Escalating Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Syria

The global relief organization Mercy Corps is deeply concerned about the escalating humanitarian crisis unfolding in southern Syria, as civilians continue to flee the violence and are unable to access life-saving essentials.

“The number of people fleeing this latest offensive has more than tripled in the past few days,” says Arnaud Quemin, Mercy Corps Country Director for Syria. “People are fleeing with whatever few items they can carry — or nothing at all.”

The United Nations estimates there are now more than 160,000 displaced people in southern Syria. Vast numbers of civilians are moving towards the Israeli and Jordanian borders, which remain closed.

“With nowhere to go, tens of thousands of displaced people are stranded in open and unprotected areas,” says Quemin. “Our team members and partners are providing food, clean water and other essentials even while they themselves flee the fighting. Many do not foresee being able to return home anytime soon due to the insecurity.”

[Relief Web]

The Red Cross in North Korea

The Red Cross is one of few humanitarian organizations working in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as North Korea is formally called.The work of the Red Cross is based on its seven fundamental principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality.

“The humanitarian situation is worrying with over ten million people in need of humanitarian assistance. As political processes continue, we hope there is space for discussions to include the importance of improved humanitarian cooperation,” says Åsa Sandberg, Head of Desk at the Swedish Red Cross.

Åsa was moved by the kindness extended to her wherever she went. “I sat down with people in the villages to better understand their needs. They get by with very few means, but possess such resilience and dignity.”

One of the challenges the country is facing is access to clean water. Many people fetch water in the river or struggle with shallow wells. Overall, there are six million people who suffer from a lack of clean water and improved sanitation.

“An elderly couple that I met had difficulty getting access to safe water from the well near their home, and for years they struggled with buckets, sometimes finding only a few drops of water. Now we have installed a water management system in their house, and they won’t have to worry about clean drinking water anymore. It was a joy to hear how well it works,” adds Åsa.

[International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies]

EU reaches deal on migration

European Union leaders announced early Friday that they had reached a compromise deal on migration, an issue that has created a political crisis and threatens to undermine the bloc.Italy’s new populist government had threatened to block progress on other, uncontroversial issues until the migration text was addressed to its satisfaction.

While details were sketchy, the leaders agreed in principle, at least, on how to shore up their external borders and create screening centers for migrants, to decide more quickly whether or not they are legitimate refugees. The leaders agreed to establish voluntary screening centers on European soil, to ease the burden on countries like Italy, Spain and Greece where migrants first arrive and are registered. They also agreed to study setting up similar centers outside Europe, in North Africa, for example, to screen migrants before they arrive.

One potential hurdle for the deal is the fact that the European Union has no uniform rules or procedures for asylum, making it unclear what rules would be applied in a screening center, whether inside or outside Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had even more at stake than the Italians, under pressure from within her own government to solve the problem of migrants coming into Germany after having registered in other countries.

“We still have a lot of work to do to bridge the different views,” Merkel said after the discussions, which a senior European official described as sometimes virulent.

[New York Times]

Humanitarian ship carrying rescued migrants arrives in Malta

A humanitarian ship, The Lifeline, operated by German charity Mission Lifeline, that has had about 230 rescued migrants on board for almost a week docked in Malta on Wednesday, ending a standoff with Italy which refused to let the ship into one of its ports.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said seven European Union countries had offered to share the burden of the migrants with Malta. “The Maltese government took the lead on a solution before the situation escalated to a humanitarian crisis,” he added, emphasizing, however, that the small island nation was not legally bound to take in the vessel.

Muscat said that permitting the ship to dock in Malta was a one-time, or “ad hoc,” resolution to the standoff. While 650,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea since 2014, Malta has allowed in only those needing urgent medical care.

The Lifeline is the second charity ship that Italy has shut out of its ports this month after the new anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said private rescue vessels would no longer be welcome because they “cannot dictate Italy’s immigration policy.”

Immigration has become an urgent political issue across the EU in recent weeks, since the new Italian government took power earlier this month and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s coalition split over the issue.

[Reuters]

The impact of refugee presence on host populations

It is widely understood that host populations are affected by a sudden and large influx of refugees. Precisely how they are affected, however, remains under-researched and often ill-communicated.

Tanzania is a country with a large refugee population, partly because of its location (surrounded by countries periodically affected by conflict) and its decades-long history in welcoming and assisting large numbers of refugees.

Tanzania’s experience of accommodating refugees dates back to the colonial era. Since its independence in 1962, Tanzania is considered one of the most hospitable countries in the world.

Unlike several other hosting countries, there exists a considerable body of qualitative, mixed-methods and empirical literature on the Tanzania situation, mostly analyzing the impact of refugee inflows from Burundi (1993) and Rwanda (1994) on host districts, and how this impacts the labor market, environment, health and other areas.

Given the depth and breadth of evidence that can be drawn from the Tanzanian experience, it serves an insightful case study from which policy lessons can be learned from and applied by various governments across the world faced with significant refugee and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) populations, as well as the humanitarian and development actors involved in supporting them.

See World Bank report on Tanzania’s refugee policy and practice

[UN High Commissioner for Refugees]

Rich and mid-income countries must welcome more refugees

1.4 million refugees will need resettlement in 2019, according to new figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but the number of places available do not match needs.

The Norwegian Refugee Council calls for rich and mid-income countries to increase the number of people they admit for resettlement. “The shocking lack of compassion and willingness among many rich and mid-income countries to take their share of responsibility and provide refugees with resettlement has resulted in a large and dangerous back-log,” said Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.

