Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ‘Cyclone College’ Raises Hopes, Dreams of India’s Vulnerable Fisherfolk Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 Stella Paul Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NEMMELI, India, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

Ten years have now passed, but Raghu Raja, a 27-year-old fisherman from the coastal village of Nemmeli in southern India’s Kachipuram district, still clearly remembers the day he escaped the tsunami.

It was a sleepy Sunday morning when Raja, then a student, saw a wall of seawater moving forward, in seeming slow motion. Terrified, he broke into a run towards the two-storey cyclone shelter that stood at the rear of his village, along an interstate highway.“This is what being a climate refugee is like.” -- Founder of the "Cyclone College", Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy

Once there, the teenager watched in utter bewilderment as the wall of water hammered his village flat.

“I didn’t know what was happening, why the sea was acting like that,” Raja recalls.

Later, he heard that the seabed had been shaken by an earthquake, triggering a tsunami. It was a new word for Nemmeli, a village of 4,360 people. The tsunami destroyed all the houses that stood by the shore, 141 in Raja’s neighbourhood alone.

A decade later, the cyclone shelter that once saved the lives of Raghu Raja and his fellow villagers is a college that teaches them, among other things,  about natural disasters like tsunamis and how best to survive them.

The state-funded college was established in 2011. One of its primary goals was to build disaster resilience among communities in the vulnerable coastal villages. Affiliated with the University of Madras, the college offers undergraduate degrees in commerce and sciences, including disaster management and disaster risk reduction.

Today a married father of two, Raja, whose education ended after 10th grade, dreams that one day his children will attend this college.

Understanding the dangers that surround them

While Raghu Raja’s dream will take some time to come true, his fellow fisherman Varadaraj Madhavan is already there: two of his three children have attended the “cyclone college”.

His 22-year-old daughter Vijaya Lakshmi has already graduated from the college – the first graduate in Madhavan’s entire clan – and 18-year-old son Dilli Ganesh is expected to follow suit next year.

During her three years of college, Laxmi studied English, Computer Applications and Disaster Management. Among her greatest achievements as a student has been creating a “Hazard Map” of her village. The map, prepared after an extensive study of the village, its shoreline and soil structure, shows the level of vulnerability the village faces.

“This is a real time status,” says Ignatius Prabhakar of SEEDS India, an NGO that trains vulnerable communities in disaster preparedness. “There are different colours indicating different types of sea storms and the levels of threats they pose. The map, meant to be updated every three months, is for the villagers to understand these threats and be prepared.”

There are seven neighbourhoods in Nemmeli and a copy of the hazard map stands at the entrance of each of them. Laxmi, who worked alongside a team of engineering students from Chennai on the mapping project, describes is as a great learning experience.

“I learnt a lot of our village, the environment here. For example, I learnt how disappearance of sand dunes, overfishing and garbage disposal can increase the threats of flooding. I also learnt where everyone should go in time of a disaster and how exactly we should evacuate,” she says.

The young woman is now also a member of the Village Residents Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction – a community group that actively promotes disaster preparedness.

From cyclone shelter to learning hub

Though highly popular now, it was an uphill task to set up the college, recalls Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy, a professor at the University of Madras and the founder of the college.

To begin with, the state government had asked the college to be operational from the year 2011. It was summer already, but there were no buildings to hold the classes in and no land allocated yet to build one. After several rounds of intense lobbying of local government officials, Krishnamurthy was offered the cyclone shelter to run the college.

The next big step was to convince the villagers to send their children to the college.

“We hired an auto-rickshaw (tuk tuk) and fixed a loudspeaker on top on it. My assistant would drive the vehicle around the neighbourhood all day, calling on the villagers to send their children to the college. I would wait right here, under a tree, waiting for a parent to turn up,” says Krishnamurthy, says who was the principal until recently and is credited for the college’s current popularity and its successful disaster risk reduction programme.

In the first year of the college, 60 students enrolled. After four years, the number has gone up to 411 and half of them are women, says Krishnamurthy.

Sukanya Manikyam, 23, who recently graduated, was one of the first students to enroll. She is now planning to join a post-graduate course. “I would like to teach at a university one day,” she says.

According to Krishnamurthy, since the tsunami, the rate of erosion along the shore has been visibly increasing. The topography of the sea bed has changed, the sand dunes are disappearing and houses are caving in, slowly rendering the villagers homeless and causing internal displacement.

“This is what being a climate refugee is like,” says Krishnamurthy.

As the danger of displacement from the advancing sea grows greater, so does this fishing community’s need for alternative livelihoods. The ‘cyclone college’ is catering to this need, providing knowledge and information that can help residents find new jobs and build new lives.

Tilak Mani, a 60-year-old villager, is optimistic about the future. “Ten years ago, the tsunami had left all of us in tears. Today, our children have the skills to steer us towards safety in such a disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripoli Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.


From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Give Peace a Chance – Run with Youth Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng was 18 and attending his final year of school when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba, one year ago. In the ensuing violence, as Raymond’s schoolbooks burned, thousands of South Sudanese were killed, including two of his cousins.

Many fled to U.N. bases for protection or to neighbouring countries. “I saw children killed and women killed and everybody was crying,” Raymond recalls.“Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority. Give us the tools, and we will create peace.” -- Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng

It was never meant to be this way. The bells of celebration that rang around South Sudan just two years ago are today emergency sirens. And while South Sudan is a crisis for children and of young people, sparse global attention has been paid to them. This must change.

