Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

From Libya to Texas, tragedies illustrate plight of migrants

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They are trapped in squalid detention centers on Libya’s front lines. They wash up on the banks of the Rio Grande. They sink without a trace — in the Mediterranean, in the Pacific or in waterways they can’t even name. A handful fall out of airplanes’ landing gear.

Migrants are often seen as a political headache in the countries they hope to reach and ignored in the countries they flee. Despite a wave of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis pouring into Europe, daily reminders of migrants’ plights are back on front pages.

The U.S.-Mexico border has become a flashpoint amid President Donald Trump’s ambitions to build a wall to keep out migrants. Many children caught crossing are stuck in squalid, unsanitary detention centers. Children have also been separated from parents in custody. Critics call such policies inhumane, heartless and “un-American.”

Around the world, a record 71 million people were forcibly displaced in 2018, according to a report last month by the U.N. refugee agency, in places as diverse as Turkey, Uganda, Bangladesh and Peru.

Despite the rhetoric about migration crises in Europe and the U.S., the top three countries taking in refugees are Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda. Germany comes in a distant fifth.

A 20-year-old who fled war in his homeland in sub-Saharan Africa two years ago survived the airstrikes, gunfire from militia members trying to keep migrants inside the compound, torture for ransom by traffickers and a sinking boat in the Mediterranean. He is now sleeping outside the Tajoura detention center in Libya along with hundreds of other migrants and awaiting a second chance to go to sea.

“I faced death in Libya many times before. I am ready to die again. I already lost my brothers in the war in my country,” he told The Associated Press. He didn’t want his name used because the militia fighters who shot at him are still guarding the compound.

[AP]

Four EU countries to take rescued migrants after Med standoff

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 Four European Union countries have agreed to take in 64 African migrants rescued by the German ship Alan Kurdi and stranded at sea for almost two weeks, the Maltese government announced on Saturday.

The ship, operated by the humanitarian organization Sea-Eye, had been refused entry by Italy and Malta. Both countries had insisted it was Libya’s responsibility to take in the boat, Sea Eye said earlier in the week.

The Maltese government said that through the coordination of the European Commission, the migrants will be redistributed among Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg.

In March, Malta received 108 migrants after a small tanker which rescued them was hijacked by some of the migrants themselves. Maltese soldiers stormed the vessel and escorted it to Malta. Three teenagers have since been taken to court and are under arrest. 

[Reuters]

US prosecutors to retry volunteer who gave humanitarian aid to migrants

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Federal prosecutors in Tucson, Arizona announced they will seek to retry Scott Warren on two charges of harboring undocumented immigrants. In lieu of another trial, which is currently slated for November 12, prosecutors also offered Warren a plea deal on Tuesday, offering to drop the harboring charges if he pleads guilty to aiding and abetting illegal entry without inspection.

Warren was arrested in January 2018 and accused of giving two migrants from Central America—Kristian Perez-Villanueva of El Salvador and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday of Honduras—food, water, and a place to sleep for three nights. He is a volunteer with No More Deaths, an advocacy organization that works to stop migrant fatalities that occur as they cross the dangerous stretch of Arizona desert along the southern border. Warren testified that his crimes amounted to nothing more than human kindness.

Prosecutors argued during the initial proceedings that the case was “not about humanitarian aid,” but that Warren had intentionally worked “to shield illegal aliens from law enforcement for several days.” Border Patrol agents testified that they observed a conversation between the two migrants and Warren in which he pointed to the mountains nearby. Although they admitted they could not hear the contents of the discussion, they said they assumed he was coaching them on how to avoid a Border Patrol checkpoint.

Several founders of No More Deaths provided their own supporting testimonies, explaining that they developed legal protocols for their volunteer work in line with those of the International Red Cross.

[Reason]

Monsoon rains in India cause death and chaos

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During every monsoon season, which runs from June to September, India all too routinely experiences fatal incidents of building and wall collapses as rainfall weakens the foundations of poorly built structures.

This year, more than 300 millimetres (almost 12 inches) of rain fell over 24 hours in some areas of Mumbai, flooding streets and railway tracks, forcing the suspension of some suburban train services, which millions of commuters ride to work each day.

