Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 13 Oct 2015 13:53:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Opinion: Turn Words into Action Involving Women for Lasting Peace Tue, 13 Oct 2015 11:15:33 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women.

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

We have recently celebrated the peace deal struck between the government in Colombia and the main guerrilla group. The deal reached on justice issues represents the clearest sign yet of a possible end to five decades of conflict.

Less is said about the multiple constructive ways in which Colombian women have participated in, and influenced, these negotiations or mobilized for peace, including the many meetings held by women survivors with the women in both negotiating teams.

Similarly, few people know that last year also saw the end of another decade-long conflict in the Philippines between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the result of peace talks where more than a third of negotiators were women. This was far from the norm of official peace talks, which are typically either all-male affairs or include very few women.

Their participation was built on a long history of women’s leadership at the local and national levels in the Philippines over the years, including under the leadership of two women presidents who both invested political capital in resuming negotiations with the rebel group.

As tensions threaten Burundi’s fragile peace, Burundian women quickly organized themselves in a nationwide network of women mediators to quell or mitigate the myriad local disputes and prevent escalation. In 129 municipalities across the country, they addressed, by their count, approximately 3,000 conflicts at the local level in 2015, including mediating between security forces and protesters, advocating for the release of demonstrators and political prisoners, promoting non-violence and dialogue among divided communities, and countering rumours and exaggerated fears with verifiable information to prevent widespread panic. UN Women has been proud to support these efforts.

These are not isolated stories.

A comprehensive study prepared for the 50th anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325, a landmark resolution that recognized the role of gender equality and women’s leadership in international peace and security, makes the strongest case to date that gender equality improves our humanitarian assistance, strengthens the protection efforts of our peacekeepers, contributes to the conclusion of peace talks and the sustainability of peace agreements, and accelerates economic recovery after conflict.

It compiles growing evidence accumulated by academic researchers that demonstrates how peace negotiations influenced by women are much more likely to end in agreement and to endure. In fact, the chances of the agreement lasting 15 years goes up by as much as 35 per cent.

Where conflict-affected communities target women’s empowerment they experience the most rapid economic recovery and poverty reduction and greatly improved broad humanitarian outcomes, not just for women and girls but for whole populations.

In a world where extremists place the subordination of women at the centre of their ideology and war tactics, the international community and the UN should place gender equality at the heart of its peace and security interventions. Beyond policies, declarations and aspirations, gender equality must drive our decisions about who we hire and on what we spend our money and time.

It is clear that we must strive for tangible changes for women affected by war and engage the grossly underused capacity of women to prevent those conflicts. Countries must do more to bring women to the peace table in all peace negotiations. Civil society and women’s movements have made extraordinary contributions to effective peace processes.

We know that when civil society representatives are involved in peace agreements, the agreements are 64 per cent more likely to be successful and long-lasting. It is time to put a stop to the domination of peace processes by those who fight the wars while disqualifying those who stand for peace. It is time to stop the under-investment in gender equality.

The percentage of aid to fragile states targeting gender equality as a main goal in peace and security interventions is only 2 per cent. Change requires bold steps, and it cannot happen without investment.

Now that time has come. On 25 September, the countries of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which expresses determination to “ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality” and to “foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence”.

Two days later, 72 Heads of State and Government attended our Global Leader’s Meeting to underline top-level support for gender equality and commit to specific action. And on 13 October, the Security Council will celebrate the 50th anniversary of resolution 1325 and inject new energy, ideas and resources into women’s leadership for peace.

In a world so afflicted by conflict, extremism and displacement, we cannot rely only on the ripples of hope sparked by the extraordinary acts of ordinary people. We need the full strength of our collective action and the political courage of the leaders of the international community. Anniversaries, after all, must count for more than the passing of years. They must be the moment for us to turn words into action.


]]> 0
A New Framework in an Age of Migration Mon, 12 Oct 2015 19:36:48 +0000 Alejo Carpentier By Alejo Carpentier
ROME, Oct 12 2015 (IPS)

With the worldwide numbers of displaced people at all-time highs, migration has become the watchword for humanitarian crises.

Given the cost in economic, political and moral terms of coping with mass migration – and particular the experience of what has been unfolding this year in Europe – the need for a universal set of rules and principles is increasingly evident. So is the desire to keep people safely in their homes.

Several European politicians have insisted that greater aid and investment in the originating countries can stem the tidal movements of people. Even Matteo Salvini, an opposition leader in Italy who is hostile to refuge being offered by his own country, is a stated believer in the idea of that development will keep people from coming.

But few understand how practically difficult it has proven to fund such development. First, increasing amounts of official aid flows are tagged to humanitarian crises, reducing the funds available for sustainable development plans. Second, much of the promised aid never materializes, for a host of reasons.

Take Nepal. Less than half the reconstruction aid pledged in the wake of that country’s earthquake in April has been delivered, according to UN officials. Controversies over the Himalayan nation’s new draft constitution are hardly encouraging to donors. The result is that the disaster may translate into a longer-lasting catastrophe than it had to be, ultimately crimping economic opportunity and food security.

Or take Yemen. Saudi Arabia announced a large donation for humanitarian operations there, even though it is engaged in the military conflict that has exacerbated displacement and poverty.

Meanwhile, amid the horror stories of refugee mistreatment in Europe, Tunisia is now building a moat along its border with Libya, demonstrating fears of its own.

It’s pretty evident that the combined sums spent on deterring migration and humanitarian aid to refugees makes talk of encouraging growth in the source countries an exercise in pure optimism.

That may now change. The global community today gathered at the Rome headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and voted to approve the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises. The agreement, brokered by the Committee for World Food Security (CFS), aims to stitch together the increasingly dysfunctional separation of humanitarian and development aid budgets.

As the signatories represent state and non-state donors and actors, the agreement should make it much easier to ensure resources can push past political and bureaucratic barriers to get where they are direly needed.

Take Syria, where more than half the population is displaced, conflict is rampant and the European Union took months to agree to accept less than 5 per cent of the refugees than are now camped in Lebanon and Turkey. Many refugees, terrified that dismal conditions in neighboring countries will become permanent and discouraged from seeking protection further west, are in fact returning to Syria despite the dangers.

That may be an international diplomatic failure – and many of the returnees say they blame the United Nations for their plight.

But it is a practical issue, and that is where the new Framework may help.

FAO, for its part, has already begun acting as if the agreement were in place. This summer it partnered with the International Organization for Migration to help smallholder agricultural production in Syria by around 500 families who returned. The aid consists of seeds, farm tools and ready-made poultry farms, all aimed at providing for the families themselves but also helping pre-empt the agricultural desertion of a conflict-racked country.

The budget resources here are going to what has long been a no man’s land. It’s a small step towards keeping development alive amid an overriding humanitarian emergency.

“Supporting agricultural based livelihoods can contribute to both helping people stay on their land when they feel safe to do so and to create the conditions for the return of refugees, migrants and displaced people,” says FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

To be sure, the Framework was devised to deal with protracted crises – places where food insecurity has been reported on a nearly perpetual basis for at least a decade. There are 21 such places today. But most such crises take place in fragile states, where conflict is rife either as a cause or an effect.

As things stand, a third of the world’s hungry outside of India and China live amid protracted crises. And while agriculture accounts for a third of GDP in those countries, it receives less than 4 per cent of external assistance funding, according to Luca Alinov, a FAO officer based in Kenya. Thus the Framework paves the way for resources to flow to the agricultural sector – where returns in terms of food security are highest – precisely where it is most neglected.

It is widely felt to be high time to break down the increasingly archaic distinction between humanitarian and development assistance – and with it the distinct official channels through which resources are doled out.

“Rural development and food security are central to the global response to the refugee crisis,” Graziano da Silva said.

To be sure, how to carry this out in practice may vary, but the Framework’s genesis as the fruit of multi-stakeholder dialogue is likely to broaden the toolkit. Again, FAO has already been doing spadework, such as partnering with MasterCard to provide people in refugee camps in Kenya with prepaid cards allowing them to purchase local goods, a scheme that lends itself to adaptation to varying circumstances.

While state-backed social protection programs such as the Productive Safety Net Program, which helped Ethiopia become the only protracted-crisis country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the share of populating suffering from hunger, are ideal, the institutional and political stability required for that is often lacking.

