That little Syrian boy: Here’s who he was

The numbers associated with today’s migration crisis are huge: 4 million Syrians fleeing their country; 3 million Iraqis displaced. But it was the image of a solitary child — a toddler in a red T-shirt, blue shorts and Velcro sneakers, found face-down on a Turkish beach — that shocked and haunted the world this week.

The drowned boy was 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, from Syria, part of a group of 23 trying to reach the Greek island of Kos. They’d set out in two boats on the 13-mile Aegean journey, but the vessels capsized.

Aylan Kurdi’s 5-year-old brother Galip also drowned, as did the boys’ mother, Rehan. Their father, Abdullah, survived. In all, five children from that journey are reported dead.

Aylan Kurdi’s family, Syrian Kurds, had fled Kobani, a city along the border with Turkey that has been contested between ISIS and Kurdish fighters and undergone hundreds of airstrikes. They’d applied for legal migration as refugees to Canada, where Abdullah Kurdi’s sister, Teema, lives and works as a hairdresser. But their application had been denied, says Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “Their only option was to put their lives in the hands of the smuggler,” Bouckaert says.

Bouckaert acknowledges that “It’s a very disturbing photo, but I think we should be offended that children are washing up dead on our beaches because of the failure of our politicians to provide safe passage… rather than by the photo itself.”

In Britain, where just 216 Syrian refugees have been accepted so far, reaction to the photo put Prime Minister David Cameron on the defensive. “We will do more,” he said Thursday.

The message of Aylan Kurdi’s photo seems clear enough: The world needs to do better in addressing migrants’ needs, safety and dignity.

“We really need a wakeup call that children are dying, washing up dead on the beaches of Europe, because of our collective failure to provide them safe passage,” Bouckaert says. “People fleeing Syria are legitimate refugees and they should be welcomed in Europe and the rest of the world.”


Citizens of Germany and Iceland show the way

While Europe’s politicians flounder in the face of an unprecedented wave of refugees and migrants seeking shelter — many of them from war-torn Syria — some individuals have decided to take matters into their own hands.

In Iceland, author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir has set up a Facebook page to call for her country’s government to increase the number of refugees it was planning to accept from a reported 50 — prompting a big response and wide media interest. Bjorgvinsdottir’s inspiration came from a friend who posted a status update on Facebook — addressed to Iceland’s Minister of Welfare Eyglo Hardar — saying he wanted to take five Syrian refugees into his own home, she said.

And in Germany, a website has been running for months which aims to match offers of accommodation in private homes — ideally shared rental apartments — across the country with individual refugees in need of a place to stay. The website, Refugees Welcome (Fluechtlinge Wilkommen,) has already placed dozens of refugees who otherwise might be placed in overcrowded migrant centers or struggle to put a roof over their heads at all.

Bjorgvinsdottir’s page already has 12,000 members, said — no mean feat given the country’s population is only about 300,000. Proportionately, that equates to some 12 million people signing up in the United States.

Such direct action couldn’t be more needed. Migrants are pouring over Europe’s borders in record numbers this year, many of them fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. In July alone, a record 107,500 were detected at EU borders.

Inspired by the Icelandic example, a U.S. group has also been set up on Facebook, called “Americans Supporting Syrian Refugees: Open Homes, Open Hearts.”

[Read full CNN article]  

2,600 refugees have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe

The United Nations refugee agency announced that more than 300,000 refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

That number does not include the 2,600 who have died on the journey.

This photo published on the cover of The Independent (UK) shows a small boy lying face down in the sand on a Turkish beach as an official stands over him. The child, who is thought to be Syrian, has drowned in an apparent attempt to flee the war ravaging his country.

Such extraordinary images serve as a stark reminder that, as European leaders increasingly try to prevent refugees and migrants from settling in the continent, more and more refugees are dying in their desperation to flee persecution and reach safety.

The Independent took the decision to publish these images because, among the often glib words about the “ongoing migrant crisis”, it is all too easy to forget the reality of the desperate situation facing many refugees.

[PBS/The Independent]

Greece and Italy swamped with refugee migrants

A Syrian woman cries while holding her children moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos

During July, a record 50,000 refugee migrants have landed in Greece by boat from Turkey, Reuters reported. Arrivals have exceeded 160,000 this year, exposing massive shortages in the country already mired in the worst economic crisis in generations.

Elsewhere, Italy’s Coast Guard says it coordinated the rescue of 4,400 migrants from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday — the most in a single day — officials reported.

