Europe’s aid plan for Syrian refugees: A million debit cards

The European Union is desperate to keep Syrian refugees from bolting from Turkey for Europe. Now the EU is launching its biggest aid program yet: a debit card that can be used to buy whatever food, medicine or clothing a family needs, or to get cash.

The Syrian refugees are intrigued, but immediately grasp the brutal math. There are about 3 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. Even if there really are a million of these cards — and distributing them will require a huge effort — that means 2 million Syrians in Turkey would not be getting them.

Red Crescent Director General Mehmet Gulluoglu says refugees outside the camps — which are most of them — will be able to take these cards to an ATM and get cash, up to 100 Turkish lira a month, or about $30 for each registered family member. “They can pay their rents, pay their bills or for food, whatever they need,” he says. “Because it will be certain, it will be concrete and it will be regular support.”

It will also be spent on local businesses. There have been cash-based aid programs before, but not on this scale. Jonny Hogg, spokesman for the World Food Program, says this is the biggest humanitarian relief contract ever signed by the EU. It aims to help refugees not just survive but also have a tiny bit of control over their lives again.

Some supporters have already pointed to an obvious issue: Despite the program’s admirable reach, aiming to help a million of the neediest Syrians in Turkey, how much help can they really get from 100 lira, just over $30 a month?

Hogg, the WFP spokesman, says in some cases, quite a lot: “I’ve met refugees who are living in caves because they can’t find anywhere else to live. They’ve spent the winter living in caves. A hundred Turkish lira is going to make a profound difference to these people’s lives.”

As with so much of the international response to the refugee crisis, this program is hugely ambitious — and yet not enough.

[NPR]

Uganda hosts one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world

Most people associate the global migrant crisis with Europe’s struggle to accommodate the massive numbers of people who have arrived over the past two years, but African nations continue to host as many refugees as those in Europe (both regions hover around 4.4 million, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Remarkably, 26 percent of the world’s refugees now live in Africa, in some of the world’s poorest nations, least equipped to handle the inflow.

Three months ago, the town of Bidi Bidi in northern Uganda was mostly rugged grassland, speckled with a few small buildings and homes. Now, Bidi Bidi is home to the world’s fourth-biggest refugee camp, according to United Nations officials–160,000 South Sudanese who fled the most recent spasm in their country’s civil war. The makeshift camp has received the same number of refugees since July as all of Greece did from January to September, according to data from the International Office for Migration and UNHCR.

In July, fighting in South Sudan’s capital shattered a fragile cease-fire that had been in place for about a year between forces led by the country’s president and vice president. Hundreds of people were killed over several days. Immediately, civilians started fleeing their homes. Many of them crossed the border to Uganda. On one day alone, 8,000 people arrived. Women and children make up 85 percent of new arrivals at Bidi Bidi, according to UNHCR. Officials are expecting thousands more to arrive in the coming months.

Uganda hosts one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world. Refugees in Uganda are given the right to work and travel freely. They are given materials to build homes and a plot of land to cultivate. They are even allowed to vote and stand for office at a local level. The World Bank has called Uganda’s refugee policy “one of the most progressive and generous in the world.”

[Washington Post]

Red Cross struggles to raise funds for North Korean flood relief

The Red Cross is struggling to raise needed funds to aid flood-affected regions of North Korea after a disappointing response from the international community to its emergency appeal, a spokesman said on Saturday.

Red Cross has only raised 25 percent of the $15.38 million it sought in an emergency appeal aimed at helping more than 330,000 people needing humanitarian assistance over the next 12 months.

Donors’ political concerns about the North Korean government have hampered efforts to raise funds, Patrick Fuller, communications manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said, even though the money donated to the Red Cross is spent by the organization, without passing through the government.

International donors need to “put politics aside and recognize this is a humanitarian tragedy for thousands of people,” said Fuller.

