Category: Humanitarian Aid

Trump’s problem isn’t Mexico but Central America

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When US President Donald Trump demands that Mexico “fix” its immigration problem, he should really look to the spiraling collapse of Central America. The limitless flow of people towards the US-Mexico border begins with the tortured descent of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador into the abyss.

And it is this very place that the Trump administration has announced it will cut aid to, rather than boosting it.

For many in the region, getting out has understandably become a matter of survival. The nations of the Northern Triangle jostle for the ugly position as the world’s murder capital, both because of the gang violence spawned by the drug trade and because of a lack of solid government.

The Northern Triangle is also one of the foremost and earliest victims of the climate crisis. At least 1.4 million people in Central America and Mexico could be on the move by 2050, the World Bank has estimated, in a place where a third of jobs are dependent on agriculture. Studies have suggested rainfall may get sparser in Honduras, yet it will see flooding increase in some places by 60%, the Guardian reported. El Salvador could lose up to 28% of its coastline by the end of the century. Drought could spread in Guatemala, and this has damaged the coffee crops in the past. Temperatures have risen 0.5C since 1950 and could rise up to 2C by 2050. Communities will see the life that they know now change immeasurably.

Climate change is the underlying malaise, but the present-day curse is the drug trade. It can feel like nearly every part of Central American life is caught some way or another in feeding drugs north to US markets. The sums of money involved, one official told CNN, are so utterly ridiculous that few other forms of economic activity make sense. And until the main market, the United States, stops taking in so much cocaine, the money will always be there.

News emerged last month that the DEA opened an investigation into the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez, in 2013 … for “large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States.” His brother, Antonio Hernandez Alvarado, was arrested in November 2018 by US investigators in Miami, accused of being a “large-scale drug trafficker.”

In Guatemala, a candidate for the presidential election, Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana, was recently indicted by the DEA for allegedly conspiring with the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested in Miami in April.

Meanwhile, in El Salvador, 37-year-old President Nayib Bukele took office nearly a fortnight ago, facing a murder rate of about 50 per 100,000 — around 10 times that of the United States.

The threat of tariffs might have persuaded Mexico to try to stem the flow in the short term, but it won’t address the foundations of the tide of people.


WHO weighs declaring global health emergency as Ebola spreads in Africa

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The World Health Organization is considering whether to declare the current Ebola outbreak in central Africa a global health crisis after new cases spread to Uganda from neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the disease has already killed nearly 1,400 people.

WHO announced on Tuesday that a 5-year-old boy who traveled with his family to Uganda from Congo died from the disease. On Thursday, a Ugandan health ministry official said a second patient, the boy’s grandmother, had also died. Uganda’s Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng said that officials there have been on alert to prevent the spread of the disease.

The Associated Press, quoting Congo’s health ministry, says a dozen of the boy’s family members also showed Ebola symptoms and had been placed in isolation. However, six of them managed to leave while awaiting transfer to a treatment facility.

On average, half of the people who contract Ebola die as a result of the disease.

The latest Ebola outbreak, centered in northeastern Congo, is “by far the largest” of 10 such outbreaks in the country in the past 40 years, according to Doctors Without Borders.


Trial against humanitarian activist Scott Warren ends in hung jury

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In Arizona, a case against a humanitarian aid volunteer who provided food, water and shelter to undocumented migrants ended in a mistrial Tuesday after a deadlocked jury was unable to deliver a verdict.

Scott Warren, from the groups No More Deaths and Ajo Samaritans, faced up to 20 years in prison after being charged with two counts of felony harboring and one count of felony conspiracy. Eight jurors found Scott Warren not guilty; four said he was guilty. Prosecutors have declined to comment on whether they would seek a retrial against Warren.

Scott Warren speaking to supporters and the press: “Since my arrest in January of 2018, at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert. We know that’s a minimum number and that many more are out there and have not been found. The government’s plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees and their families; prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness and solidarity; and now, where I live, the revelation that they will build an enormous and expensive wall across a vast stretch of southwestern Arizona’s unbroken Sonoran Desert.”

[Democracy Now]

EU gives €152 million for Africa’s Sahel region

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The Sahel region of Africa is marked by extreme vulnerability and poverty. Regional and inter-community armed conflicts trigger mass displacements of people. Violence makes it impossible for people to access their fields or go to markets. It also disrupts the functioning and access to basic social services.

