$4.6 billion emergency funding for detained migrants clears US Congress

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After a brief showdown over competing emergency humanitarian aid measures to alleviate the crisis at the US southern border, the House voted on Thursday to pass the Senate’s less restrictive version of the bill.

“In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote. “…We will do so with a Battle Cry as to how we go forward to protect children in a way that truly honors their dignity and worth,” Pelosi added.

Lawmakers are set to recess for the July 4 holiday and were aiming to get the measure enacted before they left.


Arab opposition to President Trump’s “Deal of the Century”

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Sixteen signatory Middle Eastern organizations expressed their “grave concern regarding the US-led ‘Peace to Prosperity’ workshop in Bahrain, which poses a significant threat to the Palestinian right to self-determination, justice, and equality”,  part of President Trump’s anticipated Palestine-Israel peace plan. The proposal was put together by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

A joint statement comments on “…the troubling pattern of the current US administration’s policies portend what the plan will likely entail — a continued course of uncritical support for Israel at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian people. Since 2017, the Trump administration’s policies have undermined Palestinian rights, contravened international law, and flouted longstanding US policies with regard to Israel and Palestine.

“President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israel’s annexation of the Syrian Golan in violation of international law, which does not recognize sovereignty over territory taken from another country by force. It has also cut crucial US funding to UNRWA for its work with Palestinian refugees, eliminated USAID programs in the West Bank and Gaza, and closed the Washington office of the General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“Palestinians have been held captive to Israel’s market and economy due to the prolonged occupation and are facing increasing economic pressure as a result of US policies. Now, Palestinians will be asked to give up their inalienable rights and struggle for freedom and justice in exchange for vague promises of economic cooperation and an alleged better standard of living. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and a number of prominent Palestinian businessmen have made it clear that they oppose the plan and will not be attending. Russia and China will also boycott the workshop.”

USAID Global Water Development

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In the “Global Water and Development Report of Water and Sanitation Activities FY 2017,” USAID charts its progress toward achieving the goal of providing 15 million people with sustainable access to safe drinking water services and 8 million people with sustainable sanitation by 2022.

In FY 2017, USAID provided $449.6 million to support water, sanitation, and hygiene activities in 41 countries. As a result, 3.6 million people gained access to improved water while 3.2 million gained access to improved sanitation.

The annual report also touches on individual’s journeys to self-reliance, for example:

  • A community mobilizer in India marketing safe water kiosks to her neighbors
  • A homeowner in Indonesia who can now afford to build a septic tank system with funds from a community savings account
  • A mother in the Dominican Republic who has traded a wetland for the open sewer that used to run through her backyard
  • A regional water bureau manager in Ethiopia who can remotely monitor water point functionality through a data visualization platform

Emergency aid for migrants held at US border

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The U.S. Congress is trying to rush $4.5 billion in emergency humanitarian aid to the southwestern border, while placing new restrictions on President Trump’s immigration crackdown, spurred on by disturbing images of suffering migrant families and of children living in squalor in overcrowded detention facilities.

The House bill goes further than a Senate legislation in placing restrictions on the money. Facilities that house unaccompanied children would have a slightly shorter time frame — 12 months instead of 14 months — to meet existing legal standards for healthy, sanitary and humane conditions; they would have to allow oversight visits from members of Congress without warning; and the Department of Health and Human Services would have to report a child’s death in its custody to Congress within 24 hours.

But some Democrats fear that the aid will be used to carry out Mr. Trump’s aggressive tactics, including massive deportation raids by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) that he has promised will begin within two weeks.  “Democrats distrust this president because we have seen his cruel immigration policies and lawless behavior terrorize our constituents,” Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York, the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said on Monday evening “We cannot allow our anger at this president to blind us to the horrific conditions at facilities along the border as the agencies run out of money.”

The White House on Monday issued a statement threatening that Mr. Trump would veto the House measure.

The day before, Trump tweeted that he was suspending ICE raids on illegal immigrants for two weeks. A statement by four freshman representatives, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, said: “These radicalized, criminal agencies are destroying families and killing innocent children. It is absolutely unconscionable to even consider giving one more dollar to support this president’s deportation force that openly commits human rights abuses and refuses to be held accountable to the American people.”

[New York Times]

Migrant children held in deplorable conditions at US border

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After just 2 months in office, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, plans to step down in the coming weeks., according to two agency officials. Customs and Border Protection has come under fire in recent days amid revelations that nearly 300 migrant children — from infants to 17-year-olds — had been detained in a remote Border Patrol station in West Texas without adequate food, water and sanitation.

All but 30 of the children were transferred out of the center in Clint, Texas, after revelations last week that they were being held in squalid conditions. But a CBP official confirmed today that 100 of those children have been moved back to the same Border Patrol station because there wasn’t room in child shelters run by Health and Human Services.

