Inter Press Service » Humanitarian Emergencies News and Views from the Global South Wed, 25 Nov 2015 08:06:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Cubans Seeking the American Dream, Stranded in Costa Rica Mon, 23 Nov 2015 22:16:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

A group of Cubans wait in a shelter opened by the authorities in the town of La Cruz in the northwestern Costa Rican border province of Guanacaste. Credit: National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission of Costa Rica

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSÉ, Nov 23 2015 (IPS)

Thousands of Cubans heading for the United States have been stranded at the Costa Rican-Nicaraguan border since mid-November, waiting for the authorities in Managua to authorise their passage north.Just over 2,500 Cubans are waiting in northern Costa Rica, the majority in temporary shelters opened by the local authorities. After receiving temporary transit permits from the Costa Rican government, the Cubans ran into resistance when they reached Nicaragua, which closed the border and denied them passage.

“We’re desperate to get to the United States because we want a better future for our children and for ourselves,” said Arley Alonso Ferrarez, a Cuban migrant, in a video provided by the Costa Rican government’s National Risk Prevention and Emergency Response Commission.

Alonso and the other Cubans stuck at the Nicaraguan border are seeking refuge under the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which guarantees residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil.

The exodus was fuelled once again this year by the fear that the thaw between the Cuban and U.S. governments, which began in December 2014 and has led to the restoration of diplomatic ties, would result in the modification or elimination of the special treatment received by Cuban immigrants to the United States.

Cubans have been making their way to the United States through Central America for several years now, but the phenomenon had gone unnoticed until the Costa Rican government adopted measures in early November to fight the trafficking of persons through this country.

That cut short the flow of undocumented immigrants and revealed the scale of the movement of Cubans from Ecuador to the United States.

“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González told IPS.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, not even my worst enemy,” Cuban migrant Ignacio Valdés told the local newspaper La Nación, referring to the dangers faced along the lengthy journey. “We’ve been robbed, we were forced to jump into the sea between Colombia and Panama, some girls were even raped, and the police stole from us.”

After the Nov. 10 arrest of members of the trafficking ring which smuggled migrants through Costa Rican territory, Cubans began to be stranded in groups along the southern border of the country.

That forced the authorities to issue seven-day safe conducts, to regulate their passage to Nicaragua. But that country completely sealed its border on Nov. 15, and blocked the entrance of Cubans when it reopened the border the next day.“The current crisis was triggered by the dismantling of the (trafficking) ring, which has brought to light the situation which we had already warned about, with regard to the increase in the number of Cuban migrants.” - Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel González

The migrants are awaiting the results of a meeting to be held Tuesday Nov. 24 in El Salvador, where the countries of Central America, as well as Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia, will try to hammer out a joint regional response.

The meeting will explore options to create a “humanitarian corridor” to facilitate the passage of Cubans to the United States – which has not been invited to the meeting, while Cuba has failed to confirm its participation, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry reported.

In recent years, more and more Cubans have been going through Ecuador, which grants them three-month tourist visas and to which they arrive by plane. The route – by land and sea – is much less frequently used and less well-known than the Florida Straits.

It is 5,000 km as the crow flies between Ecuador and the U.S. border, but the routes used by the trafficking gangs are much longer.

In April 2014, the Ecuadorean government eliminated the requisite that Cubans applying for visas present a letter of invitation, thus allowing them to remain in the country for up to three months without any additional requirements.

Once they make it to the South American continent, the migrants go by land across the border between Ecuador and Colombia, before taking a boat along Colombia’s Pacific coast to Panama, where they are smuggled, once more by land, to the Costa Rican border.

“These people are brought in by the mafias, the international people trafficking networks; without a doubt they are risking their lives,” said the foreign minister. “We have received reports of women who have been raped, who have crossed through jungles, and of children who are put in danger. The conditions are deplorable.”

According to Costa Rica’s immigration office, around 13,000 Cubans have travelled through this country since last year.

But they have mainly gone unnoticed, because most of them are smuggled by people traffickers, who charge between 7,000 and 13,000 dollars per person.

Carlos Sandoval, an expert on immigration issues, told IPS that the trafficking rings operate throughout Central America, and are also involved in smuggling migrants from the region who are trying to make it into the United States.

And, he added, while a solution for the stranded Cubans is urgently needed, Central America has long been in debt to its own citizens who try to reach the United States.

“An ironic aspect of this humanitarian corridor initiative is that it’s happening in a region that spits out migrants. Around 300,000 people a year set out from Central America in an attempt to make it to the United States,” said Sandoval, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica’s Social Research Institute.

