7-year-old migrant girl dies in US Border Patrol custody

The headline alone made my heart sink. “7-year-old migrant girl taken into Border Patrol custody dies of dehydration, exhaustion.” I felt a wave of deep sadness, but no surprise.

The girl was reportedly taken into United States Border Patrol custody last week along with her father. More than eight hours later, she began having seizures. Emergency responders measured her temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to the Border Patrol, she had not had anything to eat or drink for several days.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch reported how the US Border Patrol is harming children and families by detaining them in inhumane jail-like conditions. Migrant families commonly call the border jails hieleras, or freezers, for their frigid temperatures. These sometimes lack sufficient beds for families, leaving children to sleep on cold concrete floors.

None of this is new. In my five years at Human Rights Watch, I’ve spoken with countless migrants, including families, about their experiences in these abusive detention centers. One asylum-seeking mother detained with her 18-month old told me this summer that she was worried her daughter was dehydrated. “I’m having a hard time making enough milk, because I’m not getting enough food,” she said. “And I don’t want to ask for a doctor because I’m afraid it will hurt my case.”

Another mom from Guatemala I interviewed after she was released from Border Patrol custody in Arizona in 2014 had been detained with her 10-year-old US citizen son. She was bringing him to the US to seek medical care. Her son has a disability that makes it impossible for him to walk, talk, or chew and requires that he eat liquefied food. During their three days in CBP detention, Border Patrol provided no food that her son could eat. “He fainted twice,” the woman said. “I was very worried. I said I needed help and Border Patrol said I couldn’t get help.”

This brave mother put her finger on exactly the problem with US Border Patrol jails. They are built to punish – not to help – and that includes children like the 7-year-old who died last week. Authorities should urgently investigate her case, but more broadly, the US government should be asking itself why children are in these cells in the first place.

[Clara Long, Human Rights Watch]

U.S. Senate votes to end US military support in Yemen

The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution calling for an end to US military support to the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen war. The measure marked the first time the Senate had invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution to seek to curb the power of the president to take the US into an armed conflict. It marked a significant bipartisan rebuke to the Trump administration, which lobbied intensively against it.

The independent senator Bernie Sanders who had pushed the resolution persistently throughout the year, called it “a historic moment”.

He said: “Today we declare we will not long participate in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen which has caused the worst humanitarian crisis on earth,with 85,000 children starving to death. Today we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will no longer be part of their military adventurism.”

“For decades, under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, [with both] Republican Congresses and Democratic Congresses, the Congress of the United States has abdicated its constitutional responsibility for war-making,“ Sanders said.

“It is not the president who has the responsibility under the Constitution to send our young men and women to war, it is the Congress. And we have got to take it back,” added Sanders while discussing the effort in the Senate to bring U.S. involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen to an end.

Moments after the Senate vote to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen,  senators also unanimously approved a separate resolution to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia personally responsible for the death of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

[The Guardian]

The countries most at risk of humanitarian disaster in 2019

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has identified Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan,Afghanistan and Venezuela as the countries most at risk for major humanitarian crises going into 2019.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the IRC, said these countries are the “best evidence of the world’s fragility.”

The next five countries on the most at-risk list are Central African Republic, Syria, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Miliband told Axios that one of the things that keeps him up at night is that the “traditional sources of compassion and humanitarian assistance in the West are turning their back on these people.”

According to Miliband, the political climate in the U.S. with respect to refugees “has gone from relatively benign, to quite toxic.”

[Axios]

Refugee teens in Austrian schools straddle different worlds

Lilas Almalaki didn’t know a word of German when she enrolled in an Austrian middle school two months after fleeing her war-torn homeland in 2015, so she relied on the proficient English she learned as a top student in Syria to keep the bullies in place.

Hassan Husseini didn’t speak German either and had never spent a day in a classroom when he arrived as an Afghan refugee the same year. He had a tougher time when picked on.