So far in 2015, about 110,000 migrants have been rescued off of Libya and brought to southern Italian ports.


International aid needed for refugees in Europe

Angry scenes erupted outside Budapest’s main train station Tuesday morning, as crowds of angry migrants and refugees were prevented from boarding trains they hoped would take them on from Hungary to Austria and Germany, toward Western Europe.

It’s the latest crisis point to emerge as a wave of migrants — many refugees fleeing conflict in Syria or Iraq — seek to make their way by land to Western European nations where they hope to claim asylum.

Other flashpoints have emerged. Thousands were stranded last month in a no-man’s land between northern Greece and Macedonia, where Macedonian security forces used tear gas and stun grenades as some desperate people tried to rush the razor wire border fence.

In other places — including parts of Germany and Greece — there’s been a warmer welcome, with volunteers handing out food and water.

Germany’s government said last month that it expected up to 800,000 asylum seekers to come this year — four times more than in 2014.


Insignificant number of Calais refugees as compared to other countries

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned of the threat posed by “a swarm of people” who were “coming across the Mediterranean … wanting to come to Britain”. His foreign secretary Philip Hammond upped the ante. The chaos at the Channel tunnel in Calais, he declared, was caused by “marauding migrants who posed an existential threat.”

In reality the French port of Calais is a sideshow, home to a few thousand migrants.

Europe’s real refugee crisis is in the Mediterranean. More than 180,000 have reached Italy and Greece by sea alone this year.  The impact on Greece, already wracked with crisis, is at tipping point.

[Despite the media circus] Britain is not a main destinations for either refugees or illegal migrants. Last year 25,870 sought asylum in the UK and only 10,050 were accepted. By contrast, Sweden accepted three times as many and Germany had more than 200,000 asylum and new asylum applicants.

[But if you are talking refugees, in sheer numbers,] nothing in Europe matches the millions who have been driven to seek refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan or Jordan. Set against such a global drama, Calais is little more than deathly theatre.

[The Guardian]

One year after war, people of Gaza still sit among the ruins

A year after the halt to hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014, not a single one of the nearly 18,000 homes destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza is habitable.Those involved in the process, and advocacy groups, attribute the slow pace to Palestinian political infighting, Israel’s involvement in approving projects and participants, and a lack of funds. International donors have sent about $340 million of the $2.5 billion they pledged for Gaza’s reconstruction last fall, and much of that was spent on removing rubble, on temporary housing for 100,000 displaced residents or on minor repairs.

Palestinian civil-society groups pushed forward a petition this month calling for an end to the reconstruction mechanism, saying that Israel’s access to a database of destroyed homes and its role in reviewing applications only entrenched its control over Gaza, a position echoed in a report published this week by Gisha, an Israeli group that promotes freedom of movement for Palestinians.

Mofeed M. Al Hassaina, the Gaza-based minister of housing and public works, said 455,000 tons of rubble had been cleared; 1.5 million tons remain. According to the mechanism’s website, 115 larger projects, like schools, hospitals and roads, are in progress, 15 have been completed, and 237 are in the approval pipeline. Bashir Rayyes, the Palestinian Authority’s coordinator for Gaza reconstruction, said 95 percent of Gaza’s electric grid and water supply had been restored.

Fouad Harara has a photograph of his former and future home affixed to the tent he put up after the fighting stopped last August, where has spent virtually every day since. It shows a flourishing nut tree, which he said was felled by Israeli bombs. A few yards away, green branches sprout from the ground, some part of the tree apparently having revived itself. “We are the same–our homes and ourselves,” said Mr. Harara’s brother Abed, 53. “We will not die. Our roots are like this tree.”

[New York Times]   

Pay it forward as a humanitarian worker

Some say humanitarian workers are heroes. They dedicate their heart and soul to save lives, may it be in a natural or a manmade disaster.

I say we humanitarian workers, like everybody else, are just human beings, doing the best we can, in the ways we know, to help those in need rebuild their lives.

It was in 2013 when I became a humanitarian worker. I entered the field just a few weeks after surviving typhoon Yolanda. An old friend offered me a job in the organization he works for, and while at first I was clueless on what to do, I knew it was all about responding to the thousands of survivors struggling to stand up after the storm took away everything they had.

There were times when I cried at night in despair, for the trauma brought by Yolanda continued to haunt me. I carried this sort of survivor’s guilt since I could not mourn fully for those who lost more than I did. I could not even talk about my feelings in an honest manner in fear of being called ungrateful.