In the US, a country that normally has received the largest number of people for resettlement, the quotas have been cut by two thirds after Donald Trump became president. Denmark, another country that used to contribute substantially, has ended their program, and also Norway has reduced the number of places available.

“We should be able to expect countries that have the economy to host World Cups,
Eurovision or Olympic Games, to also have the capacity to host some of the world’s refugees who currently cannot find protection where they are,” Egeland said.

“The lack of resettlement places globally feeds the smuggling industry and pushes desperate people to embark on dangerous journeys,” added Egeland.

[Norwegian Refugee Council]

A humane solution needed for those who cross the southern US border

It has become clear in the days since President Trump signed an executive order supposedly barring the routine practice of taking children from parents who illegally cross the border from Mexico that the chaos — and anguish — continue.

Many of the 2,500 children separated from their parents since the administration started implementing its zero-tolerance policy in the spring remain in shelters and foster homes all over the country. Some are of very young. Exactly where and under what conditions the children are being held is not clear since officials have largely refused to share information. They also have allowed little access to the facilities, even for lawmakers and local officials.

They appear to have devoted little thought or effort to reunifying families, a process that even under the best of circumstances has legal and logistical challenges. “It’s just a total labyrinth,” said one Texas attorney. One legal aid organization is representing more than 300 parents but has been able to locate only two children. The Los Angeles Times detailed the story of a man sent back to Guatemala without his 6-year-old daughter, who remains at an undisclosed shelter in New York, crying constantly, according to social workers.

A federal public defender in El Paso wrote in The Post about a judge who was incredulous that a jail system that gives you a receipt when it takes your wallet gives you nothing — “not even a slip of paper” — when it takes your children. Said another attorney, “Either the government wasn’t thinking at all about how they were going to put these families back together, or they decided they just didn’t care.”

[Washington Post]

International Widows’ Day – Stigmatized, shunned and shamed

On its website dedicated to International Widow’s Day, the United Nations calls the abuse of widows and their children “one of the most serious violations of human rights and obstacles to development today.”

Across a wide range of countries, religions and ethnic groups, when a woman’s husband dies, she is left destitute – often illiterate or uneducated with no access to credit or other economic resources – rendering her unable to support herself or her family, according to the UN.

According to UN Women’s 2018 Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, nearly one-in-ten of the estimated 258 million widows globally live in extreme poverty – with little or no input to policies impacting their survival.

In 2010 the General Assembly set aside 23 June each year to pay tribute to the millions of living spouses who endure extreme poverty, ostracism, violence, homelessness and discrimination.

While violence against women is one of the most widespread violations of human rights, widows may be at particularly high risk. In many countries widows find themselves the victims of physical and mental violence – including sexual abuse – related to inheritance, land and property disputes.

Moreover, they often endure poor nutrition, inadequate shelter and vulnerability to violence – combined with a lack of access to health care. Although they are frequently rape victims and, through economic insecurity, sometimes driven to sex work, their gynecological needs often go unaddressed.

[UN]

As aid dries up, Gaza families pushed deeper into poverty

Large numbers of Gaza families have been pushed deeper into poverty in recent months by the freezing of U.S. aid. Life is tougher than ever for most of the 2 million Palestinians locked into tiny, blockaded Gaza, where electricity is off most hours of the day, unemployment approaches 50 percent and the Islamic militant group Hamas rules with a tight grip.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Hilary DuBose of the Catholic Relief Services, which has had to forego emergency food distributions because the Trump administration is withholding funds. “At the same time that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is worsening, humanitarian aid is disappearing.”

Growing despair in Gaza has helped drive recent Hamas-led protests against the border blockade by Israel and Egypt. The closure was imposed after Hamas, branded a terrorist group by Israel and the West, seized Gaza in 2007, driving out forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, in the past two months, more than 115 Palestinians have been killed and close to 3,800 wounded by Israeli fire in near-weekly border protests, with some facing lifelong disabilities.

Along with the Palestinian Authority, the U.N. has been instrumental in propping up Gaza’s fragile economy. Need has grown exponentially, with some 1 million people in Gaza now receiving U.N. food aid, compared to 80,000 two decades ago, said agency spokesman Chris Gunness.

At the same time, the Trump administration has blown a $305 million hole into the agency’s annual $1.2 billion budget–the result of a decision earlier this year to suspend most aid to the Palestinians until further notice. With the exception of the funds already spent this year, all U.S. assistance to the Palestinians is under review. This includes projects funded by USAID and the State Department, including health, education, good governance and security cooperation programs.

[Associated Press]

Record number of people forcibly displaced in 2017

Every two seconds, someone in the world was forcibly displaced in 2017, according to a new report by the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Due to wars, violence and persecution, 68.5 million people were forced to flee their homes by the end of 2017 — a record high and a trend that has continued for five years.

More than half of those displaced, which included refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people, were children, many unaccompanied or separated from their parents, the UNHCR’s Global Trends report found.

The crisis in Democratic Republic of the Congo, war in South Sudan and the plight of 700,000 Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh, were big contributors.

UNHCR dispelled several incorrect “perceptions” of the global refugee crisis. “Among these is the notion that the world’s displaced are mainly in countries of the Global North. The data shows the opposite to be true — with fully 85 per cent of refugees in developing countries.”

In 2017, Turkey remained the largest host nation, with a population of 3.5 million refugees, while Lebanon had the greatest number in comparison to its population.

[TIME]