America has spent $6.4 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia since 2001

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A report from the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University concludes that the United States has spent $6.4 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia since 2001, and more than 801,000 people have died as a direct result of fighting.

The study also finds that:

  • In addition to 801,000 people who have died due to direct war violence, indirectly this number multiplies several times
  • Over 335,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting
  • 21 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons
  • The US government is conducting counterterror activities in 80 countries
  • The wars have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad

Aid to vulnerable Iraqis may come to a complete halt

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The UN’s humanitarian chief in Iraq, Marta Ruedas, said aid to vulnerable people in Iraq risks being completely blocked within weeks, as a result of the suspension of government documents allowing humanitarians to carry out critical missions.

On Thursday Ms. Ruedas declared that “our operations are at risk. Without predictable, continual access authorization, humanitarian aid is in danger of rotting in warehouses, putting lives in jeopardy and wasting badly-needed donor funds”.

Prior to November 2019, humanitarian organizations based in Iraq, including the UN and its NGO partners, were granted monthly letters, allowing them to pass through checkpoints unhindered. As of January 2020, almost all of these letters had expired and, with no alternative measures in place, the flow of aid deliveries in Iraq had slowed considerably.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) says that, unless partners are allowed to immediately resume full, unimpeded movement of their personnel and supplies, humanitarian operations in Iraq “may come to a complete halt within a matter of weeks”, leading to the possibility of hundreds of thousands of people in conflict-affected areas going without food, medicine and materials to get them through the coldest months of the year.

[UN News]

Climate change: Last decade confirmed as warmest on record

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The 10 years to the end of 2019 have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record by three global agencies.

According to NASA, NOAA and the UK Met Office, last year was the second warmest in a record dating back to 1850. The Met Office says that 2020 is likely to continue this warming trend.

The past five years were the hottest in the 170-year series, with the average of each one more than 1C warmer than pre-industrial. The Met Office says that 2019 was 1.05C above the average for the period from 1850-1900.

2016 remains the warmest year on record, when temperatures were boosted by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Last year saw two major heat waves hit Europe in June and July, with a new national record of 46C set in France on 28 June. New records were also set in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and in the UK at 38.7C.  In Australia, the mean summer temperature was the highest on record by almost a degree.

“Each decade from the 1980s has been successively warmer than all the decades that came before. 2019 concludes the warmest ‘cardinal’ decade (those spanning years ending 0-9) in records that stretch back to the mid-19th century,” said Dr Colin Morice, from the Met Office Hadley Centre.

Researchers say carbon emissions from human activities are the main cause of the sustained temperature rise seen in recent years.

[BBC]

Lava gushes from volcano near Manila

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Red-hot lava spewed from a volcano near the Philippine capital of Manila on Monday as tens of thousands of people fled through heavy ash and frightening tremors, and authorities made plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands more for fear of a bigger eruption.

Clouds of ash from the Taal volcano reached Manila, 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north, on Sunday, forcing the shutdown of the country’s main airport, with more than 500 flights canceled. The airport partially reopened Monday after the ashfall eased.

[AP]

EU’s Green Deal sets out trillion euro plan to avert ‘climate crash’

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EU budget chief Johannes Hahn said the bloc needs to invest dedicated funds to avert a “climate crash” as Brussels detailed how it planned to pay for a trillion euro push to cut net C02 emissions to zero by 2050 and protect member countries dependent on coal. The financial challenge for Europe is huge: Halving emissions by 2030 would require 260 billion euros of investment a year.

Hahn unveiled details using public and private money for this flagship project, the European Green Deal: Of the 1 trillion euros of the EU’s 10-year investment plan, roughly half is to come from the EU long-term budget. This will trigger more than 100 billion in co-financing from governments. Some 300 billion would come from private sources and another 100 from the EU’s Just Transition Fund.

All EU countries except Poland agreed last month they should transform their economies over the next 30 years to not emit more carbon dioxide than they absorb, so as to limit global warming and resulting climate changes. The deal came amid overwhelming support from Europeans who see irreversible climate change as the biggest challenge they are facing, more so than terrorism, access to healthcare or unemployment.

“I’m doing this in my grandson’s future interest,” Hahn, 62, said about his work on financing the EU’s shift to a green economy.

The Fund is to “benefit territories with high employment in coal, lignite, oil shale and peat production, as well as territories with carbon-intensive industries which will be either discontinued or severely impacted by the transition”, the Commission proposal said. The money will go to areas producing the most CO2 industrial emissions, where job losses and the need for teaching new skills and will take into account the overall wealth of the country so that a region in need of transition in the EU’s poorest Romania would get more money than a comparable region in Germany.

[Reuters]

Fires in Australia serve as wake-up call to climate crisis

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A new reality is taking place for Australians as catastrophic bushfires upend the lives of millions. Projections from climate scientists are now becoming the harsh reality and should serve as a wake-up call to other countries around the world to take action. 

Up to now, the climate crisis has been felt primarily by the most vulnerable, predominantly living in the Global South, while richer countries … have largely continued fueling the crisis. The impacts are now hitting the Global North, and the bushfires in Australia are just a glimpse of the future that the entire world will face if climate inaction continues.

International aid agency CARE calls on governments around the world to take more seriously their international responsibilities and increase efforts to fight the global climate crisis.

Louise Gray, Interim Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer, CARE Australia, stated: “Our country is in flames. Drought and increased temperatures have contributed to catastrophic bushfire conditions. The scientific evidence is indisputable – there is a link between the tragedy we are now experiencing and climate change. If a country like Australia can experience this scale of disaster, what risks are faced in countries with less capacity to respond and recover? We must take collective responsibility and action.”

“What starts as a decade on fire must become the decade of decisive and rapid climate action. Anything less than halving global CO2 emissions by 2030 may lead to a runaway climate crisis. The suffering of the Australian people and environment is a stark reminder for all signatories to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change that achieving its goals is a matter of survival and justice,” says Sven Harmeling, CARE’s Global Policy Lead on Climate Change and Resilience.

[CARE]

Yemen heads list of countries facing worst humanitarian disasters in 2020

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Yemen has topped an annual watchlist of countries most likely to face humanitarian catastrophe in 2020, for the second year running.

Continued fighting, economic collapse and weak governance mean that more than 24 million Yemenis – about 80% of the population – will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year, according to analysis by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which found that another five years of conflict could cost $29 billion.

Yemen has been facing a tragic and complex political military crisis since uprisings broke out in 2011, with grave implications for the country’s future and the whole region. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen was launched in 2015, in response to calls from the pro-Saudi president of Yemen for military support after he was ousted by the Houthi movement due to economic and political grievances, and fled to Saudi Arabia.

[The Guardian/Wikipedia]

Syrian civilians face ‘daily nightmare’ in Idlib

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Following a sharp escalation of hostilities in southern Idlib, “at least 300,000 civilians have fled their homes” since mid-December, the UN Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria crisis said on Tuesday, voicing concern for their well-being.

“I am alarmed at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Idlib, northwest Syria, where over three million civilians remain trapped in a war zone – the vast majority of them women and children”, Mark Cutts said.

The downward spiraling situation is occurring in bitter winter temperatures that pose further risks to those who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.  Moreover, many are currently living in tents and makeshift shelters, exposed to the elements in inhospitable places. 

This latest wave of displacement “compounds an already dire situation in Idlib – a densely populated governorate already hosting displaced people from all over Syria”, informed the official from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Every day we receive more disturbing reports of families caught up in the violence, seeking refuge and access to essential services in overcrowded camps and urban areas”, he continued, adding that many are sheltering in schools, mosques and other public buildings. In tandem, critical shortages of food, shelter, health and other basic survival services are being reported across Idleb. 

And humanitarian organizations are struggling to cope with the increased needs. According to Mr. Cutts, “at least 13 health facilities in Idlib have recently been forced to suspend their operations due to the security situation”, exacerbating the suffering of the local population and heightening levels of vulnerability. 

“This is but one example of the daily nightmare being faced by the civilian population of Idleb”, Mr. Cutts spelled out. “Airstrikes and shelling are now taking place in many towns and villages on a near daily basis”, he lamented.

[UN News]

Syrian civilians see no future in Idlib

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With nearly 300,000 people fleeing bombing and fighting in and around Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province since mid-December, civilians in the area told The New Humanitarian they had taken everything they own with them. Fearing the rebels will be unable or unwilling to resist the approaching forces, some said they had even torched their homes after emptying them, to deny President Bashar al-Assad’s fighters any extra benefits of taking over the territory.

This latest wave of displacement has been especially difficult. It has coincided with heavy winter rains that have drenched the already overcrowded camps that dot Idlib.

Abu Ghadir – a father of six displaced several times and now staying in the village of al-Bira in northern Idlib – saw no future for himself or the other three million people who find themselves increasingly trapped in Syria’s northwest. “This is our end; the end for Idlib and its people,” he said.

Accompanied by heavy aerial bombing, the Syrian army and Russian forces have been accelerating a months-long ground offensive on Idlib. The only adjacent border – with Turkey – is closed, and while more and more people are trying to smuggle themselves across it, others, particularly minors, are joining rebel ranks to fight what they see as a struggle for existence.

Tahrir al-Sham is listed as a terrorist organization in the United States, UK, Canada, and Turkey. Thus concerns about resources reaching the extremist rebels severely limit available social services and emergency aid to the region. Videos produced by a recruitment and fundraising campaign organized by clerics working for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham show children rushing the stage as preachers rouse locals to join the ranks of the “holy warriors”.