That is perhaps where the new Framework may prove most innovative, according to Daniel Maxwell of Tufts University. In line with the universal bent of the Sustainable Development Goals, it suggests going beyond reliance on state building as the sanctioned channel of intervention and points to consensus that strengthening livelihoods should be the priority.

]]> 0
As the Mediterranean Refugee Crisis Endures, International Morality Ebbs Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:02:35 +0000 Arlene Chang Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (left) speaks to journalists at a press stakeout following the High-Level Event on "Strengthening Cooperation on Migration and Refugee Movements in the Perspective of the New Development Agenda".

By Arlene Chang
NEW YORK, Oct 1 2015 (IPS)

As the world suffers its biggest upheaval of human mobility, with 60 million people forced to desert their homes or countries due to persecution, armed conflicts, starvation and hunger that are a veritable danger to their lives, the response from the international community has been rather laggard.

Rolling disasters like in Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya and Yemen, the Boko Haram in Nigeria, the 40-year old war in Somalia and the ethno-religious infighting in the Central African Republic, have all added push to the global migration crisis. These huge transient flows of humanity have been a challenge some politicians have met and others have disregarded, aggravating the crisis.

Some central and Eastern Europe countries have even gone ahead to say, “They will take everybody ‘as long as they are Christians’”.

Earlier this week, Peter Sutherland, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Development said, “Refugees under the 1951 Convention have particular rights… (However) ‘economic migrants’ is now a description that’s being commonly used.”

He pointed out that many migrants could be escaping for reasons of starvation, economic catastrophe or the collapse of a feeding system. “Are we not going to have a more nuanced expression of where we stand morally in terms of our values than saying, we’re going to send them home?” he asked.

Director general of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), William L. Swing, agreed. “There is greater anti-migrant sentiment than at any time in memory and it’s very widespread and increasing. We’re also in a period in which there is a vacuum of leadership, political courage. There is a serious erosion of international moral authority.”

Sutherland reminded hostile countries to bear in mind that the Mediterranean migration crisis is an international responsibility. “We’ve had it before…Ironically…we’ve had it in regard to 1956 in Hungary – and 200,000 people being accommodated within jig time,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland and Swing were addressing an audience attending ‘A Global Response to the Mediterranean Migration Crisis’, an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

Under the latest plan, only 120,000 migrants will be resettled, much less than the total number of people seeking asylum. Member states like Hungary and Croatia are building fences to stop travelers, demonstrating division within the EU on how to respond to the humanitarian crisis. The divide threatens to “undermine Europe’s tradition of open borders and free movement of people,” Edward Alden, CFR’s Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow, said.

Hungary, a gateway to many prosperous European countries, sealed its border with Serbia on Sep. 15, in a bid to keep refugees out, prompting even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over its handling of the refugee influx in a meeting with Hungarian President Janos Ader on Sep. 26.

“Why should Greece and Italy carry the enormous burden because they happen to be the place where the migrants and refugees land? Is there some sort of new world of international morality, which defines proximity as creating responsibility? Why should Turkey have 1.7 million? Or why should Lebanon have one quarter of its entire population? Or Jordan? Why should they carry it all?” Sutherland asked.

Even as the world today has 60 million migrants in flux, the United Nations is not witnessing a loosening of purse strings. This prompted Secretary General Ban to comment on the poor state of empathy in the world.

Speaking at the opening session of the high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday, Ban Ki-moon told delegates that a 100 million people require immediate humanitarian assistance, pointing out that at least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries. But, the U.N.’s need for 20 billion dollars this year dwarfs funding received. The 20 billion dollars requirement is six times the level of funding needed a decade ago.

“We are not receiving enough money to save enough lives. We have about half of what we need to help the people of Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen – and just a third for Syria,” he said Monday.

In Yemen, 21 million people – 80 per cent of the population – need humanitarian assistance and the U.N.’s response plan for Ukraine is just 39 per cent funded. The appeal for Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, has been met with silence.

With the migration crisis and continuing global strife, it is likely that humankind will sustain its oldest poverty reduction strategy, making it unlikely that the situation will abate any time soon.

Swing and Sutherland said that only a reform in international migration policies would help.

“Europe should immediately define new policies. Those new policies should allow for example, humanitarian visas – so should the United States. Humanitarian visas, family reunion visas, short term visas. There are whole other ways that you can facilitate terrible events,” Sutherland said, even as he talked about the handicap of governments to be self-motivated in changing policy.

“The dreadful photograph of the body on the beach brings within days an increase in the number of people that some countries have agreed to take as refugees. A photograph did it. Are they idiots? Do they not know that 3,000 are dying every year, as they have been for years – with may of them children and women. That should have elicited the policy response, not the photograph of a terrible dead body on the beach.”

Swing advocated for migration policies that were more desirable and a change in the “toxic, poisonous” public narrative on migration.

“Most of our Nobel prize winners weren’t born in the U.S. Forty per cent of all patent applications come from people who were not born in the U.S., and many other countries have the same spirit – a tone that is historically, overwhelmingly positive. We’ve got to get back to a historically correct narrative,” he said, adding, “A ‘high road policy’ – multiple entry visas, dual nationalities, portable social security benefits…all kinds of things if we can be little smarter in how we deal with it.”

“The problem in my mind is the fundamental value system we believe in,” Sutherland said. “We have to create countries that value lives equally.” (END)

]]> 1
Western Double Standards on Deadly Cluster Bombs Wed, 09 Sep 2015 18:26:15 +0000 Thalif Deen Ta Doangchom, a Laotian cluster bomb victim, beside homemade prosthetic limbs in the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) National Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

Ta Doangchom, a Laotian cluster bomb victim, beside homemade prosthetic limbs in the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) National Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) banned the use of these deadly weapons for two primary reasons: they release small bomblets over a wide area, posing extended risks beyond war zones, and they leave behind unexploded ordnance which have killed civilians, including women and children, long after conflicts have ended.

As of last month, 117 have joined the Convention, with 95 States Parties (who have signed and ratified the treaty) and 22 signatories (who have signed but not ratified).“The protection of civilians must be non-political. By picking and choosing when it wishes to condemn the use of cluster bombs, the UK is playing politics with the protection of civilians." -- Thomas Nash of Article 36

At the First Review Conference of the CCM in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which began early this week, three States Parties – the UK, Canada and Australia – expressed reservations on a draft declaration on the use of cluster munitions.

In a selective approach to the implementation of the treaty, the three countries argued they could not accept or endorse text that condemned any use of cluster munitions because they contend that doing so would interfere with their ability to conduct joint military operations with states outside the convention.

The UK, which condemned the use of cluster bombs in Sudan, Syria and Ukraine this year, has refused to censure the use of the same deadly weapons by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia is a lucrative multi-billion-dollar arms market for the UK, which has traditionally provided sophisticated fighter planes, missiles and precision-guided bombs to the oil rich country.

Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch and the Cluster Munition Coalition said if the Convention is to succeed, States Parties must condemn any use of cluster munitions, by any actor, anywhere.

“States Parties cannot be selective about condemning, based on their relationship with the offender, or based on the type of cluster munition used,” he said.

If a State Party remains silent about confirmed use, one can argue that it is in effect condoning use, and thereby failing its obligations under the Convention, he noted.

The Cluster Munition Coalition believes the changes to the Dubrovnik Declaration sought by the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada are contrary to the aims of the Convention, and would be a setback to efforts to stigmatise the weapon, and to prevent future use; thus, such changes could have the effect of increased casualties and other harm to civilians, Goose added.

Thomas Nash, director of the UK-based weapons monitoring organisation Article 36, told IPS the UK has tried to block international condemnation of these banned weapons at a gathering of states who are parties to the treaty banning cluster munitions.

The UK has condemned the use of cluster bombs in Sudan, Syria and Ukraine, he pointed out, but it refuses to condemn the use by Saudi-led forces in Yemen.

“The protection of civilians must be non-political. By picking and choosing when it wishes to condemn the use of cluster bombs, the UK is playing politics with the protection of civilians,” Nash said.

He said UK efforts to water down international condemnation of cluster bombs show a callous disregard for the human suffering caused by these weapons.”

According to Article 36, prior to signing the Convention in 2008, the UK used cluster munitions extensively during the Falklands War (1982), in Kosovo (1998-1999) and in Iraq (1991-2003).