But while it took me time to realize how blessed I was, it soon dawned upon me that being a humanitarian worker is not a cross to bear, but rather a path to learning life in its crudest, harshest forms, and that it’s up to us on how to make the best of it.

I learned that it’s okay to cry, that I am entitled to my own feelings, just like everybody else who got past Yolanda. After all, those who survived lost their sense of normalcy, no matter how first-world these seemed, mine included.

I also came to see that even if we don’t speak much about the hard times, my colleagues were there for support, not only as co-workers, but as friends, as people who have had their own share of ups and downs for us to share, to overcome, and to celebrate.

[Read more of Fae Cheska Marie Esperas’ story]


What’s it like to be a humanitarian worker?

Refugees who left their homes to save their lives. Children who witnessed deaths that are numbered way more than their years. Mothers who struggled to save their children from calamity, hunger, and conflict.

These are the people Lourdes Ibarra usually meets all in a day’s work.

In times of calamity, extreme poverty, and civil conflict, humanitarian workers from around the world rise to the challenge of helping people fight hunger and insecurity. They go to places devoid of stability, security, and food assistance at the expense of their own comfort and safety.

As a humanitarian worker for 17 years, Ibarra experienced living at the remotest area in Africa and Middle East to respond to the needs of people affected by famine or natural disasters. Currently, she serves as the head of the programs of the World Food Programme‘s (WFP) operations in Damascus, Syria, assisting more than 4.5 million victims of the civil conflicts.

While Ibarra didn’t choose the profession out of convenience nor for its perks, she definitely was not prepared for the demands it required. In providing aid to those in need, Ibarra faced threats posed by nearby insurgents and even experienced settling in places with undesirable living conditions.

“Being in the deep field, a woman [like me] faces challenges in the lack of decent accommodation and basic facilities. I have experienced to be in deep, deep field when we used to live in tents with common toilets and shower in Bor, South Sudan, with the presence of snakes and teeming with mosquitoes,” Ibarra shared.

“If I am asked to define ‘humanitarian’ work in one word, for me it means ‘giving’. Because it is when you give yourself for this noble cause that you truly give,” Ibarra said.
Read more  

UN OCHA and humanitarian organizations meet

As the world braces for stronger disasters and adverse impacts of climate change, how do we ensure the welfare of humanitarian workers and responders? How do we ensure the flow of humanitarian aid to help survivors of calamities and conflicts?

These were the questions that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), and other humanitarian groups posed on Wednesday, August 19, during the celebration of World Humanitarian Day 2015.

For UN OCHA Associate Humanitarian Affairs Officer Madoka Koide, the Philippines is an “inspiring source for other countries.” Koide cited the spirit of volunteerism which seemed to be prevalent among Filipinos especially in times of disasters. “In this country, you don’t have to actually be a humanitarian, (as) there are people who actually help,” he said.

Koide also highlighted the importance of the everyday work of humanitarian workers. “Many humanitarian workers have sacrifice time, many of them sacrifice proximity with their families. Many of them have also sacrificed their lives.”

Koide emphasized that the celebration is a prelude to the World Humanitarian Summit happening in May 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.


Aid group makes humanitarian plea after 65 killed in Yemen

Doctors Without Borders made a dramatic appeal to Yemen’s warring factions to halt attacks on civilians, a day after heavy fighting in a key southern city killed more than 65 people and wounded at least 23.

“We call on the warring parties to stop attacking civilian targets, especially hospitals, ambulances and densely populated neighborhoods and allow medical personnel and humanitarian organizations to provide assistance,” the aid group, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF, said in a statement. “Patients and MSF staff are unable to reach hospitals due to the heavy fighting and airstrikes,” adding that 923 people have been wounded over the past three days, and that 133 of them died due to their severe injuries.

Only seven of Taiz’s 21 hospitals are currently open but they are “totally overwhelmed” and have run out of essential medication, MSF said.

Yemen’s fighting pits the Houthis and troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and troops loyal to President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi, which are backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

[The Daily Star (Lebanon)]

Humanitarian crisis in Yemen

The head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), Johannes Van Der Klaauw, has warned that after almost five months of fighting, a lack of unhindered access to people who urgently need humanitarian assistance and a shortage of funding are creating the possibility of famine for millions in Yemen.

Almost 4,500 people have been killed and a further 23,000 have been wounded since the escalation in March of the conflict between forces loyal to the exiled President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and those allied to the Houthi rebel movement.

