Smiles amid desperation in South Sudan

South Sudan has suffered from nearly four years of conflict. Millions are lacking the very basic necessities to survive – clean water, food, shelter, medicine.

The conflict has left many unable to work their land. There has also been an influx of people made homeless by fighting in other parts of the country. Many lost all their belongings when fleeing.

Cecilia Tabu, 12, is waiting under a tree with her mother Vajda. “Normally, our only food is leaves that we cook with salt and water,” says Vajda. “Usually, we have nothing, so today we are happy. We can finally eat something different.”

Cecilia fled her village with her mother and four siblings one year ago. Her father was killed while he was collecting food for the family. After this her mother decided that their home was not safe anymore. Simple things, like a hoe for cultivation, will help her family get back on their feet.

In this recent distribution, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), working with the South Sudan Red Cross, focused on distributing seeds and tools to help people get back into farming so they can provide for themselves.

They were also given food to tide them over until they can harvest their crops. Around 13,000 people received seeds, tools and food in Rokon.

“Before the crisis, life was good. We had no hunger. Because of the drought we lost all our crops and were left with no seeds,” Jennifer explains. She was first in line on the second day of the distribution and got support for her daughter Alice and her other children. Like many across the country, this lady had resorted to eating leaves to survive.


Why refugee doctors end up driving taxis in the US

Layla Sulaiman served as a primary care OB/GYN for 17 years before she left Iraq in 2007. But in this country, her medical license is no longer valid. Sulaiman is one of many refugees — though no one knows exactly how many — who practiced medicine in their home countries, who are now working in low-skilled jobs, driving taxis and working in grocery stores.

“The brain waste is appalling,” said Dr. José Ramón Fernandez-Peña, an associate professor of health education at San Francisco State University who studied medicine in his native Mexico. He is also the founder and director of the Welcome Back Initiative, which has helped foreign-trained providers get health care jobs in the United States since 2001. “These are individuals who could be taking care of children with asthma, and instead are working at a car wash,” he said.

Sulaiman had originally hoped to be relocated to Australia, where her sister-in-law lives and where there are accelerated paths for foreign doctors. Had she gone to a country like Canada, she could have practiced with some restrictions while obtaining a full license.

But she ended up in the United States, where she must start her training from scratch. Refugees may have additional struggles, advocates say. For example, many must leave their home countries on short notice, making it difficult for longtime doctors to track down old transcripts and records.

Within the United States, there are more residency slots than medical students to fill them. This year, more than 22,000 American-educated students vied for nearly 29,000 first-year residency slots, according to the National Resident Matching Program.  The rest of these positions were filled largely by foreign graduates.

Some experts predict a doctor shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 by 2030, according to an analysis commissioned by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Fernandez-Peña said that putting foreign-trained doctors to work in America is a no-brainer. “Why not invest in this freebie?” he asked. “They’ve already been trained. We would be reaping the benefits that (another) country has spent money in training their work force.”


Haitian asylum seekers flocking to Quebec

Kathleen Weil, Quebec’s Minister of Immigration, confirmed that the number of asylum seekers in Quebec had tripled in the past two weeks. She said that between July 1 and 19, some 50 applicants arrived in Quebec every day, “Now it’s an average of 150…”

According to Jean-Pierre Fortin, the President of the Customs and Immigration Union, nearly 500 asylum seekers illegally crossed the border on Monday alone near the Lacolle customs post, 90% of whom were Haitians, who feared as nearly 60,000 of their compatriots in the United States stand to lose their Temporary Protection Status in the United States

In the first six months of 2017, Québec had already received more than 6,500 asylum seekers.

The entry of these waves of refugees at the border forced Canadian authorities to find a solution on the accommodation side. So far housed in university residences, reception centers (Salvation Army, YMCA, etc.) or hotels, asylum seekers are now so numerous that part of the Olympic Stadium is being transformed into a refuge for asylum seekers.

Stéphane Handfield, a lawyer specializing in immigration says “In 25 years of practice, I have never seen this. It is clearly not ideal for families, but it is better that to leave these people under the bridge.”

Denis Coderre, the Mayor of Montreal, said that Montreal would help those newcomers who were afraid of being deported from the United States and refused to return to Haiti, saying “You can count on our full cooperation.”


Germany’s involvement in settling South Sudanese refugees in Uganda

The civil war in South Sudan has taken its toll on neighboring country Uganda, with the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda now reaching the million mark.

