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]

Bill Gates meets Trump to argue for foreign aid

Tech billionaire Bill Gates met with President Donald Trump and highlighted the “indispensable role that the United States has played in achieving these gains,” his foundation said in a statement.

Gates wrote a blog post Friday to argue that the U.S. shouldn’t slash humanitarian aid. Spending on projects overseas helps “keep Americans safe,” Gates wrote.

“By promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.”

American aid, Gates wrote, helps prevent and eradicate epidemics, citing polio and Ebola as examples.

To illustrate the security benefits of international aid, he praised former President Bush’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS abroad with a program known as PEPFAR. Eleven million people with HIV are alive because of the program, Gates said, and “many more never got the virus in the first place because of the prevention efforts supported by PEPFAR.” What this meant, he continued is that there were more teachers, entrepreneurs, and other workers “contributing to strong, stable societies,” and Gates pointed to a study that showed that political instability and violence in African countries with PEPFAR dropped signficantly, compared to when PEPFAR was not in use.

[CBS]

The Christian case for foreign aid

The Bible is replete with references to caring for the poor in obedience to God. Jesus declares that loving our neighbor — wherever they live — is one of the greatest commandments, a corollary to loving God.

While the U.S. government doesn’t directly share this mandate, it plays a critical role in fulfilling the moral responsibility of all Americans to help those less fortunate. …Yet now, President Trump’s proposed budget threatens to severely cut that foreign aid.

At less than 1 percent of the federal budget — an amount analogous to the “widow’s mite” — foreign assistance promotes our values, our own prosperity and our nation’s security, all while providing a lifeline to the most vulnerable in the world, those Jesus called “the least of these.”

This isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. If the U.S. government isn’t on the ground saving lives and promoting recovery and development — in solidarity with thousands of American aid workers and American allies — then global crises will proliferate and cause destabilization that eventually reaches our shores.

In an increasingly unstable world, this small but vital account is the ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure. Former secretary of defense Robert Gates has said, “Economic development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

[Read full article by Richard Stearns (president of World Vision U.S.) and Sean Callahan (president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services)]

US no longer leads global efforts to mitigate suffering

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the United Nations, which runs agencies such as the World Food Program and UNICEF, come at a time when famine is reaching a crisis point in parts of Africa. The timing of the proposed cuts has sent chills through the international aid community, which fears that a retreat by the U.S. in relief funding could make a bad situation worse.

Just days before Trump’s budget was released, U.N. humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien warned that the globe is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Two years of drought and failed rains across much of Africa have affected 38 million people in 17 countries.

For decades, the U.S. has been the largest supporter of the World Food Program as part of a bipartisan congressional commitment to averting famine and starvation. In 2016, the U.S. paid 24% of the food program’s $8.6-billion budget, or about $2 billion. At present levels, the U.S. also funds 40% of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 22% of the U.N. Secretariat, as well as 28% of the cost of U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Ben Parker, an analyst and editor at IRIN, a news agency specializing in humanitarian issues, said the U.S. humanitarian contribution was large in dollar terms, but in terms of the percentage of its economy, “the U.S. is not very generous.”

Scott Paul, senior policy adviser at the humanitarian agency Oxfam, said Trump’s budget blueprint sent tremors of alarm through the humanitarian community. “The message that it sends is that the U.S. is no longer interested in leading or being part of global efforts to mitigate suffering in the world,” he said.

[Los Angeles Times]

The US spends a lot less on foreign aid than you think

President Trump’s wants a 28 percent cut in America’s foreign aid funding, though some areas would go untouched — U.S. assistance to Israel, for example.

But Trump is playing to a strong feeling among Americans that we spend large parts of our national budget on international programs. That’s a persistent belief.

And a false one.

Guess how much of the U.S. budget is spent on foreign aid. Go ahead.

“When we ask the public to give us their best guess, we find on average they tell us 31 percent,” said Bianca DiJulio, associate director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“The actual amount is 1 percent or less.”   Read more  

Underappreciated benefits of US foreign aid

Carnegie Endowment senior fellow Rachel Kleinfeld points to an underappreciated fact about foreign aid. “I would say the majority of it helps us strategically and economically,” Kleinfeld said.

U.S. companies and organizations often carry out disaster assistance for example. But there’s long-term payoff as well. “Think about it this way, of our 15 biggest trading partners today, 11 used to be recipients of U.S. aid,” she said.

Helping others helps ourselves in the long term. And of course, helping others … helps others.

Compared with other countries, the U.S. gives the most money. But when you compare by what percentage of our budget we give, we’re 19th in the world.

[Marketplace]

US asks Cambodia to pay war debts for destroying it!

Half a century after American B-52 bombers dropped more than 500,000 tonnes of explosives on Cambodia’s countryside, Washington now wants the country to repay a $US500 million war debt. The demand has prompted expressions of indignation and outrage from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Over 200 nights in 1973 alone, 257,456 tons of explosives fell in secret carpet-bombing sweeps. The pilots flew at such great heights they were incapable of discriminating between a Cambodian village and their targets, North Vietnamese supply lines. The bombs were of such massive tonnage they blew out eardrums of anyone standing within a 1-kilometre radius.

According to one genocide researcher, up to 500,000 Cambodians were killed, many of them children. The Kymer Rouge then seized power in 1975 and over the next four years presided over the deaths of more than almost two million people through starvation disease and execution.

Cambodia’s strongman prime minister Hun Sen has hit back, saying “The US … dropped bombs on our heads and then ask up to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF (International Monetary Fund) not to lend us money,” he told an international conference in early March.