The UK also sold cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia prior to 2008, but it is not clear whether these transfers included the types of cluster munitions used in Yemen.

Asked for a rationale for the UK decision, Nash told IPS the UK says that it doesn’t want to condemn any use of cluster bombs by any actor because this might discourage some countries from joining the treaty in the future. “But this makes no sense.”

The UK has a legal obligation to discourage use of cluster bombs by any country and condemning the use of these banned weapons is the best way to do that, he argued.

Nash said the UK has come under close scrutiny over its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and there are numerous concerns over that country’s compliance with human rights and international humanitarian law.

Whether or not the UK refusal to condemn use of cluster bombs by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is directly linked to UK arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, clearly, UK policy in this area is highly dubious, he noted.

“The best way for the UK to clarify this would be for it to condemn the use of cluster bombs by Saudi-led forces in Yemen,” he said.

He also pointed out that the UK has historically been heavily influenced by the United States on the question of cluster munitions and, like Saudi Arabia, the U.S. would no doubt be displeased by the UK condemning any use of cluster munitions by any actor.

“So this is likely to be a factor as well,” Nash added.

The U.S., he said, continues to finds itself on the wrong side of history when it comes to cluster bombs and the UK, having signed and ratified the ban treaty, needs to choose which side it wants to be on.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS Saudi Arabia remains a critical market for the UK, “and I believe last year Saudi Arabia was the UK’s biggest arms export market at about 2.4 billion dollars. “

Saudi operates the Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado fighter planes. Under BAE (British Aerospace) Systems’ Saudi Tornado Sustainment Program, BAE recently upgraded Saudi’s Tornado IDS (Interdictor/Strike fighter bombers) and air defense Tornado F3 fighters to extend service life through 2020.

Both the Typhoon and the Tornado are frontline fighter planes and have been playing a central role in the Yemen bombing campaign. Meanwhile, the air force also operates Hawk 65/65A trainers.

They have the Paveway IV precision-guided bomb from U.K.-based Raytheon Systems and the Storm Shadow air-to-surface cruise missile from MBDA, a French-Italian-British defense contractor.

She said Saudi Arabia was described as the first export customer for the MBDA Meteor missile in February this year, having signed a contract worth more than 1.0 billion dollars.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Mental Health Another Casualty of Changing Climate Tue, 08 Sep 2015 20:10:20 +0000 Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A young resident of Tacloban in the Philippines walks through some of the damage and debris left by the Typhoon Yolanda, Dec. 21, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Jed Alegado and Angeli Guadalupe
MANILA, Sep 8 2015 (IPS)

Jun* is in chains, tied to a post in the small house that resembles a fragile nipa hut. His brother did this to prevent him from hurting their neighbours or other strangers he meets when he’s in a ballistic mood. Jun has been like this for three years now, but since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines two years ago, his symptoms have worsened.

After the disaster, Jun lost his own house, his wife and his children. This psychological distress he went through triggered a relapse of his psychiatric illness. With no one else able to take care of him, Jun was taken by his brother to their family’s house.Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

But since his brother is working and the other people in the house are their old, sickly and frail parents, no one can control Jun during his manic episodes. He has not been able to maintain his medications because his family can’t afford them and the free supply at the local health center doesn’t come consistently. For these reasons, the best option left for Jun’s brother is to put him in chains.

Impacts on mental health

A few more cases like Jun exist in Tacloban City and most likely, in other areas of the Philippines as well – both urban and rural. Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) struck the country on Nov. 8, 2013. It was a Category 5 super-typhoon with wind speeds ranging from 250 to 315 kph, killing at least 6,300 people and costing PhP 89 billion in damages.

Due to extreme loss and survivor guilt, at least one in 10 people here suffers from depression. But two years after the disaster, some survivors remain unaware of available mental health services. Others complain of the poor quality of services and scant supply of medications. Many survivors who are more affluent choose to consult psychiatrists in other cities to avoid the stigma.

As with most disasters, physical rehabilitation is prioritised. This is understandable and perfectly rational, but the mental health of the victims should not be forgotten.

According to the World Health Organization’s report on the Global Burden of Disease, mental disorders follow cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of morbidity and mortality in terms of disability-adjusted life years or the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

Yet despite the staggering number of people affected, only an estimated 25 percent of them worldwide have access to mental health services. More than 40 percent of countries have no mental health policy and mental health comprises less than 1 percent of most countries’ total health expenditures.

Nowadays, climate change brings us more frequent and devastating natural disasters. In emergencies such as natural disasters, rates of mental disorders often double. Hence, attention to mental health should be doubled as well, especially in countries highly vulnerable to disasters such as the Philippines.

Being an archipelago and still a developing country, this is not surprising. According to the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security’s World Risk Index Report 2014, out of the 15 countries with the highest disaster risk worldwide, eight are island states, including the Philippines.

Ensuring health impacts in the negotiation text

Health advocates are quick to respond to this alarming issue. Groups led by the International Federation of Medical Students (IFMS) are ensuring that the issue of health and its impacts to climate change are included in the climate negotiating text.

Beginning from the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) in Lima, Peru last year which continued in Geneva last February, the group has been advocating for health to be back at the center of negotiations and in effect ensuring that parties will forge a strong climate agreement in Paris on December.

Last week’s Bonn climate negotiations – one of the few remaining negotiation days before the actual COP in December – proved to be an exercise in futility as negotiators keep dodging on the issue of a loss and damage mechanism, which, according to health advocates, is crucial for helping people affected by the health-related impacts of climate change.

According to IFMS, “there is a growing involvement of member states to include health in the negotiating text. As a group, we want to ensure that health is included in all parts of the negotiating document – preamble, research, capacity building, adaptation and finance.”

Indeed, the impacts of climate change go beyond environment, food security, land rights and even indigenous peoples’ rights. More importantly, climate change has both direct and indirect effects on health. Climate change’s health impacts are inequitably distributed with the most vulnerable sectors like the elderly, children and pregnant women having the least capacity to adapt.

Parties to the UNFCCC must see this alarming issue towards forging a fair and binding climate deal in December which will limit keep global warming below 2 degrees C and ensure adaptation mechanisms to the most vulnerable nations.

In the future, it is foreseen that wars will be fought over water not oil. Disasters nowadays may give us a glimpse of the worst to come when the staggering impacts climate change worsen and affect us in ways beyond what we can handle.

Yet, with the rapid turn of extreme weather events, what we are doing is not just for future generations. It is for us, who are living now on this planet. We are going to be the victims if we do not take responsibility as much as we can, as soon as we can.

*Name has been changed to protect his identity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 8
Rich Gulf Nations Tight-Lipped on Growing Refugee Crisis Tue, 08 Sep 2015 14:39:54 +0000 Thalif Deen A woman waits with her son outside the registration centre in Kos, just kilometres from the Turkish coast. For Syrians, the process is now easier, thanks to a ship-based registration centre docked at the island. For others, like this woman, the wait continues. So far in 2015, 160,000 migrants have arrived in Greece, already almost four times more than in the previous year. Credit: Photo: Stephen Ryan/IFRC

A woman waits with her son outside the registration centre in Kos, just kilometres from the Turkish coast. For Syrians, the process is now easier, thanks to a ship-based registration centre docked at the island. For others, like this woman, the wait continues. So far in 2015, 160,000 migrants have arrived in Greece, already almost four times more than in the previous year. Credit: Photo: Stephen Ryan/IFRC

By Thalif Deen

As Western and Central European nations seem overwhelmed by the growing refugee crisis – triggered mostly by the inflow of hundreds and thousands of displaced people largely from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq – one lingering question remains unanswered: why aren’t some of the rich Arab Gulf nations reaching out to help these hapless refugees?

The U.N. Committee on the Protection of Migrant Workers, the lead United Nations body dealing with issues relating to migrants, says millions of people have been forced to migrate from their homeland in search of safe havens abroad due to the on-going war in Syria.“The central question for Europe is: In the coming years will the migrants and their families be successfully integrated into European societies?” -- Joseph Chamie

“While neighbouring States have opened their borders to millions of Syrian migrants, other countries, especially in Europe and elsewhere, notably the Gulf States, should do more to address one of the most tragic mass displacements of people since World War II,” says the Committee.

Joseph Chamie, an independent consulting demographer and a former director of the United Nations Population Division, told IPS some neighbouring countries, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, have accepted very large numbers of refugees (according to U.N. figures, over 3.5 million people).