[Reuters]

Greece’s refugee time bomb

A long-feared immigration crisis in Greece may already be at hand. Refugee camps on the Greek islands have been overwhelmed by the influx of tens of thousands of Syrians, threatening to create a much wider emergency for Europe. [Der Spiegel]

The proximate cause of the emergency is Turkey. Under an agreement brokered last spring by EU leaders, Greece can send Syrian migrants to live in Turkey. But Greek asylum officials, defying their country’s parliament, are growing unwilling to do so out of fear of Turkish human rights abuses. [Politico Europe]

As deportations to Turkey stall, new refugees continue to pour into the rapidly deteriorating Greek camps in the islands by the eastern Aegean Sea. Doctors Without Borders issued a blistering report about the 60,000 refugees in “appalling conditions,” where children walk without shoes and families live in small tents. [Associated Press]

Earlier this week, migrants in the camps rioted after an ambulance was slow to help a woman struck and killed by a car. Some threw stones at police and set fire to patrol cars. In September, after false rumors circulated that refugees would be deported to Turkey, someone set fire to the tents at the Lesbos camp and left 4,000 people without shelter. [Newsweek]

Anti-refugee forces in Greece are building. The far-right Golden Dawn Party has been connected with vigilante patrols on the borders of the camps, and reporters covering the humanitarian emergency have been attacked. [New Statesman]

Yemen food crisis leaves millions at risk of starving

yemen-starvation-saida-ahmad-baghiliThe UN World Food Programme fears “an entire generation could be crippled by hunger” as the food crisis in war-torn Yemen grows worse.

The organization said it has provided food for more than 3 million people each month since February but is beginning to struggle. It has split these rations so it can reach 6 million people every month, but resources are beginning to run out.

In some areas of the country, 70% of the population struggle to feed themselves.

“An entire generation could be crippled by hunger,” Torben Due, the program’s director in Yemen, said in a statement. “We need to scale up our life-saving assistance to reach more people with timely food assistance and preventive treatment. We appeal to the international community to support the people of Yemen.

The war in Yemen began in early 2015 when Houthi rebels — a minority Shia group from the north of the country — drove out the US-backed government and took over the capital. A Saudi-led coalition, made up of several Arab countries and backed by the US, began a military campaign aimed at restoring the Yemeni government. The ongoing conflict has left thousands dead and starving.

[CNN]

Media biases Aleppo vs. Mosul

In Syria and Iraq, two large Sunni Arab urban centers –East Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq– are being besieged by pro-government forces strongly supported by foreign airpower.

In East Aleppo, some 250,000 civilians and 8,000 insurgents are under attack by the Syrian Army and supported by the Russian and Syrian air forces. The bombing of East Aleppo has rightly caused worldwide revulsion and condemnation.

But look at how differently the international media is treating a similar situation in Mosul, where one million people and an estimated 5,000 Isis fighters are being encircled by the Iraqi army with massive support from a US-led air campaign. In the case of Mosul, unlike Aleppo, the defenders are to blame for endangering civilians by using them as human shields and preventing them leaving. In East Aleppo, there are no human shields –though the UN says that half the civilian population wants to depart– but simply innocent victims of Russian savagery.

Destruction in Aleppo by Russian air strikes is compared to the destruction of Grozny in Chechnya sixteen years ago, but, curiously, no analogy is made with Ramadi, a city of 350,000 on the Euphrates in Iraq, that was 80 per cent destroyed by US-led air strikes in 2015.

The extreme bias shown in foreign media coverage of similar events in Iraq and Syria will be a rewarding subject for PhD students looking at the uses and abuses of propaganda down the ages.

[Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch]

Britain investigating ‘superficial’ foreign aid projects

British taxpayers’ money is being wasted on “superficial” foreign aid projects by some of the world’s biggest international bodies, Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel has warned.

Ms Patel told The Telegraph that her department will in the coming weeks “call out” foreign aid organizations using British money in “completely the wrong way”. And she disclosed that in future Union flags should be displayed on all British foreign aid packages, in a major show of “soft power” in the wake of Brexit.

Her department’s Multilateral Aid Review will be published in the middle of next month and will lay bare the way large aid agencies fail to get good value for money on British taxpayer-funded aid projects.

The last review in 2011 assessed 42 international bodies, judging them against performance indicators. Eighteen were judged to offer “adequate” or “poor” value for money. That review found there was “not enough evidence of multilaterals consistently delivering results on the ground, particularly in fragile states”.

“These organizations are there for their beneficiaries – not for their own self-serving interests.

[The Telegraph]

France evicting thousands of migrants from notorious ‘Jungle’ camp

French security forces have started evicting the thousands of migrants living in a notorious camp known as “The Jungle” near the port of Calais. (The name “The Jungle” stems from the level of squalor and chaos.)