The well of pain runs deep in many parts of Africa, and yet it is young people who offer the best chance for true conflict resolution, and lasting peace. Conflict-affected youth are often the most ambitious, the hardest workers.

They want back what was taken from them: opportunity. They want an education and they want to earn a livable wage.

Since conflict began, an estimated 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. Many remain on the move, while tens of thousands are living in camps in South Sudan, such as the UN Protection of Civilian camp #1 on the outskirts of southern Juba.

Here Raymond lives alongside 10,000 other youth. Whilst ever grateful for the protection the camp offers, Raymond says: “Life in the camp is difficult. You can see people just lying, sitting down, there’s nowhere people can go, nothing for them to do.”

Raymond’s experience of war, violence and suffering has been shared by hundreds of thousands across the region. But during the past two to three decades, it has consistently been young people who have been most affected by the conflicts that have raged.

This early experience of conflict leaves young people in a kind of no man’s land. Education interrupted, opportunities crushed. In South Sudan 400,000 young people have lost the chance to have an education, in this year alone.

Hundreds of thousands more are jaded, frustrated and disconnected, putting them at a critical crossroads, do they fight or fight for peace?

“Some of the youth with whom I was together outside [the camp] joined the rebellion,” says Raymond. “They would say, ‘if I could be in this dire situation we are now in, why should I be here’?”

And yet Raymond offers an important caveat: “Fighting cannot take everybody everywhere. Only peace can unite people as one.”

How then to do this? UNICEF believes one answer is through providing essential services, and in particular, education. Basic education and vocational-skills training can lift people out of poverty by providing opportunity.

But an education can be so much more, teaching war-torn children things many of us take for granted. At school children learn about the environment, about sanitation, and the importance of good nutrition. In turn, they become agents of change, conveying good practices to their families.

Importantly, children who go to school are less likely to be recruited by armed groups. UNICEF, through Learning for Peace, our Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, is helping to rebuild and improve schools in both conflict and former conflict zones in South Sudan, providing materials and psychosocial support to help children cope with the traumas they have suffered.

UNICEF believes a key strategy for governments, the African Union, IGAD and development agencies is to counter insecurity through harnessing and connecting with youth.

On this, Raymond should be a poster child. Despite the horror he experienced a year ago, the boredom of the camp and the frustrations of having his education suspended, he is a born peacemaker. Now part of a youth forum in the Juba camp, he leads discussions on the root causes of conflict and reconciliation.

Raymond deserves to have his voice heard. “Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority, he says. “Give us the tools, and we will create peace.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“What’s Good for Island States Is Good for the Planet” Fri, 05 Dec 2014 21:41:42 +0000 Desmond Brown A group of activists at the COP20 climate change meeting in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A group of activists at the COP20 climate change meeting in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

The lead negotiator for an inter-governmental organisation of low-lying coastal and small island countries doesn’t mince words. She says the new international climate change treaty being drafted here at the ongoing U.N. Climate Change Conference “is to ensure our survival”.

Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) told IPS she is hoping for “an agreement that takes into account all the actions we put in, ensures that the impacts that we feel we can adapt [to], we can have access to finance to better prepare ourselves for the projected impacts that us small islands are going to be suffering.”“We already know the CO2 emission levels are a train wreck right now, you are going over 450 parts per million. How do you reduce that? By ensuring that you build on the existing technologies that can between now and 2020 help reduce the emissions and stabilise the atmosphere.” -- Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong

The agreement is likely to be adopted next year at the Paris climate conference and implemented from 2020. It is expected to take the form of a protocol, a legal instrument, or “an agreed outcome with legal force”, and will be applicable to all parties.

Uludong said an ideal 2015 agreement for AOSIS would use the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as the benchmark.

“If you create an agreement that takes into account the needs of the SIDS then it would be good for the entire planet. We are fighting for 44 members but if we fight for the islands, a successful agreement will also save islands from the bigger developed countries – for example, the United States has the islands of Hawaii,” she said.

“So an agreement that takes into account the 44 members can actually save not just us but also the other islands in the bigger countries.”

Established in 1990, AOSIS’ main purpose is to consolidate the voices of Small Island Developing States to address global warming.

Uludong said their first priority on the road to Paris is progress on workstream one:  the 2015 agreement. This is followed by workstream two which is the second part of the ADP (the Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), while the third is the review looking at the implications of a world that is 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C. hotter.

“Ambition should be in line with delivering a long-term global goal of limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees and we need to consider at this session ways to ensure this,” said the AOSIS lead negotiator, who noted that finance is another priority.

“How do you encourage donor countries to revive the Adaptation Fund? How do you access funding for the new finance mechanism, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), especially with the pledges from the bigger countries that we’ve seen recently?”

Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at COP20 in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Ngedikes “Olai” Uludong of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at COP20 in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

With finance being a central pillar of the 2015 climate change agreement, the current state of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is another troubling issue for AOSIS. It was designed to encourage wealthy countries to offset their emissions by funding low-carbon projects in developing countries that generate permits for each tonne of CO2 avoided.

“The big picture is that the CDM is at a crossroads,” Hugh Sealy, a Barbadian who heads the U.N.-backed global carbon market, told IPS.

“The market has collapsed. The price of CERs has plummeted from a high of between 10 and 15 dollars per CER to less than 30 cents.

“The price of the CER is now so low that project developers have no incentives to register further CDM projects and those who already registered CDM projects have no incentives. So in five years we have gone a full circle,” Sealy added.

CERs (Certified Emission Reductions) are a type of emissions unit (or carbon credits) issued by the CDM Executive Board for emission reductions achieved by CDM projects and verified by an accredited Designated Operational Entity (DOE) under the rules of the Kyoto Protocol.