Despite their differences, the two teens share the same challenge. Like the nearly 10,000 other school-age children who arrived in Austria during Europe’s largest modern influx of refugees, school is where they must learn to bridge different worlds: one that has shaped their families and identities, and the other where they hope to prosper in peace.

Immigration and the integration of 2.5 million people who the European Union says sought asylum in 2015 and 2016 are issues across Europe. On the front lines are the schools, where teachers, administrators, psychologists and parents are clashing over the future of the next generation.

“The children are living in two worlds,” says Andrea Walach, the principal at Hassan’s middle school in Vienna, where only seven of more than 200 students speak German at home. “One world is school … but when they are at home, all of this is forgotten.”

51 percent of the quarter-million students in Vienna’s schools speak languages other than German in their daily life, according a 2018 report.

That number goes up to more than 70 percent in vocational middle schools like Hassan’s, pathways to apprenticeships in trades that must accept anyone who applies.

[Associated Press]

Warming and melting Arctic has ‘cascading effects’ around the globe

In the year 2018, surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at roughly twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe. It was the second warmest year, second only to 2016, on record in the Arctic since 1900, at +1.7 C relative to the long-term average between 1981 and 2010. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 2018 Arctic Report Card was released on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting.

The report includes a series of 14 essays written by more than 80 scientists from 12 countries. “This report will also help guide NOAA’s priorities in better understanding the role of the Arctic in climate change and extreme weather; sustaining and growing fisheries; and supporting adaptation and economic opportunities in the region,” said Retired Navy Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, Ph.D., acting undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA.

This year’s report shows that the Arctic region experienced the second-highest air temperatures ever recorded, the second-lowest overall sea-ice coverage, lowest recorded winter ice in the Bering Sea and earlier plankton blooms due to early melting of sea ice in the Bering Sea. The Arctic Ocean has lost 95 percent of its oldest, thickest ice. In 2018, Arctic sea ice remained younger and thinner and covered less area than in the past.

“When I look at the report, one of the big takeaways from this year is that it really shows how interconnected things are,” Dr. Donald Perovich, professor at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, said at the press conference. “We’re really starting to see cascading effects that we don’t fully understand.”

[AccuWeather]

Marine heat waves, drought and heavy rains all bore the fingerprints of climate change

Climate change isn’t just exacerbating extreme weather. Some events wouldn’t happen without it, according to a major scientific report just released.

They include a marine heat wave in the Tasman Sea off the coast of Australia last year. Ocean temperatures soared 2.5 degrees Celsius (or about 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal. The record-breaking event would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change, according to the report, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

It’s the second year in a row that researchers found that climbing temperatures are causing events that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

The report includes studies of 16 extreme weather events occurring in 2017, conducted by more than 100 scientists from around the world. In each case, the events were subjected to an attribution analysis—a special kind of study that determines whether, and to what extent, climate change has influenced an individual weather event. These attribution studies typically use models to simulate conditions with and without the existence of climate change.

This year, a majority—although not all—of the studied events were found to have been influenced by climate change.

[Scientific American]

Fate of humanity weighing heavy on ministerial shoulders at UN Climate Change Conference

Government Ministers gathering in Poland will need extreme courage and conviction to make life-saving decisions if humanity is to be saved from the worst impacts of climate change, Oxfam and CARE International said.

Despite it forming the key scientific input to this year’s UN Climate Change Conference, COP24, a handful of countries blocked inclusion of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leaving it to ministers to ensure the report is put back into the heart of conference outcomes.

Sven Harmeling, CARE’s Global Policy Lead on Climate Change and Resilience, said: “The landmark science report on 1.5°C has shown that we need immediate action to reduce emissions now, not in the future. This week, we expect ministers to no longer hide behind the inaction of the United States and Saudi Arabia, to no longer stay silent, but to speak up for both agreed rules on implementing the Paris Agreement and enhanced national action plans. This is essential to lead us towards roughly halving emissions by 2030 compared to today.”

Kristen Hite, Oxfam Climate Change Policy Lead, said: “It’s unacceptable that despite the clear findings of the IPCC governments are still refusing to see the writing on the wall … There is real energy and leadership amongst from states, but how many more people need to die from drought-induced hunger or thirst before everyone agrees to limit global warming? How many more communities should burn, or drown?”

