Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

Trump’s proposal for temporary protections for more than one million immigrants shot down

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On Saturday, President Donald Trump laid out a broad immigration deal that would fund his signature border wall in exchange for temporary protections for more than one million immigrants.

The proposal is similar to one Trump handed over to Congress earlier this month. It includes funds for humanitarian assistance, technology, border agents, law enforcement personnel, and immigration judges. Trump laid out additional concessions Saturday that include providing three years of deportation relief to about 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children and 300,000 immigrants with temporary protected status.

Shortly before the President’s address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement rejecting Trump’s leaked proposal, calling it a “non-starter”.

So the US government shutdown remains in a stalemate.

[CNN]

Trial of border humanitarian aid workers underway in Arizona

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The trial of four volunteers of the migrant rights group No More Deaths is underway in Tucson, Arizona in federal court.

The volunteers maintain they are saving lives by leaving food and water for migrants crossing through one of the most desolate and deadly terrains along the Arizona-Mexico border.

Natalie Hoffman was accused of operating a motor vehicle in a wilderness area. Hoffman, Madeline Huse, Oona Holcomb and Zaachila Orozco McCormick are accused of entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit and abandoning property there. (They left 16 crates filled with water jugs and cans of beans next to the dirt-and-gravel road!)

All of the charges are misdemeanors. While the charges are relatively minor, the implications for humanitarian workers aiding migrants in the desert are enormous. No More Deaths volunteers charge that the Trump administration has ramped up efforts to stop humanitarian work in the desert.

The Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge is an unforgiving terrain that includes more than 50 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Since 2001, law enforcement and medical officials report that more than 3,000 remains have been found in Southern Arizona.

[Arizona Public Media]

Pooling insights, skills and resources

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No single sector will be able to respond alone to the depth and breadth of humanitarian crises worldwide: progress will need strong support from states, international organizations and civil society at large.

While the neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian space is still the best place to reset lives and reconcile, humanitarian actors can spearhead efforts at front-lines and guide others through the landscape of fragmented societies, security challenges and multi-faceted needs.

Local and international organizations can complement each other. Academia brings critical thinking and measurability, while the private sector has a unique ability to get economies up and running and to support communities in developing businesses, capacities and skills.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is uniquely equipped to link international and local efforts and to trigger scaled-up responses in more than 190 countries. The UN system has a unique convening power to bring states together to respond more generously.

The Famine Action Mechanism developed by the World Bank, Google, Amazon, the World Food Programme and the International Committee of the Red Cross is a potentially game-changing idea, pooling new perspectives and expertise to tackle an old and life-threatening problem.

[World Economic Forum]

Thousands of Syrians in life and death struggle due to harsh conditions in refugee camp

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Conditions in a makeshift Syrian camp near the border with Jordan are “increasingly desperate” and “have become a matter of life and death”, United Nations officials warned today, after at least eight children died there from extreme cold and a lack of medical care.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel echoed a warning from UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that children only months old are succumbing to the harsh winter conditions in the Rukban settlement at the south-western border of Syria with Jordan, which last received aid in November.

“The United Nations remains seriously concerned about the increasingly desperate conditions for more than 40,000 people staying at the Rukban site” he said. “The majority are women and children, who have been staying at the site for more than two years in harsh conditions with limited humanitarian assistance, access to medical care and other essential services.”

Amid security concerns, Jordan closed its border with Syria at Rukban as tens of thousands of Syrians arrived at the camp, fleeing expanded Russian and United States-led coalition air strikes against areas held by Islamic State of Iraq and the levant (ISIL) terrorists in central and eastern Syria.

The plight of those stranded in Rukban dates is not new, but the harsh winter and lack of regular supplies have made the situation much worse, according to UNICEF’s Geert Cappelaere, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Needs for assistance in Rukban are beyond urgent,” he said in a statement. “They are extremely acute and have become a matter of life and death.”

Mr. Cappelaere stressed: “Once again, UNICEF calls on all sides to urgently facilitate a humanitarian convoy to Rukban, including mobile health clinics, so that lifesaving supplies and services can be delivered.”

In eastern Syria, meanwhile, heavy violence in the Hajin area of Deir-Ez-Zor Governorate has displaced 10,000 people since December, the UNICEF official warned. “Families seeking safety face difficulties leaving the conflict zone and wait in the cold for days without shelter or basic supplies,” he said. “The dangerous and difficult journey has reportedly killed seven children, most of them under a year old.”

[UN News]

Disaster response projects could lose funding due to border wall

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Mexico won’t pay for President Trump’s border wall. But Northern Californians might. Many of them live near the country’s most flood-prone urban watersheds.

Houston residents could shoulder the cost, too, along with Texans along the Gulf of Mexico, where the Army Corps of Engineers is working on 10 disaster projects funded by Congress in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Florida might have to put beach nourishment projects on hold. And upgrades to the 60-year-old dike ringing Lake Okeechobee, which many consider to pose the state’s greatest flood risk, could have to wait.

Puerto Rico, still in tatters after Hurricane Maria, could lose funding for a critical flood project in the heart of San Juan, where rapid runoff from the Rio Puerto Nuevo Basin threatens 6,500 people and homes and infrastructure valued at $3 billion.

These are among the 57 construction projects totaling $13.9 billion that the Army Corps prioritized last year. The White House appears to have identified that funding as a potential source of cash for building a border wall if Trump declares a national emergency to circumvent Congress’ spending authority.