A law professor who recently visited the facility, Warren Binford of Willamette University, described the conditions for children: “Many of them are sleeping on concrete floors, including infants, toddlers, preschoolers. They are being given nothing but instant meals, Kool-Aid and cookies — many of them are sick. We are hearing that many of them are not sleeping. Almost all of them are incredibly sad and being traumatized. Many of them have not been given a shower for weeks. Many of them are not being allowed to brush their teeth except for maybe once every 10 days. They have no access to soap. It’s incredibly unsanitary conditions, and we’re very worried about the children’s health.”

News of the conditions at the Clint facility was first reported last week by The Associated Press based on initial interviews with Binford and other lawyers who were conducting inspections under the terms of the Flores settlement, a legal agreement that spells out how the government is supposed to treat detained migrant children. The AP reported: “A 2-year-old boy locked in detention wants to be held all the time. A few girls, ages 10 to 15, say they’ve been doing their best to feed and soothe the clingy toddler who was handed to them by a guard days ago. Lawyers warn that kids are taking care of kids, and there’s inadequate food, water and sanitation for the 250 infants, children and teens at the Border Patrol station.”

Under the Flores settlement, children detained by the Border Patrol are supposed to be turned over to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, within 72 hours. Some children said they had been kept at the Clint facility for weeks.

Congress is expected to vote today on a supplemental spending bill to send money to agencies working to address the needs of migrants arriving at the U.S. Border with Mexico. Last-minute requirements were added to the $4.5 billion legislation that would obligate CBP to establish hygiene and medical standards for children and a 90-day limit on keeping kids in temporary emergency shelters.


Canada resettled more refugees than any other country in 2018

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Canada resettled the largest number of refugees out of 25 countries in 2018, according to the UN’s refugee agency. The country accepted just over 28,000 refugees last year, with the United States coming in second with 22,900.

An influx of asylum seekers crossing at the US-Canada border has also become a political issue after approximately 40,000 people “irregularly” crossed into Canada between 2017 and 2018.  Canada currently is struggling with a backlog of almost 74,000 asylum claims with applicants waiting almost two years for a hearing.

According to the US-based Pew Research Center, which looked the UNHCR data, 2018 was the first time the US, under the Trump administration, did not lead the world in refugee resettlement since 1980.

More than two thirds of all refugees worldwide came from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. Globally, 92,400 refugees were resettled in 2018, fewer than 7% of those awaiting resettlement worldwide.

Out of the 25 countries that resettled refugees in 2018, Australia, the UK, and France also resettled high numbers, according to UN figures.


I pray for refugees because I was one

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I walked for nine days in my slippers in the deep forest. My father carried all the food. My mom carried my one-year-old brother. I carried all the cookware, some blankets, and clothes for them. After seven days, we reached the Tenasserim River and crossed on a big boat. As we were climbing the mountain, I heard the gunfire again.

I was very tired carrying my brother while climbing the mountain, so I spoke to myself, “Sunday, you cannot die here. You must finish your high school, go to college, speak for your people, and tell the world what you have been through and who you are.”

I am an ethnic Karen, one of more than 10 ethnic minority groups in Burma. My parents became Christians when I was born. The place where I was born and grew up had no electricity, no hospital, and no clinic. We carried water from the river to our house. We ate the fruits from our tree on the farm. My parents passed only grade three.

After I finished grade four at a Karen school, my parents sent me to the Burmese school far away from my home. Because my parents were so poor, they could not support me with money. I stayed in the home of family friends, a pastor’s family in a sister village. I looked after their cows, did the housework, while they gave me free room and board.

In 1997, I was away from home in another village, taking my fifth-grade final examination. I heard gunfire from far away. About an hour later, our principal asked us to stop immediately and go home to find our family for our safety. When I got home, my family had already hidden in the forest. My father brought me to my mother and my younger brothers and sister, and we moved from place to place every day for our safety. A few months later, the Burmese army came and set up their camp at my village while we were still living in the forest. Since that day, I have never gone back to my village, and the Burmese army camps are still there.

We hid in the jungle for a few months. Other families from another village came to live with us. Then we decided we would travel to the border to seek refuge in Thailand. After we crossed the Tenasserim River and the mountain beyond it, we arrived safely in Thailand at a temporary place. A few weeks later, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) moved us to Tham Hin refugee camp in a truck. Around 9,000 refugees lived in our camp. Another nine refugee camps were established along the Thailand-Burma border.

There were no school buildings. At first, we had to study at our teacher’s house, and sometimes in the community building. Before we got a donation for our school, one of our teachers used pieces of cardboard and charcoal for teaching because we did not have chalk or a chalkboard. I finished high school there in 2003.

