Humanitarian needs continue as Mosul reaches final stages of military offensive

Nine months after the start of the military operations in October 2016, Mosul has been retaken from ISIL fighters, putting an end to months of bitter fighting that killed thousands and forced about one million out of the city, more than initially expected.

ACTED has been mobilized on Mosul emergency response since day 1, relying on its historical presence in the country for almost 15 years as well as months of contingency planning and preparation, to provide multi-sectoral support to vulnerable displaced people who fled the fighting in Mosul city and Ninewa governorate.

In recent months, up to 8,500 people fled the affected areas every day, as the offensive to retake the Old City and the remaining West Mosul neighborhoods under ISIL control reached its final stages.

ACTED, liaising with other humanitarian partners and coordination structures, continues to respond to the needs of newly displaced and extremely vulnerable Iraqis. Support to displaced people includes, water, hygiene and sanitation interventions, shelter and non-food items support, as well as camp coordination and camp management operations and child protection services.

[ReliefWeb]

Changing lives two feet at a time

In a village in rural Liberia, a long and muddy road from anywhere, I came across a grandma, a mom and a baby daughter all afflicted by clubfoot. This is a common birth defect in which one or both feet are grotesquely turned inward. We don’t see it in the U.S. or Europe because doctors correct it soon after birth, and clubfoot alumni include athletic superstars like Mia Hamm and Kristi Yamaguchi.

Yet here, as in most of the world, kids with clubfoot weren’t treated and grew up as outcasts. About one child in 800 worldwide is born with clubfoot, and in poor countries they are left to hobble on the sides of their feet; unable to work, they may become beggars.

In this village, clubfoot used to be a life sentence: The grandma, Yahin-yee Korwee, never went to school, nor did her daughter, Hannah Cooper, 26. Then Cooper had her own daughter 11 months ago, also with clubfoot (it’s partly hereditary).

Yet this baby had her feet fixed. This is possible with a simple nonsurgical treatment involving a series of plaster casts to guide the foot into the proper position. This approach, called the Ponseti method, is routine in Western countries and is increasingly available in poor countries as well, through aid groups like MiracleFeet, based in North Carolina, and Cure, based in Pennsylvania.

I wish that skeptics of humanitarian aid could have seen the baby get care from MiracleFeet and emerge with feet as good as anyone else’s. Now she’ll be able to walk and run, go to school and hold a job, support herself and her country.

And the total cost? Less than $500 for transforming a life.

 [Excerpts of New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof]

Smugglers abandon migrants in a desert the size of Texas

The 22-year-old Nigerian woman knew that traveling to Europe along the Sahara desert’s smuggling routes would be the most arduous experience of her life. If she had known how close it would bring her to death, she would never have left home at all.

Adoara and roughly 50 others spent 10 days wandering the Tenere section of the vast desert in Niger (West Africa) after being abandoned by their smugglers in an utterly barren expanse of land the size of Texas.

There is sand and only sand for hundreds of miles in the Tenere. As it shifts in the wind, it covers the rutted tracks of vehicles, and any sense of direction is lost. Slowly dying of thirst, Adoara resorted to drinking her own urine. She and the others buried the dead under the shifting sands until they were too exhausted to perform those last rites. Six survived, including Adoara.

Hundreds of thousands of mostly West African migrants fleeing war, poverty and persecution have crossed this stretch of the Sahara over the past few years. They scrounge together life savings and bet them all on a treacherous journey–first across the Tenere; then farther into the Sahara, into Libya; then the choppy seas of the Mediterranean–in hopes of a better life in Europe.

Once migrants are in Libya, many are bought and sold as slaves, and housed in fetid, disease-ridden cells while they work toward earning passage on boats crossing the Mediterranean.

The world has looked on in horror at the thousands who have died when their overloaded boats capsize at sea. And while more do perish on that final leg, so close to European shores, the sandy graveyard of the Tenere has claimed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

“I think we’ve overtalked the sea and undertalked the deserts,” said Tuesday Reitano, deputy director at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime.

[Washington Post]

Migrant crisis threatens to overwhelm Italy

Europe’s unrelenting migrant crisis is threatening to overwhelm Italy, even as the tide of flimsy boats washing up on Greece’s shores has slowed to a trickle.