Minors are currently training in several locations in Idlib, according to an official with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.  The official said that training camps were underground, due to fear of coalition airstrikes. He said there were special training camps for “cubs”, meaning youth or teenage boys, but would not provide additional details. Another official with the group confirmed that children as young as 17 can join and undergo training.

There are various international prohibitions against the use of soldiers under 18. The International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute defines “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities” as a war crime. 

[The New Humanitarian]

Flash floods leave dozens dead and missing in Indonesia’s capital

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Indonesian rescuers mounted a desperate search Friday for those missing after flash floods and landslides sparked by torrential rains killed at least 43 people across the Jakarta region. Health authorities were racing to prevent disease outbreaks.

Record rains which started on New Year’s Eve pounded the capital and left swathes of the megalopolis, home to some 30 million, under water and thousands homeless. Around 192,000 residents have been evacuated to temporary shelters, according to authorities, with many unable to return to waterlogged homes in neighborhoods turned into wastelands of debris and overturned cars. In hard-hit Bekasi, on the outskirts of the city, swampy streets were littered with debris and crushed cars lying on top of each other — with waterline marks reaching as high as buildings’ second floors. Using inflatable boats to evacuate residents trapped in their homes, including children and seniors, rescuers said they were targeting the hardest-hit areas of the city.

Indonesia’s health ministry said it deployed some 11,000 health workers and soldiers to distribute medicine, disinfectant hygiene kits and food in a bid to stave off outbreaks of Hepatitis A, mosquito-borne Dengue fever and other illnesses, including infections linked to contact with dead animals.

This week’s disaster marked Jakarta’s worst flooding since 2013 when dozens were killed after the city was inundated by monsoon rains.

[CBS]

Thousands flee fires in Australia, navy helps evacuate the stranded

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Tens of thousands of holiday makers fled seaside towns on Australia’s east coast on Thursday as bushfires approached, and military ships and helicopters began rescuing thousands more trapped by the blazes.

Fueled by searing temperatures and high winds, more than 200 fires are burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, threatening several towns.

“It is hell on earth. It is the worst anybody’s ever seen,” Michelle Roberts said by telephone from the Croajingolong Cafe she owns in Mallacoota, a southeastern coastal town where 4,000 residents and visitors have been stranded on the beach since Monday night.

Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on the southeast coast, an area popular with tourists during the summer holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke the fires. A navy ship, The HMAS Choules, is expected to make two or three voyages over the coming days, state authorities said. Elsewhere, long queues formed outside supermarkets and petrol stations as residents and tourists sought supplies to either bunker down or escape the fires, emptying shelves of staples like bread and milk. More than 50,000 people were without power and some towns had no access to drinking water.

“The priority today is fighting fires and evacuating, getting people to safety,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “There are parts of both Victoria and New South Wales which have been completely devastated, with a loss of power and communications.”

Temperatures are forecast to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) along the south coast, bringing the prospect of renewed firefronts to add to the around 200 current blazes.

[Reuters]

What will 2020 bring?

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20/20 vision means one can see clearly without lenses.

Let us hope for the same sort of clear perspective in this country, and around the world, in this New Year.

And to borrow from the words of Rev. Stephen Harding, let us pray that:
– the dignity of every human being will be respected;
– those in want will have their needs met.
– our elected officials will put the greater good of the nation/state before their own personal interest;
– our current level of hyper-partisanship and rhetoric will be replaced by civility and understanding; that while there will be disagreement, everyone will work to advance the common good;
– relations between the nations will improve and that trust will be restored;
– each person on this earth will do her/his/their part to reduce and repair humanity’s impact on our planet.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces grave hunger challenges in 2020

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At the dawn of the next decade, a new World Food Programme (WFP) forecast of global hunger hotspots has revealed that escalating hunger will challenge sub-Saharan Africa in the first half of 2020.

According to the WFP 2020 Global Hotspots Report, millions of people in Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central Sahel region will require life-saving food assistance in the coming months – the sheer scale and complexity of which will stretch the UN food relief agency’s capacity to the limit.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley spelled out: “WFP is fighting big and complex humanitarian battles on several fronts at the start of 2020. In some countries, we are seeing conflict and instability combine with climate extremes to force people from their homes, farms and places of work”, he elaborated. “In others, climate shocks are occurring alongside economic collapse and leaving millions on the brink of destitution and hunger.”

Against the backdrop of an imploding economy and when Zimbabwe is entering the peak of its lean season and food is at its most scarce, WFP observed that the country has more hungry people now than it has had over the past decade. WFP is planning assistance for some four million people in Zimbabwe.

“Last year, WFP was called upon to bring urgent large-scale relief to Yemen, Mozambique after Cyclone Idai, Burkina Faso and many other crises to avert famine,” said Margot Van Der Velden, WFP Director of Emergencies. “But the world is an unforgiving place and as we turn the page into 2020, WFP is confronting new, monumental humanitarian challenges that we need to address with real urgency.”

[UN News]

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s wealth doubles in a decade despite generous giving

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Bill Gates and Warren Buffett may have pledged to give most of their wealth away to charity but the billionaire philanthropists appear to be engaged in a losing battle with that as latest figures show their wealth over the last decade has in fact doubled.

In August 2010, Gates and Buffett spearheaded a movement of the U.S.’ richest people to promise to give away most of their wealth to address problems in society. Known as the Giving Pledge, it now includes 200 people around the world with the aim of setting a “new standard of generosity among the ultra-wealthy.”

But The Bloomberg Billionaires Index released on Friday shows that the Microsoft co-founder can’t outrun the growth of his fortune, which is worth $22.7 billion more than it was last year, putting his total net worth at $113 billion. (Back in 2010, he was listed as having a net worth of $53 billion.)

Meanwhile, Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, according to the latest Bloomberg list, is worth $89 billion. (In 2010, he was listed as having a net worth of $47 billion.)

That the billionaires have been generous is indisputable. According to one estimate by Vox, published in April 2019, the founder of Microsoft had given away more than $45 billion through The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, mostly to causes working to combat global poverty.

Buffett had made charitable contributions of $27.54 billion in the 10 years to 2017, according to USA Today.

[Newsweek]

More than 235,000 people fled their homes in northwest Syria in the past two weeks

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Nearly a quarter of a million people in northwest Syria have been displaced over the past two weeks due to an escalation of violence in Idlib province, the country’s last major opposition bastion, the United Nations has announced.

“As a result of hostilities, tens of thousands of families fled their homes in an effort to reach safety,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Thursday. “Between 12 and 25 December, more than 235,000 people have been displaced in northwest Syria.”

The Syrian army, with support from Russian air power, has stepped up its attacks on the northwest province of Idlib, home to more than 3 million Syrians. The Syrian government has said that it is targeting terrorists in Idlib. But if the violence continues, even more civilians could be displaced in the coming weeks, international aid organizations have warned.

The mass displacement over the last two weeks has led to people being housed in mosques, garages, wedding halls, UNOCHA said. But it warned that “the capacity to absorb people in need may surpass available places” and their displacement in the height of winter “is further exacerbating” the humanitarian situation.

“People are leaving forcibly, you look at them and they look almost dead, they don’t know where to go,” Laith Al Abdullah, a White Helmets volunteer, told CNN in a phone call. “It is crowded now to the point where people are sleeping on the streets and under trees … People are terrified by the winter, we are getting a polar cold storm in few days, kids and women won’t be able to stand it,” he said.

[CNN]

Foot note from Refugee Aid team: Between 12 and 25 December, more than 235,000 people were displaced in northwest Syria, and many of them have fled to the border area where we work. We have been sending more and more clothing, blankets, and jackets to these refugees fleeing war. We do appreciate your prayers for continued safety and supply for those suffering. The pictures people are sending are horrific.

Uptick in violence and displacement in Syria

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In a statement issued this week, the UN chief expressed alarm over the scale of the military operation and reported attacks on evacuation routes as civilians try to flee north to safety. The military escalation has yielded dozens of civilian casualties and displaced 80,000 citizens, including 30,000 in the last week alone.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday that more than 500 children were injured or killed in the first nine months of this year, and at least 65 have been killed or injured in December alone. “Children are bearing the brunt” of the intensifying violence, said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Since December 11, escalating fighting has displaced more than 130,000 people, including over 60,000 children, from southern Idlib, northern Hama and western Aleppo, with many families sleeping out in the open. And making matters even worse, as temperatures drop – some nights falling to zero and below – fuel shortages have emerged as a key challenge, compounded by heavy rains that increase protection, health and other risks.

Nine years into the war, children in Syria continue to experience unspeakable violence, trauma and distress. And those living in camps are exhausted from multiple displacements and being exposed to the cold, illness and, in extreme cases, death.

Echoing the UN chief’s sentiment, UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict to “cease hostilities and put children first once and for all.”

[UN News]

Christmas celebrates the birth of a refugee

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Jesus was born in a dirty, stank manger because there was no room in the inn. Shortly after, Joseph and Mary are forced to flee to Egypt with their young child. In other words, our scriptures say Jesus came to us as a refugee.

As a homeless rabbi he said, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus was homeless.

After a short 33 years, he is arrested and tortured, charged with all sorts of things, and eventually executed by the state, a victim of state-sanctioned murder dying on a cross with a condemned man on his left and another on his right. From the cradle to the grave, Jesus felt the pain of the human condition.

The world we live in, like the world Christ lived in, is ravaged with violence and poverty. Being a Christian in the current era should mean preaching good news to the poor … The Christmas story teaches that God is with us — if we are with the poor.