A former Reuters bureau chief in Ho Chi Minh City, said no-one could call him a supporter of Hun Sen,  but on this matter he is “absolutely correct. … Cambodia does not owe a brass farthing to the US for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover,” he wrote in the Cambodia Daily.

American Elizabeth Becker, one of the few correspondents who witnessed the Khmer Rouge’s genocide, has also written that the US “owes Cambodia more in war debts that can be repaid in cash.”

[Sydney Morning Herald]

Why is the world facing its worst humanitarian crisis since 1945?

The UN has warned that the world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since the organization was founded in 1945. Aid agencies have been warning for months and, in the case of Somalia, for years of an impending catastrophe. But the situation has deteriorated rapidly in the past 12 months.

Here is a look at the causes of food shortages and what is being done.
Are these crises man-made? The short answer is yes, although to varying degrees:
– North-east Nigeria has been a center of Boko Haram militancy. In the past 12 months the government has made military inroads, but hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes or trapped in Boko Haram areas. The UN’s World Food Programme says individual families face starvation, but the situation is not yet widespread enough for a famine to be officially declared.
– The two-year conflict in Yemen has pushed the poorest Arab state into a humanitarian crisis and driven millions of people to the brink of starvation. Saudi Arabia launched a Sunni-led military coalition two years ago to fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who had ousted the government. More than 10,000 civilians have died. Some 7m people face severe food shortages. The Saudis are blocking ports, ostensibly to stop the flow of weapons but also affecting food imports.
Somalia is different because the main reason for hunger is a drought, described by pastoralists as the worst in living memory. Temperatures have been rising in the Horn of Africa and weather patterns have become more unpredictable, a phenomenon some blame on global warming. Ever since 2011, the country has been plagued by internecine fighting.  Aid agencies say that, in some of the worst-affected regions, multiple armed militias are fighting for territory. 40 per cent of the population are at risk.

Is there donor fatigue? The refugee crisis triggered by the war in Syria has sucked up a lot of international attention and funding. In western countries, the appetite for foreign aid is lower among parts of the population. But Challiss McDonough, regional spokeswoman for the World Food Programme, said “fatigue is not the right word,” adding: “It is more like an overwhelming of the humanitarian system: 20m people are facing potential famine. A year ago I would have said that was unimaginable.”

Are countries condemned to repeat these catastrophes year after year? No. Ethiopia is often associated with starvation because of the 1983-85 famine in which at least 400,000 people died, with some estimates suggesting as many as 1m. Since then, however, a new government has taken big steps to prevent a recurrence. Last year, Ethiopia suffered the worst drought in at least three decades. People certainly went hungry, but Addis Ababa was able to mount a concerted response that was made easier by much-improved infrastructure, years of fast economic growth and prudent planning.

[Financial Times]

Man-made famine in Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called war-wracked Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” with two-thirds of the population, or 18.8 million people — three million more than in January — in need of assistance and more than seven million with no regular access to food.

The conflict in Yemen has left more than 7,400 people dead and 40,000 wounded since a US-backed, Saudi-led coalition intervened on the government’s side against rebels in March 2015, according to UN figures.

In just the past two months alone, more than 48,000 people have fled fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country, according to O’Brien, as it grapples with a proxy war fought by archrivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“The humanitarian suffering that we see in Yemen today is caused by the parties and proxies and if they don’t change their behavior now, they must be held accountable for the inevitable famine, unnecessary deaths and associated amplification in suffering that will follow,” said O’Brien.

“Yet all parties to the conflict are arbitrarily denying sustained humanitarian access and politicize aid,” he added.

A total of $2.1 billion are needed to reach 12 million people with life-saving assistance and protection in Yemen this year, according to O’Brien, who noted that just six percent of those funds have been received so far. He announced that a ministerial-level pledging event for Yemen will take place in Geneva on April 25, to be chaired by UN chief Antonio Guterres.

[PRI]

2016 worst year yet for Syrian children

Children suffered a “drastic escalation” in violence from the Syrian civil war in 2016, the United Nations said Sunday in a report that showed child deaths jumped at least 20 percent from the year before and recruitment of child combatants more than doubled.

“The depth of suffering is unprecedented,” Geert Cappelaere, the UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement releasing the report. “Each and every child is scarred for life with horrific consequences on their health, well-being and future.”

More than a third of the children killed, were killed in or near a school, a reflection of how all sides in the conflict have disregarded schools as a safe haven in the war. A Unicef report in December said the United Nations had documented attacks on 84 schools in 2016.

“Children are [also] being used and recruited to fight directly on the front lines and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including in extreme cases as executioners, suicide bombers and prison guards,” the report said.

Other statistics in the UNICEF report showed 280,000 children live in hard-to-reach areas almost completely cut off from humanitarian aid. Nearly six million children now depend on such aid to survive, a 12-fold increase from 2012. Millions have been displaced, some as many as seven times.

More than two million Syrian children are living as refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, representing roughly half the number of Syrians who have fled their country since the conflict began in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

[The New York Times]

World facing greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945

The world is facing its largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, the United Nations says, issuing a plea for help to avoid “a catastrophe”.

UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said that more than 20 million people faced the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.

“We stand at a critical point in history,” Mr O’Brien told the Security Council on Friday. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations. … More than 20 million people across four countries face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease.

“Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions.”

Mr O’Brien’s comments follow on from a similar appeal made by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last month.

[BBC]