7-year-old migrant girl dies in US Border Patrol custody

The headline alone made my heart sink. “7-year-old migrant girl taken into Border Patrol custody dies of dehydration, exhaustion.” I felt a wave of deep sadness, but no surprise.

The girl was reportedly taken into United States Border Patrol custody last week along with her father. More than eight hours later, she began having seizures. Emergency responders measured her temperature at 105.7 degrees, and according to the Border Patrol, she had not had anything to eat or drink for several days.

Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch reported how the US Border Patrol is harming children and families by detaining them in inhumane jail-like conditions. Migrant families commonly call the border jails hieleras, or freezers, for their frigid temperatures. These sometimes lack sufficient beds for families, leaving children to sleep on cold concrete floors.

None of this is new. In my five years at Human Rights Watch, I’ve spoken with countless migrants, including families, about their experiences in these abusive detention centers. One asylum-seeking mother detained with her 18-month old told me this summer that she was worried her daughter was dehydrated. “I’m having a hard time making enough milk, because I’m not getting enough food,” she said. “And I don’t want to ask for a doctor because I’m afraid it will hurt my case.”

Another mom from Guatemala I interviewed after she was released from Border Patrol custody in Arizona in 2014 had been detained with her 10-year-old US citizen son. She was bringing him to the US to seek medical care. Her son has a disability that makes it impossible for him to walk, talk, or chew and requires that he eat liquefied food. During their three days in CBP detention, Border Patrol provided no food that her son could eat. “He fainted twice,” the woman said. “I was very worried. I said I needed help and Border Patrol said I couldn’t get help.”

This brave mother put her finger on exactly the problem with US Border Patrol jails. They are built to punish – not to help – and that includes children like the 7-year-old who died last week. Authorities should urgently investigate her case, but more broadly, the US government should be asking itself why children are in these cells in the first place.

[Clara Long, Human Rights Watch]

U.S. Senate votes to end US military support in Yemen

The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution calling for an end to US military support to the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen war. The measure marked the first time the Senate had invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution to seek to curb the power of the president to take the US into an armed conflict. It marked a significant bipartisan rebuke to the Trump administration, which lobbied intensively against it.

The independent senator Bernie Sanders who had pushed the resolution persistently throughout the year, called it “a historic moment”.

He said: “Today we declare we will not long participate in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen which has caused the worst humanitarian crisis on earth,with 85,000 children starving to death. Today we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will no longer be part of their military adventurism.”

“For decades, under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents, [with both] Republican Congresses and Democratic Congresses, the Congress of the United States has abdicated its constitutional responsibility for war-making,“ Sanders said.

“It is not the president who has the responsibility under the Constitution to send our young men and women to war, it is the Congress. And we have got to take it back,” added Sanders while discussing the effort in the Senate to bring U.S. involvement in the Saudi war in Yemen to an end.

Moments after the Senate vote to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen,  senators also unanimously approved a separate resolution to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia personally responsible for the death of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

[The Guardian]

The countries most at risk of humanitarian disaster in 2019

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has identified Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan,Afghanistan and Venezuela as the countries most at risk for major humanitarian crises going into 2019.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the IRC, said these countries are the “best evidence of the world’s fragility.”

The next five countries on the most at-risk list are Central African Republic, Syria, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Miliband told Axios that one of the things that keeps him up at night is that the “traditional sources of compassion and humanitarian assistance in the West are turning their back on these people.”

According to Miliband, the political climate in the U.S. with respect to refugees “has gone from relatively benign, to quite toxic.”

[Axios]

Refugee teens in Austrian schools straddle different worlds

Lilas Almalaki didn’t know a word of German when she enrolled in an Austrian middle school two months after fleeing her war-torn homeland in 2015, so she relied on the proficient English she learned as a top student in Syria to keep the bullies in place.

Hassan Husseini didn’t speak German either and had never spent a day in a classroom when he arrived as an Afghan refugee the same year. He had a tougher time when picked on.

Despite their differences, the two teens share the same challenge. Like the nearly 10,000 other school-age children who arrived in Austria during Europe’s largest modern influx of refugees, school is where they must learn to bridge different worlds: one that has shaped their families and identities, and the other where they hope to prosper in peace.

Immigration and the integration of 2.5 million people who the European Union says sought asylum in 2015 and 2016 are issues across Europe. On the front lines are the schools, where teachers, administrators, psychologists and parents are clashing over the future of the next generation.

