Israel to expand settlements in West Bank with Trump blessing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a 2,500 home expansion of settlements in the West Bank Tuesday.

In a statement released by the office of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the government said it approved the settlement expansion “in response to housing needs” in the Beit El settlement near Ramallah and other areas.

The Palestinians responded to the news by accusing Israel of attempting to sink peace deals and defying international opposition to the settlement expansion.

The election of Donald Trump, who has promised to be far more supportive of Israel than his predecessor, has emboldened Israel’s settlement movement. His campaign platform made no mention of a Palestinian state, a cornerstone of two decades of international diplomacy in the region, and he has signaled that he will be far more tolerant of Israeli settlement construction.

The White House said on Monday that Trump will host Netanyahu on February 15.


Canadian view on xenophobic United States immigration and refugee fears

About 300,000 permanent immigrants come into Canada every year. That’s equivalent to about one percent of its population, one of the highest ratios in the world.

Canadians see immigration as critical to their economic success. The nation has invited in so many immigrants that today, one-fifth of the population is foreign-born. And Canadians don’t seem to wrestle with anti-immigrant nativism that has erupted in the U.S. and Europe.

These days, Canadians are taken aback when they look south. They see the climate of fear and anger that has broken out in America toward Spanish-speaking and Muslim immigrants.

“Canada has looked at the United States in many ways as an example of a welcoming society,” says Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. “And it’s disheartening for many Canadians to see the United States be so fearful, to be so xenophobic and not to be more welcoming to other folks in the world.”

Some Canadians wonder if that most American motto – E pluribus unum–”Out of many, one” – has moved north.


Chaos and dismay for refugees and immigrants

Reports abound of refugees being barred from boarding U.S.-bound flights, and immigrants being detained at U.S. airports.

Reuters reported that a senior Homeland Security official said 109 travellers in transit to the United States were denied entry into the country, and another 173 people were stopped by airlines from boarding an aircraft to the United States.

Earlier in the day, several Iraqi refugees in Cairo, who had been cleared for resettlement in the U.S., were blocked from boarding their flight to New York City. And in Iraq, NPR’s Jane Arraf reported that “members of Yazidi minority, one of the biggest victims of ISIS, were prevented from boarding despite having visas.”

Green card holders — legal permanent residents of the U.S. — are also included in the ban, according to a senior Trump administration official. The official says they will need a case-by-case waiver in order to return to the U.S. if they are currently outside the country.

Colleges and universities around the U.S. have been advising students from the seven listed countries — including lawful permanent residents — not to leave the U.S. until there is further clarity on the new rules.

Protests are rising up at JFK and Los Angeles airports. Thousands of leading academics have signed a petition denouncing Trump’s actions. And top technology companies whose staff have been affected, are criticizing the move by President Trump.


Syrian Christian family, visas in hand, turned back at US airport

Two brothers, their wives and children left war-torn Syria with 16 suitcases and crossed the border into Lebanon. They were finally on their way to the United States after working for almost 15 years to join their family members stateside.

But after their flight landed in Philadelphia on Saturday, the two families were told to get on a flight back. It was because President Donald Trump had just signed an executive order denying citizens from seven countries, including Syria, entry into the United States.

Sarmad Assali and her daughter, Sarah, are among the relatives who were waiting to welcome the families to the United States. Sarmad Assali said they received a call from authorities Saturday morning telling them their relatives would not be allowed to enter the country.

The Assalis, US citizens who live in Allentown, Pennsylvania, weren’t able to make contact with their family members until they were already headed back overseas. One of the brothers told Sarmad Assali they were not allowed to make calls or use the Internet while they were held.

According to the Assalis, their family members do not speak English very well and were told by authorities they could either be detained and have their visas taken away, or they could take the first flight back to Doha. Frightened and facing a language barrier, the six family members chose the second option.

The Assalis are Orthodox Christians, one of the most persecuted groups in Syria.

[Read full CNN article]

Trump’s freeze on immigrants and refugees

Excerpts of LA Times editorial:

President Trump … temporarily freezing immigration from seven Muslim nations and halting refugee resettlements from everywhere [provides] just the kind of symbolic act that gives weight to radical Islamists when they argue that the U.S. is an enemy of their faith.

Such efforts to restrict access to the U.S. by people fleeing war-torn parts of the world [is] misguided and inhumane. The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, reported in 2015 that in the 14 years after the 9/11 terror attacks, 784,000 refugees resettled in the U.S. Yet during that time only three resettled refugees were convicted on terror-related charges — two of them for plotting against an overseas target and the third for hatching “plans that were barely credible,” according to the report.

What’s more, a study by the New America Foundation shows that 80% of the terrorist attacks in this country since 9/11 have been carried out by American citizens (although some of those perpetrators were naturalized citizens).

