleeing conflict, the report states. Nearly half of those children come from just two countries — Syria and Afghanistan.

What’s more, the number of children fleeing alone is on the rise. In 2015, an estimated 100,000 unaccompanied children filed for asylum in 78 countries, the reports says. That’s a threefold increase over 2014.

The number of child refugees has jumped by 75% in the past five years, the report states, spurred by new and ongoing conflicts. Today, 1 of every 200 children is a refugee.

“Children on the move are at risk of the worst forms of abuse and harm and can easily fall victim to traffickers and other criminals.” said Lily Caprani, UK deputy executive director of UNICEF. Boys are more at risk of recruitment by armed groups, while girls are more vulnerable to sexual violence, the report states.

[CNN]

Kofi Annan on the African Green Revolution

Twelve years ago, when I was UN Secretary-General, I called for a “uniquely African Green Revolution” to transform agriculture and the life chances of hundreds of millions of people on the continent. Progress has been remarkable.

With the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) was created in 2006. In just a short period of time, it has become a preeminent leader in transforming Africa’s agriculture and food systems. Smallholder farmers have obtained access to better seeds, sustainable agricultural techniques and financing, while thousands of agri-businesses have been created and expanded.

For over a decade, African countries have put a much greater emphasis on investment in agriculture and supporting the continent’s farmers. The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), launched by African leaders in 2003 and reiterated in the Malabo Declaration of June 2014, provides a clear framework to accelerate investment and coordinate countries’ efforts.

International donors have thrown their weight behind these national efforts. From a surge in donor investment stemming from the 2009 G-8 Summit in L’Aquila, Italy, to the agreement by the global community to prioritize hunger and malnutrition in last year’s Sustainable Development Goals, the tide is turning.

The last few weeks have given more reason to celebrate. In a rare show of bipartisan cooperation, the United States Congress in July passed the Global Food Security Act. This significant legislation reaffirms the United States’ commitment to ending global hunger, poverty and child malnutrition through President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative by supporting developing countries to improve their agriculture and broaden food systems.

This latest good news comes as African heads of state, international donors and hunger advocates from around the world gather in Nairobi, Kenya, for the African Green Revolution Forum. It is an opportunity not only to celebrate collective progress but also to commit ourselves to step up the battle against hunger and malnutrition.

[CNN]

Costa Rica becomes a magnet for migrants

Costa Rica is best known for its vacation beaches and lush rain forests. But recently it’s become a thoroughfare for tens of thousands of migrants from South America and elsewhere who are hoping to reach the U.S.

Many are from the Caribbean, but a significant number trekking through the country are Africans and Southeast Asians. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” says migration officer Marvin Rodriguez.

Late last year, thousands of Cubans came. They got stuck in Costa Rica when Nicaragua refused to let them continue northward. Then soon after came Haitians, Nigerians, Congolese, and even Kashmiris started coming. Authorities say about 150 migrants arrive every day, though only about 30 can sneak out daily into Nicaragua. That’s left most migrants stranded at Costa Rican shelters.

In just the last four months, more than 6,500 migrants have been registered entering Costa Rica’s southern border. The majority have told officials they are from Congo. But most are believed to be Haitians who were living in Brazil and left when their construction jobs in the run up to the Olympics ended. With so many migrants coming through, authorities say even if they could determine nationalities, mass detention or deportation is not an option financially or morally.

[NPR]

What refugees most need

Regardless of why refugees have fled their countries and whether or not they can return, there are three steps we can take to greatly improve the lives of displaced people the world over.

First, we need to continue to support countries at the front lines of the crisis with pressing immediate needs. Nearly every refugee family says the main reason they fled their country is so their children could have an education and a childhood. In places like Lebanon — a small country where more than 25% of the population is refugees — they need additional funding from the international community for extra shifts at school so more children can access quality education, vocational training and cash subsidies to avoid a rise in child labor.

Second, as leaders prepare to meet in New York for the UN General Assembly, they should commit to the principle that no refugee child should be out of school for more than 30 days. Given what these children have been through, we need to focus on more than just their immediate physical needs. Learning inside a classroom helps children gain skills that enable them to become productive members of society and embrace a future of hope, not one overshadowed by the false promises of extremism.

Finally, we need to change the negative and generalized way that we think about the 65.3 million people worldwide who are currently forcibly displaced. They come from all races, religions, professions and more than 150 countries. They are individuals who would collectively make up the 21st-largest country in the world, with a population larger than Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania combined.

Many have experienced or witnessed violence on a scale that most Americans cannot fathom. Each has a family and has had to leave a job and oftentimes a home. We need to understand that those displaced are people with great potential.

