Monthly Archives: February 2020

Syrians fleeing government offensive ‘humanitarian catastrophe’

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Nearly 600,000 Syrians are surging toward the Turkish border to escape unexpectedly swift Syrian government advances into the country’s last opposition-held enclave, amid warnings that the exodus could mushroom into the worst humanitarian crisis of the nearly nine-year war.

More than 200,000 people have fled their homes in the past week alone, according to U.N. figures. They are streaming north along clogged roads toward the relative safety of the Turkish border, as Syrian troops, backed by Russian airstrikes, slice through opposition-held towns and villages in the northwestern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.

They have joined more than 300,000 people displaced from ­areas farther south since the launch of a government offensive in early December, bringing to 586,000 the number of people now on the move in a shrinking pocket of territory hugging the Turkish border.

More than half are children, most of the rest are women, and they are sleeping on roadsides or camping under trees in muddy fields because there is no accommodation to be had, the United Nations says. The existing camps are full, local homes have taken in all the people they can hold, and there is an acute shortage of tents to provide shelter from harsh winter temperatures, which are projected to drop to 19 degrees Fahrenheit over the weekend.

[The Washington Post]

Refugee resettlement flattens off

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For refugees who can’t go home, starting over in a new country is a life-changing opportunity – for generations. But the chances of that, even for the most deserving cases, are less than one in 20, according to new data from the UN.

The UN refugee agency reported on Wednesday that 63,696 refugees were offered resettlement in 2019, slightly more than in 2018. Those were placed from an estimated 1.4 million potential cases – just 4.5 percent.

Every year, UN refugee case-workers prepare files of candidates eligible for “resettlement” – those who are most vulnerable in the country they have taken asylum in, or who face special threats back home. Once accepted by the receiving country, resettlement usually means not just an air ticket and accommodation, but a clear path to permanent residency and citizenship.

The United States under the Trump administration slashed the number of permanent places it offers refugees. Unfortunately, other countries have not filled the gap.

While the US quota for permanent resettlement has been slashed, the United States still took one third of the 63,696 refugees resettled in 2019.

The total number of available places has dropped almost half from a peak of over 120,000 in 2016, due largely to a change in the US quota.

[The New Humanitarian]

Unprecedented locust invasion in Africa and Asia

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Locust swarms of biblical proportions are threatening crops across a wide swath of Africa and southwest Asia—spurring alarm among top international officials.

A major concern is famine. The United Nations is warning that mass swarms of desert locusts are endangering food supplies in eastern Africa. Officials in Rome noted the situation has a high potential to devolve into a full-blown crisis. Dominique Burgeon, an emergency services director at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said the locust infestation in Africa is now FAO’s top priority.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres took to Twitter in an effort to draw global attention to the worsening outbreak. The swarms are now threatening farms in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia but are expected to spread to neighboring countries and India soon.

The U.N. chief pinned blame for the crisis squarely on global warming. Cyclones that struck the driest parts of the Arabian Peninsula last year triggered the current crisis, creating ideal conditions for the desert locust species to multiply. “Desert locusts are extremely dangerous,” Guterres wrote. “Triggered by the climate crisis, the outbreak is making the dire food security situation in East Africa even worse.”

The desert locust is a particularly ravenous species that can eat its own weight in food every day. Swarms easily consume entire fields and form mass clouds large enough to block out the sun. They’re quick, too, moving up to 150 kilometers in a day. More breeding cycles are expected. The swarms increase in size twenty-fold with each successive generation and could reach India by June.

“It’s certainly the most dangerous migratory pest in the world, desert locust,” said Keith Cressman, FAO’s senior agriculture officer. “A swarm the size of Rome can eat enough food in one day as everybody in Kenya.” Cressman said FAO is now classifying the situation as “an upsurge, which is one step before a full plague.”

[Scientific American]

UN health agency highlights ‘critical health threats’ facing Idlib civilians

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Fighting in Idlib, the last area in Syria under opposition-control, has intensified in recent weeks. Since December 1, nearly 520,000 Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, many for the second time.

On average, WHO and its partners reach 800,000 in northwest Syria every month – but the agency said the situation on the ground is changing by the hour. This has further limited access to basic healthcare, an increasing lack of basic medicine, and less protection against communicable diseases as a fragile immunization network, put in place by WHO and partners, is now disrupted. An estimated 2.9 million people in Syria’s northwest are in need of healthcare.

A senior official said it was “striking” that in the case of Idlib, where Syrian Government forces plus their allies Russia and others are battling the last remaining rebel fighters, “the enormous humanitarian needs are being largely ignored by the international media and governments.

“Northwest Syria represents one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises, where civilians are suffering on an extraordinary level.  Humanitarian agencies can only do so much. What we need is a renewed international commitment to bring an end to this protracted and devastating crisis”, he said.

[UN News]

Turkey and Syria clash as Idlib violence escalates

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Shelling by Syrian government forces early Monday killed five Turkish soldiers in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, according to Turkey’s Defense Ministry, which said its forces carried out retaliatory strikes on Syrian military positions.

The violent escalation between Turkey and Syria, which are neighbors but bitter adversaries, amounted to some of the most serious clashes between the two governments in years.

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are pursuing a military offensive in Idlib, a province in northwestern Syria that hosts more than 3 million people, including residents and civilians displaced from other parts of the country. The Syrian offensive has killed hundreds of civilians and caused an exodus of displaced people from towns caught up in the fighting, according to humanitarian aid groups.

The latest violence appeared certain to further test Turkey’s complicated partnership with Russia. The relationship rests on strengthening commercial and military ties but has recently been strained as the two governments have backed opposing sides in conflicts throughout the Middle East, including in Syria and Libya. Russia is also Assad’s most important military ally and has backed Syria’s Idlib offensive as part of Moscow’s overarching goal of restoring all of Syria’s territory to government control.

[The Washington Post]