The U.S. became a wealthy world power in large part through immigration. And its openness has provided a lifeline to the oppressed of the world. … Trump’s actions are not only inhumane, they are a betrayal of what the United States stands for.

Trump’s immigration ban causes shockwaves

The International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid and refugee assistance group, called Trump’s decision to suspend refugee admissions “harmful and hasty” and noted that the US refugee program “makes it harder to get to the United States as a refugee than any other route.” Refugees must undergo an extensive vetting process — it typically takes more than two years to be admitted to the US as a refugee.

“In truth, refugees are fleeing terror — they are not terrorists,” David Miliband, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “And at a time when there are more refugees than ever, America must remain true to its core values. America must remain a beacon of hope.”

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed concern about the provision in Trump’s executive order that would prioritize Christians fleeing persecution and conflict in Muslim-majority countries over Muslims fleeing those same countries. “We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race,” UNHCR and IOM said in a joint statement Saturday.

Abed Ayoub, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee‘s legal and policy director, said Trump’s executive order has sown “complete chaos.” He said his group has already fielded calls from people around the world impacted by Trump’s executive order, including from students and legal US residents who are citizens of the seven countries banned by Trump and are now stuck overseas.

Democrats also slammed Trump’s executive order, arguing his action establishing a religious test for entry is unconstitutional and un-American.

Jewish groups took particular exception to the day on which Trump signed the executive order: Holocaust Remembrance Day.


Ikea refugee shelter named 2016 Design of the Year

A flat-pack refugee shelter developed by Ikea and the United Nations has been named the best design of 2016.

The modular Better Shelter is made from recyclable plastic, comprises only 68 components, and can be assembled in as few as four hours.

Each structure is large enough to house a family of five, and includes a solar panel to power lights and charge devices. Since production started in 2015, 16,000 units have been delivered to countries around the world including Iraq, Djibouti, Greece and Niger, to be used as homes, temporary clinics and offices.

“Better Shelter tackles one of the defining issues of the moment: providing shelter in an exceptional situation whether caused by violence or disaster,” said juror Jana Scholze, an associate professor of curating contemporary design at Kingston University, in a statement.

“Providing not only a design, but secure manufacture as well as distribution makes this project relevant and even optimistic. It shows the power of design to respond to the conditions we are in and transform them.”


Mexican workers sent home nearly $25 Billion in 2015

Mexicans working abroad, mainly in the US, sent nearly $25 billion in 2015 to their relatives and loved ones back home, Mexico’s Central Bank reports. This is the first time remittances were the most important source of revenue for Mexico since officials started tracking the figure in 1995.

That money is a lifeline for many poor Mexicans, especially when the economy is struggling.

The Trump administration could make it much harder for Mexicans or Americans in the US to send cash to the country by blocking remittances — an idea Trump floated on the campaign trail in a letter to The Washington Post.

In the same letter, the Trump campaign also threatened to cancel visas and raise visa fees as means to either fund the wall or get Mexico to pay for it.


Dismayed Evangelical groups urge Trump to not block refugees to America

Several evangelical groups have spoken out against an executive order by President Donald Trump which will apparently block refugees from coming to America.

“The lengthy delay imposed in this ban further traumatizes refugees, most of whom are women and children, keeps families separated and punishes people who are themselves fleeing the terror we as a nation are rightly fighting to end,” Scott Arbeiter, World Relief president.

The order, expected to be signed as early as Friday, looks to temporarily block refugees coming to America from Syria, and will halt visas for Muslim-majority nations like Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen.  The total refugee admissions for fiscal year 2017 are also set to be capped at 50,000, which is less than half of the 110,000 total that former President Barack Obama had called for.

World Relief said that it “expresses dismay” at the prospect, and pointed out that the U.S. already has a tight security process when it comes to screening refugees, which includes vetting by Homeland Security and other agencies, multiple interviews, biometric scans, and other safeguards.

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said, “Christians and churches have been welcoming refugees for 2,000 years, and evangelicals are committed to continue this biblical mission. Thousands of U.S. evangelicals and their churches have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past 40 years … We don’t want to stop now,” Anderson said.

[The Christian Post]

Who Gives More To The Developing World: Aid Donors Or Migrant Workers?

In a given year, developing countries may get $131 Billion in official aid, and another $431.6 Billion in remittances — money sent home by migrants who are working abroad.

That’s the astounding number in the World Bank’s new Migration and Development Brief. The total in remittances has been going up yearly and is expected to keep rising, the report predicts, though the rate of growth has slowed a bit because of the drop in oil prices, which affects money earned by migrants in oil-producing countries.

