Category: International Cooperation

Lesbos islanders and migrants stuck waiting for Europe to decide

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Crisis-weary residents of the Greek island of Lesbos and the thousands of migrants stranded there after this week’s refugee centre fire are united by one thing—they all want to see the migrants moved off the island.

Lesbos and other islands off the Turkish coast have been among the main entry points for migrants into Europe for years, peaking in 2015-16 when around a million people arrived in a seemingly endless stream of small boats. The overflowing camp that burned held more than 12,000 migrants—four times the numbers it was supposed to—forcing thousands to live in squalor and putting a strain on both its occupants and residents in nearby areas who have mounted a series of protests this year demanding the centre be shut down.

But with the European Union unable to reach agreement between countries like Greece and Italy, which want the bloc to share the burden and others refusing to take in refugees, for the moment Lesbos’ 86,000 islanders and migrants remain unwillingly together.

Greeks oppose continued sheltering of migrants

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Thousands of migrants remained stranded without shelter on the island of Lesbos, sleeping on streets or in fields near Greece’s largest refugee camp after a devastating fire burned the facility to the ground. The Moria camp, long notorious for poor living conditions, had hosted more than 12,000 migrants, four times its stated capacity.

The Greek government said it had secured thousands of tents to provide temporary shelter for the migrants. But Athens’s plans face stiff resistance from local authorities and residents who fear the temporary shelters will turn into another permanent migrant camp.

“Moria is a monstrosity,” Dimitris Koursoubas, a senior official responsible for migration in the northern Aegean islands, told Reuters. “We want all the migrants out, for national reasons. Moria is over.”

[Reuters]

45 migrants die in Mediterranean shipwreck

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At least 45 migrants died in an August 17 shipwreck off the coast of Libya, the deadliest such incident this year. The boat’s engine exploded off the coast of the city of Zuwarah.

More than 300 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya this year, according to the United Nations, but the real figure could be much higher.

On Wednesday, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees and the International Organization for Migration called for international search and rescue efforts to be stepped up. The European Union has shied away from launching its own rescue operation.

[Foreign Policy]

World Humanitarian Day tribute to aid workers on the front lines

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Today, World Humanitarian Day, the world honors all humanitarians – many working in their own communities – who are going to extraordinary lengths in extraordinary times to help women, men and children whose lives are upended by crises and the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid a global pandemic, unprecedented needs and growing insecurity, aid workers and health-care responders are staying and delivering to the world’s most vulnerable people.

  • The dedication, perseverance and self-sacrifice of these real-life heroes represent the best of humanity as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis and the massive increase in humanitarian needs it has triggered.
  • Last year was the most violent on record for humanitarians, with 483 attacked, 125 killed, 234 wounded and 124 kidnapped.

Humanitarian workers are being tested like never before, struggling with unprecedented movement restrictions and insufficient resources as needs are outpacing funds.  And all too often, they risk their own lives to save the lives of others. Read more

[WHO]

World leaders pledge $298 Million in aid to Lebanon

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International leaders at a virtual summit Sunday pledged $298 million in aid to help Lebanon in the aftermath of the catastrophic blast that killed at least 158 people and devastated large swaths of Beirut.

In his opening remarks, French President Emmanuel Macron — co-host of the summit along with the U.N. — said “Lebanon’s future was at stake” and urged attendees “to come together in support of Lebanon and its people.”

Reuters quotes Macron’s office as saying the approximately $298 million would not be conditional on governmental reforms in Lebanon, but longer-term support would be. During Sunday’s summit, Macron urged Lebanon’s leaders to act in the best interest of the country, making apparent allusion to outrage at the country’s ruling class following the blast.

Unrest in Lebanon has been at a high following last week’s explosion at Beirut’s port. Anger over the blast has been directed at corruption and negligence by the country’s politicians. A day ahead of the virtual summit, massive demonstrations drew thousands into the streets of downtown Beirut, with protesters even assembling a mock gallows for cut-outs of prominent politicians.

Prior to the explosion — caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port — the country had already been undergoing a major economic collapse. Lebanon had also been struggling under the COVID-19 pandemic.

The European Commission — the executive body of the European Union — pledged some $35 million on top of an already promised $39 million. The United Kingdom also pledged $26 million during the summit.

Earlier on Sunday, the acting administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development specified that the agency would pledge $15 million that would instead go through universities trusted by the United States, rather than the Lebanese government.

[NPR]

Red Cross warns of big post-Covid-19 migration

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The coronavirus crisis could spark huge waves of fresh migration once borders reopen, the head of the Red Cross has warned. The head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Jagan Chapagain, said he was deeply concerned about the secondary effects of the pandemic, as border closures and Covid-19 restrictions have driven millions into poverty.

Many people are already faced with the choice of risking exposure to the novel coronavirus or going hungry, Chapagain said, warning that the desperation being generated could have far-reaching consequences.

“…Many people who are losing livelihoods, once the borders start opening, will feel compelled to move,” he said. “We should not be surprised if there is a massive impact on migration in the coming months and years.”