“We need a clear decision here in Lima in general, and Paris in particular, as to what the role of international offset mechanism will be in the new climate regime,” Sealy said.

“We need parties, particularly the developed country parties, to raise the level of ambition and to create more demand for CERs. Outside of that, we are searching for non-traditional markets and we are also looking to see what services we could provide to financial institutions that wish to have their results-based finance verified,” he added.

Sealy also said he wants “to go face to face with those technocrats in Brussels,” where he said “someone has made a dumb decision.”

The CDM, he explained, was being undermined by a Brussels decision to restrict the use of its permits in the EU emissions trading system.

He said personal attempts made to raise the problem with the European Commission have so far proved futile.

Uludong said that from the perspective of AOSIS, building up the price of CERs can be done “through green technologies and having incentives for countries to have greener projects” into the CDM.

Outlining medium and long term expectations for AOSIS, Uludong said these include work on improving the right technologies that would reduce emissions and have countries move away from fossil fuel technologies and go into alternative and renewables

“If we can do that between now and 2020 then we can drastically reduce the impacts by ensuring that these technologies meet the goal of reducing greenhouse gasses through mitigation,” she told IPS. “If we do that now, it will build beyond 2020. We have to have a foundation to build on post-2020 so you start by mobilising actions rapidly now.

“We already know the CO2 emission levels are a train wreck right now, you are going over 450 parts per million. How do you reduce that? By ensuring that you build on the existing technologies now that can between now and 2020 help reduce the emissions and stabilise the atmosphere,” Uludong added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at


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OPINION: Climate Justice Is the Only Way to Solve Our Climate Crisis Mon, 01 Dec 2014 19:13:54 +0000 Jagoda Munic Jagoda Munic

Jagoda Munic

By Jagoda Munic
LIMA, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

In November, the world’s top climate scientists issued their latest warning that the climate crisis is rapidly worsening on a number of fronts, and that we must stop our climate-polluting way of producing energy if we are to stand a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

Science says that the risk of runaway climate change draws ever closer. Indeed, we are already witnessing the consequences of climate change: more frequent floods, storms, droughts and rising seas are already causing devastation.Our governments’ inaction is obvious: they have failed to create a strong and equitable climate agreement at the U.N. for 20 years and their baby steps in Lima do not take us in the right direction.

Around the world people and communities are paying the cost of our governments’ continued inaction with their livelihoods and lives and this trend is likely to increase significantly in the future.

Good energy, bad energy

The fact is – our current energy system – the way we produce, distribute and consume energy – is unsustainable, unjust and harming communities, workers, the environment and the climate. Emissions from energy are a key driver of climate change and the system is failing to provide for the basic energy needs of billions of people in the global South.

The world’s main sources of energy like oil, gas and coal are devastating communities, their land, their air and their water. And so are other energy sources like nuclear power, industrial agrofuels and biomass, mega-dams and waste-to-energy incineration. None of these destructive energy sources have a role in our energy future.

There are real solutions to the climate crisis. They include stopping fossil fuels, building sustainable, community-based energy systems, steep reductions in carbon emissions, transforming our food systems, and stopping deforestation.

Surely, a climate-safe, sustainable energy system which meets the basic energy needs of everyone and respects the rights and different ways of life of communities around the world is possible: An energy system where energy production and use support a safe and clean environment, and healthy, thriving local economies that provide safe, decent and secure jobs and livelihoods. Such an energy system would be based on democracy and respect for human rights.

To make this happen we urgently need to invest in locally-appropriate, climate-safe, affordable and low impact energy for all, and reduce energy dependence so that people don’t need much energy to meet their basic needs and live a good life.

We also need to end new destructive energy projects and phase out existing destructive energy sources and we need to tackle the trade and investment rules that prioritise corporations’ needs over those of people and the environment.

So the goals are set, and it is time to act immediately towards a transition period in which the rights of affected communities and workers are respected and their needs provided for during the transition.

Climate politics at odds with climate science

So how are our governments tackling the issue? In the 20 years of the U.N. negotiations on climate change, we haven’t stopped climate change, nor even slowed it down.

Proposals on the table, negotiated by our governments, now are mostly empty false solutions, including expanded carbon markets, and a risky method called REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), which will not prevent climate change, and will impact and endanger poor and indigenous communities while earning money for big corporations.

Our governments’ inaction is obvious: they have failed to create a strong and equitable climate agreement at the U.N. for 20 years and their baby steps in Lima do not take us in the right direction. The reason is that, unfortunately, the U.N. climate negotiations are massively compromised because the corporate polluters who fund and create dirty energy are in the negotiating halls and have our governments in their pockets.

Major corporations and polluters are lobbying to undermine the chances of achieving climate justice via the UNFCCC. Much of this influence is exerted in the member states before governments come to the climate negotiations, but the negotiations are also attended by hundreds of lobbyists from the corporate sector trying to ensure that any agreement promotes the interests of big business before people’s interests and climate justice.

If we want any concrete agreement that would ensure the stopping of climate change for the benefit of all, we must stop the corporate takeover of U.N. climate negotiations by those corporate polluters.

There is also an issue of historic responsibility. The world’s richest, developed countries are responsible for the majority of historical carbon emissions, while hosting only 15 percent of the world’s population.

They emitted the biggest share of the greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere today, way more than their fair share. They must urgently make the deepest emission cuts and provide the most money if countries are to fairly share the responsibility of preventing catastrophic climate change.