However, other nearby countries, notably Israel and the Arab Persian Gulf countries, have not been willing to accept the current refugees, he said.

The primary reason for the non-acceptance, he pointed out, is apparently the refugees are viewed as politically destabilising.

“The Gulf countries have admitted large numbers of South Asians and North Africans who are not considered immigrants, but temporary foreign workers who are expected to return to their homes. Also, Israel has accepted refugees in the past, but virtually all have been Jewish,” said Chamie, who has worked at the U.N. on population and migration issues for more than a quarter century and was also a former director of research at the Center for Migration Studies in New York and editor of the International Migration Review.

The Gulf nations which have virtually ignored the refugee crisis include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

However, in a statement issued Tuesday, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said Kuwait, under the leadership of Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, has hosted three annual pledging conferences since 2013.

As a result, billions of dollars have been raised in order to support the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, with the participation of 78 member states and 38 humanitarian organisations.

In 2015 alone, donors at the Kuwait 3 conference pledged 3.8 billion dollars, IOM said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already declared that Israel is a “very small country that lacks demographic and geographic depth”, but pointed out Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa.

“We have already devotedly cared for approximately 1,000 wounded people from the fighting in Syria, and we have helped them to rehabilitate their lives. We must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism,” he said.

With about eight million people, Israel has been described as a country founded mostly by refugees. But it is now building a new fence, about 18 miles long, along its border with Jordan to ward off “illegal migration and hostile infiltrations.”

“We must control our borders, against both illegal immigrants and terrorism,” Netanyahu said after a Cabinet meeting last week.

His statement drew strong criticism from Isaac Herzog, head of the main opposition Zionist Union party, who recounted the history of the Jewish people seeking safe haven from persecution: “Our people experienced first-hand the silence of the world. You have forgotten what it is to be Jews: Refugees. Persecuted.”

“The prime minister of the Jewish people would not shut his heart and the gates when people are fleeing for their lives, with babies in their arms, from persecutors,” said Herzog.

In a statement released Monday the U.N. Committee said Syrian migrants, pushed to take extreme action in search of secure and decent lives for their families, are literally putting their lives at risk to reach Europe.

“Hundreds of men, women and children have died while trying to reach safe shores. This is unconscionable in the view of the Committee.”

“We are once again shocked and dismayed at the appalling loss of life in the Mediterranean Sea”, Committee Chair Francisco Carrion Mena said following the latest drowning of Syrian migrants off the coast of Turkey last week – even as the Committee was meeting in Geneva.

Chamie told IPS It should come as no surprise that people are migrating. Given the current state of the world, the question should be: “Why aren’t more people migrating?”

In addition to globalisation, communication technologies and social media, powerful push/pull forces are operating to produce the current migration flows: poverty, violence, corruption, unemployment, repression and rapid population growth on the one side versus wealth, jobs, safety, social services, freedom and population decline on the other, he added.

While everyone has the right to leave their country, Chamie said, they do not have the right to enter another country. This paradox is the “Catch-22” that the growing numbers of migrants and destination nations are confronting.

The supply of potential migrants, who are free to leave their homelands, simply greatly exceeds the demand for migrants, which is set by the receiving countries. If people cannot enter a country as legal migrants, then many are choosing to enter illegally or overstay their legal visit, he noted.

“Today many migrants are indeed refugees as they are coming from worn-torn countries. And there are large numbers who are not strictly refugees, but are seeking improved economic opportunities and more secure living conditions for themselves and their families.”

He said many are wondering what will be the consequence of the current migration flows. These migratory flows are not going to stop any time soon and with them will come significant demographic, social, economic, political and cultural changes.

“The central question for Europe is: In the coming years will the migrants and their families be successfully integrated into European societies?” Chamie said.

And for the international community the key question is how to effectively address the root causes of the recent migration surges. In the recent past, the receiving countries have largely been unwilling to address these matters at the global level.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
Opinion: Promoting Culture of Peace Through Dialogue – Part One Mon, 07 Sep 2015 21:04:27 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Ambassador Chowdhury is Chair of the U.N. General Assembly Drafting Committee for the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (1998-1999).

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

This week, for the fourth time in a row, the annual gathering of the apex intergovernmental body of the United Nation deliberating on peace and non-violence will take place at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

Photo Courtesy of Ambassador Chowdhury

President of the ongoing 69th session of the General Assembly Mr. Sam Kahamba Kutesa has convened the fourth U.N. High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace on Sep. 9.

This daylong event is an opportunity for U.N. Member States, U.N. system entities, media and civil society interested in discussing the ways and means to promote the Culture of Peace and to join the discourse on strengthening the global movement for the implementation of the U.N. Declaration and Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace as adopted by consensus by the General Assembly on Sep. 13, 1999.

It also creates a platform for various stakeholders to have an exchange on the emerging trends and policies that can significantly impact on advancing the culture of peace.

Historical context

The adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace was a watershed event as a possible response to the evolving dynamics of global war and security strategies in a post-Cold War world. It has been an honour for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action.The United Nations needs to be more than a fire brigade rushing in to put out the conflagrations and then withdraw from the scene without doing anything to ensure that fires do not break out again.

This historic norm-setting document is considered as one of the most significant legacies of the United Nations that would endure generations. I would always treasure and cherish that. For me this has been a realisation of my personal commitment to peace and my humble contribution to humanity.

In the responsibility that the United Nations – as the only universal body – must shoulder in fulfilling its Charter obligation of maintaining international peace and security worldwide, stronger focus on prevention and peace building is essential.

The United Nations needs to be more than a fire brigade rushing in to put out the conflagrations and then withdraw from the scene without doing anything to ensure that fires do not break out again.

In a historical perspective it is worthwhile to note that asserting and re-affirming the commitment of the totality of the United Nations membership to build the Culture of Peace, the General Assembly has been adopting resolutions on the subject every year since 1997.

The Assembly, through its annual substantive resolutions, has highlighted the priority it attaches to the full and effective implementation of these visionary decisions which are universally applicable and sought after by the vast majority of all peoples in every nation. It recognises the need for continuous support to the strengthening of the global movement to promote the Culture of Peace, as envisaged by the United Nations, particularly in the current global context.

The Forum in 2013 included Ministerial level participation and at its 68th session, the General Assembly adopted, by consensus, Resolution 68/125 on “Follow-up to the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace”, which was co-sponsored by 105 Member States.

This year the keynote speaker at the Forum is the fifth grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Mr. Arun Gandhi, who prides calling himself “The Peace Farmer” as he sows the seeds of peace and non-violence following the footsteps of his grandfather whose birthday on Oct. 2 is observed by the United Nations and the international community as the International Day of Non-Violence.

He builds on the message of last year’s keynote speaker Ms. Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who is a global legend leading civil society activism for peace and equality. Of course, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will join the Forum at the opening with his ardent advocacy for the culture of peace.

The 2015 Forum will comprise of two multi-stakeholders interactive panels which will focus on: (1) “Promotion of the Culture of Peace in the context of the Post-2015 sustainable development agenda; and (2) “Role of the media in the promotion of the culture of peace”.

This High Level Forum is taking place at a time of some of the worst violence against civilians we have seen in recent years. Clearly, the hope that the new millennium would be a harbinger of peace has turned out to be rather misplaced.

The lesson in this, I believe, is that however much the world around us changes, we cannot achieve peace without a change in our own minds, and thereby in the global consciousness.

The wealth and the technology can only open up the opportunity to better the world. We must have the mind to seize that opportunity; we must have the culture of peace developed in each one of us both as an individual as well as a member of the global society.

Also, we must remember that technology and wealth can be put to destructive use too. The difference between war and peace, between poverty and prosperity, between death and life, is essentially prompted in our minds.

Why the culture of peace?

Peace is integral to human existence — in everything we do, in everything we say and in every thought we have, there is a place for peace. Absence of peace makes our challenges, our struggles, much more difficult. I believe that is why it is very important that we need to keep our focus on creating the culture of peace in our lives.

One lesson I have learned in my life over the years is that to prevent our history of war and conflict from repeating itself – the values of non-violence, tolerance, human rights and democratic participation will have to be germinated in every man and woman – children and adults alike.

