Monthly Archives: April 2018

Migrants-at-risk blocked from crossing US border near Tijuana

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A group of Central American asylum seekers spent Monday languishing on the ground outside a border crossing after U.S. officials said they did not have space to process them. On one side of the standoff are 220 migrants, who cite their right to seek shelter from persecution back home and have traveled through Mexico in a caravan to highlight the suffering of asylum seekers. On the other side is the Trump administration, which is trying to crack down on illegal immigration and says many asylum claims are fraudulent.

Trump tweeted last week that he had ordered the secretary of homeland security “not to let these large Caravans of people into our Country,” adding, “It is a disgrace.” But under international treaties it has signed, the U.S. government is obliged to allow foreigners to apply for asylum.

The San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego has detention space for about 300 people. U.S. officials have not said how many people are being held there. Asylum seekers are typically detained until officers from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services conduct interviews to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution or torture if they are sent home. Many of the migrants say they face threats to their lives in their native lands.

Suany Rodriguez, 6, who had been running to the bathroom all day with a bad case of diarrhea, grabbed a Barbie before sitting down in the street in front of a pharmacy. Her mother, Irma Rivera, 31, said that the girl had woken up sick after a bitterly cold night at the border. The family had left Honduras after Rivera’s husband was killed in a cornfield…She said she received anonymous phone calls stating that … other members of her family would be slain. That’s why she’s seeking asylum.

“We’re asking for them [U.S. authorities] to be fair. You don’t leave your country because you want to. The violence makes you leave,” Rivera said. “My life is at risk and so are the lives of my children.”

[Washington Post]

Challenge of getting South Sudan’s former child soldiers back to school

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More than 200 child soldiers, all under 18, have been freed from armed groups in South Sudan. The children were part of a civil war that broke out in the Republic of South Sudan two years after it was granted independence from Sudan. The ongoing conflict has ripped the country apart, making the living conditions for most South Sudanese worse than ever before.

About 19 000 child soldiers are thought to be part of the conflict and so the release of any is great news. But it’s not guaranteed that they will reintegrate successfully.

Education isn’t accessible to most children in South Sudan. In 2016 only 50% of children aged 6-13 were enrolled in primary education and just 3.5% aged 14-17 were enrolled in secondary education. There are challenges in finding a school and being able to afford to go to one. This is even harder for demobilized child soldiers who are often traumatized and stigmatized.

A recent report states that there have been 293 military attacks on schools, affecting over 90,000 children. Due to this security concern, education isn’t readily available in many home communities and so shortly after the former child soldiers are reunited with their families, they leave.

The children will also have to pay for school. Even though most of the schools are meant to be government funded, teachers are often not paid and so the students pay fees to give the teachers a little income. But with few resources and no support system, the children struggle to do this and run the risk of not attending or not having teachers.

[Read full News24 article]

Gains against malaria at risk from US cuts and donor complacency

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Zambia’s multipronged effort against malaria is making headway, at least in some parts of the country. In Eastern Province,  parasite prevalence among small children is down almost by half, to 12 percent. Efforts in Southern Province have been even more successful –prevalence is now below one percent. The national death rate declined by around 80 percent from 2010 to 2017. However, the results have been uneven. Many parts of the country have seen increases in prevalence, with some areas as high as 32 percent.

A big chunk of the funding for Zambia’s anti-malaria programming comes from the United States. Begun under former president George W. Bush, the fight against malaria is often cited as one of the US government’s most successful global health campaigns. But that could all change with President Donald Trump’s threat to cut foreign assistance around the globe.

The United States is such a massive player in global health, accounting for more than one third of total anti-malaria funding expenditures worldwide, that even relatively minor cuts would have a significant impact. The current global budget for malaria is less than half of what is needed to meet global malaria targets of reducing malaria by 40 percent by 2020, according to the World Health Organization.

Malaria experts warn that a reduction in that effort would be more than a minor setback: if malaria has been suppressed in a region and then resurges, the results can be devastating since natural immunities will be lowered and death and disability can rise sharply.

Globally, the trend is worrying. A recent WHO assessment found that progress around the world had stalled for the first time in a decade.


Failure of international donors puts millions of Syrian children at risk

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The failure of international donors to meet the UN’s funding target for Syrian refugees will put the lives of millions of children at risk over the coming year.

A $5bn shortfall will impact not only upon Syrian refugees themselves but also on the host communities in which they now live. New research carried out by Plan International in Lebanon – which hosts close to 1.5 million Syrian refugees – reveals shocking statistics on child marriage and child labor among the Syrian community in particular.

In North Lebanon and North Bekaa, child labor is rife: 42% of Syrian boys aged 15-17 are currently employed. Research also revealed that 16% of girls aged 15-17 were either engaged to be married or already someone’s wife.

These figures should act as a wake-up call to the international community, says Colin Lee, Regional Programme Director for Plan International in the Middle East.

“The situation for refugee children caught up in the Syrian crisis is desperate. Families are struggling to meet basic needs, forcing them to marry off daughters and send sons out to work. Although this means one less mouth to feed and a little extra money to put food on the table, it is having a devastating impact on the lives of their children.

