Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

Syrian civilians see no future in Idlib

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With nearly 300,000 people fleeing bombing and fighting in and around Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province since mid-December, civilians in the area told The New Humanitarian they had taken everything they own with them. Fearing the rebels will be unable or unwilling to resist the approaching forces, some said they had even torched their homes after emptying them, to deny President Bashar al-Assad’s fighters any extra benefits of taking over the territory.

This latest wave of displacement has been especially difficult. It has coincided with heavy winter rains that have drenched the already overcrowded camps that dot Idlib.

Abu Ghadir – a father of six displaced several times and now staying in the village of al-Bira in northern Idlib – saw no future for himself or the other three million people who find themselves increasingly trapped in Syria’s northwest. “This is our end; the end for Idlib and its people,” he said.

Accompanied by heavy aerial bombing, the Syrian army and Russian forces have been accelerating a months-long ground offensive on Idlib. The only adjacent border – with Turkey – is closed, and while more and more people are trying to smuggle themselves across it, others, particularly minors, are joining rebel ranks to fight what they see as a struggle for existence.

Tahrir al-Sham is listed as a terrorist organization in the United States, UK, Canada, and Turkey. Thus concerns about resources reaching the extremist rebels severely limit available social services and emergency aid to the region. Videos produced by a recruitment and fundraising campaign organized by clerics working for Hayat Tahrir al-Sham show children rushing the stage as preachers rouse locals to join the ranks of the “holy warriors”.

Minors are currently training in several locations in Idlib, according to an official with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.  The official said that training camps were underground, due to fear of coalition airstrikes. He said there were special training camps for “cubs”, meaning youth or teenage boys, but would not provide additional details. Another official with the group confirmed that children as young as 17 can join and undergo training.

There are various international prohibitions against the use of soldiers under 18. The International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute defines “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities” as a war crime. 

[The New Humanitarian]

Flash floods leave dozens dead and missing in Indonesia’s capital

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Indonesian rescuers mounted a desperate search Friday for those missing after flash floods and landslides sparked by torrential rains killed at least 43 people across the Jakarta region. Health authorities were racing to prevent disease outbreaks.

Record rains which started on New Year’s Eve pounded the capital and left swathes of the megalopolis, home to some 30 million, under water and thousands homeless. Around 192,000 residents have been evacuated to temporary shelters, according to authorities, with many unable to return to waterlogged homes in neighborhoods turned into wastelands of debris and overturned cars. In hard-hit Bekasi, on the outskirts of the city, swampy streets were littered with debris and crushed cars lying on top of each other — with waterline marks reaching as high as buildings’ second floors. Using inflatable boats to evacuate residents trapped in their homes, including children and seniors, rescuers said they were targeting the hardest-hit areas of the city.

Indonesia’s health ministry said it deployed some 11,000 health workers and soldiers to distribute medicine, disinfectant hygiene kits and food in a bid to stave off outbreaks of Hepatitis A, mosquito-borne Dengue fever and other illnesses, including infections linked to contact with dead animals.

This week’s disaster marked Jakarta’s worst flooding since 2013 when dozens were killed after the city was inundated by monsoon rains.

[CBS]

Thousands flee fires in Australia, navy helps evacuate the stranded

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Tens of thousands of holiday makers fled seaside towns on Australia’s east coast on Thursday as bushfires approached, and military ships and helicopters began rescuing thousands more trapped by the blazes.

Fueled by searing temperatures and high winds, more than 200 fires are burning across the southeastern states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, threatening several towns.

“It is hell on earth. It is the worst anybody’s ever seen,” Michelle Roberts said by telephone from the Croajingolong Cafe she owns in Mallacoota, a southeastern coastal town where 4,000 residents and visitors have been stranded on the beach since Monday night.

Authorities urged a mass exodus from several towns on the southeast coast, an area popular with tourists during the summer holiday season, warning that extreme heat forecast for the weekend will further stoke the fires. A navy ship, The HMAS Choules, is expected to make two or three voyages over the coming days, state authorities said. Elsewhere, long queues formed outside supermarkets and petrol stations as residents and tourists sought supplies to either bunker down or escape the fires, emptying shelves of staples like bread and milk. More than 50,000 people were without power and some towns had no access to drinking water.