More than 85,000 people fleeing poverty and violence have risked the perilous Mediterranean crossing to reach Italy this year, a 20% increase over the same period in 2016, according to United Nations figures. At least 2,150 others have died trying.

Most of these migrants come from sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNHCR, the top two nationalities arriving in Italy by sea in 2016 were Nigerians (21%) and Eritreans (11%). Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is facing its worst economic crisis in decades and a deadly uprising by the militant group Boko Haram, while Eritrea has a notoriously repressive government that migrants accuse of imposing a system of forced labor and governing by fear.

Italian officials, who have been among the more welcoming in Europe, threatened last week to close their ports to rescue ships operated by humanitarian groups that weren’t flying the Italian flag unless they received more help from other EU members.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said,  “Italy has never ducked its commitments and it does not intend to do so. But he added, “We are under pressure, and we ask for a concrete contribution from the Europeans.”

[Los Angeles Times]

International NGOs in China impacted by recent law

Some international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in China are suspending operations, cancelling events and losing partnerships in the country six months after the government introduced a law requiring them to register with the police.

To register, the groups must first approach a government ministry from a provided list and ask it to become a “supervisory body” that will vet financial and operational details of the NGO’s work before filing them with the Ministry of Public Security.

The majority of the dozen NGOs approached by Reuters for this article say the law, which came in on Jan 1, has been a bureaucratic nightmare and appears to be aimed at making it more difficult for them to operate in China. Some NGOs say the ministries are often reluctant to take on the sponsor’s role.

Beijing says the law boosts Chinese state support for foreign NGOs and only need worry a handful of illegal groups whose political and religious work harms China’s national security.

The Chinese government estimates there are around 7,000 overseas NGOs in mainland China; academics who have studied the sector suggest about 1,000 of these have a permanent presence in China and so need to register. According to the Ministry of Public Security database, only 139 representative offices of foreign NGOs have been registered so far.

When foreign NGOs limit their operations in China it can not only curb the direct flow of funds into projects but can also hurt their Chinese non-profit partners. Many of these partnerships have been instrumental in establishing building blocks of modern Chinese society in areas such as education and healthcare.

[Reuters]

Refugees bring huge benefits to the nations in which they settle

Lost in the debate over the Trump travel ban, which has now partially gone into effect, is a vital fact about refugees. Many of them bring huge benefits to the nations in which they settle — because time and again, starting up businesses is a part of starting over for those finding a new home.

In Canada, one of the country’s most talked-about — and sought-after — sweets companies is the product of Assam Hadhad who launched Peace by Chocolate out of his kitchen in his adopted home in Nova Scotia after a missile struck his factory in Syria and his family finally decided to flee the danger.

The Canadian catering company Syrian Cuisine Made With Love has a similar story of a family thrown out of its own country by the conflict’s violence and now creating growth and opportunity for others by feeding Canadians — and hiring other Syrians.

Likewise, in the United Kingdom, one cheese company is winning fans — including among the country’s royal family and the nation’s prime minister — as it provides a living to Syrians who’ve lost everything to the war.

Turkey is now home to roughly three million Syrian refugees. Only 10% of this group lives in refugee camps; nearly all are working to find homes in cities and battling high rents and stiff competition for work in a very tight labor market full of people seeking to make a living. Today, Syrians are leading the list of foreign nationals launching businesses there.

A recent report from the non-profit organization Building Markets finds that since the Syrian civil war started in 2011, Syrians in Turkey have started more than 6,000 new companies. If you add in informal businesses that aren’t registered with the government, that number would top 10,000. This year alone Syrians are on track to start 2,000 new enterprises. On average, the companies in the Building Markets study offer jobs to nine people — with close to a third of the companies saying they plan to expand.

[Read full CNN article]

Refugee entrepreneurship in the United States

Near Washington DC, Syrian refugee Nader Briman is sewing wedding dresses. And his wife is cooking shawarma and meat pies. The Brimans’ new community stands to gain from their arrival.

One study out of Cleveland in 2013 noted that “in advanced economies, once refugees have adjusted to their new life after resettlement, they can provide substantial contributions to the workforce and economic development in the long run at the regional level.”

