Russia and US eyeing joint plan for return of Syrian refugees

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed resolving the crisis in Syria and how to return refugees who fled the war-torn country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed, “There was a discussion between President Trump and President Putin about the resolution in Syria and how we might get the refugees back. It’s important to the world that at the right time through a voluntary mechanism these refugees are able to return to their home country.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said on July 20 that it sent Washington a proposal for drawing up a joint action plan to bring Syrian refugees living in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and elsewhere back to the places where they lived before Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011 — a goal repeatedly espoused by Trump since taking office.

The Russian ministry estimates that over 1.7 million Syrian refugees would be able to return to Syria in the near future, including an estimated 890,000 refugees from Lebanon, 300,000 from Turkey, and 200,000 who are living in European Union countries.

Washington and Moscow back opposing sides in the Syrian war, with Russia’s intervention on the side of President Bashar al-Assad having helped turn the conflict in favor of the government, particularly in the last year. So the proposed joint plan of action on refugees is remarkable in that it appears to presuppose that the war is coming to an end without a negotiated settlement and the country is now in a resettlement and reconstruction phase — a view often espoused by Russia but not previously openly endorsed by Washington.

[Reuters, AFP, and Interfax]

Engage local women to lead humanitarian action

Women are disproportionately impacted by conflicts and disasters. The World Health Organization reports that disasters such as droughts, floods, and storms kill more women than men as a result of structural gender inequalities, including women’s lack of influence or control over decision-making. A majority of the 1 in 8 people around the world who experience hunger are women. About two-thirds of Syrian refugees worldwide are women or children.

And what can be done to more greatly promote  women as agents of change?

  • Put women at the helm in times of disaster. – There is increasing evidence that women’s leadership and involvement contributes to better disaster preparedness and risk reduction,more effective and efficient response, and stronger peace building.
  • Lead locally.While transforming gender roles is a project that will take generations, it can be jump-started in moments of crisis. And international NGOs can play an important role in making that change by putting local actors in the lead. As we work to redress power imbalances in the humanitarian system, women leaders are an important constituency that deserves greater attention.
  • Provide training and resources. We must view and support women as active agents in humanitarian action. With training and resources, capable local organizations can provide the support people require, including preparing for and preventing disasters, promoting gender equality, and paying attention to the different needs of women and girls.

When women’s voices, leadership, and needs are prioritized, whole nations benefit.

[Devex]

France and Russia to jointly deliver humanitarian aid to Syria

France and Russia will jointly deliver humanitarian aid to the former Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, the French Presidency announced Friday, while it was also revealed that Moscow has offered to work with the US on returning Syrian refugees.

The French foreign ministry said that the first cargo plane, loaded with 50 tons of medical equipment and essential goods, would take off from Chateauroux Friday evening and head towards Russia’s Hmeimim air base in the west of Syria. It will be the first joint humanitarian aid operation between Russia and a western country.

The aid will be distributed on Saturday under the supervision of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA).

France had secured “guarantees” from Russia that the Syrian regime would not obstruct the distribution of the aid, and that it would not be misappropriated or diverted for political purposes, the foreign ministry said.

It was also revealed Moscow has put forward plans to Washington to cooperate on the safe return of refugees to Syria, days after a summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

“Specific proposals on how work could be organized to ensure that refugees can return home have been sent to the American side,” senior ministry official, General Mikhail Mizintsev, said in a statement. The proposals “take into account the agreements reached by the Russian and American presidents during their meeting in Helsinki” on Monday, he said.

 [AFP and Reuters]

The death rate for migrants crossing the Mediterranean is skyrocketing

While migrant arrivals crossing the Mediterranean have reduced dramatically over the last two years, the proportion of deaths per attempted crossing has spiked. An analysis of recent data by UNHCR and the Missing Migrants Project shows that over the last six months, 28 of every 1,000 migrants died undertaking the boat journey over the Mediterranean. That figure is not far off the all-time high set in early 2017.

Until 2016, migrants undertook the dangerous sea journey across the Aegean Sea in their bid to reach Greece. But that route was effectively closed off once the European Union (EU) signed a deal with Turkey in 2016, which saw Turkey receive billions in aid in return for agreeing to take back migrants who cross over to Greece.