When we see what is happening around us, we realise the urgent need for promoting the culture of peace – peace through dialogue – peace through non-violence. In a world where tragedy and despair seem to be everywhere, there is an urgent need – if not an imperative – for a global culture of peace.

Each of us can make an active choice each day through seemingly small acts of love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, cooperation or understanding, thereby contributing to the culture of peace. Eminent proponents of peace have continued to highlight that the culture of peace should be the foundation of the new global society.

In today’s world, more so, it should be seen as the essence of a new humanity, a new global civilisation based on inner oneness and outer diversity.

Part Two can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Migrants Waiting Their Moment in the Moroccan Mountains Fri, 04 Sep 2015 16:22:35 +0000 Andrea Pettrachin Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

By Andrea Pettrachin
CEUTA, Sep 4 2015 (IPS)

In the middle of the mountains behind the border fence of Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, and eight kilometres from the nearest Moroccan village of Fnideq, an uncertain number of migrants live in the woods. No one knows exactly how many they are but charity workers in Melilla, Spain’s other enclave in Morocco, say they could be in their thousands.

Ceuta is one of the main (and few) ‘doors’ leading from northern Africa to the territory of the European Union, and is a ’door’ that has been closed since the end of the 1990s, when the Spanish authorities started to build a tripe six-metre fence topped with barbed wire that surrounds the whole enclave, as in Melilla.

In the past, those waiting in the mountains for their turn to try to reach Spain had been able to build something resembling a normal life. They put up tents and at least were able to sleep relatively peacefully at night.Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities

That all ended after 2012, when the Moroccan police started to burn down the camps and periodically sweep the mountainside, arresting any migrants they found, charged with having illegally entered the country.

These actions were the result of agreements between the Moroccan and Spanish governments, after Spain had asked Morocco to control migration flows.

The most tragic raid so far by the Moroccan police took place last year on Gurugu Mountain which looks down on Melilla. Five migrants were killed, 40 wounded and 400 removed to a desert area on the border with Algeria. According to the migrants, the wounded were not cured and were left to their own destiny.

Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities.

They live, in their words, “like animals” and when speaking with outsiders are clearly ashamed by their condition, apologising for being dirty and badly-dressed.

The first thing many of them tell you in French is that they are students and that before having to leave their countries they were studying mathematics, economics or engineering at university.

Many of them are from Guinea, one of the countries most seriously affected by the Ebola epidemic, others come from Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, all countries characterised by political turmoil of various types.

All of them have been forced to live in these woods for months or even years, waiting for their chance to pass the border fence.

The statistics show that some of them will certainly die in their attempts to reach Spain – either on the heavily fortified fences which encircle the enclaves or out at sea in a small boat or trying to swim to a Spanish beach.

Some of them will finally make it to Spain, perhaps after five or six failed attempts. In that case they will have overcome the first hurdle, escaping the “push-back operations” by the Spanish Guardia Civil, but they will still face the possibility of forced repatriation, particularly if they come from countries with which Spain has a repatriation agreement.

Many of them, however, will finally give up and decide to remain somewhere in Morocco, destined to a life of continuous uncertainty due to their irregular position in the country. You can meet them and listen to their stories in the main Moroccan cities, especially in the north. In most cases, they had escaped death in their attempts to reach Spain and do not want to risk their lives any longer.

Meanwhile a report on ‘Refugee Persons in Spain and Europe” published at the end of May by the non-governmental Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR), denounces how sub-Saharan migrants are dissuaded from seeking asylum in Spain, even if coming from countries in conflict such as Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia, once they realise that they are likely to be forced to remain for months in a Centre for Temporary Residence of Immigrants (CETI) in Ceuta or Melilla.

In Melilla, for example, those who apply for asylum cannot leave the enclave until a decision has been taken on their application. Unlike Syrian refugees whose application takes no more than two months, CEAR said the average time to reach a decision for sub-Saharan Africans is one and a half years.

The CEAR report is only one of a long list of recent criticisms of the Spanish government’s migration policies from numerous NGOs and international organisations.

The main target of these criticisms has been the Security Law (Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana) passed this year by the Spanish Parliament with only the votes of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The aim was to give legal cover to the so called devoluciones en caliente, the “push-back operations” against migrants carried out by the Spanish frontier authorities in Ceuta and Melilla in violation of international and European law.

On the Spanish mainland, said the CEAR report, migrant’s right of asylum is seriously undermined by the bureaucratic lengths of application procedures and the political choices of the Spanish authorities.

Calls from CEAR and other NGOs to end “push-back operations” seem very unlikely to be taken into consideration soon by the Spanish government and Parliament, in view of the general elections later this year.

Edited by Phil Harris   

]]> 0
European Residents Offer Support, Homes to Refugees Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As the migration crisis in Europe continues to grow and government response remains slow, European citizens have taken it upon themselves to act by opening up their homes to those in need.

In a Facebook group entitled ‘Dear Eygló Harðar – Syria is Calling’, over 15,000 Icelanders have signed an open letter calling on their government to “open the gates” for more Syrian refugees.

The open letter, initiated by author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir on Aug. 30, addresses Iceland’s Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðar and calls on the government to reconsider capping the number of refugees at a mere 50.

The week-long campaign, which ends on Sep. 4, aims to gather information about available assistance and to create pressure on the government to increase its quota.

“Refugees are our […] best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine’,” the open letter states.

Many have posted their own open letters, offering their homes, food, and general support to refugees, to enable them to integrate into Icelandic society.

One Icelander posted on the group: “I’m a single mother with a six-year-old son […] we can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys, and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

The open letter has sparked more people around the world to express words of support and to offer their homes to those in need.

One mother of a 19-month-old baby from Argentina wrote in the group: “I want you to know that I would like to help in any way I can, even if it is looking at the possibility of hosting some boy or girl in my house […]. I don’t have a comfortable financial position, but I can provide what is necessary and a lot of love.”

Similar efforts to house refugees have begun in other parts of Europe.

Refugees Welcome, a German initiative, matches refugees from around the world with host citizens offering private accommodation.

Once hosts sign up to offer their homes, Refugees Welcome works with local refugee organizations to reach out to find a “suitable” match.

Though only Germany and Austrian residents can currently be hosts, over 780 people have already signed up to help and more than 134 refugees from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria have been matched with families in the two countries.

Refugees Welcome also stated that the initiative has been picked up and may be expanded to the United States and Australia.

“We are convinced that refugees should not be stigmatized and excluded by being housed in mass accommodations. Instead, we should offer them a warm welcome,” says Refugees Welcome on its website.

European Union’s border agency Frontex revealed that in July 2015 alone, over 100,000 people migrated into Europe. Germany has stated that it expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 0
Europe Invaded Mostly by “Regime Change” Refugees Thu, 03 Sep 2015 20:23:40 +0000 Thalif Deen The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The military conflicts and political instability driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe were triggered largely by U.S. and Western military interventions for regime change – specifically in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (a regime change in-the-making).

The United States was provided with strong military support by countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, while the no-fly zone to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was led by France and the UK in 2011 and aided by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Canada, among others.

“[European leaders] stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.” -- James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum
Last week, an unnamed official of a former Eastern European country, now an integral part of the 28-nation European Union (EU), was constrained to ask: “Why should we provide homes for these refugees when we didn’t invade their countries?”

This reaction could have come from any of the former Soviet bloc countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Latvia – all of them now members of the EU, which has an open-door policy for transiting migrants and refugees.

The United States was directly involved in regime change in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) – and has been providing support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battling a civil war now in its fifth year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, points out that a large majority of people “undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the term “regime change refugees” is an excellent way to change the empty conversation about the refugee crisis.

Obviously, there are many causes, but “regime change” helps focus on a crucial part of the picture, he added.

Official discourse in Europe frames the civil wars and economic turmoil in terms of fanaticism, corruption, dictatorship, economic failures and other causes for which they have no responsibility, Paul said.

“They stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.”

The origins of the refugees make the case clearly: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are major sources, he pointed out.

Also many refugees come from the Balkans where the wars of the 1990s, again involving European complicity, shredded those societies and led to the present economic and social collapse, he noted.

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, and the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History, told IPS the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention was dated.

He said the Covenant “was written up for the time of the Cold War – when those who were fleeing the so-called Unfree World were to be welcomed to the Free World”.

He said many Third World states refused this covenant because of the horrid ideology behind it.

