Monthly Archives: May 2016

Educational challenges highlighted at World Humanitarian Summit

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The underpinnings of the World Humanitarian Summit that took place in Istanbul on May 23-24 can be traced to years of vexation among NGOs, governments and U.N. agencies over failed humanitarian interventions. Some examples include:

The Fuller Project for International Reporting on the difficulties that Syrian refugee children face in accessing education in Turkey:

“Turkey has taken a central role in the response to the Syria crisis, hosting close to 3 million Syrian refugees – more than any other country. Some 330,000 children are already enrolled in Turkish schools, according to the education ministry. [Meanwhile] nearly 500,000 children remain entirely cut off from the education system. Many have been pushed into early marriage or the labor market, while others sit in temporary homes or roam Turkish streets.”

UNWRA’s commissioner general Pierre Krähenbühl on investing in the educational futures of Palestinian children trapped in conflict:

“UNRWA findings are deeply disturbing: 44 percent of UNRWA’s 692 schools across the Middle East – that’s a staggering 302 – have been directly impacted by conflict and violence in the past five years. In Syria, at least 70 percent of 118 UNRWA schools have at some stage of the war been rendered inoperative, either because they were impacted by violence or because we have used them as centers to house the displaced.”

Other challenges highlighted at World Humanitarian Summit

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Journalist John Owens on the psychological distance between Istanbul and neighbor Athens: “While Istanbul hosts the World Humanitarian Summit, the woes of tens of thousands of refugees stuck in limbo have remained unheard for months. ..In Greece, in particular, the asylum and relocation system – a central plank in European Union efforts to deal with the refugee crisis – is failing. It has pushed many displaced people into taking desperate measures.”

Journalist Alessandria Masi’s question of whether the summit can be effective: “On paper, the WHS seems like just what the doctor ordered in our modern, suffering global society. … [But] without Syria, Russia and Iran at the discussion tables, any solution to the Syrian crisis, particularly humanitarian aid access, seems unlikely. Saudi Arabia’s absence leaves little hope for progress on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”

Migration consultant Paul Currion on the need to include IDPs in humanitarian response: “The report of the secretary-general [largely] discusses refugees rather than IDPs, and that’s when the proposals become increasingly vague.”

A majority of the civil society actors called for change at all levels of bureaucracy and within governments and the humanitarian sector.

[News Deeply]

Ruined Syrian cities will need decades to recover from war

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The end of Syria’s brutal civil war is not in sight. The combatants are locked in a grinding, attritional battle that is as complex as it is cruel. More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed over the past five years, and roughly half of the country’s citizens have been forced to flee their homes.

Some of Syria’s most important urban centers have been devastated by endless street fighting and aerial bombardment.  In 2014, a U.N. study suggested that it would take Syria at least three decades to recover.The housing sector has been literally reduced to rubble.

The World Bank, using satellite imagery of six Syrian cities, came up with assessments for the damage and a conservative estimate on the losses in public infrastructure sits at $6 billion.

According to the World Bank’s analysis of six cities, Aleppo, once Syria’s most populous metropolitan center and financial capital, bore the brunt of the destruction. The damage to Aleppo has doubled in the past two years.

[Washington Post]

What was agreed upon at the Humanitarian Summit

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1. The most concrete outcome of the summit was the top 30 donors and aid agencies signing a so-called “Grand Bargain” to make aid more efficient.

2.  As expected, “localization” came out a winner in the discussions, with a target agreed in the Grand Bargain to direct 25 percent of humanitarian funding “as directly as possible” to local and national agencies. Twenty-seven international NGOs also signed the new Charter4Change, committing to passing 20 percent of their funding to national NGOs by 2018.

3. One former Save the Children staffer said she almost cried at the launch of the Education Cannot Wait fund, a recognition – after years of lobbying – that education is just as important as food and shelter in a crisis. On average, less than two percent of humanitarian aid goes towards education (some donors pledged to individually raise that to 30 percent).

4. Nearly 100 governments, aid agencies and others signed on to another Charter, committing not to discriminate against people with disabilities in humanitarian action, to better meet their needs.

5. It is a long-established factoid that investing $1 in preparing for crises will save you $7 responding to them, and yet it has proven very difficult to make that shift. The UN’s disaster risk reduction body had called for a “marker” to track DRR spending, though no specific target was set.

6. Facing a funding gap very roughly estimated at $15 billion in responding to crises, the summit emphasized the need for innovative approaches to financing. Several initiatives were announced.

7. Regional inter-governmental organizations have long complained that, despite being well-positioned to respond to crises in their regions faster and in a more culturally sensitive way, they do not have enough of a place at the humanitarian decision-making table.

8. The summit’s structure sought a range of ideas from both civil society organizations and the private sector, meaning many voices that do not traditionally have power were heard.

[Red full IRIN article]

Turkish President irked as major players snub humanitarian summit

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Imagine throwing a huge fundraiser. You proudly plan it for months. You invite all the must-have, high-society elites. On the big night, the place is packed, but at the last minute the big spenders — the ones you really want — don’t show. Turkey knows the feeling.

Turkey hosted the first UN World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24 in Istanbul. Former Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan had predicted in January that “all state and government heads will be coming to Turkey.” But they didn’t come.