That is what Christmas should be … but it is easy to forget the story. Read more

Takeaways from the first Global Refugee Forum

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3,000 representatives of governments, the development and aid sectors, and civil society organizations gathered in Geneva this past week for the invitation-only Global Refugee Forum attempting to address what “burden-sharing and responsibility-sharing” look like when it comes to the needs of more than 25 million refugees and their host communities around the world. This is a tall order at a time when the numbers of displaced are swelling worldwide, fatigue and outright rejection among some donors and host countries is increasing, and some wealthy countries – notably the United States – are dramatically scaling back resettlement and asylum programs.

“Sharing responsibly, the foundation of our modern system for protecting refugees, is being replaced in countries with more resources by pushing responsibility on those countries less able to cope, and so refugees are pushed aside too,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi noted in the opening session.

Steps taken in Geneva included pledges of about $3 billion from states, $250 million from the private sector – with companies promising some 15,000 jobs to refugees – and several billion dollars from development banks, officials said.

Non-monetary pledges ranged from increased resettlement spots to giving refugee groups more input in policy-making. At the request of the refugee network, several states — including Australia, Canada, and Denmark — committed to giving refugees a more participatory role in policy-making.

[The New Humanitarian]

Life for civilians in Syria ‘worse than when the year began’

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OCHA’s Assistant Secretary General Ursula Mueller painted an “alarming” picture of Syrian Government forces attacking areas controlled by non-State armed groups, as they in turn, escalated assaults against Government-controlled parts of southern Idleb and Aleppo.

“Civilians on both sides of the frontline suffer the consequences”, she lamented, adding that “medical personnel and facilities have also suffered”.

Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has caused untold suffering for women, men and children and forced more than half of the country to leave their homes.

Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations are continuing to do everything possible to assist the most vulnerable, including with food assistance to newly displaced households and health and emergency protection services.

Across the region, costs projected at $5.2 billion will be required to assist some 5.6 million Syrian refugees, more than 70 per cent of whom live in poverty.

[UN News]

The ‘Christian left’ in America

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Holding pictures of migrant children who have died in U.S. custody and forming a cross with their bodies on the floor of the Russell Senate Office Building, 70 Catholics were arrested in July for obstructing a public place, which is considered a misdemeanor. They are visibly joining the growing ranks of progressive Christians who oppose President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and federal agencies’ negligent, occasionally deadly treatment of immigrants on his orders.

American Christianity is most often associated with right-wing politics, who have conducted extremely visible campaigns to outlaw abortion, keep gay marriage illegal and encourage study of the Bible in schools.

But there’s always been progressive Christian activism in the United States. Black churches were central in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and black Christians have continued to engage in advocacy and civil disobedience around poverty, inequality and police violence. American pastors and parishioners protested state-sponsored injustices like slavery, segregation, the Vietnam War and mass deportation.

The primary reason Christian groups are now focusing on immigration, I’d argue, is simply that the notion of welcoming strangers and caring for the vulnerable are embedded in the Christian tradition. In the Biblical text Matthew 25, the “Son of Man” – a figure understood to be Jesus – blesses people who gave food to the hungry, cared for the sick and welcomed strangers. And in Leviticus 19:34, God commands: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you.” They point out that Jesus often criticized the oppression of foreigners, widows and orphans by those in authority.

Faith-based support for immigrants is not limited to Christian groups. Jewish and Muslim organizations have both provided humanitarian aid to Central American asylum seekers and protested a federal ban on travel from Muslim countries. And 40 Jewish leaders were arrested in New York City on Aug. 12 for protesting the Trump administration’s detention policies.

[The Conversation]

Afghanistan attacks spur fresh concerns over aid worker safety

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Dr. Tetsu Nakamura was driving through Jalalabad, a vibrant city in eastern Afghanistan, when gunmen opened fire on his vehicle last week, killing his driver and four bodyguards and fatally wounding him. The Japanese doctor’s killing – and that of an American UN employee in Kabul a week earlier – has rattled the aid sector in Afghanistan.

Some 10 million people in Afghanistan need aid; yet local and foreign humanitarians are themselves a target in a conflict now killing or injuring more than 10,000 civilians a year.

At least 24 aid workers were killed between January and November this year, according to the International NGO Safety Organisation, which advises humanitarian groups on security. Of the 56 aid worker deaths the group has counted this year in 13 hotspot countries, more than 40 percent were in Afghanistan. There were also 37 abductions and 42 aid workers injured.

Some aid groups have kept their headquarters far from Kabul in provinces believed to be safer. Humanitarian groups are often relied on to provide basic services in rural areas.

For foreign aid workers in the capital, Kabul, life is spent in compounds and armored vehicles. In some organizations, workers are not allowed to set foot outside.

As in most conflict zones, aid groups rely on principles of humanitarian neutrality and behind-the-scenes negotiations with armed groups to ensure access and safety. But it’s not always guaranteed. There are also multiple factions and different armed groups vying for control.

A Taliban commander with strong links to al-Qaeda who didn’t want to be named, told The New Humanitarian that relationships between militants and aid groups are often “just fine” on the ground. “The command to attack an NGO comes from much higher,” he said in an interview.

[The New Humanitarian]

Top UN Envoy hails ‘shift’ towards peace in Yemen

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Will there be a historic outcome from the talks which marked the first time in two years that the internationally-recognized Yemeni Government and Houthi opposition leaders had come to the negotiating table to talk face-to-face? The Stockholm Agreement resulted in a ceasefire in the rebel-held but contested port of Hudaydah, on the Red Sea, vital for the flow of food and humanitarian aid into Yemen.  

At the time, the World Food Programme (WFP) called it “key” to importing roughly 70 per cent of humanitarian needs. 

Martin Griffiths, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, stated just ahead of a closed-door Security Council meeting on Yemen in New York on Thursday:  “People’s lives have been saved, the humanitarian programme has been protected, and I think it also showed that the parties could actually agree on a different way out of a crisis.” 

However, he reported that negotiations are still ongoing over re-deployments to “de-militarize” Hudaydah, where pro-Government and Houthi forces have continued to largely observe the fragile ceasefire throughout the year. The Special Envoy also expressed grave disappointment over lack of progress on prisoner exchange, one of the key elements under the Agreement.  

The conflict in Yemen has generated the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and has pushed the country to the edge of economic decline. Roughly 24 million people, or 80 per cent of the population, require assistance, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) further reports that two million children are out of school, including nearly half a million who had dropped out since the fighting began in March 2015. 

These are reasons why peace is so desperately needed in Yemen, Mr. Griffiths told UN News. “If there is any argument in favor of the need for speed towards a political solution to this war, it is those people, those families, who daily suffer from the effects of conflict: families whose children haven’t been to school for five years; families who have struggled to get food on their plates on a daily basis”, he said.  

[UN News]

Namibia rushes to drill boreholes as worst drought in a century bites

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Namibia’s dam water levels have almost halved from already low levels as the worst drought in more than 100 years pushes the desert nation closer to famine.

Dams nationwide were at 19.3% of capacity compared to 35.6% this time last year, water utility Namwater said, a drop officials blame on climate change and a five-year drought ripping through southern Africa.

On Thursday, the environment ministry told Reuters that drought had caused a third of Namibia’s 2.5 million population to go hungry, and that hundreds of wild animals in conservation parks as well cattle on farms were dying. The department is rehabilitating existing water points and drilling new boreholes as quickly as it could.

Minister of Environment Pohamba Shifeta said at a climate change conference in Madrid on Tuesday 700,000 Namibians were food insecure, and that the agricultural sector had contracted for the last half-decade, with rural households and small-scale farmers hardest hit.

In neighboring Zambia and Zimbabwe, plunging water levels at the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi have resulted in power cuts. South Africa has introduced rationing.

Namibia’s economy is set to shrink by 1.5% in 2019 after contracting 0.1% last year due largely to severe drought, the finance ministry said in October.

[Reuters]

Engaged youth = renewed hope for the future

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Excerpt of a report from a FCF Project Manager who works with Syrian refugees:

Last year while visiting Southern California to spend time with my family, I met 10 year old Trisha. Some friends had told me the family was interested in refugees and wanted to meet me.

After I presented a power point at her family’s home, Little Trish went upstairs, emptied her piggy bank savings, and brought it to us to give to the refugees. We were so touched.

While visiting the States again this summer, we looked forward to meeting Trisha and her family again. Shortly after arriving, Trisha brought us a pile of five and ten dollar bills. She had earned money to help the refugees by selling her art and coasters (ebru-style painted tiles to use as coasters under cups and glasses). She also had asked her friends, parents, and grandparents to not give her any birthday or Christmas presents, but to just give her money instead, so she could save up for the refugees. Her dad and mom then matched the same amount that Trisha gave, as they want their children to experience the joy of giving.

We asked if they would like us to direct these gifts to Tariq, to enable him to move his family to Turkey so his younger brothers can receive needed medical treatment. They had read his blog post on our Safe Haven website and were thrilled to have the opportunity to help with this. They went on to ask how much was still needed, and within minutes had gathered together enough for the remaining 40% of the total funds still needed!

I was overwhelmed by the generosity of these people I barely knew. To add icing to the cake, shortly after, someone else gave a gift for me to deliver to Tariq’s parents for when they arrive in Turkey, to help them get started.

Things like this help to restore faith in humanity, after absorbing news of so many children dying in Idlib, the continued mass shootings in the US, and other events which had been somewhat depressing. –Yet when you meet a 10 year old like Trish, you remember that behind the scenes God is sending little angels into this world to give us renewed hope for the future!

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is TIME’s Person of the Year

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Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who inspired millions of young people to take action against climate change, has been named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019.

Thunberg launched a grassroots campaign aged 15 by skipping school every Friday to demonstrate outside Swedish parliament, pushing for her government to meet its ambitious goals to curb carbon emissions. Her actions quickly captured people’s imagination, and in September this year millions of people took to the streets in cities across the world to support her cause.

