Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

Ethiopia’s multiple crises: War, COVID-19, even locusts

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Ethiopia could hardly bear another emergency, even before a deadly conflict exploded in its northern Tigray region this month. Now, tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing into Sudan, and food and fuel are running desperately low in the sealed-off Tigray region, along with medical supplies and even resources to combat a major locust outbreak.

The United Nations warns of a “full-scale humanitarian crisis.” Food can’t get into the Tigray region of some 6 million people because of transport restrictions imposed after the fighting began. Humanitarian officials say long lines have appeared outside bread shops, prices have soared, and banks dispense only small amounts of cash.

“At this stage there is simply very little left, even if you have money,” according to the internal assessment by one humanitarian group contacted by The Associated Press.

[AP]

Global coronavirus case total tops 50 million

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The coronavirus has hit another sobering milestone: more than 50 million positive cases worldwide since the pandemic began.

Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker reported more than 50.2 million COVID-19 cases globally as of Sunday.

There have been more than 1.2 million deaths from the disease worldwide since the pandemic started.

[AP]

U.S. refugee admissions

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President Joe Biden has promised to increase annual refugee admissions to 125,000.

Under the Trump administration, the number of refugees that would have been allowed into the United States in the coming year would have been at its lowest level in modern times, just 15,000 refugees.

According to a Trump administration White House memo, 5,000 of those 15,000 places were to go to refugees facing religious persecution, 4,000 reserved for refugees from Iraq who helped the United States, and 1,000 for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; leaving 5,000 open slots remaining, although refugees from Somalia, Syria, and Yemen are banned unless they can meet special humanitarian criteria.

[Foreign Policy]

545 migrant children separated from their parents by US government cannot be found

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Lawyers appointed by a federal judge to identify migrant families who were separated by the Trump administration say that they have yet to track down the parents of 545 children and that about two-thirds of those parents were deported to Central America without their children, according to a filing Tuesday from the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Trump administration instituted a “zero tolerance” policy in 2018 that separated migrant children and parents at the southern U.S. border. The administration later confirmed that it had actually begun separating families in 2017 along some parts of the border under a pilot program.

A federal judge in California ordered that the parents be found. “It is critical to find out as much as possible about who was responsible for this horrific practice while not losing sight of the fact that hundreds of families have still not been found and remain separated,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives.”

[NBC News]

Trump administration considers labeling top humanitarian groups ‘anti-Semitic’

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The Trump administration is considering labeling some of the most prominent humanitarian organizations in the world, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, as “anti-Semitic.”

The proposal has prompted sharp opposition from career officials in the department, who say it would be a gift to authoritarian governments that have long sought to delegitimize human rights groups for their work exposing mass atrocities and crimes against humanity. The organizations deploy scores of workers in dangerous hot spots, where they often face resistance from local governments.

Pro-Israel advocates have long complained of bias by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, saying they focus too heavily on the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government.

“It’s preposterous,” Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski (N.J.), who previously worked as Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said in a phone call. “They also document the treatment of the Palestinians by the Palestinian Authority. They are critical of every government in the world, including the United States. Yet the State Department under every previous secretary of state has relied on these organizations as credible sources of information and treated them as partners.”

[Washington Post]

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]

As Covid-19 closes schools, the World’s children go to work

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Every morning in front of the Devaraj Urs public housing apartment blocks on the outskirts of the city of Tumakuru, India, a swarm of children pours into the street. They are not going to school.

Instead of backpacks or books, each child carries a filthy plastic sack. These children, from 6 to 14 years old, have been sent by their parents to rummage through garbage dumps littered with broken glass and concrete shards in search of recyclable plastic.

In many parts of the developing world, school closures put children on the streets. Families are desperate for money. Children are an easy source of cheap labor.

While the United States and other developed countries debate the effectiveness of online schooling, hundreds of millions of children in poorer countries lack computers or the internet and have no schooling at all.

United Nations officials estimate that at least 24 million children will drop out and that millions could be sucked into work.

[New York Times]

The Role Model of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates

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A lot of people look up to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. But who do Buffett and Gates look up to?

That would be Chuck Feeney. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s by design. Feeney is a multi-billionaire — actually, make that a former multi-billionaire. He co-founded a chain of duty-free shops (the kind you see in airports), and later made it his life’s mission to donate every cent he’d ever made to charity.

Having made billions, his goal was to die broke. He did it all very quietly for years — even anonymously, trying not to draw attention to himself. His quest eventually became known, however, and last week, Feeney reached his goal: having given away a total of $8 billion — virtually his entire fortune — at the age of 89. “To those wondering about giving while living: Try it. You’ll like it.” Feeney said, during the meeting when he signed the papers to dissolve his charitable foundation, since it no longer has any assets.

For Buffett and Gates, a milestone date of May 5, 2009,  explains their awe and reverence for Feeney: At a dinner at Rockefeller University in New York, Feeney was there, along with Oprah Winfrey, then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg, David Rockefeller (the host), and about a dozen other billionaires. It was out of that dinner meeting that Buffett and Gates teamed up to announce the Giving Pledge, convincing 210 other billionaires (so far) to commit to give away at least half their net worth. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett credit Chuck Feeney as a major inspiration for both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Giving Pledge.

Feeney and his wife reportedly live in a fairly modest, rented apartment in San Francisco. After giving away most of his fortune, Feeney reportedly has a remaining net worth of about $2 million. That would mean he held on to about .025 percent of his net worth, just to keep himself and his wife comfortable in their Golden Years.

[Inc]