Many of these refugees make the journey across the border, not just because of the Uganda’s proximity, but also as a result of the country’s welcoming approach to hosting refugees. Based on a concept of self-help assistance, refugees receive land and materials on arrival to put up their own shelters, as well as seeds and hoes to grow their own food. This concept aims at ensuring a self-reliant life for the refugees in the long term.

“Uganda is however beginning to reach the limits of its capacity. One million people need space and support,” said Alexander Tacke-Köster, Program Coordination for Malteser International in Uganda. “We offer support by providing improved supply of clean drinking water for 30,000 refugees. Although the number of arrivals are declining, an end to the influx of refugees is not in sight.”

Roland Hansen, Head of the Africa Department at Malteser International has also pointed out Germany’s significant role in the aid intervention. “By providing aid for these refugees, we are reducing the strain on Uganda’s resources”, he said. The German Federal Foreign Office has released an additional one million euros to upscale Malteser International’s ongoing aid projects for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. And Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel will visit Uganda tomorrow, August 9, to personally gather an on-site impression of the current situation.


Christians protest as new report shows devastating impact of Trump’s refugee policies

The global standing of the US when it comes to the world refugee crisis has dramatically slipped in the past six months, according to a new report released by Human Rights First, a leading non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization.

As a result of changes in US policy under Donald Trump’s presidency, global refugee resettlement is now predicted to fall by 30-40 per cent in 2017 as compared to 2016. The refugees most affected by this decline are women and children, including those who have suffered sexual and gender-based violence, as well as survivors of torture.

Emily Gray, the senior vice president for US ministries of the Christian charity World Relief, said: ‘In addition to women and children, the decision of the United States to allow fewer refugees also means that the US will accept the lowest number of refugees who have been persecuted for their Christian faith in a decade.’

Scott Arbeiter, World Relief‘s president, added that ‘we must appropriately balance security and compassion. This report clearly shows that we are not achieving that balance, and that people are suffering as a result.’

‘Through our work in Jordan, we see very directly the impact of the refugee crisis there, and these actions by the administration are compounding the struggles of refugees who are trying to find safety in countries that are already struggling,’ said World Relief CEO Tim Breene.

[Christian Today]

UN reveals Saudi Arabia blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen

The humanitarian situation has been growing ever worse in northern Yemen for months, with a Saudi blockade keeping aid out of the only port still controlled by the Shi’ite Houthis. The UN has been trying to get emergency aid into the capital city of Sanaa through the airport, but that seems to be no easier.

The United Nations has attempted to operate two humanitarian routes into Sanaa, but there is no jet fuel available in the Yemeni capital for the humanitarian aid planes to then make the return trip.

Auke Lootsma, the country director of the UN Development Programme in Yemen, said, “We have difficulties obtaining permission from the coalition …. to transport this jet fuel to Sanaa to facilitate these flights,” explaining this to reporters by video-link from Sanaa.

Lootsma also reported an outbreak of meningitis in Yemen, compounding the cholera epidemic and the risk of famine in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The UN warns the situation is increasingly bleak, with no real ability to get vital aid into parts of the country that are afflicted with a huge cholera epidemic, and are now on top of that facing an outbreak on meningitis.

Yemen is a country that imports more than 90 percent of its food in peacetime. And now during war time, the Saudi blockade has had a terrifying impact on Yemen, raising growing concerns from human rights groups that they’re using access food and medicine as weapons of war.

Build on Africa’s informal economy

In many cities in sub-Saharan Africa, the informal economy is larger and more dynamic than the formal economy. In Benin, Togo and Burkina Faso, for example, the informal sector accounts for over 80% of non-agricultural employment.

Yet, in many African cities, government policies discriminate against these workers. For example, street vendors and waste collectors are often banned from using public spaces. They may even suffer harassment from government officials.

Yet they play a central role in increasing the resilience of the city. Waste pickers recycle large amount of material, reducing pollution and maintain city cleanliness. This helps prevent diseases, particularly those spread by bacteria, insects and vermin that might otherwise feed or breed on garbage. Street vendors play a critical role in providing and producing food, particularly to poor people living in urban areas.

The informal economy is not perfect. Informality creates risks for consumers and workers. A lack of state oversight makes it difficult to enforce regulation, such as water treatment standards. Waste pickers in particular face severe health risks due to their work. Informal housing is often in hazard prone parts of the city.

But there can be little doubt that informal service provision or informal livelihoods are better than none at all.