“In the 16 months since (her protests began), she has addressed heads of state at the U.N., met with the Pope, sparred with the President of the United States and inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike,” the magazine said.

She is the youngest individual to have won the accolade.

Thunberg, who turns 17 in January, is currently in Madrid at a United Nations climate summit where world leaders are wrangling over how to implement a 2015 Paris agreement designed to avert potentially catastrophic global warming. She was typically blunt in her assessment of politicians’ efforts. “It seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition,” she said on stage, drawing applause from an audience that included dozens of her supporters.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, a longtime environmentalist, said the magazine made a “brilliant choice” in choosing the reluctant celebrity. “Greta embodies the moral authority of the youth activist movement demanding that we act immediately to solve the climate crisis. She is an inspiration to me and to people across the world,” Gore said.

[Reuters]

UN chief urges governments to engage with young human rights activists

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Excerpts from UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks on Human Rights Day:

We are here today to celebrate the role of young people in advancing and protecting human rights. As someone who grew up under a dictatorship, I am deeply inspired by the energy and passion young people bring to the struggle for human rights. I know young people can lead movements that change hearts and minds and make history. That is an indelible part of my own past.

Throughout history and across the world, young people have been at the forefront of standing up for what is right. From Harriet Tubman’s antislavery activism, to the White Rose campaign in Nazi Germany, young people have risked everything to struggle against oppression and discrimination and affirm fundamental rights and freedoms. They have played a key role in the civil rights movement, the anti‑apartheid movement, the women’s rights movement and many anti‑colonial and liberation struggles. Today’s young human rights leaders are continuing this tradition. They are powerful torch‑bearers for a better future, and we all owe them our support.

The Universal Declaration established a special responsibility for the United Nations: to advance all rights — civil, cultural, economic, political and social — for all people. Human rights are at the core of the United Nations and inform all our work. Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration, there has been massive progress. Billions of people around the world live safer, longer lives, with access to opportunities and hope for a better future.

But there is much more to do.

Our shared human values offer a way through; and once again, young people are in the lead. Everywhere, they are marching against corruption, repression and inequality and for human rights and human dignity. Young people are on the front lines of action against the climate emergency, which poses a serious threat to human rights and to human life. Young women are at the forefront, making the link between the denial of their rights and rising populism, xenophobia and discrimination of all kinds. Young people are rightly demanding that Governments listen to them and respect them. Their voices must be heard.

[UN]

UN emergency fund is one of the ‘most effective investments’ in humanitarian action

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The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), is “one of the most effective investments you can make in humanitarian action”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told a high-level pledging event at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday.

“It is the only global emergency fund that is fast, predictable and flexible enough to reach tens of millions of people each year”, according to the UN chief, who maintained that the fund supports a “well-coordinated global humanitarian response system with an enormous network of partners to help the most vulnerable”.   

Since its creation 13 years ago, the fund has allocated over $6 billion to support life-saving assistance in 104 countries, protecting millions of people, sometimes within hours of the onset of an emergency.

Noting that the climate crisis is causing more frequent and deadly hurricanes, cyclones and droughts around the world, the UN chief spelled out: “CERF is on the frontline of our response”. He said  “CERF provides funding without the bureaucracy that can slow down our work, so the money is available within days, sometimes hours, of disaster striking”, flagged the UN chief, citing lifeline support to food insecurity-plagued Mali and Sudan, as well as helping children to stay in school in Cameroon, Chad, the occupied Palestinian Territories, Ukraine and elsewhere. 

With the contributions of 52 Member States “CERF truly a fund for all, by all”, upheld the UN chief, while noting that today it is “contending with a far greater scale of suffering” than when it was created in 2005.

Chairing the event, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said that this year’s “unprecedented demand” for emergency funding enabled responses to “time-critical, life-threatening needs” for millions of crises-affected people across 46 countries.  Lowcock admitted that “significant challenges” lie ahead, saying “I fear the outlook for the year ahead is bleak:  One person in 45 around the world are expected to need our help. The highest number ever”, he said, which would require nearly $29 billion in funding.

[UN News]

Activist Greta Thunberg warns governments in Madrid that ‘change is coming’

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Teen activist Greta Thunberg took her call for bold action to tackle climate change to a U.N. summit in Spain on Friday, warning world leaders that a growing youth-led protest movement meant they could no longer hide.

 “The current world leaders are betraying us and we will not let that happen anymore,” Thunberg said in a brief speech to 15,000 protesters in Madrid. “Change is coming whether you like it or not because we have no other choice,” she said. Thunberg had earlier told an event at a cultural centre that she and her fellow activists would ensure that world leaders “cannot just hide away anymore.”

“We are really gaining momentum, we are getting bigger and bigger and our voices are being heard more and more, but of course that does not translate into political action,” she said. Unwilling to fly because of the pollution it causes, Thunberg had sailed the Atlantic to attend a U.N. summit in September, before returning to Europe by catamaran.

“We are in one of the most critical moments in history and it seems for the first time we are speaking with one voice,” added actor Javier Bardem, who also addressed the marchers.

The annual summit opened on Monday with a call from U.N. chief Antonio Guterres not to be the “generation … that fiddled while the planet burned”. By this meeting’s close on Dec. 13, negotiators hope to resolve remaining disagreements on how to implement an accord struck in Paris in 2015 to avert catastrophic global warming.

[Reuters]

American music producer travels to Lebanon to record an album with refugees

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When Souzda fled the deadly shelling in northern Syria, she thought she was leaving behind more than just her home. The 22-year-old was studying music and had hopes of one day becoming a singer, but the bombs that drove her to escape also threatened to lay waste to her dreams. In Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, Souzda not only found safety but also the chance to rekindle her musical ambitions. Since early this year, she has been writing, composing and recording songs with American producer and singer Jay Denton.

Denton, a musician who studied international relations and has traveled the world, believes music has the power to connect people from all walks of life. Equipped with a mobile recording studio that he typically travels with, he came to Lebanon to make an album with refugees.

“When I sat down with them the first time, they said one of the hardest things about life here is that they don’t feel like they have a voice,” says Denton. He is now working with a group of more than 10 Syrians and an Iraqi refugee, composing and recording various songs.

Souzda has written and recorded a Kurdish-language song about her hometown, Afrin, where an escalation in fighting uprooted more than 150,000 people from their homes. The song tackles themes of war and sorrow, but also of hope. “I wanted people, my people, when they heard us to feel that life has not ended, there is still hope and as long as you have a will you can produce something anywhere you go,” she explains. “Music is… the language I can express myself in.”

As soon as he finishes recording the music with the refugees in Beirut, Denton will go back to Los Angeles, where he is now based, to finish the album in collaboration with a number of American artists. He plans to release the record early next year.

Souzda says music has kept her going through conflict and displacement. “Music is life, the language I can express myself in. I can express my pain, my joy, I can speak in music. It’s the closest language to people’s hearts.”

Lebanon is currently host to around 920,000 registered refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria, as well as more than 14,000 refugees from Iraq.

[UN High Commissioner for Refugees]

Technology could promote growth in African countries

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Africa is closely watched as the next big growth market. There are many reasons for optimism: the African continent is home to some of the youngest populations in the world, it promises to be a major consumption market over the next three decades, and it is increasingly mobile phone-enabled. An emerging digital ecosystem is particularly crucial as multiplier of that growth.

Despite these reasons for optimism, the promise remains unfulfilled. Growth in Africa has stalled; both the IMF and the World Bank have cut their 2019 economic growth projections for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The World Bank projects that if poverty reduction measures and growth remain sluggish, Africa could be home to 90% of the world’s poor by 2030.

Despite these sobering statistics, the rapid spread of mobile digital technology [can] help various countries “leapfrog” ahead in economic development. Based on size (of economy and population), economic growth, median age, quality of governance, and digital momentum :

South Africa – South Africa is a regional leader buoyed by strong consumer demand for digital businesses and an institutional environment that offers supportive regulations, comparing favorably against key emerging market nations in Latin American and Asian/Southeast Asian regions. South Africa is also a regional leader in the deployment of several emerging technologies, such as biometric data and payment cards to deliver social security, drones in mining, which helps keep it at the innovative edge.
Kenya – Home to what’s known as a “Silicon Savanah” in Nairobi, Kenya has a growing, tech-savvy ecosystem. Thanks to the popularity of M-Pesa, the mobile payments capability, over 70% of Kenyans have a mobile money account.
Rwanda – Rwanda has been moving to transform itself into a digital hub.
Egypt – The digital technology sector is Egypt’s second-fastest growing sector. The country is also producing a large number of skilled graduates.
Nigeria – Nigeria has a powerful entrepreneurial climate, with innovative ventures, and Africa’s leading startup investment destination in 2018.
Ethiopia – While it has the most ground to cover among the six countries studied, Ethiopia is experiencing positive developments in several areas that can facilitate digitally enabled growth. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has a background in and understanding of the tech sector and has been implementing reform in a number of sectors.

[Harvard Business Review]

Three-country crisis across central Sahel puts whole generation at risk, warns UN food agency

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Violent attacks by extremists “almost every day” in the Sahel nations of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have displaced nearly one million people and caused emergency levels of malnutrition, the UN has said.

Burkina Faso is worst hit, with one-third of the country now a conflict zone, where extremists exploit ethnic tensions and poor infrastructure. According to Government data, nearly half a million people have been displaced in Burkina Faso in less than a year, but that figure is likely to reach 650,000 before the end of 2019.