Of course, tackling climate change and avoiding catastrophic climate change necessitates action by all countries. But the responsibility of countries to take action must reflect their historical responsibility for creating the problem and their capacity to act.

While the emissions of industrialising countries like China, India, South Africa and Brazil are rapidly increasing, these nations made a much smaller contribution to the climate problem overall than the rich developed countries, and their per capita emissions are still much lower.

Industrialised countries’ governments are neglecting their responsibility to prevent climate catastrophe and their positions at global climate talks are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites and multinational corporations. These interests, tied to the economic sectors responsible for pollution or profiting from false solutions to the climate crisis like carbon trading and fossil fuels, are the key forces behind global inaction.

This year in Lima there are big plans to expand carbon markets. Friends of the Earth International argues that carbon markets are a false solution to climate change that let rich countries off the hook and do not address the climate crisis. Expanding carbon markets will make climate change worse and cause further harm to people around the world while bringing huge profits to polluters.

The U.N. climate talks are supposed to be making progress on implementing the agreement that world governments made in 1992 to stop man-made and dangerous climate change. The agreement recognises that rich countries have done the most to cause the problem of climate change and should take the lead in solving it, as well as provide funds to poorer countries as repayment of their climate debt.

But developed countries’ governments have done very little to deliver on these commitments and time is running out. What’s more, rich countries continue to further diminish their responsibilities to tackle climate change and dismantle the whole framework for binding reductions of greenhouse gases, without which we have no chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

What needs to happen in the climate talks?

Within the U.N., rich developed countries must meet their historical responsibility by committing to urgent and deep emissions cuts in line with science and justice and without false solutions such as carbon trading, offsetting and other loopholes.

They must also repay their climate debt to poorer countries in the developing world so that they too can tackle climate change. This means transferring adequate public finance and technology to developing countries so that they too can build low-carbon and truly sustainable economies, adapt to climate change and receive compensation for irreparable loss and damage. This will help ensure a safe climate, more secure livelihoods, more jobs, and clean affordable energy for all.

For now, the U.N. talks are still heading in the wrong direction, with weak non-binding pledges and insufficient finance from developed countries, and huge reliance on false solutions like carbon trading and REDD.

Unfortunately, if the U.N. climate negotiations continue in the same manner, any deal on the table at the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris next year will fall far short of what is required by science and climate justice.

To achieve a binding and justice-based agreement based on the cuts needed, as science tells us, our governments must listen to those impacted by climate change, not to corporations, which, by definition aim at more profits, not a safer climate.

Movement building and climate justice

Preventing the climate crisis and the potential collapse of life-supporting ecosystems on a global level, requires long-term thinking, brave leaders and a mass movement. We have to challenge the corporate influence over our governments and exert real democratic control over the energy transition so that the needs and interests of people and the planet take priority over private profit.

And at the heart of this movement we need climate justice – action on climate change that is radical, that challenges the system that has led to the climate catastrophe, and that fights for fair solutions that will benefit all people, not just the few.

It is already happening. In September we saw massive mobilizations around the world, with hundreds of thousands of people marching and actions across every continent, including 400,000 people on the streets of New York.

And at the latest U.N. talks in Lima, we see people from all walks of life – indigenous people, social movements, youth, farmers, women’s movements – from across Peru, Latin America, and around the world joining together in the People’s Summit to collectively articulate the peoples’ demands and the peoples’ solutions to climate change.

But we need to grow much bigger and much stronger. We are calling on people to join the global movement for climate justice, which is gaining power and integrating actions at local, national and U.N. level. The solution to the climate crisis is achievable and it is in our hands.

This article originally appeared on

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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When Social Unrest Vents Itself on Migrants Sun, 30 Nov 2014 07:49:36 +0000 Silvia Giannelli By Silvia Giannelli
ROME, Nov 30 2014 (IPS)

“It’s like putting explosive, gasoline and matches all in one shed. These are things that should be stored in separated places.”

Giuseppe Giorgioli, an inhabitant of the Tor Sapienza district of Rome and a member of the Tor Sapienza Committee, was explaining the mid-November outburst in the district against a reception centre for asylum seekers and refugees, in which dozens of paper bombs were thrown.

The Tor Sapienza district, situated in the east side of the Italian capital, is home to almost 13 thousands citizens and, according to Giorgioli, is treated as a “second class quarter” by the Rome administration because of its relatively small dimensions.Episodes like the attack on a reception centre for asylum seekers and refugees “are being worsened by a growing poverty that now affects 13 million people in Italy, with 42 percent of young people unemployed” – Monsignor Giancarlo Perego

“For the last 10 to 15 years there has been a progressive phenomenon of disruption-parking in our suburb. This is how we ended up hosting four reception centres for migrants and two gypsy camps, while other districts in the city have none,” Giorgioli complained.

The residents’ uprising followed an alleged attempt of rape by a Romanian citizen against a local resident and a series of attempted robberies in apartments in the neighbourhood.

The Tor Sapienza Committee had organised a demonstration to ask the Rome Town Council to act against the urban decay the neighbourhood is suffering but once the march was over, a group of people – about one hundred according to witnesses – gathered in front of the building where the ‘Il Sorriso’ cooperative manages different services, including a reception centre for asylum seekers and refugees and three structures hosting foreign unaccompanied minors.

“When I arrived in the centre the following morning, I found huge pieces of asphalt, broken glass and people – both adults and minors – suffering from panic attacks,” recalls Alessia Armini of Italy’s System of Protection for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR), who is coordinator of the cooperative. “Let’s not forget the kind of vulnerable guests we have in such centres,” she adds.

