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]

At 87, her mission to help immigrants hasn’t slowed down

Growing up, Florence Phillips experienced first-hand the burden of being a child of immigrants who didn’t speak English. Helping her parents interact with the outside world fell on her shoulders. “I did all the translations for them,” Phillips said. “I saw how they struggled being new to a country and not knowing the language.”

For most of her life, Phillips worked various desk jobs. Then, in her late-50s, she enlisted in the Peace Corps. She served three tours—in Kenya, Guatemala and Jamaica—working on community-building projects and teaching English. After returning to the US in 1999, at age 69, Phillips realized there were countless people in her own backyard in need of her support.

She became an AmeriCorps volunteer and moved around the country, eventually settling in Nevada, where immigrants make up roughly one in five of the state’s population. Phillips met many adult immigrants who were struggling to learn English. To address the need, she started the ESL In-Home Program of Northern Nevada, a nonprofit that provides free ESL (English as a Second Language), citizenship, GED and computer classes.

Today, at 87 years old—when most people are deep in retirement—Phillips shows no signs of winding down.

CNN’s Laura Klairmont asked Phillips, “How has your work affected the lives of your students?”

Phililips’ response:  I have students that were promoted to be supervisor. I get students who call me and say, “I was able to talk with the teacher about my child.” And I’m being told by the students that they went to the market and the clerk understood them. Those are the rewards I get as they progress. …I see the pride when they say, ‘I am an American.’”

[CNN]

US Congress passes measure to provide humanitarian aid to genocide victims

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure in late November to provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and to hold Islamic State perpetrators accountable. The Senate also has passed its version of the measure unanimously.

“When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United States should direct some of its humanitarian, stabilization and recovery aid to enable these groups to survive — especially when they are minorities whose existence as a people is at risk,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said in remarks from the House floor before the vote. “We should commit to such a response whether the victims are the Rohingya in Burma or Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria.”

Smith, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, introduced the legislation in 2016 and again in 2017, with lead Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California.

He noted that he had just met earlier that day Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, and the prelate told him: “Christians in Iraq are still at the brink of extinction. H.R. 390 is vital to our survival. If it becomes law, implementation must be full and fast. Otherwise, the help it provides will be too late for us.”

Among its key provisions, the bill directs the administration to:
— Fund entities, including faith-based ones, that are providing humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid on-the-ground to genocide survivors from religious and ethnic minorities.
— Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee.

In Iraq, the number of Christians is below 200,000, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before IS militants went on a genocidal campaign, according to figures provided by Smith’s congressional office. Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Irbil in the Kurdistan region, and need assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq. Of the 550,000 Yezidis who remain in Iraq, about 280,000 are still displaced and also need assistance to return to their homes.

[CNS]

Iranians crossing the English Channel in dinghies

Since 3 November, 101 migrants – including four children – have attempted the 21-mile journey across the English Channel, which one policeman likened to “trying to cross the M25 at rush-hour on foot”. All claimed to be Iranian.

Why? The answer to the last question could lie 1,200 miles away in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Miodrag Ćakić, chief executive of Refugee Aid Serbia, which monitors migration through the Balkans, believes migrants arriving in the UK are among the thousands who flew into Serbia after the country began offering visa-free access to Iranians in August last year. The move was ostensibly intended to increase tourism and trade between Iran, the world’s 25th largest economy, and Serbia, the 90th. The visa scheme ended on 17 October, by which time some 40,000 Iranians were said to have flown to the Balkan nation. Serbian police estimate the number of Iranians who failed to return at 12,000.

Kaveh Kalantri, of the Iranian Association which supports refugees in the UK, said a lack of freedom and human rights violations were driving some Iranians out of their country. “People get arrested if they have liberal or left-wing views, or if they are from religious minorities. A lot of people experience violence on a daily basis.”

In the past two years, Iranian citizens have made more UK asylum applications than any other nationality, according to Home Office figures. In 2017, they accounted for 9% of the 26,350 applications. “Iranians coming to the UK is not unusual, but the way they are coming is,” Mr Kalantri said.

One theory as to why Iranians are choosing to risk their lives on boats stems from their comparative wealth to other refugees – simply put, they can afford to pay smuggling gangs to get them onboard a vessel.

[BBC]

Charities tell US ‘act now over Yemen’ or share blame for mass famine

The United States will bear shared responsibility for what may be the largest famine in decades if it does not cease its military support for the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Yemen, the heads of five major humanitarian organizations have warned.

