Monthly Archives: October 2016

Europe’s aid plan for Syrian refugees: A million debit cards

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The European Union is desperate to keep Syrian refugees from bolting from Turkey for Europe. Now the EU is launching its biggest aid program yet: a debit card that can be used to buy whatever food, medicine or clothing a family needs, or to get cash.

The Syrian refugees are intrigued, but immediately grasp the brutal math. There are about 3 million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. Even if there really are a million of these cards — and distributing them will require a huge effort — that means 2 million Syrians in Turkey would not be getting them.

Red Crescent Director General Mehmet Gulluoglu says refugees outside the camps — which are most of them — will be able to take these cards to an ATM and get cash, up to 100 Turkish lira a month, or about $30 for each registered family member. “They can pay their rents, pay their bills or for food, whatever they need,” he says. “Because it will be certain, it will be concrete and it will be regular support.”

It will also be spent on local businesses. There have been cash-based aid programs before, but not on this scale. Jonny Hogg, spokesman for the World Food Program, says this is the biggest humanitarian relief contract ever signed by the EU. It aims to help refugees not just survive but also have a tiny bit of control over their lives again.

Some supporters have already pointed to an obvious issue: Despite the program’s admirable reach, aiming to help a million of the neediest Syrians in Turkey, how much help can they really get from 100 lira, just over $30 a month?

Hogg, the WFP spokesman, says in some cases, quite a lot: “I’ve met refugees who are living in caves because they can’t find anywhere else to live. They’ve spent the winter living in caves. A hundred Turkish lira is going to make a profound difference to these people’s lives.”

As with so much of the international response to the refugee crisis, this program is hugely ambitious — and yet not enough.


Uganda hosts one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world

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Most people associate the global migrant crisis with Europe’s struggle to accommodate the massive numbers of people who have arrived over the past two years, but African nations continue to host as many refugees as those in Europe (both regions hover around 4.4 million, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Remarkably, 26 percent of the world’s refugees now live in Africa, in some of the world’s poorest nations, least equipped to handle the inflow.

Three months ago, the town of Bidi Bidi in northern Uganda was mostly rugged grassland, speckled with a few small buildings and homes. Now, Bidi Bidi is home to the world’s fourth-biggest refugee camp, according to United Nations officials–160,000 South Sudanese who fled the most recent spasm in their country’s civil war. The makeshift camp has received the same number of refugees since July as all of Greece did from January to September, according to data from the International Office for Migration and UNHCR.

In July, fighting in South Sudan’s capital shattered a fragile cease-fire that had been in place for about a year between forces led by the country’s president and vice president. Hundreds of people were killed over several days. Immediately, civilians started fleeing their homes. Many of them crossed the border to Uganda. On one day alone, 8,000 people arrived. Women and children make up 85 percent of new arrivals at Bidi Bidi, according to UNHCR. Officials are expecting thousands more to arrive in the coming months.

Uganda hosts one of the most progressive refugee policies in the world. Refugees in Uganda are given the right to work and travel freely. They are given materials to build homes and a plot of land to cultivate. They are even allowed to vote and stand for office at a local level. The World Bank has called Uganda’s refugee policy “one of the most progressive and generous in the world.”

[Washington Post]

Red Cross struggles to raise funds for North Korean flood relief

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The Red Cross is struggling to raise needed funds to aid flood-affected regions of North Korea after a disappointing response from the international community to its emergency appeal, a spokesman said on Saturday.

Red Cross has only raised 25 percent of the $15.38 million it sought in an emergency appeal aimed at helping more than 330,000 people needing humanitarian assistance over the next 12 months.

Donors’ political concerns about the North Korean government have hampered efforts to raise funds, Patrick Fuller, communications manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said, even though the money donated to the Red Cross is spent by the organization, without passing through the government.

International donors need to “put politics aside and recognize this is a humanitarian tragedy for thousands of people,” said Fuller.


Greece’s refugee time bomb

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A long-feared immigration crisis in Greece may already be at hand. Refugee camps on the Greek islands have been overwhelmed by the influx of tens of thousands of Syrians, threatening to create a much wider emergency for Europe. [Der Spiegel]

The proximate cause of the emergency is Turkey. Under an agreement brokered last spring by EU leaders, Greece can send Syrian migrants to live in Turkey. But Greek asylum officials, defying their country’s parliament, are growing unwilling to do so out of fear of Turkish human rights abuses. [Politico Europe]

As deportations to Turkey stall, new refugees continue to pour into the rapidly deteriorating Greek camps in the islands by the eastern Aegean Sea. Doctors Without Borders issued a blistering report about the 60,000 refugees in “appalling conditions,” where children walk without shoes and families live in small tents. [Associated Press]

Earlier this week, migrants in the camps rioted after an ambulance was slow to help a woman struck and killed by a car. Some threw stones at police and set fire to patrol cars. In September, after false rumors circulated that refugees would be deported to Turkey, someone set fire to the tents at the Lesbos camp and left 4,000 people without shelter. [Newsweek]

Anti-refugee forces in Greece are building. The far-right Golden Dawn Party has been connected with vigilante patrols on the borders of the camps, and reporters covering the humanitarian emergency have been attacked. [New Statesman]

Yemen food crisis leaves millions at risk of starving

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yemen-starvation-saida-ahmad-baghiliThe UN World Food Programme fears “an entire generation could be crippled by hunger” as the food crisis in war-torn Yemen grows worse.

The organization said it has provided food for more than 3 million people each month since February but is beginning to struggle. It has split these rations so it can reach 6 million people every month, but resources are beginning to run out.