The way the money is spent in developing countries is a tremendous boon, Dilip Ratha, lead author of the brief and head of the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development says. A lot of it goes to meeting basic needs, like food, but it also is invested in “child education and health, maternal health, older people’s health” — and in local businesses.

For the family members, the money “is like a lifeline,” Ratha says. It can help break the “cycle of poverty”


Determining if developing aid to poor countries really works

It seems like a no-brainer. Before you spend big bucks on a massive effort to improve life for the world’s poorest — say, distributing millions of free bed nets against malarial mosquitoes, or offering thousands of women microloans as small as $200 to start small businesses — you should run a smaller scale test to make sure the idea actually works. After all, just because a project sounds good in theory doesn’t mean it’s going to pan out in practice.

Or maybe some totally different method wouldn’t achieve better results for less money? For instance, maybe the key to lifting women’s incomes isn’t helping them start a small business but helping them land a salaried job?

Yet for decades, questions like this have been left unanswered.

Instead  health and development aid for the world’s poorest has largely been designed based on what seems reasonable, rather than what can be proved with hard evidence.

However, in the early 2000s a growing movement of social science researchers have been pushing policy-makers to do “impact evaluations” of their programs.


Germany accuses Washington of causing the refugee crisis

An angry Berlin has responded with a staunch defense of its policies after President-elect Donald Trump criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel in two separate interviews for her stance during the refugee crisis.

Commenting on Trump’s statement that Merkel had made an “utterly catastrophic mistake by letting all these illegals into the country”, Germany’s deputy chancellor and minister for the economy, Sigmar Gabriel, said the increase in the number of people fleeing the Middle East to seek asylum in Europe had partially been a result of US-led wars destabilizing the region.

Slamming US foreign policy Gabriel said that “there is a link between America’s flawed interventionist policy, especially the Iraq war, and the refugee crisis, that’s why my advice would be that we shouldn’t tell each other what we have done right or wrong, but that we look into establishing peace in that region and do everything to make sure people can find a home there again.”

[Zero Hedge]

8 people have as much money as half the World

Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new report published by Oxfam to mark the annual meeting of political and business leaders in Davos.

Oxfam’s report, ‘An economy for the 99 percent’, shows that the gap between rich and poor is far greater than had been feared. It details how big business and the super-rich are fueling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day.”

Oxfam’s report shows how our broken economies are funneling wealth to a rich elite at the expense of the poorest in society, the majority of whom are women.

The richest are accumulating wealth at such an astonishing rate that the world could see its first trillionaire in just 25 years.  To put this figure in perspective – you would need to spend $1 million every day for 2738 years to spend $1 trillion.

The world’s 8 richest people are, in order of net worth:

  1. Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)
  2. Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)
  3. Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)
  4. Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)
  5. Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)
  6. Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)
  7. Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle  (net worth $43.6 billion)
  8. Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

[By Oxfam ]

Mosul humanitarian highlights

Three months into the military operation to retake Mosul city from ISIS, civilians continue to have significant humanitarian needs.

  • Potentially, up to 1.2-1.5 million people could be affected by military operations.
  • Current displacement has risen to 160,000 people. More than 85 per cent of displaced families are in camps and emergency sites, while the remainder are in host communities, sheltering in private settings or public buildings.
  • Up to one million people in Mosul city are estimated to remain largely inaccessible to humanitarians, sheltering from the fighting, or waiting for an opportune time to flee.
  • There is no humanitarian access to ISIS controlled areas of western Mosul city.
  • Humanitarian partners are increasingly able to access more affected people in eastern Mosul city, as Iraqi Security Forces secure greater control over neighborhoods in this area.


Afghanistan’s continued descent into crisis

Afghanistan’s continued descent into crisis is forcing the country to increasingly rely on humanitarian aid that can only provide short-term relief while leaving the underlying problems unsolved, international officials acknowledged on Saturday, even as they launched a request for US$550 million in new funding.

Amid rising violence, economic stagnation, and social upheaval, the United Nations estimates at least 9.3 million Afghans, or nearly a third of the population, will need humanitarian assistance in 2017, a 13 percent increase from  last year.

While praising the humanitarian workers who provide vital care around the country, Swedish ambassador to Afghanistan Anders Sjoberg said the continued reliance on their services is a sign of broader failures. “Let us acknowledge that we’ve been doing this work in Afghanistan for too long,” he said at an event with international and Afghan officials in Kabul on Saturday. “This is a failure in itself. Humanitarian aid is not short-term anymore, it has unfortunately become a band-aid for the unresolved conflict.”

Since even before a U.S.-led military operation toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, international organizations have helped provide both more short-term humanitarian aid designed to address the most pressing and life-threatening problems, as well as long-term development support.

But last year saw record increases in the number of people displaced by fighting, with at least 626,000 additional people fleeing their homes, compared to around 70,000 in 2010, when the international military effort was at its height.