The main runway at Mumbai airport, India’s second biggest, was closed from midnight after a SpiceJet flight overshot while landing, an airport spokeswoman said. The secondary runway was operational, but 55 flights were diverted and another 52 were cancelled due to bad weather.

On Tuesday, heavy rain brought a wall crashing down on shanties built on a hill slope in a western suburb of Mumbai, killing at least 21 people and injuring more than 60 others.

Ten others died elsewhere in Maharashtra state, including three who were killed when a school wall collapsed in the city of Kalyan, 42 kilometres north of Mumbai.

In the nearby western city of Pune, six construction workers died in a wall collapse on Tuesday, a fire brigade official said, after a similar incident on Saturday killed 15.

Mumbai is looking to turn itself into a global financial hub but large parts of the city struggle to cope with annual monsoon rains, as widespread construction and garbage-clogged drains and waterways make it increasingly vulnerable to chaos.

[Australian Broadcasting Corporation]

Warren Buffett donates $3.6bn to Gates’ and family charities

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Warren Buffett is donating roughly $3.6bn of Berkshire Hathaway stock to five charities including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the biggest contribution in Buffett’s plan to give away his fortune.

The donation will boost the total amount Buffett has given to the charities to more than $34.5bn since the 88-year-old billionaire pledged in 2006 to give his shares away. Buffett’s largest previous annual donation was $3.4bn in 2018.

Four-fifths of the donations go to the Gates Foundation. The rest goes to the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, named for Buffett’s late first wife, and charities run by his children Howard, Susan and Peter: the Howard G Buffett Foundation, the Sherwood Foundation and the NoVo Foundation.

The Gates and family charities typically sell Buffett’s shares to finance their activities, reflecting his desire that money be spent.

Following the latest donation, Buffett will still own about 15.7% of Berkshire, despite having given away 45% of his 2006 holdings, and have roughly 31% of its voting power. Buffett remains the world’s fourth-richest person, worth $87.5bn according to Forbes magazine.

[The Guardian]

India winning the battle against extreme poverty

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It is a distinction that no country wants: the place with the most people living in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day.

For decades, India remained stubbornly in the top spot, a reflection of its huge population and its enduring struggle against poverty. But that distinction of poverty in India continues to decrease.

India, with its population of 1.3 billion people, now has just over 5 percent of its population living in extreme poverty, according to the World Poverty Clock. And the World Poverty Clock researchers suggests that by 2021, fewer than 3 percent of India’s population will live in extreme poverty, a benchmark viewed by some development economists as “a watershed moment.”

However, “the claims that India is on the verge of winning the battle against extreme poverty sit uneasily with the current concerns about job creation or rural distress,” said an editorial last week in Mint, a financial newspaper in India.

Part of the disconnect may be the result of how poverty is defined. The extreme poverty threshold is an absolute measure used for international comparison. Last year, however, the World Bank added another benchmark that aims to capture a sense of relative poverty. For “lower middle income” countries like India, it set the line at people who live on $3.20 day. By that measure, a third of Indians are poor, economist Surjit Bhalla estimated.

More clarity could be only months away. In June, the Indian government completed a national survey which is conducted once every five years and provides the best available data on poverty. Bhalla, an economist who also serves as a part-time adviser to the Indian government, believes that the country’s own data could show it made even more progress reducing poverty than the estimates produced by Brookings and the World Poverty Clock.

[Washington Post]

Italian authorities arrest humanitarian rescue boat captain after docking

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Italy on Saturday arrested the captain of a humanitarian rescue vessel and seized the boat after it had forced its way to a dock with 40 migrants aboard.

On Twitter, Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said that the “pirate” commander had been arrested and that the migrants would be distributed across other countries in Europe, though he did not name them.

The early morning events brought a tense resolution to a weeks-long standoff in the Mediterranean–one in which a German humanitarian group rescued the migrants and found itself closed off from European ports with nowhere to go.

Over the last year, since Italy closed its ports to charity vessels as part of its hard-line stance against migration, Europe has struggled to manage even the fairly limited flow of newcomers. Time and time again, boats that have rescued migrants have found themselves in limbo for days or weeks in the Mediterranean.