The Central American migrants heading towards the United States face situations just as complex as what the Cubans are going through.

“The case of the Cubans is just one more instance of what is a day-to-day reality in Central America,” said the Costa Rican expert, who for years has studied Central American migration to the United States, carrying out fieldwork in this region, in Mexico, and in the U.S.

Sandoval said the situation requires a regionwide response – something Costa Rica should have had in mind when it issued the first safe-conduct passes. He argued that it is the region’s governments themselves that create the conditions that allow trafficking networks to operate.

“What makes their business possible? It is possible to the extent that the borders are closed: it is so difficult to get there that without the support of these people (traffickers), it is even more complicated and dangerous,” Sandoval said.

Costa Rica plans to open new shelters in the northern town of Upala, because the ones already set up are full, the minister of human development and social inclusion, Carlos Alvarado, told IPS.

“Many of these people (the Cubans) are professionals, others are skilled workers. They are between the ages of 20 and 45. There are more men than women, some 30 children, and around 10 women who are pregnant,” said Alvarado.

Cubans continue pouring into the country, said the minister. On Friday Nov. 20, for example, some 200 people arrived.

On Saturday Nov. 21, Costa Rica’s authorities reported that there are more than 2,500 Cubans in transit in this country.

“Most of them report that they came using their own funds – they sold all they had and left everything behind to go to the United States,” the minister said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]> 0
Paris, the Refugees and Europe Wed, 18 Nov 2015 21:27:22 +0000 Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 18 2015 (IPS)

The focus on terrorism is obscuring the issues of refugees, and it is important to consider its impact on Europe, after the shock of Paris.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Of course, the impact of terrorism in the daily life of ordinary citizens is going to increase the culture of checks and controls in place since September 11, 2001. Since the New York massacre, the 10,000 planes that take off daily carry citizens who go through vexing security checks, and cannot bring liquid on boards, etc. Osama Bin Laden has changed totally our way of travelling. It is no small achievement, and Paris will increase that trend.

Let us not forget that we have ample literature from ISIS making it clear that its strategy is to get the West to react against the Muslim living in their countries, by erecting a wall of distrust and discrimination, so as to radicalise them as much as possible. There are 44 million Muslims living in the West: if they felt shunned and discriminated against, they would be a formidable force, well beyond the 50,000 fighters who now carry the ISIS project of domination. Since at least 50 per cent of them now come from the West (there were only Iraqi and Syrians at the beginning), the jihad is becoming much more globalised Estimates say now that ISIS is recruiting about 3,000 foreigners every month. The massacre of Paris will only increase this confrontation.

Writing in the Washington Post’s opinion pages last weekend, counterterrorism analyst Harleen Gambhir said ISIS has set a dangerous trap for Europe with the Paris attacks. He recalls that, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, its website said that such attacks “compel the Crusaders (the West) to actively destroy the grey zone themselves… Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatise…or they will join the Caliphate”.

The fact that near one of the kamikaze was found a Syrian passport that could show that he came as a refugee is going to have a deep impact on the present policy on refugees. In the US, already about half the 50 state governors have declared that they will not admit Syrians. And Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, has already declared that in view of the Paris attacks Poland will not accept European Union (EU) quotas for asylum seekers.

This is a final blow for the Syrians. They have lost 250,000 people during the war, and they have now over 4 million refugees. To view all of them as terrorists is a total nonsense. But it is a nonsense which plays well in the hands of xenophobic and right wing parties, which have sprouted all over Europe, as well as of the Republicans during the US electoral campaign. In the polls, Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini and all right wing parties, with their speeches on security and controls, are finding consensus among a scared population. The German nationalist party will now certainly sit in the Parliament. Xenophobes and nationalists play a very irresponsible game, but it pays, and that is enough. No media are debating the ISIS trap, busy with their ritual stories on Paris. But this is medium term problem.

In the short term, Europeans will probably lose the benefits of the Schengen agreement: free circulation inside Europe. France has re-established border controls, as have Sweden, Germany and Slovenia. Hungary built a fence to protect its border with Serbia, and now Austria is doing the same. And, if Europe becomes a fortress and closes its borders, thousands of refugees will remain blocked in the Balkans, exasperating an already difficult situation. Eastern Europe has made clear that they will resist EU quotas. But the EU plan of resettlement of 120,000 men and woman, has so far resettled a grand total of 327 people all over Europe. The chairman of EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, has calculated that at this speed it will take until 2100 to implement the plan.