Authorities intend to dismantle the squalid camp that has housed thousands of people fleeing wars or poverty for a better life in Europe. People were given two choices: east or west France. NPR adds: “And once they’ve selected one of those regions, the authorities pick out one of the towns where they’ve set up refugee homes or centers.”

The approximately 450 homes or centers across the country “are intended to be temporary” and “will each hold 40 or 50 people for up to four months while their asylum cases are examined,” as The Guardian explains.

However, “those who do not claim asylum will be sent back to their country of origin,” according to the newspaper, and “almost two-thirds of those surveyed in the camp have said they do not want to be evicted and taken to French accommodation, while one-third say that they will continue to try to get to the U.K.”

Some migrants say they intend to hide within the Jungle, in hopes of avoiding being moved to another place in France.

Authorities hope the current eviction process will stand in contrast to what happened in March, The Associated Press reports, when they dismantled the southern half of the camp in a “chaotic, even brutal bulldozing operation that drew complaints from human rights groups.”

[NPR]

Three-day ceasefire ends in Aleppo with no humanitarian gains

In Syria, heavy fighting has resumed in Aleppo, after a three-day ceasefire ended with the United Nations saying it was unable to evacuate any of the besieged city’s sick and wounded. Russia and Syria announced the “humanitarian” pause last week, but U.N. humanitarian affairs spokesperson Jens Laerke said aid workers were unable to reach those in need.

“Medical evacuations of sick and injured people could unfortunately not begin this morning in East Aleppo as planned, because the necessary conditions were not in place to ensure safe, secure and voluntary evacuation of sick and critically wounded people and their families,” said Laerke.

Russian and Syrian officials said rebels prevented civilians from leaving Aleppo during the break in fighting, accusing them of taking human shields.

[Democracy Now]

Changing climate threatens world’s smallholder farmers

Farmers are already experiencing the effects of climate change according to a new report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The world’s 500 million smallholder farming households, who often only produce enough food for their families to survive, are projected to be among the worst hit by a changing climate.

Rob Vos, Director of Agricultural Development Economics at FAO, said weather, including rainfall, is becoming “much less predictable effecting farmers quite dramatically so they don’t know what to expect.” For example, he said in parts of Latin America and East Africa, an entire year’s worth of rainfall is now falling in just two weeks, “then the rest of the year you have no rainfall at all,” he said.

Rising temperatures are also leading to the spread of pests and diseases, he noted.

The report also noted that changes in diet, including increased demand for protein from meat, have put added pressures on the environment.

[allAfrica]

USAID hurricane assistance to Haiti

USAID is providing nearly $28 million for Hurricane Matthew relief efforts in Haiti, Jamaica, and The Bahamas, making the United States the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to date.

The funding will provide critical food assistance and relief supplies to communities in Haiti impacted by Hurricane Matthew. A portion of the funds will allow the UN World Food Program (WFP) to provide nearly 2,000 metric tons of lentils, yellow split peas, vegetable oil, and fortified corn soy blend, to help WFP meet its goal of providing food assistance to 750,000 people for three months. In addition, support will be provided to NGO partners to procure and distribute critical commodities-including water purification tablets, plastic sheeting, and kitchen sets-to all three hard-hit areas on Haiti’s southwest peninsula.

The United States is also supporting activities to mitigate the heightened risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases in the aftermath of the storm. This funding will help provide safe drinking water and promote safe hygiene practices in high-risk areas. It will also help give affected communities better access to emergency health care, and improve water, hygiene, and sanitation at health facilities and temporary shelters.

[Relief Web]

Humanitarian pause in Aleppo extended for another 24 hours

Russia stopped carrying out airstrikes in eastern Aleppo earlier this week in order to pave the way for a complete ceasefire in which a number of humanitarian corridors have been opened for those who want to escape the areas of the city controlled by rebels.

To fulfill their obligations aimed at normalizing the humanitarian situation in Aleppo, the Russian and Syrian Air Forces have for four days not conducted any flights closer than 10km (6.2 miles) to the city, the official said.

The Syrian government has been informing both civilians and rebels on ways to safely leave the rebel-controlled part of the city via half a million leaflets it has spread throughout eastern Aleppo, containing information on the humanitarian corridors. Texts containing such information are also being sent via mobile phones.

Militants continue to shell the humanitarian corridors in western Aleppo, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported, saying that at least eight civilians were killed and over 30 injured during the course of a day.