While no one denies the critical conditions suffered by many suburbs in Rome, with cuts in transport services, council houses not having been refurbished for decades and inefficient garbage collection among others, the explanations for such a violent outburst vary widely.

“People are not racists, they are exasperated. Rome is just the tip of the iceberg, but this is about the whole country,” Paolo Grimoldi, MP for right-wing Northern League party, told IPS. “When you receive 150 thousand migrants – we say illegal, the government says refugees – in one year who are given a house, money and are taken care of by the State, this inevitably destabilises our social fabric.”

However, according to Monsignor Giancarlo Perego who runs Migrantes, the foundation of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) for migrants, the numbers tell a different story: “Migrants are abandoning our country because it no longer represents an economic opportunity for many of them,” he told IPS.

“The reasons must be found in a management of the suburbs that looked at the interests of building speculators rather than guaranteeing common assets such as meeting places that are necessary to build a feeling of safety within a territory.”

In addition, the economic crisis also plays an important role also in this context. “Episodes [like the Tor Sapienza] incident are being worsened by a growing poverty that now affects 13 million people in Italy, with 42 percent of young people unemployed,” said Perego.

“But such a difficult situation does not exempt us from the need of building relationships, delivering correct information and managing the places where people live in order to encourage encounters and not social clashes.”

For their part, the citizens of Tor Sapienza firmly reject any accusation of racism. “We welcome everybody and we’ve been welcoming everybody for twenty years,” Giorgioli told IPS.

“You don’t become racist in four days. But there are rules that need to be respected and services that the town council needs to provide. If such services are not provided, unfortunately someone with less patience begins to see red.”

In the days that followed the attack on the reception centre, both local and national politicians visited the neighbourhood, provoking strong criticism – and not only from angry citizens – that they were using the situation for instrumental reasons.

“I think that any form of manipulation, whether from left or right, is a serious aspect to be avoided. Politicians must govern a city, not pour in new reasons for social clashes,” Perego said.

Meanwhile, the violent episode in Tor Sapienza and signs of social unrest in other Italian neighbourhoods that have sparked debate and drawn attention to the migrant issue are not to be underestimated.

“In these suburbs, the level of social distress is extremely high, but all that hate, taking a symbol and pouring everything out on it … it’s frightening,” said Armini. “We heard people [outside the centre] screaming ‘let’s burn them all, let’s make soap out of them’. This issue brought out the worst in people.”

While condemning the recent violence, Giorgioli of the Tor Sapienza Committee is not sure that such situations will not be repeated

“I have reasons to fear that the same people who have already shown that they are capable of violent actions will repeat them if there are no signs of change. They could feel disrespected, as if the institutions were making a fool of them.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Athens Sit-in Highlights Catch-22 for Refugees Sat, 29 Nov 2014 13:31:13 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis Sit-in of Syrian migrants in Athens, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Many of them are sleeping rough on the ground during the night, covered only with blankets to face temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

Sit-in of Syrian migrants in Athens, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Many of them are sleeping rough on the ground during the night, covered only with blankets to face temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Nov 29 2014 (IPS)

A sit-in protest by Syrian refugees on Syntagma Square opposite the Greek parliament in the heart of Athens has turned into a demonstration of the stalemate faced by both Greek as well as European immigration policy.

About three hundred men, women and children have been on the same spot for over a week now, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries to the northwest of Greece.“Given that the refugee population will keep increasing, it is necessary to identify appropriate policy initiatives to promote integration now. This is necessary both for refugees as well as for social cohesion in Greece” – Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, Head of the UNHCR Office in Greece

Many of them are sleeping rough on the ground during the night, covered only with blankets to face temperatures under 10 degrees Celsius. Tens have already been transferred to hospital to be treated for minor symptoms, mostly due to hypothermia. Medical incidents have increased after many of the protestors decided to start a hunger strike six days ago.

Throughout the protest, the Greek authorities have been communicating with them, repeating the official line that there exist no legal provisions for travelling to other European countries unless they have formally acquired refugee status.

However most of the Syrians taking part in the sit-in appear unwilling to apply for asylum in Greece.

They have refused to do so even after it was made clear to them that asylum would be granted to them with fast track procedures. This would help secure the travelling documents, which they desperately want, but at the same time would deprive them of the right to seek asylum in other European countries in which refugees enjoy access to better integration services.

Indeed, the Greek authorities are facing a unique situation. The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Interior, Aggelos Syrigos, told IPS from Syntagma Square where the protest is taking place that the situation seems irresolvable. “We explained to them that what they ask is not possible. We advised them to apply for asylum, so we can offer shelter to families. Many of them seem to believe that other Europeans can intervene to resolve their problem, which is not the case,”

Some years ago, when Greece was receiving mostly economic migrants, the country implemented a policy that limited access to asylum claims because irregular migrants were abusing the system.

Syrian migrants protesting in Athens. About three hundred men, women and children have been on the same spot for over a week now, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

Syrian migrants protesting in Athens. About three hundred men, women and children have been on the same spot for over a week now, demanding that they be granted permission to move on to other European countries. Credit: Apostolis Fotiadis/IPS

The crisis transformed the country into a non-desirable destination for refugees and migrants. Now it appears to be the authorities that are pushing refugees, which are the vast majority of arrivals these days, to enter the system and claim asylum.

The change in policy came after the authorities established an effective asylum system in cooperation with UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, and after pressure from the European Commission on the country’s authorities.