In some areas of the country, 70% of the population struggle to feed themselves.

“An entire generation could be crippled by hunger,” Torben Due, the program’s director in Yemen, said in a statement. “We need to scale up our life-saving assistance to reach more people with timely food assistance and preventive treatment. We appeal to the international community to support the people of Yemen.

The war in Yemen began in early 2015 when Houthi rebels — a minority Shia group from the north of the country — drove out the US-backed government and took over the capital. A Saudi-led coalition, made up of several Arab countries and backed by the US, began a military campaign aimed at restoring the Yemeni government. The ongoing conflict has left thousands dead and starving.


Media biases Aleppo vs. Mosul

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In Syria and Iraq, two large Sunni Arab urban centers –East Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq– are being besieged by pro-government forces strongly supported by foreign airpower.

In East Aleppo, some 250,000 civilians and 8,000 insurgents are under attack by the Syrian Army and supported by the Russian and Syrian air forces. The bombing of East Aleppo has rightly caused worldwide revulsion and condemnation.

But look at how differently the international media is treating a similar situation in Mosul, where one million people and an estimated 5,000 Isis fighters are being encircled by the Iraqi army with massive support from a US-led air campaign. In the case of Mosul, unlike Aleppo, the defenders are to blame for endangering civilians by using them as human shields and preventing them leaving. In East Aleppo, there are no human shields –though the UN says that half the civilian population wants to depart– but simply innocent victims of Russian savagery.

Destruction in Aleppo by Russian air strikes is compared to the destruction of Grozny in Chechnya sixteen years ago, but, curiously, no analogy is made with Ramadi, a city of 350,000 on the Euphrates in Iraq, that was 80 per cent destroyed by US-led air strikes in 2015.

The extreme bias shown in foreign media coverage of similar events in Iraq and Syria will be a rewarding subject for PhD students looking at the uses and abuses of propaganda down the ages.

[Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch]

Britain investigating ‘superficial’ foreign aid projects

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British taxpayers’ money is being wasted on “superficial” foreign aid projects by some of the world’s biggest international bodies, Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel has warned.

Ms Patel told The Telegraph that her department will in the coming weeks “call out” foreign aid organizations using British money in “completely the wrong way”. And she disclosed that in future Union flags should be displayed on all British foreign aid packages, in a major show of “soft power” in the wake of Brexit.

Her department’s Multilateral Aid Review will be published in the middle of next month and will lay bare the way large aid agencies fail to get good value for money on British taxpayer-funded aid projects.

The last review in 2011 assessed 42 international bodies, judging them against performance indicators. Eighteen were judged to offer “adequate” or “poor” value for money. That review found there was “not enough evidence of multilaterals consistently delivering results on the ground, particularly in fragile states”.

“These organizations are there for their beneficiaries – not for their own self-serving interests.

[The Telegraph]

France evicting thousands of migrants from notorious ‘Jungle’ camp

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French security forces have started evicting the thousands of migrants living in a notorious camp known as “The Jungle” near the port of Calais. (The name “The Jungle” stems from the level of squalor and chaos.)

Authorities intend to dismantle the squalid camp that has housed thousands of people fleeing wars or poverty for a better life in Europe. People were given two choices: east or west France. NPR adds: “And once they’ve selected one of those regions, the authorities pick out one of the towns where they’ve set up refugee homes or centers.”

The approximately 450 homes or centers across the country “are intended to be temporary” and “will each hold 40 or 50 people for up to four months while their asylum cases are examined,” as The Guardian explains.

However, “those who do not claim asylum will be sent back to their country of origin,” according to the newspaper, and “almost two-thirds of those surveyed in the camp have said they do not want to be evicted and taken to French accommodation, while one-third say that they will continue to try to get to the U.K.”

Some migrants say they intend to hide within the Jungle, in hopes of avoiding being moved to another place in France.

Authorities hope the current eviction process will stand in contrast to what happened in March, The Associated Press reports, when they dismantled the southern half of the camp in a “chaotic, even brutal bulldozing operation that drew complaints from human rights groups.”


Three-day ceasefire ends in Aleppo with no humanitarian gains

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In Syria, heavy fighting has resumed in Aleppo, after a three-day ceasefire ended with the United Nations saying it was unable to evacuate any of the besieged city’s sick and wounded. Russia and Syria announced the “humanitarian” pause last week, but U.N. humanitarian affairs spokesperson Jens Laerke said aid workers were unable to reach those in need.

“Medical evacuations of sick and injured people could unfortunately not begin this morning in East Aleppo as planned, because the necessary conditions were not in place to ensure safe, secure and voluntary evacuation of sick and critically wounded people and their families,” said Laerke.

Russian and Syrian officials said rebels prevented civilians from leaving Aleppo during the break in fighting, accusing them of taking human shields.

[Democracy Now]

Changing climate threatens world’s smallholder farmers

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Farmers are already experiencing the effects of climate change according to a new report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The world’s 500 million smallholder farming households, who often only produce enough food for their families to survive, are projected to be among the worst hit by a changing climate.

Rob Vos, Director of Agricultural Development Economics at FAO, said weather, including rainfall, is becoming “much less predictable effecting farmers quite dramatically so they don’t know what to expect.” For example, he said in parts of Latin America and East Africa, an entire year’s worth of rainfall is now falling in just two weeks, “then the rest of the year you have no rainfall at all,” he said.

Rising temperatures are also leading to the spread of pests and diseases, he noted.

The report also noted that changes in diet, including increased demand for protein from meat, have put added pressures on the environment.