“The priority today is fighting fires and evacuating, getting people to safety,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “There are parts of both Victoria and New South Wales which have been completely devastated, with a loss of power and communications.”

Temperatures are forecast to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) along the south coast, bringing the prospect of renewed firefronts to add to the around 200 current blazes.

[Reuters]

What will 2020 bring?

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20/20 vision means one can see clearly without lenses.

Let us hope for the same sort of clear perspective in this country, and around the world, in this New Year.

And to borrow from the words of Rev. Stephen Harding, let us pray that:
– the dignity of every human being will be respected;
– those in want will have their needs met.
– our elected officials will put the greater good of the nation/state before their own personal interest;
– our current level of hyper-partisanship and rhetoric will be replaced by civility and understanding; that while there will be disagreement, everyone will work to advance the common good;
– relations between the nations will improve and that trust will be restored;
– each person on this earth will do her/his/their part to reduce and repair humanity’s impact on our planet.

Sub-Saharan Africa faces grave hunger challenges in 2020

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At the dawn of the next decade, a new World Food Programme (WFP) forecast of global hunger hotspots has revealed that escalating hunger will challenge sub-Saharan Africa in the first half of 2020.

According to the WFP 2020 Global Hotspots Report, millions of people in Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central Sahel region will require life-saving food assistance in the coming months – the sheer scale and complexity of which will stretch the UN food relief agency’s capacity to the limit.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley spelled out: “WFP is fighting big and complex humanitarian battles on several fronts at the start of 2020. In some countries, we are seeing conflict and instability combine with climate extremes to force people from their homes, farms and places of work”, he elaborated. “In others, climate shocks are occurring alongside economic collapse and leaving millions on the brink of destitution and hunger.”

Against the backdrop of an imploding economy and when Zimbabwe is entering the peak of its lean season and food is at its most scarce, WFP observed that the country has more hungry people now than it has had over the past decade. WFP is planning assistance for some four million people in Zimbabwe.

“Last year, WFP was called upon to bring urgent large-scale relief to Yemen, Mozambique after Cyclone Idai, Burkina Faso and many other crises to avert famine,” said Margot Van Der Velden, WFP Director of Emergencies. “But the world is an unforgiving place and as we turn the page into 2020, WFP is confronting new, monumental humanitarian challenges that we need to address with real urgency.”

[UN News]

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s wealth doubles in a decade despite generous giving

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Bill Gates and Warren Buffett may have pledged to give most of their wealth away to charity but the billionaire philanthropists appear to be engaged in a losing battle with that as latest figures show their wealth over the last decade has in fact doubled.

In August 2010, Gates and Buffett spearheaded a movement of the U.S.’ richest people to promise to give away most of their wealth to address problems in society. Known as the Giving Pledge, it now includes 200 people around the world with the aim of setting a “new standard of generosity among the ultra-wealthy.”

But The Bloomberg Billionaires Index released on Friday shows that the Microsoft co-founder can’t outrun the growth of his fortune, which is worth $22.7 billion more than it was last year, putting his total net worth at $113 billion. (Back in 2010, he was listed as having a net worth of $53 billion.)

Meanwhile, Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, according to the latest Bloomberg list, is worth $89 billion. (In 2010, he was listed as having a net worth of $47 billion.)

That the billionaires have been generous is indisputable. According to one estimate by Vox, published in April 2019, the founder of Microsoft had given away more than $45 billion through The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, mostly to causes working to combat global poverty.

Buffett had made charitable contributions of $27.54 billion in the 10 years to 2017, according to USA Today.

[Newsweek]

More than 235,000 people fled their homes in northwest Syria in the past two weeks

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Nearly a quarter of a million people in northwest Syria have been displaced over the past two weeks due to an escalation of violence in Idlib province, the country’s last major opposition bastion, the United Nations has announced.

“As a result of hostilities, tens of thousands of families fled their homes in an effort to reach safety,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Thursday. “Between 12 and 25 December, more than 235,000 people have been displaced in northwest Syria.”