Oxfam and CARE are also calling on governments to agree on strict accounting rules which ensure that only dedicated funding for real climate action gets counted towards the $100 billion per year which developing countries have been promised.

[CARE/Oxfam]

Climate Change Conference in Poland

A wide range of scientists, engineers and thinkers agree that we have the technological capacity to stem global warming, keeping temperatures below the 1.5°C target that scientists warn would bring some of the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

This is the challenge that has drawn thousands of politicians, policymakers, scientists and advocates from around the world here to Katowice, Poland, this month for the most significant United Nations climate conference since the landmark gathering that resulted in the Paris Agreement in 2015. The more than 20,000 people assembled in this industrial city at the heart of Polish coal industry will play a pivotal role keeping the Paris Agreement on track to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, leading climate officials say. Failure could derail the delicate multilateral process that has taken decades to reach this point.

“After three years we’re still negotiating the work plan to deliver on the Paris Agreement,” María Fernanda Espinosa, president of the U.N. General Assembly, tells TIME. “We really need some political traction and some real commitment.”

The key issue at hand is the so-called rulebook, a technical document that lays out how countries report on their progress to address climate change. Do developing countries have to abide by the same standards as their wealthy counterparts? How can we ensure that the reporting is transparent? The questions may sound simple, but they’re enough to flummox seasoned climate policy experts whose views vary wildly.

And, climate negotiators warn that if the rulebook doesn’t come together, countries may not be willing to commit to take bigger steps to reduce their emissions.

[TIME]

South Sudan’s man-made crisis

Since gaining its independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has struggled to fulfill the promise of a new nation, eventually descending into civil war in late 2013. The country continues to bear the devastating human and financial costs of a complex conflict with ever-changing armed and political actors.

South Sudan has received significant humanitarian aid from the United States and the international community for decades. Since 2011, total humanitarian funding surpassed $9.5 billion. Aid organizations face an array of humanitarian access constraints while working to address the acute needs of 7 million people, roughly half of the country.

Since 2013, more than 4 million South Sudanese, or approximately 1 in 3 of its citizens, 85 percent of whom are women and children, have been forced from home. Of the 7 million people currently in need of humanitarian aid, 5.3 million are food insecure. A recent study showed that the conflict has led to almost 400,000 deaths since late 2013.

Although there is cause for cautious optimism after a peace agreement was signed in September 2018, these humanitarian needs will only grow in the absence of sustainable peace and a political solution to the man-made crisis in South Sudan.

[Center for Strategic and International Studies]

Rescue ship forced to terminate operations in Mediterranean

European policies and obstruction tactics have forced the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its partner SOS Méditerranée to terminate the lifesaving operations carried out by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius, the last dedicated rescue boat operating in the Central Mediterranean.

“This is a dark day,” said Nelke Manders, MSF’s general director. “Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed.”

Over the past two months, with people continuing to flee by sea along the world’s deadliest migration route, the Aquarius has remained in port in Marseille, unable to carry out its humanitarian work. This is the result of a sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimize, slander, and obstruct aid organizations providing assistance to vulnerable people. Coupled with the European Union’s (EU) ill-conceived external policies on migration, this campaign has undermined international law and humanitarian principles. With no immediate solution to these attacks, MSF and SOS Méditerranée have no choice but to end the Aquarius’ operations.

The forced end to the Aquarius’ operations happens at a critical time: an estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018, with departures from Libya accounting for the overwhelming majority of deaths.

“Today, Europe is directly supporting forced returns while claiming successes on migration,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF’s head of emergencies. “Let’s be clear about what that success means: a lack of lifesaving assistance at sea; children, women, and men pushed back to arbitrary detention with virtually no hope of escape. … As long as people are drowning and trapped in Libya, MSF remains committed to finding ways to provide them with medical and humanitarian care.”

Since the start of its search and rescue program in February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy, and Malta.

[MSF]