Pakistan wants millions of Afghan refugees gone

Afghan refugees in Pakistan now live in constant fear of officials separating them from their loved ones or deporting them to their war-torn native country.

Last summer, Pakistan announced that more than 3 million Afghan refugees — some in the country since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 — needed to go home. Since then, about 600,000 registered and undocumented Afghans refugees have been repatriated to an unstable nation where there are currently more than a million internally displaced Afghans.

Rights groups and aid organizations have criticized Pakistan’s decision. Human Rights Watch has reported that the supposedly “voluntary” repatriation process is coercive and violates international law. The United Nations refugee agency warned that the mass forced return of Afghans could “develop into a major humanitarian crisis.”

More than 2 million registered and undocumented Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan, but Pakistan officials argue it’s become too expensive and too risky for them to stay.

“In recent terrorist attacks in Peshawar and Lahore, it has been established that Afghan refugees have been used as facilitators,” said Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan at an Islamabad press conference late last month. “The Pakistani nation has been hosting Afghan refugees for the last 30 years and has looked after them despite its own problems.”

Afghan refugees crossing the border face a grim future back in Afghanistan. Security has deteriorated amid the rise of ISIS in the country’s east and the increasing gains of the Taliban around the country. Meanwhile, unemployment stands at 40 percent.

[PRI]

Trump White House wants to slash billions from international grants and aid

The White House is proposing $17 billion in spending cuts from levels Congress approved in 2016, focusing on medical research grants, scientific research grants, education and foreign aid.

Internationally, the White House’s 2017 proposal would cut $300 million from PEPFAR, an international program to combat HIV and AIDS focused mainly in Africa.

The White House would also eliminate or drastically cut its foreign aid programs it says lack a significant return on investment for taxpayers. These include international food aid and security grants, rural business grants, Community Development Financial Institution grants, the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps services programs, and grants meant to improve literacy and physical education.

Funding levels are ultimately set by Congress, not the president, and White House spending proposals are routinely ignored by lawmakers. Many of the proposed cuts are unlikely to end up in legislation.

[The Hill]

Humanitarian aid workers found dead after being kidnapped in the Congo

On March 12th the United Nations along with the Congolese government confirmed that six people including an American aid worker, Michael Sharp and his Swedish counter-part, Zahida Katalan were kidnapped in the Kasai Central province of the Congo where bloody skirmishes within the region graduated to near genocidal levels in February.

Three bodies have been found and among the dead are two white bodies. Unconfirmed initial reporting identified them as the Michael Sharp and Zahida Katalan.

Renewed bloody conflict broke out between the Kamuina Nsapu militia and DRC troops in the Kasai Central province in early February, prompting the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to send in U.N. aid workers to mitigate a peaceful resolution.

This was the first time U.N. aid workers had been kidnapped in the Congo.

[SOFREP]

Trump is about to make world’s “biggest humanitarian crisis” much worse

As Yemenis mark the two years of war that have claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and brought the country “to the brink of famine,” there are signs the United States’ already tainted role in the conflict may be set for escalation.

The Washington Post reports: “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to senior Trump administration officials.” Getting rid of those restrictions “would enable the military to support Emirati operations against the Houthis with surveillance and intelligence, refueling, and operational planning assistance without asking for case-by-case White House approval,” the Post adds.

Trump’s State Department already gave notice to Congress that they have approved a resumption of sales of precision-guided munitions to the Saudis. Amnesty International urged Trump not to sign off on the sales, saying that new US arms could be used to devastate civilian lives in Yemen and could “implicate your administration in war crimes.”

Despite this context, the “shameful war now extends into a second presidential administration and a new Congress that seem even more enthused by it,” writes Micah Zenko, senior fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relation.

The reason why, journalist Iona Craig said to “Intercepted” last week, is because “it’s good business. … In the first year of the war, the U.S. sold 20 billion dollars’ worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia has been buying more and more weapons as a result of this war. At this rate, the U.S. is liable to be owning a famine in Yemen, and along with the rest of the international community, as long as they keep supplying Saudi Arabia with not just the weapons,” but also keep providing support by refueling aircraft—and without that U.S. support, she said, the Saudis would be forced to stop the bombing.

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien said in statement Sunday: “Man-made conflict has brought Yemen to the brink of famine. Today nearly 19 million Yemenis—over two-thirds of the population—need humanitarian assistance. Seven million Yemenis are facing starvation.”

“Twenty-one million Yemenis—82 percent of the population—are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. I urge all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end, and to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

[Read full Common Dreams article]

Czech politician lauds Russia’s humanitarian efforts in Syria

Russia is planning and carrying out successful humanitarian missions in Syria’s city of Aleppo, but the media in the European Union focus solely on reports about the difficult situation in the city, Czech politician Jaromir Kohlicek, a member of the European Parliament, says.

“Russian Armed Forces are, firstly, ensuring air support and, secondly, providing humanitarian aid. That was surprising to me, as nobody says anything about it in the EU countries… European media publish only reports on the difficult humanitarian situation in Aleppo and on some organizations criticizing the state of affairs,” Kohlicek said upon his recent visit to Aleppo.

According to the parliamentarian, some units of the Russian forces stationed in Syria were charged exclusively with providing humanitarian aid. Kohlicek mentioned the de-mining mission and deliveries of food as two examples of Russia’s humanitarian efforts in the city.

Kohlicek said while he was shocked at the extent of the damage that Aleppo had suffered, he was surprised at the signs of the city slowly getting back to normal, such as children attending schools amid ruins.