“We need a new Covenant,” he said, one that specifically takes into consideration economic refugees (driven by the International Monetary Fund) and political (war) refugees.

At the same time, he said, the international community should also recognize “climate change refugees, regime change refugees and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] refugees.”

The 1951 Convention guarantees refugee status if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asked about the Eastern European reaction, Prashad said: “I agree entirely. But of course one didn’t hear such a sentiment from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and others – who also welcomed refugees in large numbers. Why say, ‘Why should we take [them]?’ Why not say, ‘Why are they [Western Europe and the U.S.] not doing more?’” he asked.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – none of which invaded any of the countries from where most of the refugees are originating.

Paul told IPS the huge flow of refugees into Europe has created a political crisis in many recipient countries, especially Germany, where neo-Nazi thugs battle police almost daily, while fire-bombings of refugee housing have alarmed the political establishment.

The public have been horrified by refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deaths in trucks and railway tunnels, thousands of children and families caught on the open seas, facing border fences and mobilized security forces.

Religious leaders call for tolerance, while EU politicians wring their hands and wonder how they can solve the issue with new rules and more money, Paul said.

“But the refugee flow is increasing rapidly, with no end in sight.  Fences cannot contain the desperate multitudes.”

He said a few billion euros in economic assistance to the countries of origin, recently proposed by the Germans, are unlikely to buy away the problem.

“Only a clear understanding of the origins of the crisis can lead to an answer, but European leaders do not want to touch this hot wire and expose their own culpability.”

Paul said some European leaders, the French in particular, are arguing in favour of military intervention in these troubled lands on their periphery as a way of doing something.

Overthrowing Assad appears to be popular among the policy classes in Paris, who choose to ignore how counter-productive their overthrow of Libyan leader Gaddafi was a short time ago, or how counter-productive has been their clandestine support in Syria for the Islamist rebels, he declared.

Paul also said “the aggressive nationalist beast in the rich country establishments is not ready to learn the lesson, or to beware the “blowback” from future interventions.”

“This is why we need to look closely at the ‘regime change’ angle and to mobilize the public understanding that this was a crisis that was largely ‘Made in Europe’ – with the active connivance of Washington, of course,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]> 3
Killing of Aid Workers Threatens Humanitarian Response in Yemen Wed, 02 Sep 2015 22:53:27 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

With 21 million Yemeni civilians caught in the grips of a conflict that has been escalating since March, the killing of two local aid workers Wednesday could worsen their misery, as a major humanitarian organisation considers the future of its operations in parts of the war-torn country.

Both victims were employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and had been traveling in the northern governorate of Amran, between the Saada province and Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, when a gunman reportedly opened fire on the convoy.

One worker died at the scene; his colleague was rushed to a nearby hospital, but succumbed to his injuries soon after.

In a statement released earlier today, Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, condemned “in the strongest possible terms what appears to have been the deliberate targeting of our staff,” and expressed sympathy with the families and loved ones of his colleagues.

“It is premature for us at this point to determine the impact of this appalling incident on our operations in Yemen,” Grand said. “At this time, we want to collect ourselves as a team and support each other in processing this incomprehensible act.”

This is not the first time in recent months that the ICRC has come under attack.

On Aug. 25 gunmen stormed the organisation’s offices in the southern seaport city of Aden, held staff at gunpoint and made off with cash, cars and other equipment – marking the 11th time ICRC staff and premises have been compromised.

The humanitarian group has been providing food, water and medical supplies to civilians caught between Houthi rebels, and fighters loyal to former President Abu Mansur Hadi who are supported by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

Fighting has now spread to 21 out of Yemen’s 22 provinces. Over 4,500 people are dead and over 80 percent of the country’s population of 26.7 million is in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Saudi-led Coalition airstrikes have been largely responsible for civilian deaths and most of the property damage, though rights groups like Amnesty International say both sides in the conflict may be responsible for war crimes.

United Nations agencies and other humanitarian groups are struggling to meet the needs of civilians, a task made harder by the Aug. 20 bombing by Saudi military jets of the Red Sea port, a major entry point for relief supplies.

Large swathes of the country are virtually inaccessible. Last week, the ICRC was forced to relocate its staff in Aden owing to the attack on its offices, and today the organisation told the BBC that it would halt movement of its staff “as a precaution”.

Such restrictions on aid imperil huge groups of people, who are almost entirely reliant on the international community for food, fuel, shelter and medicines. Some 12 million people are food insecure and 20 million people have no access to clean drinking water.

A top U.N. relief official called Wednesday’s shooting “a despicable act” that “proves once again the urgent need for all parties to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to protect the lives and rights of civilians and provide aid workers with a safe environment to work in.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp


]]> 0
U.N. Officials Warn of Dengue Outbreak in War-Torn Yemen Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:53:23 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida By Kanya D'Almeida

An outbreak of dengue fever in Yemen’s most populated governorate has prompted urgent calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the flow of medicines to over three million civilians trapped in the war-torn area.

Taiz, located on the country’s southern tip, has been on the frontline of fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabia-backed coalition of Arab states supporting fighters loyal to deposed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi since March 2015.

Three of Taiz’s major hospitals have either been destroyed or are inaccessible, leaving 3.2 million people – many of them sick or injured – without access to basic healthcare.

An estimated 832 people in the governorate have died and 6,135 have been wounded since the war broke out.

To make matters worse, in the past two weeks alone the number of suspected dengue cases has nearly tripled from 145 cases in early August to nearly 421 by the month’s end.

As the conflict escalates with both sides showing little regard for civilian safety, the WHO fears that the health situation will deteriorate in the coming months, worsening the misery of people caught between Houthi gunfire and Coalition airstrikes.

In a statement released on Aug. 27, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Ala Alwan said: “All parties to the conflict must observe a ceasefire and demilitarize all hospitals and health facilities in Taiz, allow for the safe delivery of the supplies, implement measures to control the dengue outbreak, provide treatment and enable access to injured people and other patients.”

A mosquito-borne disease caused by the dengue virus, this tropical fever causes flu-like symptoms including high temperatures and muscle pains.

If symptoms are not quickly identified and managed, the patient may experience dangerously low platelet counts, internal bleeding or low blood pressure. Undetected, the disease can be fatal.

Mosquitoes carrying the virus thrive in stagnant water, and dengue epidemics often spread quickly in densely populated areas where open sewer systems or uncollected garbage provide convenient homes for the larvae.

With huge numbers of displaced Yemenis living in cramped and unsanitary makeshift settlements, it is small wonder that the disease is moving so rapidly.

The WHO’s most recent situation report for Yemen reveals that the country has logged over 5,600 suspected cases of dengue fever since March, including 3,000 cases in the coastal city of Aden alone.

Incomplete levels of medical reporting as a result of heavy fighting suggest that the real number of cases could be much higher.

Children are more likely than adults to develop the severe form of the disease, known as the Dengue Haemorrhagic Fever. With children accounting for over 600,000 of the nearly 1.5 million displaced in Yemen, health officials are on red alert.

Since there is no vaccine against the diseases, and no specific antiviral drug with which to treat the symptoms, prevention is the only long-term solution.

The WHO is partnering with other organisations and local health authorities to distribute insecticide-treated mosquito nets, educate families on the causes of the diseases, conduct indoor spraying to disrupt breeding grounds and secure necessary laboratory supplies for medical facilities.

These tasks are not easily accomplished in the midst of relentless air strikes and heavy fighting.

“We need protection and safety for all people working to control the worrying outbreak of dengue fever in Taiz,” the WHO said today, adding that parties to the conflict must stay mindful of their obligations under international law to protect medical facilities and health personnel during war-time.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Europe Squabbles While Refugees Die Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:06:20 +0000 Thalif Deen North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen

As tens of thousands of refugees continue to flee conflict-ridden countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, Western European governments and international humanitarian organisations are struggling to cope with a snowballing humanitarian crisis threatening to explode.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees.  Slovakia says it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a condemnation by the United Nations.

“We have to remember [refugees] are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care." -- Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross
The crisis was further dramatized last week when the Austrians discovered an abandoned delivery truck containing the decomposing bodies of some 71 refugees, including eight women and three children, off a highway outside of Vienna.

Sweden and Germany, which have been the most receptive, have absorbed about 43 percent of all asylum seekers.

But in Germany, despite its liberal open door policy with over 44,000 Syrian refugees registered this year, there have been attacks on migrants, mostly by neo-Nazi groups.