And Europe, even with right wing parties in power, will have to conduct a very difficult war with terrorism and refugees, at the same time. Until now it gave to Syrians priority in entering Europe. The Syrian passport found near one of the kamikaze is going to reopen that rule. It is irrelevant that the Syrian refugees are the consequence of a conflict started by Europe (like Libya). Fear will win over solidarity, if the latter was ever really available. A sense of guilt and remorse are hardly visible in European history.

We have now 60 million refugees. They would make the 23rd country of the world. But refugees are coming not only from war, but also because of sex discrimination (homosexuals in Africa, girls in Boko Harama and Yazhid territories); religions (just think of the Rohinga in Myanmar); climate refugees (they will grow exponentially, after 2020, since the coming conference of Paris will not solve climate warming). Today, somebody from Yemen is not accepted as a refugee. Yet there is a war, which is destroying its cities, under Saudi bombing. And Europe sticks to the definition of refugee as somebody escaping conflicts, then decides which conflicts are acceptable? And what about economic migrants, who escape hunger, not war? Does the distinction between refugees and immigrants make sense any longer?

By now, we know that the second or third generations of immigrants do not accept hardship for integration as their parents did. They are educated to a European standard of life and, if left out, they feel humiliated. The Caliphate becomes a way to get dignity, and escape the sad frustrations of a life without a future. And the reality is that Europe is not culturally prepared to accept people from different religions and different cultures.

There is a longing for a homogenous Europe (very much the way Japan goes). Of course, in schools that is changing, but young people are not in power. The demographic decline of the continent (it would lose 10 per cent of its population by 2030, according to United Nations projections, without immigrants or refugees), does not seep into collective consciousness. We will see, in the near future: a) a change of policy on refugees, b) a political success of the xenophobic parties, c) a decline of the European dream, and d) a new impossible challenge for Europe: how to keep out millions of people, without losing its identity, which is traditionally based on solidarity, tolerance and human values.


]]> 1
Acute Malnutrition: A Community Fights Back Thu, 12 Nov 2015 07:08:23 +0000 Stella Paul 0 OPINION: Refugee Crisis – Diverting Funds From Civil Society is a Bad Idea Tue, 10 Nov 2015 07:22:05 +0000 Teldah Mawarire

Teldah Mawarire is a policy and research officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

By Teldah Mawarire

Europe is in the throes of a refugee crisis and it’s not difficult to see that it does not quite know how to respond to it. By mid-October more than 600,000 people had reached Europe by sea.

Teldah Mawarire

Teldah Mawarire

The International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 3,100 people have died or are missing this year alone as they try to make their way to Europe. The flow is likely to continue with the UNICEF saying more Syrians could head to Europe as the conflict in their country continues.

The response to the crisis has been markedly different by different sectors and in different countries. On the whole, it is civil society and not governments or regional unions that have led the effort to help those escaping the horror of war. Civil society organisations (CSOs) have responded by providing food, water, shelter, health services and skills programmes for arriving migrants. CSOs are lobbying the European Union and its members intensely to tackle the intolerance towards refugees. Even the monitoring of refugee arrivals and the database on deaths is being done by CSOs.

The response from those in power however has been inadequate. From bickering in the European Union to hard-line stances taken by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that his country must defend its borders from “migrants.”

There are, however, glimmers of hope. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been more welcoming to refugees until the recent vote by Germany’s lower house of parliament to limit the number of refugees, although the country still projects to receive about 1.5 million refugee arrivals this year. The European Union last month agreed to share 120,000 refugees through a quota system to some member states.

The United Kingdom has promised that it would take in 4,000 refugees this year and 20,000 refugees over the next five years, although it is one of the European Union members that have refused to be part of the quota system. After unhelpful remarks by British lawmakers earlier this year that refugees must not make their way to London because its streets are “not paved with gold,” taking in refugees is a step in the right direction but it is still a “pitifully small” response, as stated by Green MP Caroline Lucas in the UK parliament.

Worryingly, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has said that the money to support refugees should be taken from the Department for International Development (DFID) – the United Kingdom’s official agency in charge of administering aid. DFID is involved in a wide range of projects that include preventing malaria deaths, improving child education and child immunisations, infrastructure development, humanitarian work, civil society support and research among others.

DFID substantially spends about 12 billion pounds per year on international aid. Although the bulk of DFID funding is disbursed through governments, there is a possibility of reduction in allocations to projects led by civil society that rely on funding from the United Kingdom if the Osborne proposal is implemented.

Given the important work being done by CSOs in dealing with refugee crisis, it makes little sense for the UK government to cut or divert aid budgets from CSOs especially when efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed to by world leaders in September this year, will need additional resources. Instead, the UK should make a greater effort to support refugees from its domestic budget.