But this change of policy has not been followed up by establishment of the effective integration services and infrastructure that the country needs.

A recent reportby the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) on the cost-effectiveness of irregular migration control policy in Greece between 2007 and 2013 shows that Greece has prioritised an expensive system of border controls, detention and returns.

It has invested most of the available resources from European funds and the national budget in such a system at the expense of a less costly and more proactive system without such punitive measures. As a result, it now lacks facilities that would help manage new waves of arrivals.

The Head of the UNHCR Office in Greece, Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, told IPS that Greece never really attempted to implement an integration policy in the first place, but now, “given that the refugee population will keep increasing, it is necessary to identify appropriate policy initiatives to promote integration now. This is necessary both for refugees as well as for social cohesion in Greece.”

Tsarbopoulos believes that the government’s decision to precondition any protection offered to Syrian protestors on first applying for asylum might prove counterproductive by polarising the situation.

Many Syrians who come from an urban middle class background understand that claiming asylum in Greece will connect them to a future that leads to social marginalisation, a situation that they clearly find very difficult to accept.

A few nights ago, this correspondent was party to a conversation between Mohammed A., who has been sleeping rough in Syntagma Square since the beginning of the sit-in, and a Greek man, both of the same age.

The conversation ended with the Syrian saying: “I don’t want anything from Greece. What I want is just to be able to go where I want. You can go anywhere you want. I want this too.”

Both Syrigos and Tsarbopoulos agreed not only that the issue will deteriorate but also that the time frame for adequate solutions is limited.

According to the latest official Greek estimates, more than 5000 Syrians entered Greece last month and just a few days ago Greece sent a military search and rescue operation south to Crete to save an immobilised container ship believed to be carrying about 700 refugees.

The Greek Council of Refugees issued a response to the government’s position to push Syrians to submit asylum applications. According to the organisation, the asylum process “should not be a tool and a prerequisite for the provision of material reception conditions and immediate humanitarian assistance to people fleeing war conflicts”.

In an analytical press release circulated by UNHCR Greece five days ago, Europe is being urged to open legal pathways for refugees and start a dialogue on a Europe-wide refugee solution that puts the emphasis on solidarity among the European Union’s member states.

For two years, the Greek government, together with Italy and Malta, has repeatedly been asking the European Council to discuss responsibility-sharing between member states in the north of Europe and those in the south, but this has not yet happened.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Refugees Between a Legal Rock and a Hard Place in Lebanon Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:13:33 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Staring at the floor, Hassan, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib in northwestern Syria, holds a set of identification papers in his hands. He picks out a small pink piece of paper with a few words on it stating that he must obtain a work contract, otherwise his residency visa will not be renewed.

Hassan (not his real name) has been given two months to find an employer willing to cough up for a work permit, something extremely unlikely to happen. After that, his presence in Lebanon will be deemed illegal.

Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service, tells IPS that all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service … [says that] all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.

Sitting next to Hassan is 24-year-old Ahmed (not his real name) from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, who lost his residency one month ago. Since then he has been forced to watch his movements. “I live with permanent fear of being caught by the police and deported,” he says.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, over 1.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, where they now account for almost one-third of the Lebanese population.

Particularly since May, the Lebanese government has increasingly introduced measures to limit the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Oct. 23, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced that the government had reached a decision “to stop welcoming displaced persons, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] to stop registering the displaced.”

Dalia Aranki, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IPS that Lebanon “is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention” and, as a result, “is not obliged to meet all obligations resulting from the Convention.”

“Being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services,” she wrote together with Olivia Kalis in a recent article published by Forced Migration Review. “But it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.”

Current legal restrictions affect the admission of newcomers, renewal of residency visas and the regularisation of visa applications for those who have entered the country through unofficial border crossings.

One aid worker who is providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Mount Lebanon told IPS that the majority of the Syrian beneficiaries they are working with no longer have a legal residency visa.

Aranki notes that fear of being arrested often forces those without legal residency papers to limit their movements and also their ability to access various services, to obtain a lease contract or find employment is severely limited. It could also impede birth registration for refugees -with the consequent risk of statelessness, or force family separations on the border.

Before May this year, Syrians could usually enter Lebanon as “tourists” and obtain a residency visa for six months (renewable every six months for up to three years), although this process cost 200 dollars a year, which already was financially prohibitive for many refugee families.

However, NRC has noted that under new regulations Syrians are only permitted to enter Lebanon in exceptional or humanitarian cases such as for medical reasons, or if the applicant has an onward flight booked out of the country, an appointment at an embassy, a valid work permit, or is deemed a “wealthy” tourist. Since summer 2013, restrictions for Palestinian refugees from Syria have become even more severe.

Under its new policy, the Lebanese government also intends to participate in the registration of new refugees together with the UNHCR. Khalil Gebara, an advisor to Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk, says that the government has taken these measures for two reasons.

“First, because the government decided that it needs to have a joint sovereign decision over the issue of how to treat the Syrian crisis. (…) Previously, it was UNHCR to decide who was deemed a refugee and who was not, the Lebanese government was not involved in this process.”

Secondly “because government believes that there are a lot of Syrians registered who are abusing the system. A lot of them are economic migrants living in Lebanon and they are registered with the United Nations. The government wants to specify who really deserves to be a refugee and who does not”.

Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the U.N. agency has “for a long time” encouraged the Lebanese government to assume a role in the registration of new refugees and affirms that registration is going on.

“There is concern about the protection of refugees but there is also understanding on UNHCR’s part,” said Redmond. “Lebanon has legitimate security, demographic and social concerns.”