Official figures from the United Nations were otherwise impressive, showing that 9,000 people from 173 countries attended, including about 50 presidents, prime ministers and ministers or their deputies. Participation from Europe was limited; most of the European countries that attended were those affected by the Syrian refugee wave.

The political heavyweights were noticeably absent this week: Britain, France and China were not represented at all, and the United States and Russia sent delegates at the undersecretary and deputy minister levels. It was no surprise that Russia didn’t send a high-level emissary, given its frosty state of relations with Turkey, but many were hoping the US president would attend.

The US Agency for International Development announced earlier this month that it had suspended assistance to Syrians in Turkey because of corruption. Doctors Without Borders pulled out of the summit, saying it had lost hope that the event would tackle the weaknesses of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities.

In a press conference at the end of the summit, President Erdogan criticized the G-7 countries (United States, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom) for not participating, saying, “It is sad that leaders of G-7 countries, other than [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, have not attended.”

Referring to the 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) the EU had pledged for the refugees, Erdogan said, “We see that their promised support has not materialized. My colleagues say 1 billion euros will arrive before July. Turkey is not asking for charity. This support is for the people in the camps.”


Oxfam: “We want to see rich countries step up to the plate”

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As the first UN World Humanitarian Summit drew to a close in Istanbul, some delegates pushed for a larger overhaul of the system.

“It is shameful that rich countries are moaning, complaining, sending refugees back, cutting deals behind their backs … We want to see rich countries step up to the plate, absorb refugees and give them opportunities in their countries,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of the aid group Oxfam International, told Al Jazeera.

At the center of the summit was a document that lists a number of core commitments – to use global leadership to prevent and end wars, to uphold the norms of humanitarian law, among others.

But the commitments contained in the document are non-binding, making it a declaration of intent rather than action.

[Al Jazeera]

Most people want to accept refugees, survey finds

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A new survey of 27 countries found that significant majorities of people would welcome refugees into the country and even consider taking them into their home. The study, commissioned by Amnesty International, says four in five people would “welcome refugees in their country, community or home.”

In 20 of the 27 countries, more than 75 percent of respondents said they would let refugees in their country. Only 17 percent said they would refuse refugees entry to their country.

These statistics, the rights group argues, shows how governments turning their backs on refugees are “badly out of touch with reality.”

Given all the drama sparked by refugees in the West, the figures are quite staggering, particularly in places like Germany, where an influx of migrants has rocked the country’s domestic politics.

Globally, two out of three respondents agree that national governments should do more to help refugees fleeing war or persecution, according to Amnesty International.

[Washington Post]

Turkey hinders millions of refugees getting the help they need

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Turkey is host to 2.7 million refugees and seeks $6.7 billion in additional humanitarian assistance from the European Union. Helping the refugees is a moral imperative, but Turkey is unlikely to receive the funding needed until it makes transparency a priority, including refugee registration information.

The needs of those in refugee camps are not difficult to determine. But there are an estimated 2.5 million non-camp refugees inside Turkey whose conditions are unknown. The Turkish government has not conducted large-scale surveys of non-camp refugees, and international organizations report that they cannot get permission to conduct surveys themselves. Only one government survey of refugees–conducted in 2013–has ever been made public. It found that 97 percent of Syrian women in Turkey could not find work and that 78 percent did not have enough money for food.

The situation is dire for refugees in the region. In Lebanon and Jordan, child labor and child marriage rates are skyrocketing. To feed their families, parents are forced to send their children to work.

It is time to rise above politics, lay out the facts and work together to address refugees’ problems–before they get worse. The humanitarians gathering in Istanbul must reaffirm their commitment to humanity and speak out against systems of secrecy that hinder aid. Transparency, in all its forms, is essential to an effective humanitarian response.

[Washington Post]

World Humanitarian Summit launches

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More than 125 Heads of State and Government are expected to join representatives from the UN community, civil society, the private sector, academia and thousands of other participants at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS).

Four years ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the World Humanitarian Summit to be organized, recognizing that the status quo could not continue. Since then, 23,000 people were consulted in over 150 countries.

The outcome of this global exercise is the Agenda for Humanity, a guiding document for the Summit in which Mr. Ban calls for people’s safety, dignity and right to thrive. It calls on world leaders to commit to five core responsibilities:

[UN News Centre]

Generosity to refugees is the answer, not fear

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Generosity is the answer, not fear. This is the message of Angelina Jolie, special UN envoy, to the international community as she urged governments from around the world to respond to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the World War II.

In a speech in London earlier this week, Jolie opined that everybody has a responsibility to alleviate the sufferings of those fleeing their home countries and should not allow politics of fear to get in the way.

Currently, the number of refugees arising from conflicts in various regions, including in Syria, is estimated at 60 million. With this, Jolie said that she understands why many people are angry with the inaction of various institutions that should be dealing with the refugee issues.

“It has created the risk of a race to the bottom, with countries competing to be the toughest in the hope of protecting themselves whatever the cost or challenge to their neighbors, and despite their international responsibilities,” Jolie said.

Jolie stressed that strength lies in being unafraid, referring to those who are afraid to take in refugees for reasons rooted in fear. She reiterated her call for generosity towards refugees, adding that every human being has an equal right to stand in dignity.

[Christian Post]