“A dramatic human crisis is unfolding in Burkina Faso that has disrupted the lives of millions. Close to half a million people have been forced from their homes and a third of the country is now a conflict zone,” said WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley. “Our teams on the ground are seeing malnutrition levels pushed well past emergency thresholds – this means young children and new mothers are on the brink. If the world is serious about saving lives, the time to act is now.”

David Bulman, WFP Country Director in Burkina Faso, said with extremists moving freely across borders, it was now a “three-country crisis” leading civilians to flee. “And for those populations that don’t particularly notice the border, they just see their safest route away from insecurity and they take it…When they’re displaced it means that they basically leave everything behind, and most of them are doing farming and some animal raising so they are really very dependent.“

While WFP has helped some 2.6 million people with food and nutrition assistance in the three Sahel countries, it has warned that in some areas, severe acute malnutrition is skyrocketing and affecting “thousands” of children, Mr. Bulman said. Among those displaced in Burkina Faso, levels of severe acute malnutrition are more than three times the emergency threshold, he explained.

[UN News]

So little aid money goes to preventing violence against women and girls

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Some 14 million refugees and displaced women and girls were subjected to sexual violence in 2019, according to a new report from the International Rescue Committee.

Still, gender-based violence is often seen as a “second-tier priority” during a humanitarian response, and the lack of funding to prevent it bolsters that reality. Of the $41.5 billion spent on humanitarian responses between 2016 and 2018, just $51.7 million – less than 0.2 percent – was spent on GBV prevention for women and girls.

Research shows that disasters and displacement exacerbate violence against women and girls. A 2017 study conducted in South Sudan found that 65 percent of women and girls had experienced violence in their lifetimes. Another 2014 study found that one in five women who had been displaced had experienced sexual violence.

Violence against women and girls in humanitarian or displacement settings is often used as a tool to push people out of their homes and communities; it’s used as a tool of warfare, and unfortunately is a very successful tool to break down communities and families.

It can also be a result of the way humanitarian aid is provided. For example, water and sanitation services may be set up in a way where women and girls may not use the toilet or shower facilities because they have to walk down a path that makes them walk by large groups of men. It could be that they don’t have locks on the facilities, so women and girls can’t secure themselves when they’re bathing.

Lots of food distributions are not set up in a way where women and girls are protected. Distributions may be too heavy for them to carry, and they may have to rely on men with carts to carry them to the place where they’re staying – there could be heightened levels of exploitation just in that moment.

[Read more at The New Humanitarian]

Charity to airdrop aid using fleet of drones

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A Dutch organization has successfully tested the technology for delivering aid. Wings For Aid has just used a test aircraft to drop 18 boxes from a height of 100m, including two boxes containing raw eggs – all of which survived intact. The test took place at an airbase in the Netherlands, as part of the charity’s development of the concept of providing essential aid to people cut off from terrestrial supplies.

Barry Koperberg, general manager of Wings For Aid, said his organization plans to “bridge the last mile” to reach people beyond the reach of conventional aid logistics. At the heart of the concept is a specially designed all-cardboard “delivery box” that can be dropped from a height of up to 500m without a parachute.  “We have developed a cargo drone with eight boxes of 20kg carrying humanitarian aid,” he said.  The boxes can contain food, water, shelter kits or medical supplies.

“With pinpoint precision we can deliver it anywhere worldwide. Anyone worldwide will be in reach of such a system. Think of Haiti, think of Somalia, think of the Nepal earthquake, where you are out of touch for a couple of days or a couple weeks.”

Wings For Aid, whose start-up has been co-funded by the Dutch government, calculates that while 100 million people involved in crises were provided with emergency supplies last year, an estimated 20 million in need did not. In past humanitarian disasters, essential infrastructure has been destroyed by floods or earthquakes. In some parts of the world, those in need may be located deep inside conflict zones, beyond the reach of aid trucks. While helicopters can sometimes be used, they are expensive and have limited capacity. In addition, pilots will not fly in areas where they believe they may be targeted.

Mr Koperberg said: “We hope launch our first aircraft, which is now being built, in 2020. Meanwhile we are testing the whole system. A very good application of modern technology, I think.”

[The Independent]

Powerful quake kills 13 in Albania as buildings bury residents

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At least 13 people were killed when the most powerful earthquake to hit Albania in decades shook the capital Tirana and the country’s west and north on Tuesday, tearing down buildings and burying residents under rubble. Residents, some carrying babies, fled apartment buildings in Tirana and the western port of Durres after the quake struck shortly before 4 a.m. (0300 GMT).

The 6.4 magnitude quake was centered 30 km (19 miles) west of Tirana, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said, and was also felt across the Balkans and in the southern Italian region of Puglia. Hours later a magnitude 5.4 earthquake hit Bosnia, with an epicentre 75 km (45 miles) south of Sarajevo, monitors said.

In the northern Albanian town of Thumane, Marjana Gjoka, 48, was sleeping in her apartment on the fourth floor of a five-storey building when the quake shattered the top floors. “The roof collapsed on our head and I don’t know how we escaped. God helped us,” said Gjoka, whose three-year-old niece was among four people in the apartment when the quake struck.

Five people were found dead in the rubble of apartment buildings in Thumane, and a man died in the town of Kurbin after jumping out of a building, a Defence Ministry spokeswoman said. Seven bodies were pulled from collapsed buildings in Durres, the main port and tourism destination, the Defence Ministry said, adding 39 had been pulled out alive from under the ruins. Defence Minister Olta Xhacka said 135 people were injured.

Firefighters, police and civilians were removing the debris from collapsed buildings in Thumane. Most of the buildings that collapsed were built of bricks, a Reuters reporter said. Rescuers there used a mechanical digger to claw at collapsed masonry and remove a tangle of metal and cables. Others groped with bare hands to clear rubble.

Greece had sent emergency services for search and rescue operations, its premier’s office said. Albania is the poorest country in Europe, with an average income of less than a third of the European Union average, according to Eurostat data.

On September 21, an earthquake of 5.6 magnitude had previously shook the country, damaging around 500 houses and destroying some.

[Reuters]

Aid groups condemn Greece over ‘prison’ camps for migrants

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Greece is being criticized for adopting legislation in contravention of basic human rights. Under the new approach, land and sea borders will be reinforced with about 1,200 more guards, and extra patrol vessels and deportations stepped up, and closed installations will replace open-air camps. International aid groups have overwhelmingly condemned the measures. After criticizing asylum legislation also passed this month, they predicted the remodeled facilities would only exacerbate the humanitarian disaster unfolding on Europe’s frontiers.

Martha Roussou, senior advocacy officer for the International Rescue Committee in Greece, said: “The creation of closed facilities will simply mean that extremely vulnerable people, including children, will be kept in prison-like conditions, without having committed any crime.”

The Greek branch of Amnesty International called the plans “outrageous”. Likening Lesbos’s infamous Moria refugee camp to a “human rights black hole”, it said: “In reality, we are talking about the creation of contemporary jails with inhumane consequences for asylum seekers, and more widely, negative consequences for the Aegean islands and their inhabitants.”

With Greece being lashed by rainstorms as winter intensifies, groups have increasingly raised the alarm over what many are calling a humanitarian disaster. Officially, reception facilities on Samos, Lesbos, Chios, Kos and Leros have a capacity to accommodate about 5,400 people. About 37,000 asylum seekers are on the islands.

The number of men, women and children making the treacherous sea crossing from Turkey has risen by 73% this year, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. It said the vast majority are refugees fleeing persecution and war.

After visiting the camps last week, Médecins Sans Frontières’ international president, Christos Christou, said: “I’ve been truly shocked and devastated by the extent of the emergency. Men, women and children are trapped in endless drama … In Moria on Lesbos there’s one latrine per 200 people. In Samos, one latrine per 300. This human tragedy needs to end now and it can if Greece and Europe choose to enact a responsible migration system and end these containment policies.”

[The Guardian]

Arizona activist who gave migrants humanitarian aid acquitted in second trial

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Activist Scott Warren has been acquitted on charges he illegally harbored two Central American migrants, after facing two trials over what he insisted was simply helping people in need.

It was the second trial for Warren; a mistrial was declared last June after a jury deadlocked on harboring charges.

Warren was arrested in January 2018 by US agents who were staking out a humanitarian aid station in Arizona known as The Barn, where two Central American men had been staying for several days. The camp is run by a group No More Deaths that tries to prevent immigrants from dying in the desert.

Warren, 37, says the group’s training and protocol prohibit advising migrants on how to elude authorities. The group drops off water for migrants in the desert and runs a camp to aid injured migrants. He said his interest is in saving lives.

He and his supporters say Donald Trump’s administration has increasingly scrutinized humanitarian groups that leave water in the desert. The federal judge overseeing the trial barred Warren from mentioning the president.

[The Guardian]

Weighed down by economic woes, Syrian refugees head home from Jordan

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According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, 34,000 registered Syrian refugees have returned from Jordan since October 2018, when a key border crossing was reopened after years of closure. It’s a fraction of the 650,000 registered Syrian refugees remaining in Jordan, but a dramatic jump from previous years, when annual returns hovered at around 7,000.

Syrian refugees from the other main host countries – Turkey and Lebanon – are making the trip too. UNHCR has monitored more than 209,000 voluntary refugee returns to Syria since 2016, but the actual figure is likely to be significantly higher.

Many refugees in Jordan say they are simply fed up with years spent in a dead-end job market with a bleak economic future. Syrian refugees need a permit to work in Jordan but they are limited to working in a few industries in designated economic zones. Many others end up in low-paying jobs, and have long faced harsh economic conditions in Jordan.  Thousands of urban refugees earn a meagre living either on farms or construction sites, or find informal work as day laborers.