“The children are living in two worlds,” says Andrea Walach, the principal at Hassan’s middle school in Vienna, where only seven of more than 200 students speak German at home. “One world is school … but when they are at home, all of this is forgotten.”

51 percent of the quarter-million students in Vienna’s schools speak languages other than German in their daily life, according a 2018 report.

That number goes up to more than 70 percent in vocational middle schools like Hassan’s, pathways to apprenticeships in trades that must accept anyone who applies.

[Associated Press]

South Sudan’s man-made crisis

Since gaining its independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan has struggled to fulfill the promise of a new nation, eventually descending into civil war in late 2013. The country continues to bear the devastating human and financial costs of a complex conflict with ever-changing armed and political actors.

South Sudan has received significant humanitarian aid from the United States and the international community for decades. Since 2011, total humanitarian funding surpassed $9.5 billion. Aid organizations face an array of humanitarian access constraints while working to address the acute needs of 7 million people, roughly half of the country.

Since 2013, more than 4 million South Sudanese, or approximately 1 in 3 of its citizens, 85 percent of whom are women and children, have been forced from home. Of the 7 million people currently in need of humanitarian aid, 5.3 million are food insecure. A recent study showed that the conflict has led to almost 400,000 deaths since late 2013.

Although there is cause for cautious optimism after a peace agreement was signed in September 2018, these humanitarian needs will only grow in the absence of sustainable peace and a political solution to the man-made crisis in South Sudan.

[Center for Strategic and International Studies]

Rescue ship forced to terminate operations in Mediterranean

European policies and obstruction tactics have forced the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its partner SOS Méditerranée to terminate the lifesaving operations carried out by the search and rescue vessel Aquarius, the last dedicated rescue boat operating in the Central Mediterranean.

“This is a dark day,” said Nelke Manders, MSF’s general director. “Not only has Europe failed to provide search and rescue capacity, it has also actively sabotaged others’ attempts to save lives. The end of Aquarius means more deaths at sea, and more needless deaths that will go unwitnessed.”

Over the past two months, with people continuing to flee by sea along the world’s deadliest migration route, the Aquarius has remained in port in Marseille, unable to carry out its humanitarian work. This is the result of a sustained campaign, spearheaded by the Italian government and backed by other European states, to delegitimize, slander, and obstruct aid organizations providing assistance to vulnerable people. Coupled with the European Union’s (EU) ill-conceived external policies on migration, this campaign has undermined international law and humanitarian principles. With no immediate solution to these attacks, MSF and SOS Méditerranée have no choice but to end the Aquarius’ operations.

The forced end to the Aquarius’ operations happens at a critical time: an estimated 2,133 people have died in the Mediterranean in 2018, with departures from Libya accounting for the overwhelming majority of deaths.

“Today, Europe is directly supporting forced returns while claiming successes on migration,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF’s head of emergencies. “Let’s be clear about what that success means: a lack of lifesaving assistance at sea; children, women, and men pushed back to arbitrary detention with virtually no hope of escape. … As long as people are drowning and trapped in Libya, MSF remains committed to finding ways to provide them with medical and humanitarian care.”

Since the start of its search and rescue program in February 2016, the Aquarius has assisted nearly 30,000 people in international waters between Libya, Italy, and Malta.

[MSF]

Nearly 4,000 migrants have died trying to get to the US

Associated Press revealed that nearly 4,000 migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, have died or gone missing along the route through Mexico toward the U.S. border in the past four years.

Associated Press pointed out that even its own number is “likely low,” with bodies being likely to have been lost in the desert, or families being reluctant to report their missing loved ones if they planned on entering the U.S. or other countries illegally.

The thousands of predominantly Central American migrants who have died or gone missing on the journey to the U.S. are among 56,800 people—including refugees and asylum seekers—worldwide who have died or disappeared since 2014, the AP has found in a separate report. That number is almost double the count found in the world’s only official attempt by the United Nation’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The AP has said it compiled its data from information from international groups, forensic records, death records, missing persons’ reports and data examination from thousands of interviews with asylum seekers.

According to a Missing Migrants Project, a joint research project by IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Center (GMDAC) and Media and Communications Division (MCD),  in the area around the U.S.-Mexico border, the Missing Migrants Project recorded 364 deaths in 2018 alone. The AP’s estimates suggest that those numbers, however, are likely higher.