The crisis is likely to get worse, with the United Nations predicting over 3,000 migrants streaming into Western Europe every day – some of them dying on the high seas.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 2,500 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for dehumanizing migrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”.

Harriet Harman, a British lawyer and a Labour Party leader of the opposition, shot back when she said Cameron “should remember he is talking about people and not insects” and called the use of “divisive” language a “worrying turn”.

The three countries with the largest external borders – Italy, Greece and Hungary – are facing the heaviest inflow of refugees.

The 28-member European Union (EU) remains sharply divided as to how best it should share the burden.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds and thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon

The New York Times Saturday quoted Alexander Betts, a professor and director of the Refugees Studies Centre at Oxford University, as saying: “While Europe is squabbling, people are dying.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the EU is facing one of its worst crises ever, outpacing the Greek financial meltdown, which threatened to break up the Union.

In a hard-hitting statement released Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe.

He pointed out that a large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refugees to protection and asylum.”

When considering asylum requests, he said, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack.

“This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings,” the U.N. chief declared.

Meanwhile, international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for “humanitarian corridors” in war zones – primarily to provide food, shelter and medicine unhindered by conflicts.

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, told IPS: “On our side, we ask for humanitarian corridors, respect for human dignity and respect for Geneva Conventions [governing the treatment of civilians in war zones] for reaching everyone suffering.”

Regarding people on the move – and people fleeing from these conflicts – “we have to remember they are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care,” he said.

Rocca said these people don’t want to escape; they love their homes, their teachers, their schools and their friends.

“But these are terrible stories of people who have been driven from their homes by violence in Syria, Sudan and other conflicts. For almost three years we have asked for humanitarian corridors,” but to no avail, he said.

“I strongly support the Red Cross EU Office position on migration and asylum in the EU, which clearly recommends respecting and protecting the rights of migrants whatever their legal status, respecting the dignity and rights of all migrants in border management policies, sharing responsibility in applying a Common European asylum system.”

As far as the Italian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) are concerned, he said: “We urge for a humanitarian approach to tackling the vulnerabilities of migrants, rather than focusing on their legal status.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


]]> 2
U.S.-Made Cluster Munitions Causing Civilian Deaths in Yemen Thu, 27 Aug 2015 21:14:43 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

New research released today by a leading human rights watchdog has found evidence of seven attacks involving cluster munitions in Yemen’s northwestern Hajja governorate.

Carried out between late April and mid-July 2015, the attacks are believed to have killed at least 13 people, including three children, and wounded 22 others, according to an Aug. 26 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The rights group believes the rockets were launched from Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a coalition of nine Arab countries in a military offensive against armed Houthi rebels from northern Yemen who ousted President Abu Mansur Hadi earlier this year.

Banned by a 2008 international convention, cluster munitions are bombs or rockets that explode in the air before dispersing many smaller explosives, or ‘bomblets’, over a wide area.

“Weapons used in these particular attacks were U.S.-made M26 rockets, each of which contain 644 sub-munitions and that means that any civilian in the impact area is likely to be killed or injured,” Ole Solvang, a senior research at HRW, said in a video statement released Thursday.

According to HRW, a volley of six rockets can release over 3,800 submunitions over an area with a one-kilometer radius. M26 rockets use M77 submunitions, which have a 23-percent ‘failure rate’ as per U.S. military trials – this means unexploded bombs remain spread over wide areas, endangering civilians, and especially children.

Local villages told HRW researchers that at least three people were killed when they attempted to handle unexploded submunitions.

The attack sites lie within the Haradh and Hayran districts of the Hajja governorate, currently under control of Houthi rebels, and include the villages of Al Qufl, Malus, Al Faqq and Haradh town – all located between four and 19 km from the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Given the attacks’ proximity to the border, and the fact that Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – all members of the Arab Coalition – possess M26 rockets and their launchers, HRW believes the cluster munitions were “most likely” launched from Saudi Arabia.

One of the victims was 18-year-old Khaled Matir Hadi Hayash, who suffered a fatal injury to his neck on the morning of Jul. 14 while his family were taking their livestock out to a graze in a field just four miles from the Saudi border.

Hayash’s brother and three cousins also suffered injuries, and the family lost 30 sheep and all their cows in the attack.

In the village of Malus, residents provided HRW with the names of at least seven locals, including three children, who were killed in a Jun. 7 attack.

A 30-year-old shopkeeper in Malus described the cluster bombing as follows:

“I saw a bomb exploding in the air and pouring out many smaller bombs. Then an explosion threw me on the floor. I lost consciousness and somebody transferred me to the hospital with burns and wounds on the heels of the feet and fragmentation wounds on the left side of my body.”

A thirteen-year-old caught in the same attack succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital. The boy is now buried in the neighbouring Hayran District.

“I didn’t even take [his body] back home,” the father of the deceased teenager told HRW. “Residents of the village all fled. You can’t find anyone there now.”

These seven attacks are not the first time that banned weapons have made in appearance in the embattled nation of 26 million people.

“Human Rights Watch has previously identified three other types of cluster munitions used in attacks apparently by coalition forces in Yemen in 2015: US-made CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, rockets or projectiles containing “ZP-39” DPICM submunitions, and CBU-87 cluster bombs containing BLU-97 submunitions,” the report stated.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States all remain non-signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which currently counts 94 states among its parties.

A further 23 countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
Deliberate Targeting of Water Sources Worsens Misery for Millions of Syrians Wed, 26 Aug 2015 22:34:41 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida

Imagine having to venture out into a conflict zone in search of water because rebel groups and government forces have targeted the pipelines. Imagine walking miles in the blazing summer heat, then waiting hours at a public tap to fill up your containers. Now imagine realizing the jugs are too heavy to carry back home.

This scene, witnessed by an engineer with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is becoming all too common in embattled Syria. In this case, the child sent to fetch water was a little girl who simply sat down and cried when it became clear she wouldn’t be able to get the precious resource back to her family.

Compounded by a blistering heat wave, with temperatures touching a searing 40 degrees Celsius in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s water shortage is reaching critical levels, the United Nations said Wednesday.

In an Aug. 26 press relief, UNICEF blasted parties to the conflict for deliberately targeting the water supply, adding that it has recorded 18 intentional water cuts in Aleppo in 2015 alone.

Such a move – banned under international law – is worsening the misery of millions of war-weary civilians, with an estimated five million people enduring the impacts of long interruptions to their water supply in the past few months.

“Clean water is both a basic need and a fundamental right, in Syria as it is anywhere else,” Peter Salama, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement today. “Denying civilians access to water is a flagrant violation of the laws of war and must end.”

In some communities taps have remained dry for up to 17 consecutive days; in others, the dry spell has lasted over a month.

Often times the task of fetching water from collection points or public taps falls to children. It is not only exhausting work, but exceedingly dangerous in the conflict-ridden country. UNICEF says that three children have died in Aleppo in recent weeks while they were out in search of water.

In cities like Aleppo and Damascus, as well as the southwestern city of Dera’a, families are forced to consume water from unprotected and unregulated groundwater sources. Most likely contaminated, these sources put children at risk of water-borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea.

With supply running so low and demand for water increasing by the day, water prices have shot up – by 3,000 percent in places like Aleppo – making it even harder for families to secure this life-sustaining resource.

Ground fighting and air raids have laid waste much of the country’s water infrastructure, destroying pumping stations and severing pipelines at a time when municipal workers cannot get in to make necessary repairs.

To top it off, the all-too-frequent power cuts prevent technicians and engineers from pumping water into civilian areas.

UNICEF has trucked in water for over half-a-million people, 400,000 of them in Aleppo. The agency has also rehabilitated 94 wells serving 470,000 people and distributed 300,000 litres of fuel to beef up public water distribution systems in Aleppo and Damascus, where the shortage has impacted 2.3 million and 2.5 million people respectively. In Dera’a, a quarter of a million people are also enduring the cuts.

A 40-billion-dollar funding gap is preventing UNICEF from revving up its water, hygiene and sanitation operations around Syria. To tackle the crisis in Aleppo and Damascus alone the relief agency says it urgently needs 20 million dollars – a request that is unlikely to be met given the funding shortfall gripping humanitarian operations across the U.N. system.