“I’m not returning because I think the situation in Syria is good,” said Farah, a mother of three who spoke to TNH in September – about a month before she packed up her things to leave. “But you don’t enter into a difficult situation unless the one you’re currently in is even worse.” 

Asked whether it is safe for refugees to go back to Syria, Francesco Bert, a UNHCR spokesperson in Jordan, said the agency “considers refugees’ decisions as the main guideposts”, but gives refugees considering or planning to return “information that might inform their decision-making”, to help ensure it is truly voluntary.

[The New Humanitarian]

One-third of Afghans need urgent humanitarian aid, millions suffer ‘acute food insecurity’

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Over the last three months, around one-third of the Afghan population required urgent humanitarian action, according to the United Nations, which declares that some 10.23 million people are living in a state of “severe acute food insecurity”.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which is monitoring a number of key food security indicators in Afghanistan, estimates that the situation is likely to get worse heading into next year, with the numbers of those experiencing severe acute food insecurity set to rise to 11.29 million (with 2.7 million in an Emergency situation, and 8.6 million in a Crisis situation), between November 2019 and March 2020.

A lack of opportunity in the labor market could, says the report, impact the livelihoods of vulnerable groups; as could the uncertain political climate and security situation, with upcoming elections affecting the outlook; food prices, which could rise in the Winter months; and extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods.

The November Alert from the IPC includes several recommendations to alleviate the food insecurity problems faced by the population. Providing humanitarian food assistance, in cash or kind, is one such proposal, as well as helping farmers to obtain quality seeds for the forthcoming season (most farmers do not have the capability to obtain seeds from any source).

Afghanistan has seen record-high levels of civilian casualties in the third quarter of 2019, stemming mainly from the violence between pro- and anti-Government elements. July documented the country’s bloodiest month on record, with the highest number of civilian casualties in a single month since the UN began systematic documentation in the country, in 2009.

[UN News]

Hurricane Dorian inflicted $3.4B losses on Bahamas

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Hurricane Dorian inflicted losses of about $3.4 billion on the Bahamas, an amount equal to one-quarter of the Caribbean archipelago’s GDP, according to a report released Friday.

The report by the Inter-American Development Bank also said there were 67 confirmed deaths and that 282 people were still missing as of late October. Nearly 29,500 people lost homes or jobs, or were temporarily displaced by the Category 5 storm that hit Grand Bahama and Abaco islands in early September, the report said.

The development bank said reconstruction will require big investments and will take many years. Dorian was one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever to make landfall, unleashing a storm surge of up to 7.6 meters (25 feet).

Destruction of homes and other buildings as well as infrastructure caused damage amounting to $2.5 billion, with 87% reported in Abaco and the remainder in Grand Bahama, according to the development bank. Some 9,000 homes were damaged and seven schools destroyed, leading to the reassignment of 1,500 displaced students, the report said. It described damage to some tourism facilities as “catastrophic.”

Another $717 million in losses was caused by the storm’s impact on the production of goods and services provided, with the private sector sustaining 84% of that total, the report said. It estimated another $221 million in costs for the cleanup of an oil spill in Grand Bahama and debris removal and demolition.

Atisha Kemp, an activist in the capital of Nassau, said Bahamians are frustrated with the government and that many of the displaced are still living in tents, with power and water lacking in some areas.

[AP]

More than half the population of Syria in need of humanitarian aid

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Over 11 million people across Syria need aid — more than half the country’s estimated population — and the U.N. and other organizations are reaching an average of 5.6 million people a month, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Thursday.

Mark Lowcock told the Security Council that across northern Syria 4 million people are supported by U.N. cross-border deliveries including 2.7 million in the northwest, the last major opposition-held area in the country.

With the resolution authorizing cross-border aid expiring in December, Lowcock stressed to the council that “there is no alternative to the cross-border operation” and its renewal is “critical. He warned that without a cross-border operation, “we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians” which would cause “a rapid increase in hunger and disease. A lot more people would flood across the borders, making an existing crisis even worse in the region,” he added.

Lowcock said he remains very concerned about the situation in the northwest, pointing to an increase in airstrikes and ground-based strikes mostly in parts of southern and western Idlib in recent weeks. “In the last two days there have been reports of over 100 airstrikes in Idlib and surrounding areas,” he said. More than half the people in Idlib moved there from other parts of the country, and hundreds of thousands are living in camps and informal shelters near the Turkish border, he said.

[AP]

I’m a humanitarian. Don’t prosecute me for doing my job.

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In 2011, I negotiated in Afghanistan with the Taliban and the United States to establish a trauma hospital in the northern city of Kunduz that would care for the wounded and sick, regardless of who they were. Between 2012 and 2015, Médecins Sans Frontières treated thousands of patients – mostly civilians, but also Taliban and Afghan army patients. This we celebrated as a win for impartial humanitarian action.  

But front lines changed, and during a fateful week in October 2015 when the Taliban took control of the town, US and Afghan counter-terrorism forces declared the entire area, and the people in it, as hostile territory. Arguing that Taliban fighters had “taken over” our hospital, the United States bombed it five times over the span of two hours, until it burned to the ground, with everyone in it. The only Taliban inside were patients – hors combat. I would return to Afghanistan shortly after to mourn the lives of 48 staff and patients who died that day, some scorched to death in their hospital beds.

The bombing of our hospital in Kunduz was condemned around the world, and the United States ultimately financially compensated the families of the victims. But an independent investigation to determine why the hospital was bombed was denied. It is an extreme example of what can go wrong when the impartiality of humanitarian action is not respected.

A new bill before the Dutch government threatens to make the same mistake. The law proposes to criminalize citizens’ travel – without Dutch government permission – to areas it designates as controlled by ‘terrorist’ organizations. The criteria upon which such permission will be granted are not clear. Aimed originally at preventing Dutch citizens from joining the so-called Islamic State, this broad new law has serious inadvertent effects on me and many others in many other places around the world.

As a Dutch aid worker regularly travelling to such areas to deliver lifesaving medical assistance, this new law, if adopted, essentially obliges me to prove I have no terrorist intentions prior to saving lives. This remarkable reversal of the burden of proof not only restricts and endangers my own profession, but violates the humanitarian principle of impartiality that populations trapped in conflict rely on. This principle guarantees that their needs, not which side of the front line they find themselves, determines their access to assistance.

Impartiality is the core tenet of humanitarianism relief. For a medical organization such as ours, the consequences of such legislation are even more dire. Under international law, both civilians and combatants have a right to medical care. This was one of the main purposes of the Geneva Conventions, which allow special protection under IHL for an impartial humanitarian body that collects the wounded and sick. Combatants receiving medical care are considered hors combat and have the same status as civilians. This means MSF has the legal right – and responsibility – to treat everyone, even ‘terrorists’ and even in ‘designated areas’. 

Saving lives is not a crime. Under international law, preventing me from doing so is.

[Excerpts of article by Michiel Hofman, Senior humanitarian specialist with Médecins Sans Frontières]

Don’t call it the ‘refugee crisis’, it’s a humanitarian crisis

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In recent months across Europe, a dramatic spike in refugee arrivals to Greece and 39 dead bodies of Vietnamese citizens discovered in an abandoned lorry in Essex provoked a return of “the migration crisis” in news coverage. When the almost five-year-long “migration crisis” in Europe began, publications and politicians were tentative about referring to it as such.

The differences between the ways we describe emergencies are incredibly important. Declaring a “humanitarian crisis” shifts responsibility and focus to states and their leaders, whereas placing “migrant” before the crisis, suggests that the fault of the crisis is, at least in part, theirs.

Between 2014 and 2019, at least 17,428 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe. Still, people continue to reach Europe, though European policies have radically exacerbated the risks to their lives and health:
– Italy has pursued a series of policies of shutting down ports and arresting those who operate rescue missions. In 2018, less people crossed the Mediterranean than the year before but of those who did, six drowned every day.
– The Greek islands have essentially become open-air holding prisons, as well as collectively being nearly five times over capacity. 
– Even prior to the recent Turkish incursion in Northern Syria, the numbers arriving in Greece had spiked where conditions are infamously inhumane: Fires regularly destroy areas of camps and remaining belongings; coupled with self-harm and suicide attempts, increasingly by children too.

The number of people arriving may have reduced but their suffering has multiplied.  And the fact that arrivals have suddenly increased proves this crisis is far from over.

As many critics posit, Europe may not be responsible for the conflicts that force people from their homes. However, there should absolutely be no doubt as to who is responsible for destroying key humanitarian protections; a Draconian border regime; criminalizing rescue ships; refusing to create safe routes to asylum and in many cases deliberately making life unliveable for vulnerable people.

Labeling it a “refugee” or “migration crisis”, however, indicates that refugees and migrants are different to those we associate with traditional humanitarian emergencies and less deserving of the assumed response.

[The Independent]

Hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk in Syria amid ongoing violence

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At least 92 people have been killed in northeastern and northwestern Syria in the weeks following 9 October, when Turkish forces invaded Kurdish-held border areas in the northeast, according to the UN human rights office OHCHR.

Noting that victims had come under fire from airstrikes and ground-based strikes, OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville said people are increasingly being targeted by the “indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas, including in local markets”.

On Thursday, Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, warned that hundreds of thousands of people in northeast Syria have been left vulnerable following the Turkish military incursion. “Of the more than 200,000 people who fled the fighting in recent weeks, close to 100,000 people have not yet been able to return home and are dispersed across improvised camps and collective shelters,” she said in a statement. These recent displacements have compounded an already dire situation in which 710,000 people were already displaced, and approximately 1.8 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, Ms. Rochdi’s statement explained.