President Putin has ordered that the temporary ceasefire in Aleppo be extended for another day. The humanitarian pause will be in effect from 8am to 7pm local time on Saturday, announced Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the Russian General Staff’s main operations directorate.

[RT]

Hurricane-battered Haitians survive in caves

For much of the world, Haiti is known more as a crisis than a country. Dictators, corrupt officials and international meddling have competed with earthquakes and hurricanes to destabilize the country.

After the 2010 earthquake flattened the capital and its surroundings, the struggle to get hundreds of thousands of Haitians out of tent cities and back into homes defined the nation’s recovery.

Now after the recent hurricane, schools and hospitals are again overflowing with the displaced, people whose homes are so gutted that leaving them makes more sense than staying.

To many, the only sanctuary left after the storm is a cave. It is a holy place now, having saved hundreds of villagers during the worst of Hurricane Matthew, when nature tore their homes to the ground. It is still the only thing to protect them.

“It is our house that God created when we most needed it,” said Destine Jean, one of the villagers who first alerted the government of the closest town, Beaumont, to the people living in caves. “Without this cave, a lot of people would have died. This is the only shelter we have.”

Officials in Beaumont say there are at least six caves they know of like this one, sheltering a total of 550 people living amid the moss-colored alps of the country’s southwest.

[New York Times]

UN warns Mosul could be facing largest single humanitarian crisis of year

The UN has warned that the liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State group could cause the single largest humanitarian crisis of the year, with up to a million people needing shelter and a forced population movement that no single institution could cope with.

Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, warned: “The UN estimates that in a worst case scenario, Mosul could represent the single largest most complex humanitarian operation in the world in 2016,” she said, adding that billions of dollars would be needed.

“A worst case scenario in Mosul would look something like this: you would have mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people. You would have hundreds of thousands of people who are held as human shields inside the town. You would have a chemical attack that would put tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even more at grave risk. If all of that were to happen at the same time it would be catastrophic.”

Residents are confronted with a stark choice: remain in IS-controlled areas and risk violence and food shortages; or try to escape through minefields and escalating fighting while also risking dehydration.

Mosul has been occupied by IS since June 2014. Normally the city would have a population of more than two million, although at least half-a-million people have fled since IS took over.

[Middle East Eye]

Aid groups prep for humanitarian crisis in Mosul

As the military operation to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS begins, U.N. groups and aid agencies are preparing for a complex humanitarian disaster.

Save the Children, an aid group on the ground in Iraq, estimates that there are 500,000 to 600,000 children trapped in the city. Aram Shakaram, the deputy country director in Iraq,  said in a statement:”Those that try to flee will be forced to navigate a city ringed with booby traps, snipers and hidden land mines. Without immediate action to ensure people can flee safely, we are likely to see bloodshed of civilians on a massive scale.”

Alun McDonald, an aid worker with Save the Children in Erbil, said that he is concerned about the major lack of funding and resources available address the impending humanitarian crisis for the people of Mosul. “…There are so many millions or billions of dollars put into military actions and military offenses, but getting money to deal with the fallout of those offenses is always more difficult,” he said. “The money tends to be steered more toward the military side than toward the humanitarian side of things.”

As many as 200,000 could flee during the first weeks of fighting, and as many as 1 million could flee in a “worst-case scenario,” according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Meanwhile, shelter is currently available for only 60,000 people in camps and emergency sites outside Mosul, according to the OCHA.

[ABC]

How refugees became stranded in Greece

When Europe abruptly closed its land borders last spring to refugees fleeing war, it made a much-heralded promise: Wealthy nations across the European Union would take in tens of thousands of desperate Syrians and Iraqis who had made it as far as near-bankrupt Greece.

But one by one, those nations have reneged, turning primitive refugee camps in Greece into dire symbols of Europe’s broken pledge.

Amid allegations of mismanagement by the Greek government, one such site sits on the grounds of an abandoned toilet-paper factory and still lacks basic heat, even as nighttime temperatures dip into the low 50s. Mosquitoes infest the white canvas tents of refugee families stranded here for months. A 14-year-old Syrian girl was recently raped. There are allegations of stabbings, thefts, suicide attempts and drug dealing.

In what leaders heralded as a remarkable show of “solidarity,” the E.U.had agreed to share the burden, and would relocate 40,000 refugees, mostly Syrians, to member countries stretching from Portugal to Finland. They would be given shelter, aid and a chance to rebuild their lives. As the number of asylum seekers surged, the E.U. later boosted its pledge–promising to relocate up to 160,000.