As countries in the Sahel continue to suffer from armed conflicts, climate change, and a food and nutrition crisis, the EU is providing €152.05 million to bring relief to people in need in the region. Combined with last year’s funding, humanitarian assistance to the Sahel has been supported with over €423 million in EU aid, making the EU a leading donor in the region.

EU funding from this aid package provides humanitarian assistance in the following seven countries: Burkina Faso (€15.7 million), Cameroon (€17.8 million), Chad (€27.2 million), Mali (23.55 million), Mauritania (€11.15 million), Niger (€23.15 million) and Nigeria (€28 million). An additional €5.5 million is allocated to a regional project that fights malnutrition in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.

[European Commission]

As Venezuela reopens border to Colombia, UN envoy Angelina Jolie urges support for 20,000 stateless children

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Thousands of people crossed into Colombia on Saturday to buy food and medicine after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro reopened a border between the countries that had been shut down for the past four months. With the reopening, a flood of people seized on the opportunity to secure items that are all but unattainable in Venezuela.

The once-wealthy oil nation is now facing severe shortages of basic goods and hyperinflation that is expected to surpass 10 million per cent this year, according to a recent IMF estimate.

The chaos has been further aggravated by US sanctions on Venezuelan oil exports and has forced an estimated 5,000 people to leave the country each day, according to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

On Saturday, the UNHCR’s special envoy Angelina Jolie met with Colombian President Ivan Duque to advocate for the estimated 20,000 children of Venezuelan migrants left with uncertain status after their parents fled their crisis-wracked home country. In a meeting in the port city of Cartagena, the American actress urged Duque to resolve the legal limbo facing the children since Colombia does not automatically recognize children born in its territory as nationals.

[South China Morning Post]

New World Atlas of Desertification shows unprecedented pressure on our natural resources

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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) published a new edition of the World Atlas of Desertification in 2018, which provides the first comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of land degradation at a global level and highlights the urgency to adopt corrective measures. 

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, responsible for the JRC, said: “Over the past twenty years, since the publication of the last edition of the World Atlas of Desertification, pressures on land and soil have increased dramatically. To preserve our planet for future generations, we urgently need to change the way we treat these precious resources.”

The main findings show that population growth and changes in our consumption patterns put unprecedented pressure on the planet’s natural resources:

  • Over 75% of the Earth’s land area is already degraded, and over 90% could become degraded by 2050.
  • Globally, a total area half of the size of the European Union (4.18 million km²) is degraded annually, with Africa and Asia being the most affected.
  • The economic cost of soil degradation for the EU is estimated to be in the order of tens of billions of euros annually.
  • Land degradation and climate change are estimated to lead to a reduction of global crop yields by about 10% by 2050. Most of this will occur in India, China and sub-Saharan Africa, where land degradation could halve crop production.
  • As a consequence of accelerated deforestation it will become more difficult to mitigate the effects of climate change
  • By 2050, up to 700 million people are estimated to have been displaced due to issues linked to scarce land resources. The figure could reach up to 10 billion by the end of this century. 

 [EU Science Hub]

UN: Two million Somalis could die of starvation amid drought

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A United Nations emergency relief coordinator says more than 2 million men, women and children could die of starvation in Somalia by summer’s end if international aid is not sent quickly to the drought-stricken African country.

U.N. Undersecretary-General Mark Lowcock says about $700 million is needed after a rainless season that has killed both livestock and crops. He said Tuesday that the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $45 million to cover immediate food shortages, water and daily necessities in Somalia as well as parts of Kenya and Ethiopia affected by droughts.

Of a Somali population of 15 million people, more than 3 million are struggling just to meet minimum food requirements, he said, and the shortages are about 40 percent worse now than this past winter.

Somalia’s humanitarian fund is currently depleted. If financial aid is delayed, the cost of saving lives on the margin of death are much higher, Lowcock said, adding that the option then is to turn to expensive, therapeutic feeding programs. “We could have a quick response now, which would be cheaper, reduce human suffering and more effective, or we can wait for a few months until we get all those horrible pictures on our TV screens and social media of starving kids,” Lowcock said.

Lowcock, who heads the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs, said that in past decades droughts came about every half dozen years but recently they have hit every two or three years. “There’s not really any question in my mind that these more frequent droughts are related to global warming and climate change,” the U.N. official said.