In a related warning, Mr. Colville said that people recently displaced during the military offensive have been “subsequently…subjected to arbitrary detention, in addition to enforced disappearances, after returning to their homes. This is occurring both in areas controlled by Turkish forces and Turkish-affiliated armed groups and in areas controlled by Kurdish armed groups.”

The OHCHR spokesperson added that attacks using improvised explosive devices in the formerly Kurdish-controlled north-east “have noticeably escalated in recent days, mainly in areas under the control of Turkish-affiliated armed groups, which suggests they have most likely been carried out by groups opposing the Turkish military offensive”.

UN humanitarians meanwhile warned that a serious funding crisis risks leaving hundreds of thousands of Syrians vulnerable to deteriorating weather conditions.

[UN.org]

Geography professor Dr Scott Warren faces retrial in Arizona, with possible ten-year jail sentence

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Dr Scott Warren, a geography professor and volunteer with the humanitarian group No More Deaths, is charged with “harboring” two migrants after providing them with food, water and clean clothing in his hometown of Ajo, 43 miles from the Mexican border.

Warren, who faces a possible ten-year jail sentence, is being prosecuted for a second time after an earlier trial was declared a mistrial in July.

Amnesty International is calling on the US Department of Justice to drop the spurious criminal charges. Amnesty believes the volunteer activities of Warren and No More Deaths provide vital humanitarian aid directed at upholding the right to life and preventing the deaths of migrants and people seeking asylum in the highly-dangerous Sonoran Desert. Last week, Amnesty wrote to Arizona’s Attorney, Michael Bailey, calling on him to do this.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “The Trump administration’s second attempt to prosecute Scott Warren is a cynical misuse of the justice system, intended to criminalize compassion and lifesaving humanitarian aid. This is a dark hour for the USA when the government is seeking to send a man to prison for ten years simply for providing food, water and clean clothes to people in need.
 
“The US authorities must stop harassing Dr Warren and other human rights defenders who have simply shown kindness to fellow human beings.”

Arizona has the deadliest border area in the USA, accounting for more than a third (38%) of the 7,242 border deaths recorded by US border authorities over the last 20 years.

[Amnesty.org]

600 US-bound refugees resettled

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More than 600 refugees landed in the United States this week, marking the first arrivals of US fiscal year 2020.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) welcomed the refugees who come from a variety of countries. IOM works closely with the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration to provide case processing support, pre-departure health assessments and cultural orientation, as well as transportation support for refugees.

Almost half of the refugees resettled in the US in fiscal year 2019 were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On Tuesday, a group of 25 Congolese refugees were the first to arrive on Tuesday morning at Washington Dulles International Airport before continuing to their final destinations. Due to ongoing violence, the families fled to neighboring Rwanda where they remained in limbo for years.

[IOM]

What is a war crime?

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Whether in conflicts in Syria, Yemen or Iraq, civilians bear the brunt of war. The protection of civilians lies at the foundation of international humanitarian law (IHL), the law that regulates the conduct of war. According to the United Nations, a war crime is a serious breach of international law committed against civilians or “enemy combatants” during an international or domestic armed conflict.

A war crime occurs when superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is inflicted upon an enemy. In spite of the outrage caused by the bombing of a school or a country’s TV station, such actions do not necessarily amount to war crimes. Such bombing will only be a war crime if the extent of civilian casualties resulting from the attack is excessive compared to the military advantage gained from the attack. And in contrast with genocide and crimes against humanity, war crimes have to occur in the context of armed conflict.

Although the concept of war crimes has ancient roots, rules on war crimes started to develop at the end of the 19th century. The meaning of war crimes was clarified in the four 1949 Geneva Conventions.

Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines war crimes as “wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including … willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person … taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.

But in spite of the near-universal ratification of the Geneva Conventions, war crimes often go unpunished. According to Mark Drumbl, professor of law at Washington and Lee University, this can be attributed to several factors, including difficulties in obtaining evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, high requirements such as proving intention and, most importantly, power politics.

Thousands of Filipinos in need of humanitarian assistance after Mindanao earthquakes

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Mindanao has been shaken by three consecutive earthquakes within the same location on 16, 29 and 31 October 2019, each compounding the effect of the previous one.

According to authorities, the death toll from the last two earthquakes is now at 21 with over 400 people injured and an estimated more than 35,000 people displaced. Many families have been left homeless due to the destruction of their houses

More than 180,000 people are affected with many families requiring humanitarian assistance.

Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon said: “People are left anxious by the earthquakes and the ongoing aftershocks. Families do not feel safe returning to their homes. Since the first earthquake hit, our volunteers and staff have been working around the clock to provide not only relief items and safe drinking water, but also psychosocial support to help families cope with their fears.”

[International Red Cross]

British aid to help vaccinate more than 400 million children a year against polio

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UK International Development Secretary Alok Sharma has pledged new aid support to help vaccinate more than 400 million children a year against polio.

  • UK support will help vaccinate more than 750 children a minute against polio in developing countries around the world
  • The UK package of up to £400 million will help support 20 million health workers and volunteers, via the Global Polio Eradication Initiative
  • Three countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria – are still not officially polio free

This funding which runs from 2020 to 2023 will help buy tens of millions doses of polio vaccine every year. Without this new support, tens of thousands of children would be at risk of paralysis from the disease, which leaves many unable to walk for the rest of their lives.

Sharma said: “We have made tremendous progress to fight this debilitating disease, but our work must continue if we are to eradicate it forever. … If we were to pull back on immunizations, we could see 200,000 new cases each year in a decade. This would not only be a tragedy for the children affected and their families, but also for the world. We cannot let this happen.”

Thanks to global efforts, backed by the UK, more than 18 million people are currently walking who would otherwise have been paralyzed by the virus.

[ReliefWeb]

Sex-for-food: girls face impossible choices in Southern Africa

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A food crisis is especially acute in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia, which account for 75% of the people needing food assistance. The ongoing food crisis is compounded by a number of factors including drought, the effects of cyclone Idai and its related flooding, conflict and economic downturn.

“We are extremely concerned at the increasing number of adolescent girls caught up in food insecurity, especially where they are being traded off by family members in an effort to earn the next meal,” says Stuart Katwikirize, Plan International Regional Head of Disaster Risk Management.

From sex-for-food to forced marriage, girls are caught between impossible choices for survival as severe food shortages sweep across the southern continent.

In Mozambique multiple and consecutive incidents have left almost 10 per cent of the country’s population in need of lifesaving and resilience-building assistance.

“Adolescent girls and women are typically more affected by drought because it is usually their job to find water and food for the family, ” says Anne Hoff, Country Director, Plan International Mozambique.

“Children are increasingly dropping out of school because of hunger issues which remains a serious concern,” said Angela Muriithi, Country Director, Plan International Zimbabwe. “An estimated 2.2 million people in urban areas are facing food and economic insecurity, with 53% of households in Harare reporting inability to pay school fees.”

[Plan International]

Floods in Somalia displace more than 250,000 people

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Heavy rains have killed at least 10 people and displaced more than 270,000 in Somalia, destroying infrastructure and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa nation, the United Nations said on Friday.

East Africa has been experiencing heavy rains with the Indian Ocean’s equivalent of the Pacific Ocean-based El Nino, at its strongest since 2006.

A tropical storm next week is expected to worsen the floods. Rains are forecast to continue until the end of the year and humanitarian organizations are warning of waterborne diseases and mass displacement.

“Higher than usual rains are expected to continue through November and December, leading to more floods and conditions for disease,” the International Rescue Committee said in a statement. “Recovery from these weather conditions may take years.”

[Reuters]

Local citizens become frontline aid workers in Syria

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In the past few weeks, Zozan Ayoub has gone from running a small primary school in northeast Syria to recording the names of people fleeing war, coordinating aid deliveries, and tending to the needs of the families now sheltering in her classrooms.

Her transformation from headteacher to citizen aid worker happened fast. Some 22,000 of the 180,000 people the UN says fled the violence, went to Hassakeh. Local authorities sent word to Ayoub, who lives and works in the city, some 80 kilometres from the Turkey-Syria border, to cancel classes and prepare for their arrival.

In a matter of hours, Ayoub and other staff members at the two-floor school had cleaned up and replaced desks with rugs and mattresses. “Students will miss lessons,” Ayoub acknowledged. “But we have to provide for these people.”

Even though aid agencies, both local and international, are on the ground too, many have had to evacuate staff, and all are operating in a precarious situation.

That’s where people like Ayoub come in. Across northeast Syria, local people have become temporary aid workers, collected food and clothes, or opened their homes to those in need.

Despite the efforts of citizens who have stepped up, the lion’s share of aid work in the northeast is still being carried out by established NGOs. But it is the local groups, often partnering with international NGOs, who are actually bringing water, food, and other necessities to people who need it. Read more

More on local citizens becoming frontline aid workers in Syria

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Kadar Sheikhmous, director of Shar for Development, a Syrian NGO that works in the northeast, said regular people in displacement hotspots like Hassakeh or the nearby town of Tel Tamer were the first to step up and help. Before aid agencies had even started their emergency response, residents came out to offer support in any way they could, he added.

In the city of Qamishli, near the border with Turkey, 34-year-old Helin Othman has been doing her part, working overtime to deliver food baskets and diapers to displaced people. Two years ago, the young Kurdish woman set up a Facebook group aimed at helping those affected by Syria’s ongoing conflict. These days, she is rallying the support of almost 50,000 online followers. Many regularly donate money and supplies.