In an unusually stark joint statement, the leaders of the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, CARE US, Save the Children USA and the Norwegian Refugee Council USA together urged the US government to act to save Yemeni lives.

“14 million people are at risk of starving to death in Yemen if the parties to the conflict and their supporters do not change course immediately,” their statement says.

“If the government of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Ansar Allah, and other parties to the conflict fail to take steps, and if the United States does not use all levers of pressure to compel them to do so, responsibility for the deaths of many more Yemeni civilians will lie not only with the parties to the conflict, but with the United States as well,” the statement says.

Yemen’s war of three-and-a-half years has killed at least 10,000 people and pushed the nation to the brink of the world’s worst famine in 100 years, leaving 14 million people — about half the country’s population — at risk of starvation, according to the United Nations.

Save the Children said Wednesday that an estimated 85,000 children under the age of 5 may have died from extreme hunger or disease since the war began.

The five humanitarian organizations acknowledge that the US is one of the most generous humanitarian donors in Yemen. But, they say, “these contributions pale in comparison to the harm caused by US military support and diplomatic cover to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”

[CNN]

US authorities fire tear gas to disperse migrants at border

A major US-Mexico border crossing in San Diego, one of the world’s busiest international crossings, was closed for hours on Sunday after a group of migrants on the Mexican side rushed the border area, leading US Border Patrol agents to fire tear gas at the group.

About 500 migrants on the Mexican side of the border overwhelmed police blockades near the San Ysidro Port of Entry Sunday afternoon. As the migrants tried to cross the border, authorities on the US side used tear gas to disperse them. Video of the scene showed a cloud of tear gas that sent people running and screaming, including families with young children.

US Customs and Border Protection said the migrants threw projectiles that struck several agents. “Border Patrol agents deployed tear gas to dispel the group because of the risk to agents’ safety,” the agency said on Twitter.

The incident marked an escalation of tensions that have been mounting since groups of Central American migrants began arriving in Tijuana a few weeks ago on their journey to attempt to gain entry to the United States.

The migrants’ presence has drawn demonstrators — for and against them — and threats from President Donald Trump to close the US-Mexico border. Meanwhile, Tijuana’s mayor has called on the Mexican government and the international community for help.

The melee closed San Ysidro Port of Entry to vehicle and pedestrian traffic, with all northbound and southbound traffic halted for several hours. Every day more than 100,000 people enter the U.S. there.

President Trump later tweeted: “Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries. Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!”

[CNN/Fox]

Trump administration climate report says damage is ‘intensifying across the country’

The federal government on Friday released a long-awaited report with an unmistakable message: The effects of climate change, including deadly wildfires, increasingly debilitating hurricanes and heat waves, are already battering the United States, and the danger of more such catastrophes is worsening.

The report’s authors, who represent numerous federal agencies, say they are more certain than ever that climate change poses a severe threat to Americans’ health and pocketbooks, as well as to the country’s infrastructure and natural resources. The congressionally mandated document is the first of its kind issued during the Trump administration.

Already, western mountain ranges are retaining much less snow throughout the year, threatening water supplies below them. Coral reefs in the Caribbean, Hawaii, Florida and the United States’ Pacific territories are experiencing severe bleaching events. Wildfires are devouring ever-larger areas during longer fire seasons. And the country’s sole Arctic state, Alaska, is seeing a staggering rate of warming that has upended its ecosystems, from once ice-clogged coastlines to increasingly thawing permafrost tundras.

The authors argue that global warming “is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.” And they conclude that humans must act aggressively to adapt to current impacts and mitigate future catastrophes “to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.”

“The impacts we’ve seen the last 15 years have continued to get stronger, and that will only continue,” said Gary Yohe, a professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University who served on a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the report. “We have wasted 15 years of response time. If we waste another five years of response time, the story gets worse. The longer you wait, the faster you have to respond and the more expensive it will be.”

That urgency is at odds with the stance of the Trump administration, which has rolled back several Obama-era environmental regulations and incentivized the production of fossil fuels. Trump also has said he plans to withdraw the nation from the Paris climate accord and questioned the science of climate change just last month, saying on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that “I don’t know that it’s man-made” and that the warming trend “could very well go back.”

Some of the hundreds of scientists and federal officials who spent months working on the detailed document were frustrated, but not surprised, that the administration chose to release it on the day after Thanksgiving — typically one of the slowest news days of the year.

[Washington Post]