[Times of India]

EU migrant policy: Lawyers call it a crime against humanity

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More than 40,000 people have been intercepted in the Mediterranean and taken to detention camps and torture houses under a European migration policy that is responsible for crimes against humanity, according to a legal document asking the International Criminal Court to take the case Monday.

The request filed with the ICC alleges that European Union officials are knowingly responsible for migrant deaths on land and at sea, as well as culpable for rapes and torture of migrants committed by members of the Libyan coast guard, which is funded and trained at the expense of European taxpayers. The filing names no specific EU officials but cites an ongoing ICC investigation into the fate of migrants in Libya .

“We leave it to the prosecutor, if he dares, if she dares, to go into the structures of power and to investigate at the heart of Brussels, of Paris, of Berlin and Rome and to see by searching in the archives of the meetings of the negotiations who was really behind the scenes trying to push for these policies that triggered the death of more than 14,000 people,” said Juan Branco, a lawyer who co-wrote the report and shared it with The Associated Press. He was referring to the deaths and disappearances at sea, which come on top of the interceptions by the Libyan forces.

The ICC is a court of last resort that handles cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide when other countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute. It is up to the prosecutor, who receives many such requests, to decide whether to investigate and ultimately bring a case.

The first crime, according to the document, was the decision to end the Mare Nostrum rescue operation near the end of 2014. In one year, the operation rescued 150,810 migrants in the Mediterranean as hundreds of thousands crossed the sea. [See also] As a result, deaths in the Mediterranean then soared.

Omer Shatz, the other lead lawyer responsible for the document, said internal EU documents showed officials hoped that ending Mare Nostum would create a deterrent effect. “Deterrent effect – what does it mean? It means sacrifice the lives of some, in this case of many, to change the behavior of others, to discourage others from doing the same thing.”

[Associated Press]

Activists worried about a “chilling effect” now that the US government is prosecuting a humanitarian aid worker

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The jury trial of humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren on felony charges of harboring and transporting undocumented migrants began in Tuscon, Arizona, on Wednesday. Warren is alleged to have acted to “conceal, harbor and shield from detection” a pair of migrants who had illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico by feeding them and providing access to a shelter for several days.

Activists are livid that the Department of Justice is applying smuggling statutes to a charitable organization for providing food and shelter, and there are growing concerns that this case could set a precedent for charging community organizations with similar crimes.

The increasingly adversarial relationship between immigration agents and non-profits on the front lines of the migration crisis underscores not only the government’s inability to cope with the influx of migrants from Central America but also, as highlighted in the Warren case, the operational risk of providing services to the Hispanic community.

“All of the prosecutions of the No More Deaths activists implicate the kind of basic humanitarian aid that many organizations are giving throughout the country,” Katherine Franke, director of the Law, Rights, and Religion Project at Columbia Law School, told Newsweek. “By the terms of these charges, if someone puts out food or water or any other aid, they risk federal prosecution.”

Franke, who filed an amicus brief in support of Warren’s religious claim to humanitarian aid work, said that the prosecution sends a “troubling message” to religious workers like Warren “who are interested in the sanctity of life.”


Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina dying while seeking safety

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Thousands of people trapped in Bosnia and Herzegovina desperately need humanitarian assistance and some are dying while trying to find shelter, says the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Current transit centers, holding around 3,500 people, are full so thousands are sleeping rough.

Indira Kulenovic, operations manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said: “People are sleeping in parks, in carparks, on the footpath, and in dangerous buildings. A few weeks ago three migrants sheltering in an abandoned building burned to death when a candle they were using caused a fire. Soon after, another fell from the top floor of a building he was sheltering in. Psychological stress among migrants is high – just last week one man set himself on fire in desperation. The situation is dire,” Kulenovic said.

The Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina has six mobile teams providing people on the move with food, water, clothes, blankets, psychosocial support and first aid. The mobile teams are also distributing information on active landmine fields to warn migrants of the dangers of unexploded ordinances. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most landmine-contaminated countries in Europe.

Red Cross volunteers are working in five migrant centers across the country, preparing meals for 3,000 people a day, with food supplies provided by IOM. They are also providing clothing, bedding, tents, hygiene items and first aid.

The Secretary General of the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina Mr Rajko Lazic said that, despite the best efforts of aid agencies to provide food and shelter, living conditions for many people remain inadequate in the centres, and worse for the people outside. “Our teams are doing what they can but they are stretched to the limit and the situation has reached a critical point. This is a humanitarian crisis,” Mr Lazic said.