Othman helped 250 displaced families in Qamishli and Hassakeh with food last week. She is reaching out to those who are staying with friends or family, rather than those in shelters like the Hassakeh schools, because even though these people are fortunate to have found a home to stay in, they are often off the radar of aid organizations.

In the Assyrian Christian village of Tel Nasri, some 40 kilometres northwest of Hassakeh, 150 mostly Sunni Muslim families from the border town of Ras al-Ayn have taken refuge in homes abandoned by the area’s persecuted Christian community. According to three sources from the Assyrian community, the owners of the houses, the local council in exile, and Syria’s Assyrian bishop, agreed to temporarily open their doors to those in need.

Sami returned to the Assyrian Christian village after it was emptied out by IS. He welcomes the newly displaced people, mostly Sunni Muslims: “We’ve been helping the families who came… We eat together, keep each other company.”

“Lots and lots of people have invited people into their homes. It has been inspiring; everyone is hosting someone,” said one aid worker familiar with the situation in the northeast who wished to remain anonymous so they could continue working in the area. “People are trying so hard to do anything they can, and that should be commended.”

[The New Humanitarian]

EU boosts humanitarian assistance following floods in Horn of Africa

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As heavy flooding in the Horn of Africa region continues to put the lives of many vulnerable communities at risk, the European Commission is providing an additional €3 million in emergency aid.

The funding will be provided through humanitarian organizations in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan, and will provide emergency shelter for displaced people, food, logistics support for access as well as water, hygiene and sanitation assistance aimed at preventing the outbreak of cholera and other water-borne diseases.

[ReliefWeb]

Bernie Sanders wants to cut military aid to Israel, give it to Gaza as humanitarian relief

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2020 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders says if elected, he would take the $3.8 billion in annual military financing the US gives to Israel and instead give it to Gaza in the form of humanitarian aid.

The Vermont senator said he would use the military assistance to pressure Israel to take steps towards a two-state solution.

“My solution is to say to Israel: you get $3.8 billion every year, if you want military aid you’re going to have to fundamentally change your relationship to the people of Gaza, in fact, I think it is fair to say that some of that should go right now into humanitarian aid”

The US has agreed to give Israel a massive military aid package called the Memorandum of Understanding MOU. The latest aid package was approved by the Obama administration and agrees to give Israel $38 billion – $3.8 billion per year –  in military aid to Israel over 10 years. The MOU covers the years 2019-2028.

Several Democrats have proposed withholding some aid to push Israel into peace talks with the Palestinians. However, he is the first to suggest the US should give it to Gaza as humanitarian relief.

“It is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government, or for that matter to any government at all. We have a right to demand respect for human rights and democracy,” Sanders said. “What is going on in Gaza right now, for example, is absolutely inhumane. It is unacceptable. It is unsustainable.”

[CBN News]

UN welcomes efforts to de-escalate crisis in northeast Syria

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The United Nations welcomes efforts to de-escalate the crisis in northeastern Syria in the wake of Turkey and Russia agreeing to a deal that would allow Russian military police and Syrian border guards into the area, among other measures.

UN Assistant Secretary-General, Khaled Khiari, noted that while the situation remains volatile and uncertain, there has been “an encouraging surge of diplomatic activity” in recent weeks. “The United Nations takes note of these agreements and welcomes any efforts to de-escalate the situation in line with the UN Charter and to protect civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law,” said Mr. Khiari. “The United Nations also takes note of Turkey’s announcement that ‘at this stage, there is no further need to conduct a new operation outside the present operation area.’

In the last two weeks alone, nearly 180,000 people fled the border areas between Turkey and Syria. A reduction in fighting means some have begun to return. “As the situation evolves, a critical challenge facing humanitarian actors is the need to scale up operations from within Syria,” said Ursula Mueller, the number two official in the UN humanitarian affairs coordination office, OCHA. “To achieve this, we will need all parties to facilitate safe, rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access via land and air routes to transport humanitarian supplies, along with an expansion of humanitarian capacity in the northeast.”

Another challenge are explosive hazards such as mines which also impede humanitarian access in Syria, in addition to injuring and killing civilians. Agnes Marcaillou, Director of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported that so far this year, Syria has recorded an average of 184 explosive incidents per day. “The contamination severely impacts the lives and livelihoods of the population and further amplifies the social and economic crisis,” she said.

[UN News]

Africans caught in US-Mexico migration limbo

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For months, hundreds of African migrants and asylum seekers from conflict-ridden countries like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been camped out in tents in front of the main immigration detention facility in the town of Tapachula, in southern Mexico.

Most flew halfway around the world to Brazil, then made the dangerous journey north through the Darien Gap – a remote, roadless swathe of jungle – before traversing Central America into Mexico in the hope of finally reaching the United States to claim asylum.

On reaching Tapachula, they found themselves corralled into a detention center and told they couldn’t progress further without a permit that protects them for deportation and allows them to stay legally – permits that are harder to come by since Mexico agreed in June to help the United States limit the number of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border.

Fearing deportation or that the permits will never come, a frustrated group of migrants – including hundreds of Africans – set off north this week only to be stopped shortly afterwards by Mexican national guard and police and returned to a holding facility. Even if the Africans were to reach the US border and get to the front of the long queue, a recent policy – pushed by President Donald Trump and known as “Remain in Mexico” – means migrants hoping to seek asylum in the United States must await their fate in Mexico. 

The US administration is also set to enforce a series of bilateral agreements that will bar people from applying if they don’t first apply for asylum in the Central American countries they travelled through: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The asylum seekers could be deported back to the so-called “safe third country”, which critics say are not safe at all and would put many at renewed risk. 

Pressure is growing on many of the Africans to claim asylum in Mexico, but several told The New Humanitarian they didn’t want to because of the lack of economic opportunities and a perception they could struggle with racist attitudes. Even if they were to pursue asylum in Mexico, the system is already overwhelmed. According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, asylum applications in Mexico rose from 2,100 in 2014 to 48,000 for the first eight months of 2019.

According to the Mixed Migration Centre, an independent resource for data on migrants and asylum seekers, some 4,799 Africans were apprehended in Mexico between January and July this year – a fourfold increase over the same period in 2018. “Somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 [Africans] are currently stranded in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula,” it said.

[The New Humanitarian]

Alleviating poverty “a slow deliberative process of discovery – no miracle cure”

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Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer won the Nobel Prize in Economics for their on-the-ground experiments on how best to alleviate poverty. This award recognizes their more than a quarter of a century’s work in showing how randomized control trials can help to alleviate poverty.

Esther Duflo  states that alleviating poverty, is “a slow deliberative process of discovery – no miracle cure.” 

The need for context, the fact that one size does not fit all, and the essential nature of detailed and deliberate communication and engagement is all part of this continual process of investigation.

Duflo’s TED Talk reiterates the importance of identifying the right problem. She provides a reminder for us to battle against our assumptions and best guesses and eliminate those things that, although part of the problem, are not in themselves the answer to making the biggest impact and creating the possibility of taking solutions to scale.  She nicely demonstrates how getting this right means we can really get change as well as value for money.

[International Institute for Environment and Development]

End to Syrian ceasefire threatens new round of civilian flight

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As the end of a five-day ceasefire approaches in Syria’s northeast, thousands of civilians who have fled their homes – many of them several times already during the country’s eight and a half year war – face the prospect of having to do so once again.  Both humanitarians and the people they help are worried about what will happen if the violence kicks off again.

Hedinn Halldorsson, a spokesperson for OCHA, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body said, explains that the dangers civilians face rise every time their lives are upended. “The risk of gender based violence against women and children… increases. There is also a considerable psychological impact; distress, caused by [each] displacement.”

“They’ve lost everything; their homes, their income. They are terrified of everything, even of people asking them their names,” said Zozan Ayoub, the headmistress of an elementary school in Hassakeh who is now running the building as a shelter. “They have no psychological support. They are five families to one room, and they lack electricity, food, and gas for cooking.”

In 2013, Omar and her family fled their hometown of Tel Abyad when clashes broke out between Kurdish fighters and ISIS. They traveled westwards to Kobani, where they stayed until ISIS advanced on the city in late 2014, then forcing them to flee into Turkey. When Tel Abyad was liberated from the militants in 2015, she and her family returned to their hometown, only to flee home once again when Turkish airstrikes began with the new offensive.

“We are civilians; what do they want from us?” she asked angrily.

The UN warns that this cycle of displacement translates into extreme physical and mental stress. People are unable to hold down jobs, ultimately forcing more families to depend on aid to get by. This is compounded by the fact that unlike refugees, displaced people have not crossed a border for sanctuary, and largely remain close to the conflict they are trying to escape from.

[The New Humanitarian]

US restores aid to Central America after reaching migration deals

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The United States restored economic aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that had been cut off after the Trump administration complained the three Central American countries had done too little to halt a surge in migration.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday announced that some “targeted assistance” would resume as they praised governments of the three countries for reaching immigration agreements with the United States.

The three countries from the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America have sent record numbers of migrants toward the United States in recent years, fueling Trump’s rhetoric as part of his “zero tolerance” anti-immigration policy. Pompeo said in a statement that he had cut off the aid earlier this year on Trump’s direction “until the governments of these countries took sufficient action to reduce the overwhelming number of migrants coming to the U.S. border.”

Neither Trump nor Pompeo said how much of the hundreds of millions of dollars of suspended aid would be released. The Washington Post, citing an unnamed person familiar with the decision, reported it amounted to $143 million.

The Trump administration requires asylum-seekers to first seek safe haven in a third country they pass through on the way to the United States. The administration contends the majority of asylum-seekers are really economic migrants who will stay home if their only option is to seek asylum somewhere else.

[Reuters]