[The Washington Post]

Oil-rich Nigeria overtakes India for extreme poverty ranking

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Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians, or around half of the country’s population, thought to be living on less than $1.90 a day.

The findings, based on a projection by the World Poverty Clock and compiled by Brookings Institute, show that the numbers of Nigerians falling into extreme poverty grows by roughly six people every minute.

In Nigeria, as with other countries on the continent, that figure is projected to rise. “By the end of 2018 in Africa as a whole, there will probably be about 3.2 million more people living in extreme poverty than there are today,” the researchers write.

Despite being the largest oil producer in Africa, Nigeria has struggled to translate its resource wealth into rising living standards. A slump in oil prices and a sharp fall in oil production saw the country’s economy slide into recession in 2016.

A recent rise in oil prices has helped to spur the country’s economic recovery. Addressing the situation in March this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that although growth was again beginning to rise, “more needs to be done to reduce unemployment and address poverty.”

[CNN]

Two-thirds of those in extreme poverty live in Africa

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The World Poverty Clock and Brookings Institute indicate that more than 643 million people across the world live in extreme poverty, with Africans accounting for about two-thirds of the total number.

The researchers note that 14 out of 18 countries where poverty is rising are in Africa, adding that if current rates persist, 90% of the world’s poorest will be living on the continent by 2030.

Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians, or around half of the country’s population, thought to be living on less than $1.90 a day.

Other nations in Africa to feature on the list of 10 worst affected countries, include the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 60 million people; Ethiopia with 23.9 million people; Tanzania with 19.9 million.; Mozambique, with 17.8 million people; Kenya, with 14.7 million people; and Uganda, with 14.2 million.

The introduction of internationally agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals, intended to “end poverty” by 2030, has resulted in about 83 million people escape extreme poverty between January 1, 2016 and July 2018. However, “the task of ending extreme poverty by 2030 is becoming inexorably harder because we are running out of time. We should celebrate our achievements, but increasingly sound the alarm that not enough is being done, especially in Africa,” researchers say.

[CNN]

Parents pay children’s tuition fees with plastic bottles

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Oriola Oluwaseyi, 32, makes her way through the busy streets of Ajegunle, a low-income community in Nigeria’s commercial center, Lagos, to collect plastic waste bottles from retail stores. In the evening, Oluwaseyi will drop the bottles at Moritz International School where her 8-year old daughter, Rebecca attends primary school. The bottles will act as down payment for her daughter’s tuition.

As a petty trader earning a pittance from trading car engine oil at bustling Ajegunle market in Lagos, Oluwaseyi does not earn enough to cover the annual 18,000 naira (around $50) school fees. However, thanks to a recent partnership with Africa Cleanup Initiative (ACI), an NGO with focus on sustainability, her daughter’s school now accepts the plastic bottles in exchange for school fees. Through a program called RecyclesPay, ACI collaborates with schools in low-income communities to allow parents who are unable to afford fees for their children to pay using plastic bottles they collect. Twice a month Oluwaseyi visits her daughter’s school with bags full of sorted plastic bottle recyclables. The cost of tuition is determined by how many bottles she has collected; for every 200 kilograms of recyclable bottles, Oluwaseyi can earn up to ₦4,000 (about $11) off the term’s tuition of ₦7500 (about $24).

“The program has given me leverage to channel the funds I would have spent on school fees, to buying of school bag, new pair of sandals and books for her,” Oluwaseyi says.

Nigeria has been tagged the poverty capital of the world, with 87 million Nigerians, around half of the country’s population, living on less than $1.90 per day.

There are more than 450,000 megatons of plastic waste discarded in Lagos waters every year, according to reports in local media. According to 2017 Ocean Atlas report, Nigeria is ranked number 11 in the world for plastic pollution, posing health risks to citizens and causing environmental damage.

Alexander Akhigbe, founder of ACI, says through the RecyclesPay scheme he is providing solutions to Nigeria’s environmental and climate issues. So far, ACI has run its projects in five schools in Lagos and has reached more than 1,000 school children, he says.

[CNN]