Other American entrepreneurs have tread a path reminiscent of the Brimans and made a difference not just for their neighborhoods, but their new nation. Hamdi Ulukaya came to the United States in 1994 to escape escalating political tensions in Turkey, where his status as a politically active Kurd — albeit one who disavowed violence — earned him the attention of Turkish police.  Just over a decade later, he launched Chobani, a category-creating Greek yoghurt company that today is America’s biggest-selling yogurt brand, earning $2 billion in annual revenues.

Today close to a third of Ulukaya’s workers at Chobani’s Idaho plant are refugees. Or newly arrived Americans. As Ulukaya has said, “the minute a refugee has a job, that’s the minute they stop being a refugee.”

The same is true of former refugees like Google (GOOG) co-founder Sergey Brin, Intel (INTC, Tech30) co-founder Andy Grove, or WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum — some of the world’s most innovative and successful businesses simply wouldn’t exist if they had been turned away in their time of need.

[CNN]

Independence Day: Remembering America the land of immigrants and refugees

America is a nation of people who chose to become Americans. Even the oldest family tree in the New World has immigrants at its roots.

Blood: Blood itself does not give the country any mark of distinction. The individual American has more in common genetically with the people his people come from than with his fellow Americans.

Language: A Frenchman has to speak French. A German has to speak the language of the Vaterland. But an American could speak anything. And often does.

History: Nor is there even a common history. The average immigrant didn’t arrive until the early 20th century. By then, America’s history was already three centuries old. The average citizen missed the whole thing.

Neither blood, history, language or  religion,– what else is left?

Only an idea: that you could come to America and be whatever you wanted to be.

[Excerpts of an article by Bill Bonner]

Watchdog says State Dept. failing to adequately track US foreign aid

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have failed to adequately track the more than $30 billion they spend annually on foreign aid, according to a government watchdog report released Friday.

The report released by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General noted that the department has failed to build infrastructure for tracking billions of dollars in foreign aid despite being ordered to do so in 2015. According to the report, little progress has been made at all. The report’s summary faults the State Department, saying it “had not complied with the report’s recommendation” in 2015.

The Trump administration has suggested cutting the State Department’s budget for foreign aid by 37 percent. The move was blasted by members of Trump’s own party, who called the idea a “disaster.”

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan responded to the report in a memo, saying the department accepted the watchdog recommendations and would begin implementing them.

[The Hill]

Electricity from ocean waves possible for developing nations

Ocean Power Delivery (OPD) announced the signing of an order with a Portuguese consortium, led by Enersis, to build the initial phase of the world’s first commercial wave-farm to generate renewable electricity from ocean waves.

The initial phase will consist of three Pelamis P-750 machines located 5km off Portugal’s northern coast, near to Póvoa de Varzim. The €8m project will have an installed capacity of 2.25MW, and is expected to meet the average electricity demand of more than 1,500 Portuguese households whilst displacing more than 6,000 tonnes per year of carbon dioxide emissions from conventional generating plant.

Gonçalo Serras Pereira, Chairman of Enersis, commented: “After seventeen years of experience developing, constructing and operating mini hydro schemes, and nine years with wind farms, we believe wave energy will be the new Portuguese endogenous renewable resource.”

The flow of destitute refugees to Europe continues

“What is happening in front of our eyes in Italy is an unfolding tragedy. In the course of last weekend, 12,600 migrants and refugees arrived on its shores, and an estimated 2,030 have lost their lives in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year,” said High Commissioner Filippo Grandi.

“Let me stress that saving lives remains a top priority. Search and rescue by all those involved, including by NGOs, the Italian Coast Guard, and government authorities, is critical. We are only at the beginning of the summer, and without swift collective action, we can only expect more tragedies at sea.

“This cannot be an Italian problem alone. It is, first and foremost, a matter of international concern, requiring a joined-up, comprehensive regional approach. Europe in particular needs to be fully involved, added Grandi. “And the response to the immediate crisis must be matched by broader efforts by all concerned, to address the root causes behind migratory pressures, create better protection for people in transit, and address smuggling and trafficking.”

In total, 83,650 people have reached Italy by sea since the beginning of the year, which represents an increase of almost 20 per cent compared to the same period last year.

There is alarmingly high rate among arrivals of unaccompanied children or victims of sexual and gender based violence. Many have suffered extremely traumatic events, including extortion, kidnapping, sexual violence, and abuses back home and in countries on their way to Europe.

[Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]