Overall, water availability in Syria is about half what it was before 2011, when a massive protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad quickly turned into a violent insurrection that now involves over four separate armed groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Well into its fifth year, the war shows no sign of abating.

As the U.N. marks World Water Week (Aug. 23-28) its eyes are on the warring parties in Syria who must be held accountable for using water to achieve their military and political goals.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 1
Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikes Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqis Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 0
U.S. Provides Cover for Use of Banned Weapons in Yemen Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:20:48 +0000 Thalif Deen Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimising the use of cluster bombs – banned by an international convention – by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war, “if used appropriately”, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible.”“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.” -- Ole Solvang of HRW

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told IPS the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of U.S. cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement.  State and Defence Department officials are looking into that,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing rebel-controlled Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The United States, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis,” he added.

Goose said a U.S. Defence Department official has already said the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been used in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor,

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), among others.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the Convention, with 93 States parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released next week.

On Sep. 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen “need to recognise that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the United States to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in Houthi-controlled territory that had been attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 1
U.N. Remains Helpless Watching Rising Deaths of Children in War Zones Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Thalif Deen

The rising death toll of civilians, specifically women and children, in ongoing military conflicts is generating strong messages of condemnation from international institutions and human rights organisations – with the United Nations remaining helpless as killings keep multiplying.

The worst offenders are warring parties in “the world’s five most conflicted countries”, namely Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), and most horrifically, Yemen, where civilian casualties have been rising almost by the hour.According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

The 1949 Geneva Convention, which governs the basic rules of war, has also continued to be violated in conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, Nigeria, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other military hotspots.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, says some 230 million children grow up caught in the middle of conflicts, involving both governments and “terror groups” such as Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS), and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

According to a new report by UNICEF, one of the worst cases is Yemen where an average of eight children are being killed or maimed every day.

The study, titled Yemen: Childhood Under Threat, says nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated about four months ago.

In the conflict in Gaza last year, according to U.N. statistics, more than 2,100 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. And the civilian killings included 495 children and 253 women compared with the death toll of 72 Israelis, including seven civilians.

Addressing the Security Council during an open debate on children and armed conflict last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “a moral imperative and a legal obligation” to protect children — and they should “never be jeopardized by national interests.”

He said 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for children in countries devastated by military conflicts.

The conflict in Yemen is a particular tragedy for children, says UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis. “Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.

As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, says the UNICEF report, “it will have terrifying consequences for their future.”

Across the country, nearly 10 million children – 80 per cent of the country’s under-18 population – are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the report said.

The New York office of the Tokyo-based Arigatou International, which has taken a lead role in protecting children at the grassroots level, is hosting a forum on “Religious Ideals and Reality: Responsibility of Leadership to Prevent Violence against Children,” in Geneva next week.

The forum is being co-hosted by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a global network dedicated to protecting children.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, director of the Arigatou International New York Office, told IPS interfaith dialogue can play a critical role in bringing about behavioural change in areas of the world affected by armed conflicts.

“Religious leaders who have strong moral authority and credibility can influence positive change,” she added.

She pointed out the example of “corridors of peace” promoted by UNICEF which allowed vaccination of children to take place in conflict areas.

“However, while this is an important and tragic issue which receives great attention by the media, we must not forget that the issue of violence is global and affects many more children within the home, school and community, as well as orphanages, detention centres and other institutions where children are residing.”

Also, she said, the phenomenon of online exploitation of children, which will be addressed at the Forum, is a huge problem that has the attention of experts including Interpol due to its growing magnitude and the fact that the perpetrators can get away with it so easily.

“In other words, the work that we are doing focuses more on the broader dimensions of the problem,” she noted.

“We collaborate closely with the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), another Arigatou Initiative that is led from Nairobi.”

Together, she said, the initiatives draw on the religious teachings and values of all major religions and on the power of prayer, meditation and diverse forms of worship to mobilise concrete actions for children.

Jo Becker, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, points out that children’s education has also suffered, as armed forces or groups damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 schools around the globe last year.

The most affected schools were in Palestine, where Israeli airstrikes and shelling damaged or destroyed 543 schools in Gaza, and Nigeria, where the Islamist armed group Boko Haram carried out attacks on 338 schools, including the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno, in April 2014.

The result: hundreds of thousands of children are denied an education, she said.

According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF report outlines the different dimensions of the crisis facing children in Yemen including:

At least 398 children killed and 605 injured as a result since the conflict escalated in March.

Children recruited or used in the conflict has more than doubled – from 156 in 2014 to 377 so far verified in 2015; 15.2 million people lack access to basic health care, with 900 health facilities closed since March 26; and 1.8 million children are likely to suffer from some form of malnutrition by the end of the year.

Additionally, 20.4 million people are in need of assistance to establish or maintain access to safe water and sanitation due to fuel shortages, infrastructure damage and insecurity, and nearly 3,600 schools have closed down, affecting over 1.8 million children.

Over the past six months, the children’s agency has provided psychological support to help over 150,000 children cope with the horrors of the conflict. Some 280,000 people have learnt how to avoid injury from unexploded ordnances and mines.

Yet despite the tremendous needs, UNICEF says its response remains grossly underfunded.

With only 16 per cent of the agency’s funding appeal of 182.6 million dollars met so far, “Yemen is one of the most under-funded of the different emergencies UNICEF is currently responding to around the world.”

“We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need,” said Harneis. “We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

]]> 0
U.N. Official Says Human Suffering in Yemen ‘Almost Incomprehensible’ Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:16:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Kanya D'Almeida

With a staggering four in five Yemenis now in need of immediate humanitarian aid, 1.5 million people displaced and a death toll that has surpassed 4,000 in just five months, a United Nations official told the Security Council Wednesday that the scale of human suffering is “almost incomprehensible”.

Briefing the 15-member body upon his return from the embattled Arab nation on Aug. 19, Under-Secretary-General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien stressed that the civilian population is bearing the brunt of the conflict and warned that unless warring parties came to the negotiating table there would soon be “nothing left to fight for”.

An August assessment report by Save the Children-Yemen on the humanitarian situation in the country of 26 million noted that over 21 million people, or 80 percent of the population, require urgent relief in the form of food, fuel, medicines, sanitation and shelter.

The health sector is on the verge of collapse, and the threat of famine looms large, with an estimated 12 million people facing “critical levels of food insecurity”, the organisation said.

In a sign of what O’Brien denounced as a blatant “disregard for human life” by all sides in the conflict, children have paid a heavy price for the fighting: 400 kids have lost their lives, while 600 of the estimated 22,000 wounded are children.

Aid groups say Monday’s bombing of the Houthi rebel-controlled Red Sea port by Saudi military jets has greatly worsened the risk of continued suffering, since the port served as the main entry point for shipments of humanitarian supplies.

In a statement published shortly after the airstrikes, Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen, said, “We don’t yet know the full extent of the damage at Hodeida but we can’t lose a day; time is running out for Yemen’s children who are already at risk of starvation, disease, and abuse.”

He said there are already 5.9 million children going hungry, 624,000 displaced and about 7.3 million sick and wounded kids who are not receiving medical attention.

Even as civilians’ needs multiply, funding for the humanitarian response remains slow.

U.N. agencies say they have only received 282 million dollars for the response plan, just 18 percent of the 1.6-billion-dollar sum requested. Even if Saudi Arabia makes good on its pledge of 274 million dollars it will only bring funding up to 33 percent of the total required to adequately meet the crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday its operations, too, are “grossly underfunded”; the agency has received just 16 percent of an urgent 182.6-million-dollar funding appeal.

The scale and rapid escalation of the conflict has much of the international community stunned. President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, said after a three-day visit to Yemen earlier this month that he was “appalled” by the situation for civilians, which is “nothing short of catastrophic”.

Having witnessed the destruction first-hand he added in a press interview on Aug. 19, “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

O’Brien described the southern port city of Aden as a “shattered” metropolis, “where unexploded ordnance litter the streets and buildings”; while the city of Sana’a is pock-marked with craters left by airstrikes.

While humanitarian groups struggle to provide life-saving supplies, human rights watchdogs say the combination of Saudi-coalition-led airstrikes from above and fighting between pro- and anti Houthi armed groups on the ground have put civilians in an impossible situation.

A new Amnesty International report documenting what the organisation calls a “gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction” suggests that unlawful attacks by all parties may amount to war crimes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]> 1