Up to 450,000 IDPs expected in cramped Mosul camps

There may not be enough space in camps to accommodate the tens of thousands of internally displaced people (IDP) currently fleeing their homes in western Mosul amid intense fighting in the city, a United Nations official has said.

At least 50,000 people have made their way to the camps on the eastern side of the Tigris River, but the UN warns that if the number rapidly increases, they will be hard pressed to find a place for the new arrivals.

Up to 450,000 are expected to make their way to the camps, Lise Grande, humanitarian coordinator for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, said. Field workers, she said, are “working around the clock” to construct additional emergency tents as quickly as possible.

As the US-led Iraqi army offensive to retake the western half of the city from ISIL continues to push on, at least 700,000 civilians are still trapped inside, with food and fuel supplies fast dwindling.

Supported by the US-led coalition bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Iraqi forces began the operation to retake the western part of Mosul on February 19. West Mosul is the largest remaining urban stronghold in the “caliphate” declared by ISIL in 2014.

[Al Jazeera]

Digital disaster response

What do you do if you are a disaster manager in a coastal city when a powerful earthquake hits offshore?

  • You start tweeting life-saving updates and safety information to the public, alert your volunteers via SMS and set up a helpline.
  • You host a conference call for rescue workers using open-source tools and provide them with access to key documents via an online file-sharing service before reaching out to emergency accommodation providers through lodgings websites.

At a conference on resilience in New Orleans this week, technology companies outlined the increasingly sophisticated tools they are offering – on an altruistic basis – to help people cope better when disasters strike.

Cloud communications platform Twilio.org is partnering with the International Rescue Committee charity so that refugees in Greece can find out the date of their asylum appointment in their own language via a phone-based voice response system.

Twitter aims to “weaponize Twitter in a disaster” by helping users make the most of different features – from dedicated hashtags to Twitter handle lists, adverts and live video – to get vital information to those affected as quickly as possible. If communications go down or are overloaded in a disaster, an SMS version of Twitter can be activated.

Yet while these companies are seeking innovative ways to assist in disasters, they acknowledged technology cannot always substitute for human support.

When New Orleans was battered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, around two-thirds of the lowest-income groups do not have access to the internet, said Estes White, adding that offline information remained essential to piece together a full picture of the situation on the ground and reach all those in need. “I would caution against thinking that social media is a total solution,” she said.

[Thomson Reuters Foundation]

European Court of Justice rules against humanitarian visas for refugees

The European Court of Justice has ruled that refugees do not have to be granted humanitarian visas to the EU.

The court handed down its ruling in connection with a case brought by a Syrian family of five from Aleppo. The family had initially applied for a visa to Belgium at the Belgian embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. They then planned to travel to Belgium where they would apply for asylum.

EU states are also not obliged to accept everyone who has experienced a catastrophic situation, the Foreign Office said.

Legally, refugees can currently enter the EU only under the new resettlement program. Between July 2015 and February 2017, some 14,422 people from Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon were able to enter the EU and apply for asylum using this method.

[Deutsche Welle]

What a cut in US foreign aid could mean for this woman’s family

Last September, 19 months after fighting had erupted around her home in South Sudan, Alaakiir Ajok ran for the Uganda border. She found refuge in a settlement called Nyumanzi, where she was living with two of her four children. The other two disappeared in the chaos of conflict.

As of this week, Uganda is sheltering more than 761,000 other South Sudanese.

Ajok and her kids subsist on rations distributed by the World Food Program (WFP), and every month, she said, she would sell a portion of her sorghum for a bit of money to pay her children’s school fees. But when we met, WFP had just cut her rations in half, due to dramatic funding shortages. After that, Ajok had no sorghum to spare—which meant she had no money, and her son stopped going to school.

That was five months ago. On Tuesday, President Trump announced a proposal to cut the US State Department and USAID budgets by 30 percent or more.

The United States is by far the world’s largest contributor to humanitarian assistance in general, and the WFP in particular. International aid workers have been on edge ever since the election.

[Read full UN Dispatch article]

You don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian

Rihanna, the Grammy Award-winning artist — whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty — was in Boston Tuesday to receive Harvard College’s 2017 Humanitarian of the Year award.

At just 18, Rihanna founded the Believe Foundation, which provided support to terminally ill children. And since then, she hasn’t much slowed down.

Her Clara Lionel Foundation — named for her grandparents — tackles a range of causes, from education to health and emergency response programs. And her work with the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project helped convince Canada to pledge $20 million to the Education Cannot Wait fund.

In thanking the university, Rihanna spoke about family, and her grandmother’s losing battle with cancer. She spoke of her upbringing in Barbados, and her childhood dreams of saving the world, one 25-cent donation at a time.

Mostly, she urged students to do their part, to make a commitment to help just one person.

“People make it seem way too hard, man,” she said. “You don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don’t have to be rich to help someone, you don’t have to be famous, you don’t even have to be college educated.

“My grandma always used to say if you’ve got a dollar, there’s plenty to share.”

[Boston Globe]

Pre-dawn raids across US to deport the undocumented impacting Mexico

Last week, a series of before-dawn raids by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) were launched in a number of American cities in at least six States. Immigrant rights advocates and the Mexican government are redoubling efforts to support Mexican citizens in the States.

Where ICE once only targeted undocumented people who had been convicted of criminal activity, now they are detaining those without criminal records, according to a number of activists who deal with undocumented peoples’ legal cases.

Activists explain that many undocumented people do not know that they don’t need – by law – to open the door. If the undocumented person opens their door, that is where the trouble starts, explains Francisco Moreno, COFEM community director, who works with people affected by raids. “If the person opens the door, [the ICE officers] can register everyone that’s inside – even non-criminals.” Detainees are removed from their homes in handcuffs, taken to a vehicle outside, and asked questions, said Moreno.

“It’s hard to overstate how disruptive this is, how wrenching this can be – people picked up in a raid might be the only source of income for a whole family, dressed their kids for school in the morning, cooks for their family, they might be a person supporting an elder parent or young baby. To imagine that person would be ripped away – imagine how it could affect everyone around them is extremely serious,” a representative of activist group KIWA said.

In recent weeks, Mexico has hastily established a program called Somos Mexicanos – We are Mexicans – designed to inform freshly deported or otherwise returned citizens from the US of programs available to reintegrate them into Mexican society.

Mexico has been struggling in recent weeks to cope with a sudden influx of refugees from across the country and around the world – from El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and countries in Africa – to its northern border towns, hoping to cross over into the US before the Trump administration further tightens border controls. Despite the sudden added pressure on its resources, Mexico has also managed to offer Haitian refugees and others papers where the US has made it clear it will not.