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]

Survival of a refugee family

A refugee mother looks out from the cement cylinder which has become her family’s home, while holding her seven-month-old baby, in Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Sameera, 20, looks out from her temporary home where the family is living until a shelter is built. Over 700,000 such Rohingya refugees fled into Bangladesh during an outbreak of violence in the Rakhine state. Satellite images released by Amnesty International provided evidence that security forces of Myanmar were trying to push the minority Muslim group out of the country.

World Refugee Day and Refugee Week

Refugee Week takes place every year across the world in the week around World Refugee Day on the 20th of June. In the UK, Refugee Week (June 18-24, 2018) is a nationwide program of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrate the contribution of refugees to the UK, and encourages a better understanding between communities.

Refugee Week started in 1998 as a direct reaction to hostility in the media and society in general towards refugees and asylum seekers and is now one of the leading national initiatives working to counter this negative climate.

The aims of Refugee Week are:

  • To encourage a diverse range of events to be held throughout the UK, which facilitate positive encounters between refugees and the general public in order to encourage greater understanding and overcome hostility
  • To showcase the talent and expertise that refugees bring with them to the UK
  • To explore new and creative ways of addressing the relevant issues and reach beyond the refugee sector
  • To provide information which educates and raises awareness of the reality of refugee experiences

Refugee Week is an umbrella festival, with events held by a wide range of arts, voluntary, faith and refugee community organizations, schools, student groups and more. Past events have included arts festivals, exhibitions, film screenings, theatre and dance performances, concerts, football tournaments and public talks, as well as creative and educational activities in schools.

UN Rights chief implores US to stop taking migrant children from parents

The United Nations’ top human rights official on Monday added to the mounting furor over the Trump administration’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents, calling for an immediate halt to a practice he condemned as abuse.

United States immigration authorities have detained almost 2,000 children in the past six weeks, which may cause them irreparable harm with lifelong consequences, said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights. He cited an observation by the president of the American Association of Pediatrics that locking the children up separately from their parents constituted “government-sanctioned child abuse.”

“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” Mr. al-Hussein said.

His intervention added to an escalating chorus of condemnation from people across the political spectrum in the United States, including the former first lady Laura Bush, who called the separations “cruel” and “immoral.”

The high commissioner’s office had already condemned the practice of separating children from their parents this month, calling it a serious violation of children’s rights and international law. That drew an angry rebuke from Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, who accused the agency of ignorance and hypocrisy.

[New York Times]

Pope presses for Yemen negotiations to avert worse humanitarian crisis

Pope Francis is pressing for negotiations involving the sides in the Yemen conflict so the humanitarian crisis doesn’t worsen. In public remarks Sunday, Francis said he was following “with worry the dramatic fate of the people of Yemen, already so exhausted from years of conflict.”

He appealed to the international community so that “no effort be spared to urgently bring to the negotiating table the sides in conflict and to avoid a worsening of the already tragic humanitarian situation.”

In Yemen, witnesses have reported that a Saudi-led coalition has carried out airstrikes on the airport in Yemen’s rebel-held port city of Hodeida. The port is the main entry point for food and aid to the country, which is already on the brink of famine.

[US News]

Europe and UNICEF team up to further assist Rohingya in Bangladesh

The European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations (ECHO) has provided US$ 2.6 million to UNICEF to ensure that children, adolescents and young women can live in a safe and protective environment free from Gender Based Violence (GBV) and with better access to social services.

The measures will benefit 41,500 children and adolescents living in Rohingya camps as well as local Bangladeshi people – known as the host community – who live alongside them. More than 693,000 refugees from Myanmar have arrived in Cox Bazar since August 2017 – more than half of them (an estimated 58 per cent) are children.

“This initiative will allow us to protect the most vulnerable and reduce the risks and vulnerability to further violations of their rights, such as exploitation, trafficking, gender-based violence, child marriage and child labor,” said UNICEF Bangladesh Representative, Edouard Beigbeder.

UNICEF is providing more than 182,000 children and adolescents with critical child protection services, including psychosocial support and assistance for unaccompanied children in the camps to retrace their parents. Recreational and other support mechanisms are also to be provided.

[ECHO/UNICEF]

Could the world’s worst humanitarian crisis get even worse?

The war campaign in Yemen has become a quagmire for the Saudis and their allies, who have killed thousands in bombing raids but have failed to recapture much of the country. Meanwhile, the health- care system has virtually collapsed, along with food supplies, making millions of Yemenis dependent on international aid.

The world’s worst humanitarian crisis may be about to get much worse. Some 8 million people are on the brink of famine and the worst cholera epidemic in history is raging, and now the country’s most important port has become the target of a new offensive in the three-year-old civil war. Forces backed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are seeking to cut off and eventually capture Hodeida, a city of 700,000 that is the entry point of 70 percent of the aid shipments keeping millions of civilians alive.

The Saudis and some advocates in Washington contend that if Hodeida’s port could be seized from the Houthis, aid shipments would improve, while the smuggling of Iranian missiles would stop. But aid groups see it differently. The offensive, they say, is likely to meet stiff resistance, and even if successful could take weeks or months. Any sustained interruption in shipping to Hodeida could tip the country into famine — and make it virtually impossible to combat the spread of cholera, which has already infected more than 1 million people.

[Washington Post]

The US has lost track of 1,500 immigrant children that they separated from their parents

At a Senate hearing earlier this month, US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Trump Administration policy will refer everyone caught crossing the border illegally for prosecution, even if they are claiming they deserve asylum or have small children. Any parents who are prosecuted as a result will be separated from their children in the process.

In April, a New York Times investigation estimated that more than 700 children, including 100 under the age of 4, had been taken from their parents at the southern border since October, citing federal Department of Homeland Security officials. The U.S. government then places these children into the homes of sponsors or caregivers.

While testifying before a Senate subcommittee on April 26, Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, said the Office of Refugee Resettlement was not able to account for the whereabouts of 1,475 migrant children it had placed.

Now President Donald Trump is blaming Democrats for his administration’s controversial policy of taking children away from parents caught unlawfully crossing into the United States with them, a practice the White House says is a deterrent to illegal immigration.

The president’s criticism of the “horrible” policy comes less than a month after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings. “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” he warned.

Trump’s tweet came a day after Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., attacked his policy of splitting up children and parents. “There are many ways to describe the @realDonaldTrump policy of ripping children away from their parents at the border. It violates human rights laws. It is unAmerican. It would shock Jesus. But I think the most appropriate way to describe it is this: The policy is evil,” Lieu tweeted.

[ABC News]