Monthly Archives: October 2020

UNRWA struggles and Palestinians across Middle East suffering unprecedented poverty

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Across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere, Palestinian refugees are suffering at new depths because of the pandemic, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency chief, Philippe Lazzarini. “There is despair and hopelessness,” he said in an interview.

“In Gaza, people are going through the garbage,” Lazzarini said, referring to reports from UNRWA staff in the enclave. Lazzarini, an experienced humanitarian, was appointed commissioner general of UNRWA in April, and leads it at a time of deep financial crisis for the agency. Add to that the threat of coronavirus ripping through refugee camps across the Middle East, home to many of the 5.6 million Palestinians supported by UNRWA. Meanwhile, Israel’s possible annexation of the occupied West Bank looms, threatening to stifle UNRWA’s work there.

Collected, diplomatic and with three decades of humanitarian experience behind him, the Swiss Lazzarini has been brought in to steady a rocking ship. “In such a highly unstable, volatile environment, we need a predictable UNRWA,” he said. “We need a predictable organization and predictable funding.”

With a typical yearly budget deficit of well over £100m, the organization of 30,000 staff is never more than four or five weeks away from running out of funds. The financial crisis exploded in 2018 when Donald Trump cut up to $300m of annual donations, months after he angrily complained that the US received “no appreciation or respect” from Palestinians for the aid.

[The Guardian]

World Food Programme awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

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This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the World Food Programme (WFP) for its “efforts to combat hunger” and its “contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas.”

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which presented the award in Oslo on Friday, also described the organization as “a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

Executive director David Beasley reacted with joy to the news of his organization’s Nobel win. He said the credit for the prize lay with the “WFP family. … They’re out there in the most difficult, complex places in the world, where there’s war, conflict, climate extremes … They deserve this award.”

He also said that the award was a “call to action,” urging people to “step up and step up now,” warning there are “possibilities of famines of biblical proportions,” and calling for billions of dollars in additional aid to save people around the globe.

“We’re looking for a vaccine for Covid; we have a vaccine for hunger — it’s called food, and we have the food. We need the money and the access to solve it,” he added.

[CNN]

Central American migrant caravans restart heading north

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Members of a U.S.-bound migrant caravan from Honduras have been detained in Guatemala and deported before they could reach Mexico. Though their journey was cut short, the formation of a new caravan reveals that – as in 2018 and 2019 – Central Americans are still fleeing violence, hunger and climate change en masse.

The crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border also persists despite the coronavirus drawing media attention toward other matters. The result is a continuation of dehumanizing and dangerous conditions on the border, with less public scrutiny than ever.

Under international and domestic law, the United States must offer asylum to people with a “well-founded fear” of persecution based on their political beliefs, racial or ethnic background, religion or other special characteristics that make them a target for violence. But in April 2018, the Trump administration began “metering” asylum-seekers by requiring that they get on a waiting list for their initial appointment with U.S. officials. By August 2019, 25,000 people were on the list, mostly in Tijuana. By March 2020, over 65,000 asylum-seekers had been returned to Mexico, mostly through ports of entry in Texas.

Under pressure from the Trump administration, the Mexican government acceded to this policy, giving asylum-seekers the right to wait for their interview in Mexico. But shelters could not keep up with the demand, leaving thousands on the streets or in tent camps with no plumbing or electricity. Asylum-seekers outside the shelters rarely have access to social assistance or legal counsel, and are targeted by criminals and local police for extortion, mugging, kidnapping and assault.

In March 2020 the Department of Homeland Security closed the waiting lists for asylum interviews and suspended asylum hearings. Since then, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has turned away more than 147,000 people. Most of the migrants, including non-Mexicans, are stuck in Mexico.

Yet hunger, sickness, violence and generally dangerous conditions in Central America mean many asylum-seekers will brave the obvious health risks at the U.S.-Mexico border rather than return home. And others, like the migrants in the new Honduran caravan, will continue to flee.

[The Conversation]