Chapagain also condemned efforts in some countries to secure vaccines for their own people first: “The virus crosses the border, so it is pretty short-sighted to think that I vaccinate my people but leave everybody else without vaccination, and we will still be safe,” he said.

The warnings came as the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,strongly criticized the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo’s comment that the WHO health agency chief having been bought by China. “The comments are untrue and unacceptable, and without any foundation for that matter,” Tedros said. “If there is one thing that really matters to us and which should matter to the entire international community, it’s saving lives. And WHO will not be distracted by these comments.”

[The Guardian]

Global surge in coronavirus cases is being fed by the developing world—and the United States

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When the United States began shutting down this spring, a virus that emerged months earlier as a mysterious outbreak in a Chinese provincial capital had infected a total of fewer than 200,000 people worldwide.

So far this week, the planet has added an average of more than 200,000 cases every day.

The novel coronavirus has now crept into virtually every corner of the globe and is wreaking havoc in multiple major regions at once. But the impact is not being felt evenly. Poorer nations throughout Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia and Africa are bearing a growing share of the caseload, even as wealthier countries in Western Europe and East Asia enjoy a relative respite after having beaten back the worst effects through rigorously enforced lockdowns.

And then there’s the United States, which leads the world in new cases and, as with many nations that possess far fewer resources, has shown no sign of being able to regain control.

[Washington Post]

WHO chief: Lack of unity is a bigger threat than coronavirus

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The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the world – and humanity is failing because of a lack of leadership and unity, the head of the World Health Organization declared in a passionate speech Thursday.

“How is it difficult for humans to unite and fight a common enemy that is killing people indiscriminately?” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked at a briefing in Geneva, his voice rising with emotion. “Are we unable to distinguish or identify the common enemy?” he asked.

The world’s lack of solidarity — not the coronavirus — is the biggest threat we face, Tedros said, adding that divisions among countries and people give an advantage to a virus that has been holding the world hostage for months.

The WHO director-general spoke about the lack of leadership two days after President Trump began the formal process of pulling the U.S. out of the World Health Organization. That move is expected to become final next June.

Last April, Tedros had pleaded, “Please don’t politicize this virus.” Using a pandemic to score political points, he said, would only result in “many more body bags.”

In the months since, Tedros has repeatedly called for countries to fight the pandemic with unity and common cause. He has also criticized governments for failing to take measures to stop the spread of the virus.

[NPR]

Trump administration sends formal notification of US withdrawal from the WHO

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The Trump administration has formally notified the United Nations that the United States is withdrawing from the World Health Organization, cutting off one of the organization’s biggest sources of aid amid a global pandemic that has infected more than 11.6 million people, killed more than a half a million, and upended life around the world.

“The United States’ notice of withdrawal, effective July 6, 2021, has been submitted to the UN Secretary-General, who is the depository for the W.H.O.,” said a senior administration official. By law the United States must give the organization a year’s notice if it intends to withdraw, and meet all the current financial obligations in the current year.

The biennial budget for the W.H.O. is about $6 billion, which comes from member countries around the world. In 2019, the last year for which figures were available, the United States contributed about $553 million.

[The New York Times]

Americans can’t travel to Europe

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We’re used to thinking of our blue US passports as keys to almost anywhere. Due to Covid19 spread in the US, we are now forced to experience travel as others do.

We now find ourselves in the uncomfortable position more familiar to the Syrian, Nigerian and Iranian citizens who are routinely, unilaterally denied entry to the US and other countries, no matter their individual actions, belief systems or political persuasions.

Being stuck on the sidelines while the rest of the world gets to experience the joy of travel also provides us with a rare opportunity to think critically about the meaning of global citizenship. An awareness of and compassion for the kinds of challenges other people and communities face is a cornerstone of global citizenship.

{Might this be a time to reflect on making] visitors to the US – from tourists to refugees – feel more welcome and accepted.

Another change should involve never again taking our own sense of welcome and acceptance for granted, in Europe or anywhere else. After all, this sense of entitlement has often led to bad behaviors like insulting Spanish ticket sellers for not speaking English, carving names into Rome’s Colosseum, and bathing in the Trevi fountain. Such actions not only cast a negative light on Americans but result in penalties that affect all tourists, such as barricades around major attractions. They also put a wedge between visitors and residents that threatens to cut off the kinds of cross-cultural exchanges that are such important elements of global citizenship. How can we build connections to other people when they – often rightly – believe we don’t respect their homes?

It’s also time to think more critically about global travel. We must acknowledge its costs in terms of both climate change and “overtourism”, which encompasses the diverse environmental, social and cultural impacts of tourism to already heavily trafficked areas. If we want to bequeath any elements of our current world to future generations, we must reduce our carbon footprints and overall impact on the locales we visit. This may mean forgoing trips to bucket-list destinations in favor of lesser-trod locales or simply exploring closer to home.

[Excerpts of an Opinion piece in The Guardian by Tamara J. Walker]