One of the few routes left for migrants was the Central Mediterranean route. With the devastating civil war in Libya, and restrictive fences and border patrols at other routes, more migrants who opted for the Central Mediterranean route believed they were less likely to be returned if detected by authorities. But this route, in which migrants can be stranded at sea for weeks, remains the most dangerous.Just last week, more than 200 migrants drowned at sea in the Mediterranean.

But even the Central Mediterranean route is slowly being cordoned off. In November 2017, the EU signed a controversial deal with Libyan authorities to intercept migrants and return them to detention centers. The Italian government, with the backing of the EU, has also severely restricted NGO rescue boasts in the area. The UN described the deal as “inhuman,” while campaigners have accused the Libyan coast guard of abandoning migrants at sea.

[UNHCR]

Why there isn’t enough money to address poverty

To provide basic education for every student in the world would require 6 Billion dollars

To provide water and sanitation for everyone in the world would require 9 Billion dollars

To provide reproductive health for all women worldwide would require 12 Billion dollars

To provide basic health and nutrition for the world would require          13 Billion dollars

Read more on the subject

Warren Buffett following through on his Giving Pledge

Warren Buffett just donated $3.4 billion to five charitable foundations. The massive philanthropic effort is a part of Buffett’s lifetime pledge to divest part of his stock in Berkshire Hathaway each year.

Buffett, 87, announced the pledge in 2006. His donations — which total about $31 billion to date — go to five organizations including the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, named for his wife and run by his children, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2010, Buffett partnered with Gates to create the Giving Pledge, a public commitment through which billionaires commit to donating half of their wealth to philanthropic causes of their choice. As of May 2018, there are 183 pledgers from 22 countries. The list includes the cofounders of Airbnb, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, former New York City mayor and Bloomberg CEO Michael Bloomberg, and Oracle founder Larry Ellison.

Buffett is the world’s third-wealthiest person with a net worth of about $83 billion, trailing only Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Gates. On Monday, it was announced that Bezos is the richest person in “modern history.” His worth recently hit $150 billion. Bezos has yet to sign onto Gates’s and Buffett’s pledge.

“I’m not an enthusiast for dynastic wealth, particularly when 6 billion others have much poorer hands than we do in life,” Buffett famously said in 2006.

He updated his pledge in 2010, writing: “More than 99% of my wealth will go to philanthropy during my lifetime or at death. Measured by dollars, this commitment is large. In a comparative sense, though, many individuals give more to others every day.”

[Yahoo News]

Worsening crisis in Gaza following new Israeli import and export restrictions

On 16 July, Israeli authorities announced that they would restrict the entry into the Gaza Strip of fuel and cooking gas through Kerem Shalom crossing, the only operational commercial crossing between Gaza and the outside world. The restrictions follow the imposition of a new set of severe restrictions by the Israeli authorities on 9 July, wherein only food, medical supplies, animal fodder, livestock and fuels would be allowed into Gaza. The entry of all other items, including building materials, furniture, wood, electronics and fabric, was halted, as was the exit of all goods.

Also on 16 July, the Government of Israel announced a reduction in the permissible fishing zone from six to three nautical miles, preventing fishermen from accessing 85 per cent of the fishing areas agreed for Gaza under the Oslo Agreements, with direct impact on some 50,000 Palestinians who rely on fishing for their livelihood. This followed the 9 July termination of a previous extension of the fishing area along the southern coast of Gaza, from six to nine nautical miles.

Today, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, visited the Gaza Strip and called for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration in the humanitarian situation there, following intensified movement restrictions.

“I am deeply concerned about the imposition of further restrictions at Kerem Shalom, which is the lifeline for Gaza’s population. Should they continue, these additional restrictions risk triggering a dramatic deterioration in an already fragile situation and desperate humanitarian conditions, particularly for the health sector,” McGoldrick said.

Of particular concern is the impact that shortfalls in fuel will have on the provision of critical health, water and sanitation services in Gaza, especially with electricity cuts up to 20 hours per day. These developments come against the backdrop of a worrying escalation in hostilities in recent days; some 15,000 Palestinian injuries since 30 March in the context of demonstrations; launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza towards Israel; a health system on the verge of collapse; and an 11-year humanitarian crisis created by an Israeli blockade that has raised concerns over collective punishment and an internal Palestinian political divide. Simultaneously, historically low levels of funding, along with the unprecedented financial crisis facing UNRWA, leave humanitarian partners ill positioned to meet increasing needs or responding to any further deterioration.

[UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]

An overview of the grand challenges in humanitarian aid

The gap between the magnitude of humanitarian need and the global capacity to respond is massive and growing.

Humanitarian crises directly affect more than 140 million people in 37 countries, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). More than 65 million of these people have been forcibly displaced from their homes — the highest level since the Second World War. Nearly 60% are currently in Africa and the Middle East, including in Turkey, Lebanon, Uganda and Ethiopia1. The rest include refugees, asylum seekers, people displaced internally, those not yet seeking asylum and many more.

Much of this humanitarian need derives from violent conflicts and civil wars that target civilians and their support systems, including shelters and hospitals. Much also follows natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and drought. With climate change, it is highly likely that some of these disasters will get worse and more frequent.

All of these people need aid, and the funds available are increasingly inadequate1. Just one-third of the US$25.4 billion required for humanitarian aid for 2018 will be covered. In other words, the current humanitarian system is buckling. It desperately needs much more programme funding to close the gap.

At the same time, it needs more funding for innovative solutions: uses of technology, products and processes from other sectors; new forms of partnership; and drawing on the ideas and coping capacities of crisis-affected people — in a way that is iterative and rigorously evaluated. A balance of the two types of funding would help the humanitarian system to become more efficient and more effective.

 [Nature]

World Cup puts a different spotlight on immigrations in Europe

At a time when populist politicians are trying to choke off or reroute migration flows, what matters to fans of the teams that made the World Cup semifinals–England, France, Belgium, and Croatia–wasn’t the players’ ancestry but that they excelled on the field.

When France’s xenophobic fringes disparage the country’s diverse World Cup team as more African than European, fans say, “So what?” And then respond with a resounding “Allez les Bleus!”

Europe has been enjoying the benefits of migration for centuries, and the diverse rosters at this year’s World Cup are just the latest example. When England faced Croatia in the semifinals, it fielded a team with 11 of 23 players of African or Caribbean descent. Several Croatian players were also foreign-born. And there’s the Algerian-Cameroonian roots of France’s 19-year-old breakout star Kylian Mbappe.

Laurent Dubois, a historian at Duke University, says, “Football allows us to put immigration on stage, a question that is agitating European countries right now.

Yvan Gastaut, a University of Nice historian adds: “For people who see immigration as a danger, this World Cup story won’t resolve that. But it allows us to take stock of the reality of the world, of mobility, movements, multiple identities.” Soon, he predicts, European countries will reach a point where diverse team rosters don’t matter, and “we can focus on something else other than what are our origins.”

That seems a distant dream in some quarters.

 [AP]

It doesn’t get worse than Afghanistan

The United States originally sent troops to Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, in order to capture Osama bin Laden and topple the Taliban government, which had refused to give bin Laden up. But bin Laden is now dead–that’s D-E-A-D, dead–as are most of his close associates. So, the original rationale that took the United States into the heart of Central Asia is now irrelevant.

Unfortunately, the United States and its allies also decided the time was ripe to turn Afghanistan into some sort of Western-style liberal democracy, despite its lack of democratic traditions, deep internal divisions, high levels of illiteracy, poverty, interfering neighbors, and other significant obstacles. And Washington has been pursuing that elusive grail ever since, with about as much success as you’d expect.

At last count, that war has cost the United States more than a trillion dollars, and it is still costing American taxpayers some $45 billion per year. More than 2,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed and thousands more wounded, along with hundreds of contractors and coalition partners and thousands of Afghan civilians, soldiers, and police.

Today, the Taliban control more territory than at any time since they were ousted from power. Opium production is at an all-time high as well, despite the billions of dollars the United States has spent on various eradication plans. The Afghan government remains irredeemably corrupt, internally divided, and ineffective. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction have documented the remarkably low payoff received for all the US investment. Numerous aid projects ended up over budget or unfinished, with vast sums disappearing into the black hole of Afghan corruption.

Wars like this continue in part because 1) no one wants to fess up and admit the United States is not omnipotent, 2) they are being fought by volunteers rather than draftees, 3) U.S. casualty rates are now quite low, and 4) because it is easy to get distracted by Trump’s latest outrage and forget about a distant war that is rarely mentioned on radio or TV and is mostly confined to the back pages of the newspaper. And so, the war drones on, no pun intended, with little hope of either victory or withdrawal.

 [Foreign Policy]