The Syrian army, with support from Russian air power, has stepped up its attacks on the northwest province of Idlib, home to more than 3 million Syrians. The Syrian government has said that it is targeting terrorists in Idlib. But if the violence continues, even more civilians could be displaced in the coming weeks, international aid organizations have warned.

The mass displacement over the last two weeks has led to people being housed in mosques, garages, wedding halls, UNOCHA said. But it warned that “the capacity to absorb people in need may surpass available places” and their displacement in the height of winter “is further exacerbating” the humanitarian situation.

“People are leaving forcibly, you look at them and they look almost dead, they don’t know where to go,” Laith Al Abdullah, a White Helmets volunteer, told CNN in a phone call. “It is crowded now to the point where people are sleeping on the streets and under trees … People are terrified by the winter, we are getting a polar cold storm in few days, kids and women won’t be able to stand it,” he said.

[CNN]

Foot note from Refugee Aid team: Between 12 and 25 December, more than 235,000 people were displaced in northwest Syria, and many of them have fled to the border area where we work. We have been sending more and more clothing, blankets, and jackets to these refugees fleeing war. We do appreciate your prayers for continued safety and supply for those suffering. The pictures people are sending are horrific.

Uptick in violence and displacement in Syria

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In a statement issued this week, the UN chief expressed alarm over the scale of the military operation and reported attacks on evacuation routes as civilians try to flee north to safety. The military escalation has yielded dozens of civilian casualties and displaced 80,000 citizens, including 30,000 in the last week alone.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Tuesday that more than 500 children were injured or killed in the first nine months of this year, and at least 65 have been killed or injured in December alone. “Children are bearing the brunt” of the intensifying violence, said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Since December 11, escalating fighting has displaced more than 130,000 people, including over 60,000 children, from southern Idlib, northern Hama and western Aleppo, with many families sleeping out in the open. And making matters even worse, as temperatures drop – some nights falling to zero and below – fuel shortages have emerged as a key challenge, compounded by heavy rains that increase protection, health and other risks.

Nine years into the war, children in Syria continue to experience unspeakable violence, trauma and distress. And those living in camps are exhausted from multiple displacements and being exposed to the cold, illness and, in extreme cases, death.

Echoing the UN chief’s sentiment, UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict to “cease hostilities and put children first once and for all.”

[UN News]

Christmas celebrates the birth of a refugee

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Jesus was born in a dirty, stank manger because there was no room in the inn. Shortly after, Joseph and Mary are forced to flee to Egypt with their young child. In other words, our scriptures say Jesus came to us as a refugee.

As a homeless rabbi he said, “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus was homeless.

After a short 33 years, he is arrested and tortured, charged with all sorts of things, and eventually executed by the state, a victim of state-sanctioned murder dying on a cross with a condemned man on his left and another on his right. From the cradle to the grave, Jesus felt the pain of the human condition.

The world we live in, like the world Christ lived in, is ravaged with violence and poverty. Being a Christian in the current era should mean preaching good news to the poor … The Christmas story teaches that God is with us — if we are with the poor.

That is what Christmas should be … but it is easy to forget the story. Read more

Takeaways from the first Global Refugee Forum

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3,000 representatives of governments, the development and aid sectors, and civil society organizations gathered in Geneva this past week for the invitation-only Global Refugee Forum attempting to address what “burden-sharing and responsibility-sharing” look like when it comes to the needs of more than 25 million refugees and their host communities around the world. This is a tall order at a time when the numbers of displaced are swelling worldwide, fatigue and outright rejection among some donors and host countries is increasing, and some wealthy countries – notably the United States – are dramatically scaling back resettlement and asylum programs.

“Sharing responsibly, the foundation of our modern system for protecting refugees, is being replaced in countries with more resources by pushing responsibility on those countries less able to cope, and so refugees are pushed aside too,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi noted in the opening session.

Steps taken in Geneva included pledges of about $3 billion from states, $250 million from the private sector – with companies promising some 15,000 jobs to refugees – and several billion dollars from development banks, officials said.

Non-monetary pledges ranged from increased resettlement spots to giving refugee groups more input in policy-making. At the request of the refugee network, several states — including Australia, Canada, and Denmark — committed to giving refugees a more participatory role in policy-making.

[The New Humanitarian]