Successful strategies to reduce risk therefore need to be developed in collaboration with informal workers in sectors such as food, water, housing and solid waste management. Similarly, partnerships with communities living in informal settlements can ensure that the voices of vulnerable urban residents are heard, and their needs are addressed.


Droughts are inevitable but famines avoidable

In March, UN humanitarian affairs chief Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council, “We stand at a critical point in history. … We are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.” Four months later, the outlook is no less grim.

Some crises, like in South Sudan and Yemen, are almost entirely human-caused, the result of wars in which all sides destroy crops or steal livestock in punitive raids, forcibly confiscate food aid for soldiers’ use, and make it too dangerous for humanitarian workers to go to many areas.

But Ethiopia, Somalia, and Madagascar face a different problem: They are at the sharp end of climate change, which is disrupting rainfall and other weather patterns. It’s a succession of extreme weather events that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.

In Madagascar, the droughts that used to come in cycles are now semipermanent. Desperate to buy food, locals first sold their goats. Then they sold their prized humpback cattle. Finally, they sold their kitchen pots. There was nothing to cook, anyway, besides leaves and bitter cactus fruit.

“Water is life, but what about food and something to cook it with?” asks Farah Robleh, whose veins stand out on his forehead above his gaunt, gray-stubbled cheeks. He once herded 200 goats and sheep and 20 camels in his Somalian village. He has just 20 goats left. “I don’t think anyone can live here anymore,” he sighs. “We have no options.”

Droughts are inevitable, and likely to strike more often and more harshly because of global warming. But famines are avoidable. It’s a question of doing the right thing. And, critically, of doing the right thing at the right time.

That’s why the UN and aid groups are increasingly unleashing a new weapon in their quest to prevent famine–warning the world early and often. And international agencies “were here, ready to go,” says Elke Wisch, UNICEF director in Madagascar, “and we switched gears into emergency mode in a timely fashion.”       read more

Community resilience amidst worst African famine crisis since the 1980s

Battered by global warming and civil wars, wide swaths of the African continent again face an unprecedented crisis: In Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and across the Red Sea in Yemen, 20 million people face starvation, “barely surviving in the space between malnutrition and death,” in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Yet the threat many of these people face today may be less grave than it would have been for their parents and grandparents. Over the past two decades, African nations have learned valuable lessons about how to predict, if not prevent, droughts, and how to ward off famine by strengthening the defenses of the most vulnerable.

From Madagascar to Ethiopia to Somalia and beyond, governments, international aid agencies, and the villagers they help are building up “community resilience.” That’s the new buzzword in humanitarian circles: It is seen as key to ensuring that farmers and herders have something to hold onto when drought strikes, rather than cycling endlessly in and out of disaster.

Resilience is a big concept that works in little ways. It could be UNICEF installing community faucets around villages in Madagascar to provide clean water pumped from a nearby well, ensuring that already malnourished children do not get sicker by drinking polluted water. It could be a public works venture in Ethiopia that pays villagers cash or gives them food to build roads or dig wells. Or it could be an experimental farm in Somaliland encouraging goatherds to diversify into growing food crops.

These initiatives won’t prevent drought, nor will they eliminate famine overnight. But by helping people withstand sudden shocks and contributing to longer-term development goals, they are saving lives.

[Christian Science Monitor]

Top French court orders government to offer humanitarian aid

France’s highest administrative court ordered the government to provide humanitarian aid to the hundreds of migrants who have continued arriving in the northern port city of Calais even after authorities destroyed the infamous “Jungle” camp.

In blistering language, the court decried the squalid conditions facing migrants in Calais, long a dramatic focal point in French politics and in Europe’s ongoing migration crisis. It also rejected appeals by state and local authorities, both of which had resisted an earlier order to improve the situation.

“The living conditions of migrants reveal a failure of public authority, which is liable to expose the persons concerned to inhuman or degrading treatment and thus constitutes a serious and manifestly unlawful interference with a fundamental freedom,” read the opinion of the court, known as the Conseil d’Etat.

The ruling came less than a week after the publication of a sharply critical report from Human Rights Watch, based on conversations with approximately 60 migrants, about half of whom were minors. Those interviewed complained of police violence and regular disruptions of humanitarian assistance, especially food and access to amenities as basic as toilets and showers.

Perhaps the most shocking allegation in the Human Rights Watch report — widely discussed in French media — was that riot police regularly use pepper spray on child migrants, even when they pose no conceivable threat.

Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said in response to the court’s ruling Monday that France would open two facilities in the Calais region to house and better inform incoming migrants about the asylum process.

[Washington Post]