“If the gaping funding gap that this conference has left us with is not closed, we will be unable to reach the millions of people who are most desperately in need of assistance. We’re now into the eighth year of this conflict and the international community must not turn its back on the children caught up in this crisis.”

[Plan International]                                    See also More Misery for destitute Syrians

Cash and vouchers the new vogue in humanitarian aid

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The popular image of humanitarian aid in public consciousness is of trucks loaded with essential foods being handed out to refugees. But increasingly, humanitarian organizations have been turning away from transporting bags of commodities to crisis areas, and are instead focusing on giving refugees the means to buy their own food.

The UK-based Overseas Development Institute estimates that cash and vouchers now account for around 6% of total humanitarian spending, up from less than 1% in 2004. That is still a small amount but the United Nations World Food Program says cash now accounts for just over a quarter of its assistance.

Cash and vouchers are particularly popular in urban areas and have been extensively used to support Syrian refugees. That often means vouchers that can be used at supermarkets or even cash wired directly to those in need.

Aside from the dignity and choice that cash and vouchers offer, they are also seen as a more effective method of supporting the local economy. Traditional in-kind assistance – like soap, blankets, rice – is often sold by refugees below market price, to get something they need more. Cash allows them to keep the full value of the support they receive, and to prioritize according to their needs.

Vouchers are also popular with the donor community because it is easier to track and trace their use.


UN encourages more females in the tech industry

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From Switzerland to Somalia girls are creating their own apps; they are programming the robots they build. On Girls in Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) Day, the United Nations is urging more girls to pursue careers in the fast-paced science and tech industry, generally regarded as a ‘boys-only’ club.

“Each time we introduce more women to the world of ICTs, not only do we take one more step towards achieving gender equality, but we accelerate socio-economic development for all,” said Brahima Sanou, the Director of Telecommunication Development at the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

“In many countries, we are starting to see International Girls in ICT Day initiatives moving from one-day events to sustained, on-going programs to teach girls about ICTs throughout the year.”

Held annually on the fourth Thursday in April, the International Day recognizes the importance of young women in science, technology, engineering and math, and to inform them of the vast potential in these fields. Since its inception, over 300,000 girls and young women have taken part in more than 9,000 celebrations of International Day in 166 countries worldwide.

“The International Girls in ICT Day has become a global movement in which more girls and young women are learning about the wide range of fascinating opportunities ICT careers can offer,” said Houlin Zhao, the Secretary-General of ITU. It is essential that the public and private sectors, as well as academia, and civil society seize the momentum created by the International Day to leapfrog the number of girls pursuing careers in technology.”

[UN News]

Twice a refugee

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Amira is 61 years old, each wrinkle on her face reflecting a sorrow, a heartbreak. Amira had a normal life in Syria not that long ago; she was happily married with six children before the Syrian Civil War came and tore apart her country and her family.

When a rocket exploded outside her family’s apartment in Aleppo, Amira’s husband went to help the injured. A second rocket exploded, killing her beloved husband and father of her children.

The next year Amira’s son died during a missile attack where people were waiting for water. To add sorrow to sorrow, soon another son would die, leaving behind his wife and four orphan children.

The following year the husband of Amira’s newly-married daughter was killed, leaving behind another orphan, a daughter who has meningitis.

2016 brought an intensified bombing campaign of eastern Aleppo, and with it untold pain, suffering and misery. The UN’s humanitarian chief warned that eastern Aleppo was being turned into “one giant graveyard” as the rebel-held area was being overrun. During this nightmare, Amira’s grandchild, the fourth child of her widowed daughter, was injured when a bomb blast threw her against a wall, smashing her skull.

So Amira left Aleppo through an established safe corridor to Idlib, hoping to recover from the horrors she has lived through. But in September and October of 2017, the hospitals where she had been taking her grandchildren for treatment were bombed. In early 2018, the fighting in Idlib and Afrin displaced thousands more and she decided to join the thousands of Syrians willing to risk their lives to reach Turkey.

Amira arrived in our city on the first of February with her family of 12: herself, a daughter with an injured child; her disabled son, his wife, and their daughter with meningitis; her youngest son, aged 13; and her widowed daughter-in-law with four kids, the youngest with a damaged skull. She moved in temporarily with her sister in a clean but over-crowded abode in a crime-infested slum area.

We met brave Amira one week after her arrival. Her brother lives here in Turkey; an injured man in immense pain with part of his head badly damaged. Amira just wants to find a safe haven for her remaining family, far from the sounds of war. You see the deep insecurity in her children, having fled Aleppo in 2016, and now, a year or so later, having to run for their lives again from Idlib. It is hard to imagine what these children must be going through, living in war zones for most of their lives and having to move twice already while still so young.

It seemed beyond our totally volunteer team’s capability to adopt a new refugee family, with our limited resources and so many other families to assist. Yet how could we not help them and try to take them under our wings?