The parliamentarian said that the Syrians were receiving help from Belarus, Kazakhstan and Serbia as well as from Russia.

[Sputnik]

South Sudan humanitarian coordinator condemns killing of six aid workers

The Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Eugene Owusu, has strongly condemned the killing of six aid workers in an ambush on 25 March while the aid workers were traveling from Juba to Pibor.

The ambush –which represents the highest number of aid workers killed in a single incident since the conflict began– comes after two other grave attacks on aid workers this month. A humanitarian convoy was attacked in Yirol East on 14 March, while responding to a cholera outbreak in the area. Tragically, one health worker and one patient were killed and at least one other health worker was injured. Separately, during fighting in Mayendit town on 10 March, local staff of an international NGO were detained by non-state armed actors and released four days later. Already in March, there have been multiple instances of looting of aid supplies, including in two areas in Mayendit which are top priority locations for the famine response.

“These attacks against aid workers and aid assets are utterly reprehensible,” said Mr. Owusu. “They not only put the lives of aid workers at risk, they also threaten the lives of thousands of South Sudanese who rely on our assistance for their survival. For us to continue to provide life-saving relief to the civilians suffering immensely across this country, the safety and security of aid workers must be upheld, the impunity that has prevailed to date must end, and perpetrators must be held to account.”

At least 79 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan since the beginning of the December 2013 crisis. Under International Humanitarian Law, intentional attacks against humanitarian relief personnel may constitute war crimes.

[ReliefWeb]

Africa has worst hunger crisis in 70 years amid US budget cuts

Africa faces the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, with more than 20 million people facing starvation, and any cut in funding to humanitarian agencies working in famine-affected areas will cause untold suffering, a spokesman for the World Food Program said, responding to questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s proposal to cut $10 billion in foreign aid.

“Any cuts at this time are extremely significant, not just for us but for any U.N. agencies and any aid organization,” said David Orr, WFP’s Africa spokesman, at a media briefing in Johannesburg. “With the magnitude of needs at the moment is it vital that we continue with a high level of assistance.”

The current hunger crisis is in three African countries, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria, as well as nearby Yemen.

The U.S. is WFP’s largest donor and was one of the organization’s founders. Last year it contributed more than $2 billion, representing about 24 percent of WFP’s total budget, Orr said.

“The more dramatic cuts in any aid budgets … the more suffering there is going to be,” Orr said.

[Cox Media]

10 times more in arms sales than the amount given in aid

Over the past two years, the UK and the US have sold billions of pounds’ worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, arms used to obliterate Yemen. After two years of airstrikes, Yemen is facing a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions, with more than 18 million Yemenis requiring humanitarian assistance.

On the one hand, the UK and US have supported Yemen with around $465 Million (£371.5m) in aid during the past two conflict-ridden years. On the other, British and American arms companies, with the authorization of the UK and US governments, have busily supplied much of the weaponry that Saudi Arabia has used for its devastating attacks in its southern neighbor.

Since the war started in March 2015, the UK Government has approved no less than 194 export licenses for arms and related equipment to Saudi Arabia, worth more than $4.1 Billion (£3.3bn) or around 10 times that combined UK-US aid sum.

Similarly, the US sold a record amount of arms to Saudi Arabia under President Obama’s administration, with sales set to continue under President Trump.

[The Independent]

Bill Gates advocates for foreign aid during Capitol Hill meetings

Bill Gates met with several Congressional leaders on Tuesday to discuss foreign aid and global health issues, a day after meeting with President Trump.

In his Capitol Hill meetings, Gates stressed the potential impact that budget cuts could have on programs backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to a Gates Foundation spokesperson. These programs include efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, to contain malaria and to deliver vaccines.

“Cuts to these high-value, high-impact programs could put millions of lives at risk,” said a Gates Foundation spokesperson. Gates also “raised the importance of expanding access to economic opportunity and education here at home,” the spokesperson said.

[The Hill]

How Foreign Aid Helps Americans

Foreign aid projects keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.

For one thing, it helps prevent epidemics. The most recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people, but the death toll would have been much worse if the disease had spread widely in neighboring Nigeria, an international travel hub that’s home to 180 million people. What contained it? Among other things, a group of health workers who were stationed there for an anti-polio campaign. They were quickly reassigned to the Ebola fight, and their efforts helped stop the disease—and keep it from crossing the Atlantic to the United States.

Another example is America’s global HIV/AIDS effort, known as PEPFAR. There are 11 million people with HIV who are alive today because of the medicines that it provides. Many more never got the virus in the first place because of prevention efforts supported by PEPFAR.

This is not simply a humanitarian accomplishment. For those countries it means more teachers, entrepreneurs, police officers, and health-care workers contributing to strong, stable societies.

Better health puts nations on the path to self-sufficiency. How? When health improves, people decide to have fewer children, because they’re confident that the children they do have will survive into adulthood. As family size drops, it gets easier for countries to feed, educate, and provide opportunity for their people—and that is one of the best ways to stabilize any vulnerable region.

A more stable world is good for everyone. But there are other ways that aid benefits Americans in particular. It strengthens markets for U.S. goods: of our top 15 trade partners, 11 are former aid recipients.

US foreign aid represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget, not even a penny out of every dollar. It is some of the best return on investment anywhere in government. This money is well spent, it has an enormous impact, and it ought to be maintained.

[Read full article by Bill Gates]