But 16 months after its initial decision, the E.U. has lived up to only 3.3 percent of that pledge, relocating 5,290 refugees. Last week, Austria’s foreign minister became the latest senior European official to suggest the bloc should simply drop the pretense and scrap what he called a “completely unrealistic” program.

In Greece, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is laboring to get as many refugees as possible into hotels and apartments, but most are still facing harsh conditions in unheated camps as the next winter approaches.

[The Washington Post]

American aid worker kidnapped in Niger

Armed assailants abducted a US aid worker from his home Friday night in the West African nation of Niger, killing a police officer and a guard before fleeing west toward neighboring Mali, Niger’s interior ministry said.

Authorities are taking all necessary measures to locate the American and his abductors, including imposing a heavy military presence between Abalak, where the kidnapping took place, and the border with Mali, said a source who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The assailants stormed the aid worker’s home, the interior ministry said. The slain guard was the aid worker’s bodyguard, according to the source.

The American had been working with the locally based aid organization JEMED, said a spokesman for Youth With a Mission, which is affiliated with the group.

The aid worker has 29 years’ experience in Niger, spokesman Pete Thompson told CNN.

The kidnapping marked the first time a foreigner had been abducted in the area, the government source said. There has been no claim of responsibility so far.

[CNN]

Humanitarian delivery drones

A maker of delivery drones called Zipline International  began nationwide delivery of blood and other critical medical supplies in Rwanda today, through a partnership with the Rwandan government.

Executives at the startup prefer to call their technology “flying robots,” “small planes,” or “Zips” and not drones. That’s because they use a fixed-wing, rather than quadcopter or other multi-rotor design. Quadcopters are the default image people get when you say “drone,” now, as they’ve become mainstream in consumer electronics.

Other startups, including Matternet and Flirtey, have created multi-rotor drones to deliver everything from food and building supplies to medicine and biological samples.

According to co-founder and CEO Keller Rinaudo, the fixed-wing design of Zipline’s drones allows them to fly greater distances on less power than any quadcopter design, and allows them to launch and fly reliably through variable weather.

That detail is critical when you’re flying in areas of the world that do not have the infrastructure to allow frequent recharging, he said. The Zips are also battery-powered, so they don’t have to be refueled where it’s hard to find any reliable supply of diesel. Zipline CTO and co-founder Keenan Wyrobek said the company expects to get 1,500 flights out of each of its small planes before they need a new battery.

[Tech Crunch]

UN warns Mosul could be facing largest single humanitarian crisis of year

The UN has warned that the liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State group could cause the single largest humanitarian crisis of the year, with up to a million people needing shelter and a forced population movement that no single institution could cope with.

Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, warned that the coming battle could push the vast majority of the population of the city out of their homes, and billions of dollars would be needed to help them.

“The UN estimates that in a worst case scenario, Mosul could represent the single largest most complex humanitarian operation in the world in 2016,” she said.

“A worst case scenario in Mosul would look something like this: you would have mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people. You would have hundreds of thousands of people who are held as human shields inside the town. You would have a chemical attack that would put tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even more at grave risk. If all of that were to happen at the same time it would be catastrophic.”

Grande’s warnings came as Iraqi forces moved into position for an expected imminent push on the city. Iraq and its allies have repeatedly signaled that they are planning to retake the city – the country’s second-largest – in the coming weeks.

Civilians who have already attempted to escape Mosul were facing land mines and dehydration, aid agencies reported. Residents are confronted with a stark choice: remain in IS-controlled areas and risk violence and food shortages; or try to escape through minefields and escalating fighting while also risking dehydration.

Mosul has been occupied by IS since June 2014. Normally the city would have a population of more than two million, although at least half-a-million people have fled since IS took over.

[Middle East Eye]

Who destroyed the aid convoy in Aleppo?

Washington blamed Russia for last month’s attack on a UN humanitarian aid convoy near the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the attack was actually carried out by one of the terrorist groups present.

Russia said a US drone was monitoring the convoy, so Washington should know the truth about the attack.

“…The Americans know it too, but prefer to take a different position, to falsely accuse Russia. This is not helping,” Putin said at an economic forum in Moscow.

The aid convoy was attacked on the night of September 20. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported 20 civilians killed and 18 vehicles destroyed.

[RT]