Since 26 March, when the Saudi-led coalition began bombing rebel forces, at least 1,950 civilians have been killed and 4,271 wounded in air strikes and fighting on the ground, according to the UN.

The destruction of infrastructure and restrictions on imports imposed by a Saudi-led coalition carrying out air strikes against the rebels have led to 21 million people being deprived of life-sustaining commodities and basic services, and requiring help from aid organizations.

Just under half of Yemen’s population is under 18 and almost 400 children are among those to have been killed. The UN children’s fund (Unicef) warned on 19 August that an average of eight children were being killed or maimed every day.

An estimated 12.9 million people are now considered food insecure, an increase of 20% in six months, according to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). Six million are severely food insecure, while more than 1.2 million children are suffering from moderate acute malnutrition and half a million are severely malnourished.


Packing up a van and heading to Calais

A growing number of Britons with no previous aid experience are travelling to France, moved by the plight of refugees. Libby Freeman, a 33-year-old set designer from London, is one of a growing number of people from the UK who are sick of waiting for a political solution to the plight of migrants in Calais, France.

“I’ve no idea what to expect, but what I do know is that I have to do something. I can’t sit here and just watch,” says Freeman as she finishes filling her two white vans with donated tents – collected from a music festival this summer – shoes, winter clothing and a second-hand bicycle.

“The government aren’t looking at it as a humanitarian issue, they’re looking at it as a political issue. I find it unbelievable, it’s all about keeping them out, it’s so brazen, the government aren’t even pretending to help,” Freeman said.

Over the last week, Freeman raised £500 through her Crowdfunder page to buy sanitary items and toiletries that she made up into 50 wash bags to distribute at the camp. She set up collection points in several warehouses around east London.

“You don’t need humanitarian training to show support. If everyone saw stuff like I did in Calais, the world would be a better place.”

[The Guardian]

August 19 is World Humanitarian Day

In today’s volatile world, more than 100 million people need urgent, life-saving humanitarian aid just to survive. More than 60 million have been forced from their homes, in the worst displacement since the Second World War.

Dissemination of aid would not be possible without dedicated humanitarian workers around the world. This is why the UN general assembly designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day, in memory of the 22 colleagues killed in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad. It is a day to remember and pay tribute to all humanitarian workers killed as they seek to help the world’s most vulnerable people.

During 2014, 10 humanitarian workers lost their lives each month. Violent attacks against humanitarian workers were recorded in 27 countries. Those at greatest risk are often the national staff of aid organizations, women and men from countries affected by crises. Today we also celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the world. This spirit knows no national or cultural boundaries.

Violence and insecurity hamper the delivery of aid in many of today’s crises. This is unacceptable. The world should show zero tolerance to those in conflicts who flagrantly fail to respect and protect humanitarian workers in accordance with international humanitarian law.

[The Guardian]

Humanitarian crisis in Syria worsening

The top U.N. humanitarian official said Monday that the conflict in Syria continues to escalate and that he is “horrified” by what he’s seen. Stephen O’Brien spoke to reporters at the end of a three-day visit to Syria.”I am absolutely horrified by the total disregard for civilian life by all parties in this conflict,” he said.

Syria has been locked in a civil war since 2011. At least 250,000 Syrians have been killed, more than a million injured, and almost half of the population have been displaced, according to O’Brien.

Warning that the conflict in Syria undermines the security of the region and elsewhere, O’Brien called on the international community to give more. He said that the humanitarian appeal for the year is less than 30% funded, some three-quarters of the way into 2015. “It’s vital that we say that this is unacceptable ….,” O’Brien told CNN.

“Equally, we have to give space for the political track because there is no military solution to this. There is not even a humanitarian solution. We can do our best to try and save the lives and protect the civilians, but almost anything we do is never going to be enough,” he said.


Foreign aid can benefit United States

The United States should be doing more to help end global poverty.

Foreign aid is rarely talked about in the context of creating jobs. With small investments into impoverished regions, the United States can help improve the lives of many and create new markets for trade. Germany and South Korea once received foreign aid from the United States, and now they are reliable trade partners.

Beyond economic incentives, ending poverty is in the best interest of United State security. Countries with unstable economic and political systems provide havens for extremist groups. After the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1980, no international aid was brought to rebuild the war-torn region. Shortly after, al-Qaida took control and planned the 9/11 attacks.

The Iraq war cost the United States almost $2 trillion. Considering economists estimate $30 billion would be sufficient to end hunger globally, the United States and other developed nations can and should make poverty eradication a priority.