That disaster aid could be seen as a potential funding stream for Trump’s proposed $5.7 billion wall. Trump has raised the specter of a national emergency to prod reluctant Republicans and entrenched Democrats in Congress to accept his demand for wall funding which has resulted in the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.

[Scientific American]

Libya a “hidden human calamity”

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Increasing hostilities in the oil-rich city of Derna in Libya are becoming an increasing source of concern said the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Maria Ribeiro, following an intensification in fighting which has resulted in “substantial civilian casualties”.

Since armed conflict erupted in Libya in 2011, during the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, some 200,000 people have been internally displaced.  In 2014, ISIS, or Da’esh, terrorist fighters took over Derna, leading to a succession of battles for control of the city, involving the Shura Council of Mujahideen, a coalition of pro-sharia law Islamist militants, the Libyan national army and local militias.

In addition to substantial civilian casualties, Ribeiro said that recent intense fighting has reportedly resulted in deteriorating infrastructures and services, leaving some civilians without basic food, water and urgent lifesaving medical care for families and the wounded.

Back in December, a trauma hospital in Benghazi, the country’s second-largest city, was hit and before that media reports said that Da’esh had claimed responsibility for attacking the Foreign Ministry in the capital, Tripoli. In November, fighting between armed militia damaged a Tripoli hospital for Women and Childbirth, resulting in a doctor being shot and a three-day halt to non-emergency medical services.

Meanwhile, migrants and refugees are being subjected to “unimaginable horrors” from the moment they enter Libya in what Ghassan Salamé, the head of the UN political mission there, told the Security Council last month was a “hidden human calamity”.

[UN]

US easing limits on humanitarian aid to North Korea

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The U.S. State Department has decided to ease some of its most stringent restrictions on humanitarian assistance to North Korea, lifting travel restrictions on American aid workers and loosening its block on humanitarian supplies destined for the country.

The decision—which was communicated to humanitarian aid organizations by Stephen Biegun, the U.S. senior envoy for North Korea—follows claims by United Nations and private relief agencies in recent months that the U.S. policy was undermining their efforts to run life-saving relief operations. Those include programs designed to combat infectious diseases, such as cholera and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

The move marked the first significant step in months by the Trump administration to relax its “maximum pressure” campaign on Pyongyang. But it’s unclear whether the action was conceived as a goodwill gesture to Kim Jong Un’s regime to help facilitate further nuclear talks or was a response to mounting diplomatic pressure to soften a policy that threatened the lives of North Korean civilians.

U.S. officials routinely delayed the export of surgical equipment for hospitals, stainless steel milk containers for orphanages, and supplies for fighting tuberculosis and malaria. But the effort led to protests from humanitarian relief organizations and left the United States diplomatically isolated at the U.N. The drama has been playing out behind closed doors in a U.N. sanctions committee, where the United States has used its influence to block or delay requests by relief groups to deliver assistance to North Korea.

[Foreign Policy]

Investing in prevention and risk mitigation

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It is a long-established factoid that investing $1 in preparing for crises will save you $7 responding to them.

And yet it has proven very difficult to make that shift.

The UN’s disaster risk reduction body had called for a “marker” to track DRR spending, though no specific target was set. At the World Humanitarian Summit,  the finance ministers of the Vulnerable 20 Group launched, alongside the World Bank and the UN, a new partnership to help their countries better prepare for shocks, including better access to risk analysis, contingency plans and social protection schemes.

The International Federation of the Red Cross is leading a separate coalition to mobilize one billion people to be “resilient” by 2020.

Another alliance, on urban crises, includes a focus on preparing for crises in urban settings, particularly with local municipal actors.

[IRIN]

Snow and freezing temperatures endanger flooded refugee camps in Lebanon

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Snowstorm “Norma” is battering North Eastern Lebanon with heavy snow, rain and strong winds affecting nearly 250,000 refugees.

Hundreds of refugee camps and settlements in the area from the Akkar Plain to Bekaa Valley have been devastated by the storm. The camps house thousands of Syrian refugees in little more than tents and improvised wooden structures, a number of which have collapsed. UNHCR reported 70% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line and 41% have precarious and unsafe housing. Some camps have been flooded with as much as half a meter of water, and.

Flooding and heavy rains in Northern Syria, which started on December 26, have also devastated IDP camps across the region. Thousands of tents and the personal possessions of these IDPs were washed away, including medical supplies, wheel chairs and equipment. The people in these camps have lost what little they had left with no way of replacing them.

“Climate change has unleashed hellish conditions on the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. These families are living in tents, with all their clothes and possessions soaked and temperatures below freezing. Children, elderly, the infirm and vulnerable will not survive much longer without being moved to warm and dry locations. This is a humanitarian nightmare and will require an enormous coordinated effort to reach all of these camps in time.” Said Dr. Hussam Al Fakir, Chairman of UOSSM International UOSSM calls on all the international community and NGOs to deploy rapid response teams immediately and upgrade the refugee’s housing to shelters/locations that can adequately handle these harsh conditions.

[Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations]

Read about the work of Family Care Lebanon who help provide for refugees.

Life expectancy higher worldwide

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Worldwide life expectancy in 2016 was 72 years, up from 66.5 years in 2000.

The gain of 5.5 years in worldwide life expectancy between 2000 and 2016 was the fastest gain since the 1960s and reversed the declines of the 1990s caused by AIDS in Africa and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Child mortality rates for children under five years of age have fallen from 216 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1950; to 39.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017.

[NPR]