Meanwhile, accompanying the increasing fear of deportation from Lebanon, Syrian refugees have also been forced to deal with routine forms of discrimination.

Over 45 municipalities across Lebanon have imposed curfews restricting the movement of Syrians during night-time hours, measures which, according to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Nadim Houry, contravene “international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law.”

Attacks targeting unarmed Syrians – particularly since clashes between the Lebanese army and gunmen affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Arsal in August – have  also occurred.

Given such realities, life in Lebanon for Hassan, Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees, is becoming a new exile, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Pakistani Sikhs Back in the ‘Dark Ages’ of Religious Persecution Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:03:47 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Balwan Singh, an 84-year-old shopkeeper living in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is well past retirement age, but any illusions he may have had about living out his golden years in peace and security have long since been dashed.

The elderly man is a member of Pakistan’s 40,000-member Sikh community, which has a long history in this South Asian nation of 182 million people.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims." -- Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer
Though constituting only a tiny minority, Sikhs feel a strong pull towards the country, believed to be the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Sikhs have lived on the Afghan-Pakistan border among Pashto-speaking tribes since the 17th century, but in the last decade the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – once a cradle of safety for Sikhs fleeing religious persecution – have become a hostile, violent, and sometimes deadly place for the religious community.

For many, the situation now is a veritable return to the dark ages of religious persecution.

Today, Balwan is just one of many Sikhs who have abandoned their homes and businesses in FATA and taken refuge in the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

“We are extremely concerned over the safety of our belongings, including properties back home,” Balwan, who now runs a grocery store in KP’s capital, Peshawar, tells IPS.

Balwan is registered here as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), along with 200,000 others who have left FATA in waves since militant groups began exerting their control over the region in 2001.

Calling Sikhs ‘infidels’, the Taliban and other armed groups set off a wave of hostility towards the community. Shops have been destroyed and several people have been kidnapped. Others have been threatened and forced to pay a tax levied on “non-Muslims” by Islamic groups in the area.

According to police records, eight Sikhs have been killed in the past year and a half alone. When Balwan arrived here in Peshawar, he was one of just 5,000 people seeking safety.

“We want to go back,” he explains, “but the threats from militants hamper our plans.”

Karan Singh, another Sikh originally hailing from Khyber Agency, one of seven agencies that comprise FATA, says that requests to the government to assist with their safe return have fallen on deaf ears.

“Maybe the government doesn’t grant us permission to go back because it doesn’t want to enrage the Taliban,” speculates Karan, also an IDP now living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The 51-year-old, who now runs a medical store in Peshawar, is worried about the slow pace of business. “We earned a good amount from the sale of medicines in Khyber Agency, but we have exhausted all our cash since being displaced.”

Indeed, many Sikhs were business owners, contributing greatly to the economy of northern Pakistan.

Now, hundreds of shops lie abandoned, slowly accumulating a layer of dust and grime from neglect, and scores of Sikhs are reliant on government aid. The average family needs about 500 dollars a month to survive, a far greater sum than the 200-dollar assistance package that currently comes their way.

The situation took a turn for the worse in June of this year, when a government-sponsored offensive in North Waziristan Agency, aimed at rooting out militants once and for all from their stronghold, forced scores of people to flee their homes amidst bombs and shelling.

Some 500 Sikh families were among those escaping to Peshawar. Now, they are living in makeshift camps, unable to earn a living, access medical supplies and facilities or send their children to school.

Male children in particular are vulnerable, easily identifiable by their traditional headdress.

While some families are being moved out and resettled, Sikhs say they are consistently overlooked.

“We have been visiting registration points established by the government to facilitate our repatriation, to no avail,” Karan laments.

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says, “About 65 Christian families, 15 Hindu families and 20 Sikh families are yet to be registered at the checkpoint after leaving North Waziristan Agency, which has deprived them of [the chance to access] relief assistance.”

Such discrimination, experts say, is not conducive to a pluralistic society.

According to Muhammad Rafiq, a professor with the history department at the University of Peshawar, Sikhs are the largest religious minority in Pakistan after Hindus and Christians.

Thus the current situation bodes badly for “religious harmony and peaceful coexistence in the country”, he tells IPS.

He says that minorities have to contend not only with the Taliban but also Islamic fundamentalists who regard any non-Muslim as a threat to their religion. By this same logic, Hindus and Christians have faced similar problems: threats, evictions and, sometimes, violent intimidation.

Kidnapping for ransom has also emerged as a major issue, with some 10 Sikhs being kidnapped in the past year alone, prompting many to pack up their belongings and head for cities like Peshawar, says Lahore-based Sardar Bishon Singh, former president of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC).

Bishon’s shop in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province, was looted in September 2013, but he says the police didn’t even register his report.

“Thieves broke into my shop and took away 80,000 dollars [about eight million rupees] but the Lahore police were reluctant to register a case,” Bishon recalls.

He says the police are afraid, “because the Taliban are involved and the police cannot take action against them [Taliban].”

Some experts say the problem runs deeper than religious persecution in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, extending into the very roots of Pakistan’s political system.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims,” says Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer.

“Only Muslims are allowed to become the president or the prime minister. Only Muslims are allowed to serve as judges in the Federal Shariat Court, which has the power to strike down any law deemed un-Islamic.”

He believes these clauses in the constitution have “emboldened” the people of Pakistan to treat minorities as second-class citizens.

This mindset was visible on Aug. 6 when a Sikh trader, Jagmohan Singh, was killed and two others injured in an attack on a marketplace in Peshawar.