[CNN]

How will history reflect on our actions?

Every week last summer news of refugees streaming into Europe dominated global headlines. Yet it wasn’t until September 2, one year ago, that the world reacted in horror to the image of Alan Kurdi — the 3-year-old Syrian toddler who drowned trying to escape a war that was older than he was — dead on a beach in Turkey.

Like the photo of the naked girl burning from napalm during the Vietnam War or images of starving children in Ethiopia in 1984, would Alan’s photo prompt action by world leaders to end the suffering that has caused millions of people to risk their lives in search of safety?

Sadly, the answer so far is no. And the world must do better.

Since Alan died, more than 4,000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have died trying to make a similar journey across the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration.The situation is so dire that Save the Children, an organization for children in need, is launching a search and rescue boat to prevent children from drowning as they try to get to Italy from Africa.

Globally, during the same period, the International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 6,000 migrants died attempting to find a better life.

[CNN]

Humanitarian access falters with stalled Syrian peace talks

Senior United Nations officials acknowledge that efforts to resume deadlocked Syrian peace talks and gain humanitarian access to besieged areas in that war-torn country remain unsuccessful, as fighting continues to escalate with no let up in sight.

Senior U.S. and Russian military, security, and diplomatic experts are meeting in Geneva to try to finalize a cessation of hostilities agreement, which would make it possible for U.N.-mediated intra-Syrian peace talks to go ahead.

The meeting is a followup to last week’s day-long meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, aimed at sealing a deal. U.N. officials had hoped to restart the Syrian peace talks, which broke off in April, by the end of August. Officials say they now have set a new target date of September 21 for the resumption of negotiations.

A stock-taking meeting by the International Syria Support Group’s Humanitarian Access Task Force found that U.N. aid convoys were able to reach only three of Syria’s 18 besieged areas. U.N. special adviser Jan Egeland said U.N. relief convoys are ready to go to those places, but are being prevented from doing so.

The United Nations has been asking for a 48-hour pause to allow desperately needed food supplies to reach people trapped in Aleppo.

 [VoA]

Gang violence in Central America source of humanitarian crisis

Central America’s Northern Triangle – encompassing El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – is one of the most violent regions in the world outside of a warzone. Transnational gangs or maras have proliferated in the wake of decades of civil war and are largely responsible for a per capita death rate that rivals that in Syria.

The humanitarian impacts have become increasingly obvious over the last two years as more and more people, many of them unaccompanied children, have fled the violence and sought protection, mostly in the United States. An estimated 10 percent of the Northern Triangle’s population of 30 million has already left. For those forced to remain, weak and corrupt state institutions have failed to improve their access to health, education, and justice in city neighborhoods that have been carved up into “territories” by rival gangs, and where schools have become places of recruitment and kidnapping.

Gangs in the Northern Triangle are financed by a range of organized criminal activities, from more localized extortion and smuggling rackets to the trans-regional trade in narcotics, much of it bound for the United States.

Robert Muggah, director of the Igarapé Institute, a Brazil-based think tank that focuses on security issues, noted there has been a general decline in aid to Latin America in the last five to 10 years and that many donors view the situation in the Northern Triangle as in “the US’s backyard” and therefore something American donors should be addressing. The Igarapé Institute’s projections suggest that homicide rates in the Northern Triangle will continue to rise over the next 20 years, even as they fall in other parts of the world.

[IRIN]

10,000 people rescued in the Mediterranean over 36 hours

More than 10,000 people have been rescued from the western Mediterranean in just 36 hours, 40 rubber and wooden boats with close to 7,000 people on Monday. And then on Tuesday, an additional 3,000 people were rescued by the Italian navy and vessels operated by aid groups including MSF.

The International Organization for Migration, or IOM, tells NPR it might be the largest concentration of people to arrive in Italy since the beginning of the European migrant crisis.

Estimates it will take up to three days to bring all the rescued people to land. Most of them will land first on Italian islands such as Sicily and Lampedusa.

“About 600 to 1,200 people arrive in each landing,” he says. “Everyone is fingerprinted, there are security and medical checks. The system is very efficient, because Italy has been doing this for many months now.” He says he expects the emergency situation, as he calls it, will be over by the end of the week, assuming the pace of rescues slows.

Still, even after all the rescued people are on land and initially identified, it is just the beginning of a months- or years-long process to seek asylum in Europe. Even if a person is not granted asylum, it can take up to three years before the appeals process ends and the person is actually ordered to leave Italy. And Di Giacomo stresses that it is difficult to repatriate people who arrive without official documents from their home country, as many of the people rescued this week do.

[NPR]