Unpredictable Trump could prove a game changer for Africa

For the past eight years Africa has been relegated to the back burner of US foreign policy.

Enter President Trump: bombastic and volatile, with neither affinity nor proximity to Africa, but a brazen sense of unpredictability. Because Trump favors protectionism, the argument goes, he will turn his back on Africa and will happily don Obama’s mantle to continue Washington’s minimalist involvement in African affairs.

Trump, however, might just do the opposite and, just as George W. Bush, surprise many critics by implementing sensible policies vis-à-vis Africa.

Why would Trump care about Africa? The answer is simple: China. If Trump is serious about China, as he has ostensibly touted on the campaign trail and via twitter, if he is determined to flex his muscles against China, he should first challenge the rising power of the Red Dragon in Africa. That’s because Africa has served as China’s economic launching pad for over two decades. Africa has fueled and will continue to fuel China’s booming industries for several decades to come.  With the US economic presence in Africa receding, China has occupied the void and driven competition out, including many European companies and investors.

Plus Islamic terror groups, including Al-Shabaab and Al Qaeda operate cell groups in Africa’s rogue states. They are after American soft targets and it’s just a matter of time, if the trend is not reversed, until we see the kind of acts that targeted American interests in Nairobi and Benghazi.

Trump might prove his critics wrong by dealing differently with Africa and restoring America’s clout on a continent that cannot afford to put its eggs in the same basket and should not let China’s monopolistic drive dictate the terms and pace of its development.


88 million ton EU food waste

The European Court of Auditors chided the European Union’s executive branch in a report, “Combating Food Waste,” that decried the bloc’s lack of effort in reducing the food waste. It estimated the EU wastes 88 million tons of food a year for a population of 510 million.

“The Commission is not combating the food waste effectively,” said ECA member Bettina Jakobsen, noting a lack of strategy and inspiration being used to tackle the problem.

The report said more efforts should be made all along the food chain and special precautions should be taken when setting farm policy to make sure that less produce is discarded. An EU study, however, shows about half that waste can still be tied to households, not policy.

The ECA also recommended making food donations easier, since they are still mired in legal and tax issues that sometimes become a disincentive for food producers to give food away. It said with better EU regulations that could be turned around.


2016 the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880

Scientists confirmed this week that 2016 was the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880, marking the third consecutive year of record warmth across the globe.

The average global surface temperature (over both land and ocean) in 2016 was 58.69 degrees F — 1.69 degrees above the 20th-century average and 0.07 degrees above last year’s record. “That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you take that and you average it all the way around the planet, that’s a big number,” said Deke Arndt, the head of global climate monitoring at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

According to NOAA, the annual global temperature record has been broken five times since the start of the 21st century (2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016).

The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been steadily raising global temperatures for more than half a century now. “A single warm year is something of a curiosity,” Arndt told reporters Wednesday. “It’s really the trend, and the fact that we’re punching at the ceiling every year now, that is the real indicator that we’re undergoing big changes.”

[e360 Digest]

One Sydney suburb absorbs half of Australia’s 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees

At least half of Australia’s special intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees will be settled in one part of western Sydney within 12 months, prompting community leaders to plead for more federal government support to deal with the unusually high intake.

Fairfield City Council, which previously welcomed 3000 humanitarian arrivals from the two war-torn countries in 2016, has been told by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to expect the same again. Overall, the council area took in triple their usual annual humanitarian intake last year.

Across the one-off 12,000 cohort and the regular humanitarian program, Fairfield took in 75 per cent of all western Sydney’s refugee intake, with Liverpool City Council second at 14 per cent.

Between July 2015 and January 2017, 15,897 people displaced by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq have arrived in Australia.

This intake will increase to 16,250 next financial year and 17,750 the year after that.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

UN humanitarian aid to Aleppo residents

United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has contributed with access to water supply for over 700,000 people in Aleppo, while Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is providing assistance to refugees in Jibreen district, according to the report on the situation in Aleppo released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry expressed surprise over the overall lack of assistance to the population of Aleppo on behalf of international organizations, given the time span  since the city was freed from the militants.

“A month has passed after the liberation of Aleppo. However, there has been no real assistance from international organizations to the civilian population there,” spokesman of the military department, Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

“It gives the impression that many international organizations, which earlier as if were ‘breaking through’ with humanitarian assistance to seized Aleppo, now that the city is recaptured have all of a sudden lost any interest to it along with the desire to offer assistance,” the defense ministry’s spokesman said.

According to the OCHA report, currently the United Nations and its partners have access to practically all parts of the East of Aleppo, with the exception of Sheikh Said, where minesweepers continue to work.

 [Al-Masdar News]