While the current rules around Official Development Assistance (ODA) allow for donors to count some expenditure for resettling displaced people in their own countries as part of their aid allocation, only a relatively small amount of aid given to refugees has been counted as part of ODA in previous years.

The concern for civil society is that faced with the immensity of the current refugee crisis, coupled with fiscal austerity, donor countries will divert more aid in this way.

Reducing funding could set a bad precedent and lead to other donor governments reducing their funding of projects in the Global South. Already there are concerns in Sweden as the government is considering diverting development aid to refugee reception aid.

In an environment where civil society around the world already faces a funding crisis, while the demand for its work increases, diverting funding is the last thing that the sector needs.

Funding the response to the refugee crisis should be seen as separate from regular development assistance support. If anything, additional resources need to be made available for civil society organisations to continue the essential work they are doing to respond to the crisis, while governments do their best to help refugees in line with humanitarian principles.


]]> 0
Disaster Strikes Pakistan’s Khyber Region, Aid Efforts Slow in Coming Mon, 09 Nov 2015 07:09:32 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 Kurdish Highlanders Fear the Sky Fri, 06 Nov 2015 07:01:06 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza 0 Urgently Needed: Studies Linking Land Degradation, Migration, Conflict and Political Instability Thu, 05 Nov 2015 09:14:22 +0000 Manipadma Jena 1 Opinion: Battling Iran-Backed Extremists in Yemen Wed, 28 Oct 2015 23:24:55 +0000 Kaled Bahah

Kaled Bahah is the Prime Minister and Vice President of Yemen.

By Kaled Bahah
ABU DHABI, Oct 28 2015 (WAM)

In a region racked by strife, Yemen stands out. It is the poorest country in the Middle East and since March, the plight of my people has been worsened by an inhumane war.

The people of Yemen elected President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in February 2012 to preserve the country’s unity, independence and territorial integrity, while leading all Yemenis toward a brighter future. But that future has been stolen by Iranian-backed Houthi militia, who drove our legitimate government from office and have committed countless human-rights abuses, documented by the UN. In response, a broad, international coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and with Yemen’s national army, is working to liberate our country from illegal, foreign-sponsored control.

Although the battle for Yemen’s future has been intense, we have recently made significant progress. In July, the port city of Aden was wrested from Houthi control and is now the temporary base of the legitimate government.

With Aden now secured, we have accelerated the delivery and distribution of essential goods and humanitarian assistance to Yemenis, who had been on the verge of famine before the current conflict. Thanks in large part to the exceptional generosity of our Gulf brothers, Aden’s schools, which were shut down during the Houthi occupation, are open. Electricity has been restored and hospitals are starting to function again.

While much more needs to be done, the arduous road to recovery begins with the restoration of territorial control. Yemen’s national army and coalition forces have advanced to the northern province of Marib on the doorstep of the capital, Sana’a. We will take our capital back, and restore legitimacy to our country and hope to all Yemenis. The Houthis can avoid further bloodshed if they comply with the UN Security Council resolution adopted on April 14th and recognise the legitimate, freely elected government and return all territories that they have illegally seized.

The world is rightly concerned about the toll, especially to civilians, from this war. Any civilian death is a tragedy for which my heart bleeds, and the forces allied with us are taking extraordinary care to avoid civilian casualties and target only military objectives. Yet we have seen terrible evidence, documented by internationally respected NGOs, of Houthis locating their hide-outs and weapons caches in civilian areas and making human shields out of political detainees.

In its practices, the Houthi group enjoys the support of a regional power. My country is keen to have good relations with all countries, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, provided that principles enshrined in the UN charter, particularly non-interference in internal affairs, are respected and observed. But Tehran must choose, either it continues to sow discord and maintain relations with a seditious movement, the Houthis, or it deals with Yemen’s legitimate authority.

The end of this conflict cannot come soon enough. In their callous disregard for the rule of law, the Houthis have opened up a dangerous power vacuum in parts of the country, which al Qaeda and ISIS [Daesh] the sworn enemies of humanity, are exploiting. As a result, much more than the future of my country is at stake.

Failure in Yemen will reverberate regionally and globally, emboldening and empowering extremists. Victory will send a powerful message beyond our shores that Yemenis are committed to defend their inalienable right to self-determination, to prosper in peace and to project those values throughout the Middle East.


]]> 4
Pakistani Communities Reel in the Wake of Massive Earthquake Wed, 28 Oct 2015 16:06:35 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai 0 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 15th 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 15th 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.


]]> 1
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