[Newsweek]

Conflict and hunger fuel each other

The number of conflicts has risen in the past decade, particularly in countries already facing high levels of food insecurity, so has the scale of conflict-related hunger. In 2017, conflict and related violence were the primary drivers of food insecurity in 18 countries.

People living in areas affected by conflict are three times more likely to be undernourished than those living in more stable developing countries.

On average, in countries affected by conflict, 56% of the population live in rural areas where livelihoods largely depend on agriculture.

Some parties to a conflict deliberately deny humanitarian assistance or target humanitarian workers and assets. In the worst cases, conflict actors have actively targeted civilians’ food access, agriculture and productive assets. The return of famine and near-famine conditions in several countries in recent years is a direct consequence of growing conflict and a disregard for international norms.

The gravity of this situation led the UN Security Council to act. The landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2417, unanimously adopted on 24 May 2018, strongly condemns the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and the unlawful denial of humanitarian access.

Addressing the underlying causes of hunger and supporting resilient small-scale agriculture can contribute to stabilization and recovery.

[ReliefWeb]

UN seeks billions of dollars to tackle humanitarian crises

The UN on Tuesday appealed to the international community to help raise $21.9 billion to tackle more than 20 humanitarian crises across the globe.

However, that figure does not include funding requirements for Syria, which would likely bring the total to more than $25 billion.

According to the UN, one in every 70 people is directly affected by a crisis. With their funding target, aid projects are hoping to assist more than 90 million people. But some countries require more humanitarian assistance than others, such as Yemen.

“The country with the biggest problem in 2019 is going to be Yemen,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock said during a press conference in Geneva. Yemen has been dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian situation, with eight million people requiring food assistance monthly. That figure is likely to top 12 million by next year, Lowcock added.

Humanitarian crises have grown longer over the past decade despite a significant increase in fundraising, said a report published on Tuesday by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). By 2017, the average length of a humanitarian crisis with UN involvement grew from four years to seven, “while the number of active crises receiving an internationally-led response almost doubled from 16 to 30.”

[Deutsche Welle]

New California governor stands with migrants, vows to withdraw troops from border

A month out from his inauguration, California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom is staking out his own ground when it comes to immigration policy and relations with Mexico:

“What’s the point of our National Guard being there at this point? I can’t see any,’’ he told POLITICO in a phone interview from Mexico as he prepared to attend the inauguration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He said he would review current National Guard commitments — those made by Governor Brown under pressure from President Donald Trump. Those commitments are set to extend until March 31.

But Newsom said he believed those troops could be far better utilized. “There’s plenty for them to do on the Camp fire and recovery efforts,’’ as well as “on the humanitarian front’’ where the immediate need for shelter, food and medical care is clearly “not going away anytime soon,’’ he said.

Newsom directly challenged Trump’s characterization of migrant caravans at the border as a national security emergency and said the president should be “showing up and meeting” refugees to see for himself the immediate scope of a severe humanitarian crisis developing there.

“I don’t care who you are, Republican or Democrat,’’ said Newsom, who said he was shaken by the stories and desperate conditions of very young children and refugees at a border detention center, where he spoke with them directly. “The empathy, on a human level has to be considered here.” He said he was also deeply concerned to see hoards of desperate migrants at the border have no legal representation as they seek asylum, many from dangerous situations in Central America. They need “the benefit of some legal aide.“

Newsom said he will explore a role for California’s Office of Emergency Services to aid refugees who have already arrived in California and hopes to assist services being offered by nonprofit groups like the Salvation Army.

Newsom challenged Trump’s threats to close the border at length — purportedly because of security issues related to the caravans — saying it would have potentially catastrophic economic effects on California and the nation as a whole. Newsom also called on state, local and regional officials to immediately address the plight of migrants, some of who are awaiting asylum claims, and whom he said he learned are being dropped off by ICE in San Diego without shelter, food or medical treatment. The situation, he said, has left many vulnerable to human trafficking, crime and health issues that could impact California communities.

The Governor-elect has suggested he would take an interactive approach with the Mexican government and revive commissions and trade offices. Newsom appears to be culturally tied to California’s neighbor to the south: His wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, speaks fluent Spanish and speaks the language to their four children at home, believing fluency in the language to be critical in a border state.

[Politico]