[Kevin Meyers, Wisconsin State Journal]

Celebrities donate their social media accounts to humanitarian refugees

Influential people are “donating” their social media accounts to refugees and humanitarians to raise the profile of worldwide conflicts.

In the lead-up to World Humanitarian Day (12 August), the UN invited people to hand over their Facebook and Twitter accounts to shine a light on stories that don’t always get the coverage they deserve.

A number of celebrities took up the challenge, with the Australian musician Cody Simpson giving his account to a Syrian refugee for a day so that he could document his journey from Damascus to Italy. Simpson, who has a Twitter following of more than 7.5 million people, provided a significant platform forThair Orfahli’s story.

Humanitarian aid for war-torn Central African Republic

The United Nations has allocated over $13 million dollars for the immediate distribution of life-saving assistance targeting those affected by the ongoing violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Organization’s relief arm reported today.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN’s Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), has released $13.2 million to help support local aid agencies deliver clean water, education, healthcare, livelihoods support, nutrition, protection, and shelter to people displaced by violence, returnees, refugees and vulnerable host communities.

“Thanks to donors who have contributed in 2015, this CHF allocation allows humanitarian partners to continue helping thousands of displaced people and host families,” said Aurélien Agbénonci, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in the African country. “However, it is only three per cent of the $415 million we still need by the end of the year if we are to save more lives and reach all people in acute need in 2015.”

More than two years of civil war and sectarian violence have displaced thousands of people in CAR amid ongoing clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka alliance and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian. In addition, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to operate in the south-eastern part of the country.

The UN estimates that some 450,000 people remain displaced inside the country while thousands of others have sought asylum across the borders. OCHA confirmed, however, that overall some 2.7 million people in the CAR remain in direct need of “urgent humanitarian assistance.”

[UN News Centre]

Going Above Two Percent Giving

Charitable giving has been stuck at 2 percent of U.S. GDP for 40 years, ever since we started measuring it. And in a world of increasing demands and ongoing fiscal belt-tightening — a world where government looks unlikely to step back in to support needed social programs — the nonprofit sector fundamentally has to contend with this fact: two percent just isn’t enough.

So what can we do in response? Basically, we have to do three things: 1) work to increase the amount people give, 2) make the most of every penny we get, and — crucially — 3) go beyond giving entirely.

Number 1 is the work of expert fundraisers, though it’s also the work of everyone else in the social sector. For one thing, we can encourage more giving by being better storytellers. We need to learn to express more clearly and creatively the problems we seek to address and the successes we are having. Too often nonprofit appeals and reports are wonky, overly complex, and just plain boring. Boring doesn’t inspire giving — great storytelling does.

Number 2 is the core work of most of us with jobs in the nonprofit sector, from the folks doing their best to deliver impact to the funders who support them. Rewarding organizations for under-investing in people, technology, effective management, and infrastructure is dumb.

And that brings us to number 3: getting beyond giving. At the end of the day, we are unlikely to get where we need to go merely by getting people to give more. While traditional donor-supported activities are critical to having large-scale impact, alone they probably won’t get us where we need to be. Many of our biggest challenges will require financially self-sustaining solutions. And we can find those solutions in at least two areas.

First, a growing pool of nonprofits employs business-like practices to sustain themselves. Second, as a century of American philanthropy has demonstrated, much of our best work is done when it’s in our economic self-interest. Whether by supporting socially-driven start-ups through impact investments or encouraging socially-driven innovation at major corporations through our purchasing power, we can move forward farther with the business community alongside us.

[Huffington Post]

International Red Cross says Yemen is ‘crumbling’ under humanitarian crisis

Yemen is “crumbling” under a deepening humanitarian crisis after months of civil war, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday.

Peter Maurer, the head of the Geneva-based humanitarian organization, said “The humanitarian situation is nothing short of catastrophic,” and called for all parties to negotiate a peace deal. “Medicines can’t get in so patient care is falling apart. Fuel shortages mean equipment doesn’t work. This cannot go on. Yemen is crumbling. As a matter of urgency, there must be free movement of goods into and across the country.”

Fighting between Iran-allied Houthi forces and pro-government militias has raged since March when the Houthis advanced towards the port of Aden.Iran denies that is supplying the Shiite Houthis with military aid.

A Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes since March in a bid to help pro-government forces restore President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi, in exile in Riyadh, to power.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says that nearly 4,000 people have been killed and 1.3 million forced to flee their homes during the conflict.