I prayed and sought my way out of the refugee camp and started learning to use a computer, the internet, English, and news reporting with my Karen news group. I left the camp illegally and was arrested by Thai police two times before I made it to Chiang Mai, the second biggest city in Thailand. I enrolled in a journalism course in Chiang Mai. This is where I met my husband. He was from another refugee camp trying to earn his GED diploma at another school in the same city. We got married in the refugee camp on September 4, 2006, after finishing at our school.

My husband and I encountered a new problem. Our daughter did not have the Refugee Registration Document, issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), because she had not been born in the camp. It was the only document that took refugees to the United States and other resettlement countries. We did not give up praying. My husband’s refugee camp leaders helped, so our daughter got her UNHCR registration card with my husband. That meant that she could resettle with him, but I would have to go back to my own camp. We would resettle apart.

After two years, we got the chance to move to Indiana and reunite with my parents and siblings.

[Excerpt of CT article by Sunday Htoo, a refugee from Burma (Myanmar)]

African migrants a new face of the US border crisis

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The crisis on the southern border has been driven by a surge of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Now there’s a new face of the crisis: Hundreds of African migrants have crossed the border in recent weeks, many to seek asylum.

Filipe and Mireille took their four young children and fled violent militias and civil unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo nearly five months ago. They flew to Ecuador, then traveled on foot across Central America to reach the U.S.-Mexico border, where they waited for weeks in a long line of asylum-seekers before being allowed to cross and make the last leg of their journey. Finally, they reached their destination: a makeshift emergency shelter in Portland, Maine — a converted minor-league sports arena now filled with cots. Filipe describes it as “paradise.”

Border Patrol agents in the Del Rio sector of South Texas recently took into custody more than 500 migrants in just one week, mostly families from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. Central Africans are also drawn to the U.S. because the boat trip across the Mediterranean can be treacherous. In fact, many don’t even make it to the sea but are swept up in refugee camps in North Africa.

Now many of these migrants fly to South America. And when they get there, they find well-traveled roads to follow north.


A tribute to Turkey on World Refugee Day

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World Refugee Day offers an annual opportunity to commemorate the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees – including the more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.

Before joining the Refugee Health Training Centre in Izmir, Turkey, in 2017 as Chief Doctor, Dr Umit Sezginer had devoted more than 10 years to delivering health care in several hospitals of this coastal city, but he felt he still had much to give to support the Syrian population in Turkey.

Language, however, was a significant barrier. He had never worked closely with anyone speaking a different language. At first, Turkish health-care workers could not communicate easily with Syrian patients and interpretation was doubling the time required for consultations. Umit explains, “This can become tiring for both the doctor and the patient, and more importantly, it can lead to miscommunication during medical examinations.”

This scenario changed with the introduction of a programme that trains Syrian health professionals to work in the Turkish health system, alongside Turkish colleagues. Now, working hand in hand with Syrian doctors at the centre, his Syrian colleagues are health professionals trained by the World Health Organization, to serve in the Turkish health system and provide health services in Arabic to their fellow nationals.

World Refugee Day is an opportunity to remember that the human right to health means leaving no one behind, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex, age, country of origin or legal status. This is what Turkish health professionals demonstrate every day with their dedicated support to their Syrian colleagues. The WHO Refugee Health Programme in Turkey established this synergy and human bond. This would have not been possible without the generous contributions of partners supporting the Programme: Germany, through KfW Development Bank; the European Union Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis; the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the United States Department of State; and the Government of Japan.


A privilege to serve those in need

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There have been a lot of heated conversations around refugees, everywhere in the world.

Let’s all “change places“ and put ourselves in the situation of refugees, having left behind everything– their homes, family members, friends, and belongings in search of a safe haven. I am sure it is a threatening idea, but it can happen to any of us. Peace is not to be taken not for granted.

As doctors, we care about the health and well-being of our patients, regardless of their socio-economic, ethnic background, race, gender, nationality, or religion. Refugees are the same as any of our patients back home. The only difference is that they are much more vulnerable.

It is not only a responsibility. It is a privilege to serve those in need.

Within one year, I volunteered with SAMS on two medical missions to Jordan, and will be joining them again next month. I can hardly express the joy and satisfaction I experienced and the breadth of knowledge and experiences that I acquired during these missions. When we see and treat patients in one of the facilities in Jordan or elsewhere it is not about “refugees,” a vague and anonymous group of people far away. It is about faces and names, about the Ahmads, Arwas, and Mohammeds we meet. It is about those individuals with unique stories of hardships, resilience, hopes, and dreams.

We know that by volunteering, we can not move mountains, and we cannot wipe away all their pains. However, we can alleviate their suffering and address their health problems.

[Read full article by Dr. Bettina Seitz, Volunteer for Syrian American Medical Society Foundation]