An angel from abroad sent us $1000 to secure housing for Amira. A friend from the UK gave a generous gift for the mothers to purchase new clothes. We returned the next day with clothes for all the children, courtesy of a local Foreign Woman’s Club. Other friends went on a crusade to gather as many household items as they could.

Fast forward three weeks. They now have a new house in a better part of town, with a green area nearby where the children can play. Recently we did our second delivery of household items. The Foreign Women’s Club delivered two carloads and a truck of aid and we gave a nice bed and mattress from our former home.

We were also able to register them all to get their ID cards –in a single day! For those who work with refugees, you know that this process can take weeks and at times even months. The authorities bent over backwards to help us do this. We are in regular communication with the police here about our work with the refugees. We often enter neighborhoods that even the police usually do not enter. Our good relations with the authorities have paid off as they have been a big help to us.

Seeing Amira and her family’s utter joy as we delivered the different donations was such a reward. In a matter of three weeks I personally went from feeling overwhelmed to an overwhelming happiness in seeing how our donors in the West have once again risen up to the occasion to help others.

More misery for destitute Syrians

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Syria’s seven-year conflict continues to fuel the world’s largest refugee crisis, with more than 5.6 million people forced into prolonged exile in neighboring countries. Each year sees families driven deeper into penury, with the vast majority of refugees in Jordan and Lebanon now living below the poverty line and unable to meet their basic needs.

In Lebanon, where 58 per cent of the nearly one million registered Syrian refugees live in extreme poverty on less than US$2.90 per day, cash assistance helps to support some 33,000 of the worst-off families.

Now hundreds of thousands of impoverished Syrian refugee families in the Middle East risk losing their main financial lifeline, due to expire from May, unless urgently needed additional resources are found to plug a US$270 million funding shortfall.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, currently provides much-needed cash assistance to the most vulnerable families – mainly in Jordan and Lebanon – to help them cover the cost of shelter, heating, healthcare and other essentials. But with current funding for the program set to run out from May onwards, almost a million people face losing this vital assistance.

The warning comes ahead of a major EU and UN donor conference in Brussels on April 24 and 25, aimed at securing fresh funding pledges to support Syrians and the main refugee hosting countries. Total requirements for 2018 are set at US$5.6 billion, but as of the end of March the UN appeal was only 27 per cent funded.

Cash assistance is a key element in UNHCR’s response to the crisis. By enabling refugees to prioritize spending on their most pressing needs, it offers greater dignity and freedom of choice while also providing a boost to the local economies in areas shouldering the burden of hosting large numbers of refugees.


WHO delivers 185 tonnes of medical supplies to Syria

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World Health Organization (WHO) has delivered 185 tonnes of life-saving medicines, anesthetics, antibiotics, emergency medical kits and other treatments to over 30 health partners in northern Syria so far in 2018. These deliveries are part of its ongoing efforts to meet the immediate and long-term health needs of hundreds of thousands of displaced and critically ill patients in northern Syria.

The shipments included 1.4 million medical treatments for surgical and trauma cases, reproductive health conditions and infectious diseases, as well as essential medicines for noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In total, about US$ 1.8 million worth of supplies were delivered to 180 primary and secondary health-care facilities from January to April 2018.

Lack of health facilities and qualified health workers remains a serious concern in northern Syria. More than half of the country’s public hospitals and health-care centers have either closed or are only partially functioning.

In order to ensure access to services, WHO equipped 7 mobile clinics that have been deployed to provide primary health-care services, vaccination, nutritional screening and mental health support in areas with the greatest need, where health services are no longer available.

Funding for the medical supplies delivered by WHO to northern Syria is provided through the Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) pooled funds, and the governments of Kuwait and Norway.

[World Health Organization]

Malaria parasites present in 23% of donor blood in some African countries

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Almost one in four blood bank supplies in certain regions of Africa may have malaria parasites in them, a new study suggests. UK scientists reviewed 26 studies that measured levels of Plasmodium parasites — which cause malaria — among blood donors in sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2017 and found that an average of 23.46% tested positive.

Overall, there is a high risk that a potential blood donor or bag will contain parasites, said Dr. Philippe Guerin, director of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network and professor of medicine at Oxford University’s Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health.

“Malaria is one of the primary infections that can be transmitted through a blood transfusion in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Selali Fiamanya, a research fellow at the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network who also worked on the study.

Blood supplies are typically screened for blood-borne diseases before being made available to recipients, but Guerin believes that screening is not always being conducted systematically and that when it is, current lab techniques are not sensitive enough to spot all malaria parasites, particularly latent infections or when parasites are hiding in people who are infected but symptom-free.

Blood donors are usually adults, and in regions with high rates of malaria, adults often develop some immunity against the parasite, meaning they could have the parasites in their blood but not feel sick, Guerin said.

Meanwhile, pregnant women and children receive the majority of transfusions in this region, Fiamanya said. The transmission risk of contracting malaria through blood supplies is unknown but is likely to be high, Guerin said. “If you’ve got parasites circulating, the infection risk is high.”