“We have no enmity with anyone,” says Pram Singh, who sustained injuries in the attack. “This is all just part of the Taliban’s campaign to eliminate us.”

He alleges that the gunmen, who arrived on a motorbike, did not face any resistance when they rode in to the marketplace. “Police arrived after the gunmen had left the scene,” he adds.

On Mar. 14 this year, two Sikhs were killed in the Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but their killers are yet to be identified, Pram says.

While eyewitness accounts point to negligence on the part of the authorities, some believe that the government is doing its best to address the situation.

Sardar Sooran Singh, a lawmaker in KP, insists that the government is providing security to members of the Sikh community, who he says enjoy equal rights as Muslims citizens.

Peshawar Police Chief Najibullah Khan tells IPS that they have been patrolling markets in the city where Sikh-owned shops might be vulnerable to attack.

“We have also suggested that they avoid venturing out at night, and inform the police about any threat [to their safety],” he says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Fighting the Islamic State On the Air Sun, 16 Nov 2014 11:57:53 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza Hani Subhi, the presenter for Mosul´s only TV station, currently broadcasting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Hani Subhi, the presenter for Mosul´s only TV station, currently broadcasting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov 16 2014 (IPS)

There is daily news broadcasting at 9 in the evening and a live programme every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For the time being, that is what Mosul´s only TV channel has to offer from its headquarters in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We are still on the air only because we managed to bring a camera and satellite dish when we escaped from Mosul,” Akram Taufiq, today the general manager of ‘Nineveh´s Future’ – the name of the channel – tells IPS

The life of this 56 year-old journalist has been closely linked to television. He spent eleven years with the Iraqi public channel during Saddam Hussein´s rule. After the former Iraqi leader was toppled, he became the general manager of Mosul´s public channel Sama al Mosul – ‘Mosul´s heaven’. He held his position until extremists of the Islamic State took over Iraq’s second city early in June."From the beginning I tried to convince everyone around that we had nothing to do with the IS. A week after their arrival, everyone in Mosul realised that we had fallen into a trap" – Atheel al Nujaifi, former governor of Nineveh province

Taufiq admits he had never thought “something like that” could ever happen. “It took them just three days to tighten their grip over the whole city,” recalls this Mosuli from his current office in a residential district in the outskirts of Erbil.

Like all other Tuesdays, the staff, all of them volunteers, struggle to go on the air with their limited resources. Taufiq invites us to watch the live programme on a flat TV screen hanging on the wall of his office.

From an adjacent room, Hani Subhi, presenter, reviews the last news dealing with Mosul, which include the newly-established training camp. According to Subhi, it will host the over 4,000 volunteers who have joined the ranks of the ‘Nineveh Police’. The presenter adds that these troops were exclusively recruited among refugees from Mosul.

“We cannot trust anyone coming from Mosul saying they want to join because they could be spies for the IS,” claims Taufiq, who calls the recently set up armed group “a major step forward”.

“In the future, they will join the Mosul Brigades, groups inside the city that are conducting sabotage operations against members and interests of the Islamic State,” Taufiq explains, without taking his eyes away from the TV screen.

According to the journalist, the most awaited moment is the one dedicated to the live phone calls from inside the city. Today there have been more than 1,700 requests. Unfortunately there is no time for all them.

The first one to go live is Abu Omar, a former policeman now in hiding because members of the previous security apparatus have become a priority target for the IS extremists.

“I´m aching to see the Nineveh Police enter the city. I´ll then be the first to join them and help them kill these bastards,” says Omar from an undisclosed location in Mosul.

Hassan follows from Tal Afar, a mainly Turkmen enclave west of Mosul, which hosts a significant Shiite community.

“We Turkmens have become the main target of these vandals because we are not Arabs, and many of us aren´t even Sunni,” says Hassan. He hopes to remain alive “to see how the occupiers are sent away” from his village.

There are also others who share first-hand information on the dire living conditions Mosulis are forced to face today.

“We have to rely on power generators because we have only two hours of electricity every four days,” Abu Younis explains over the phone.

“The water supply is also erratic, coming only every two or three days, so we have to store it in our bathtubs and drums,” he adds. The worst part, however, is the seemingly total lack of security.

Atheel al Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak, struggles to keep his government in Kurdish exile. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Atheel al Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak, struggles to keep his government in Kurdish exile. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“People simply disappear mysteriously, and that´s when they are not executed in broad daylight,” denounces Younis. His city, he adds, has become “a massive open-air prison”.

A stolen revolution

It is a stark testimony which is corroborated by Bashar Abdullah, a journalist from Mosul who is currently the news editor-in-chief of Nineveh´s Future. Abdullah says he managed to take his wife and two children to Turkey late last month but that he has chosen to stay in Erbil “to keep working”.

The veteran journalist has not ruled out returning home soon but he admits he knows nothing about the state in which his house is today.

“The jihadists have warned that anyone who leaves the city will lose their home. They want to avoid a mass flight of the local population,” explains Abdullah during a tea break.

A report released this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) points that almost three million Iraqis are internally displaced. Among those, over half a million have fled Mosul.

Atheel al Nujaifi is likely the best known displaced person from Iraq´s second city. He was the governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak. Today he is also one of the main drivers of the TV channel.

From his office in the same building, he admits to IPS that many Mosul residents welcomed the Islamic State fighters in open arms.

“From the beginning I tried to convince everyone around that we had nothing to do with the IS. A week after their arrival, everyone in Mosul realised that we had fallen into a trap,” recalls this son of a prominent local tribe.

In April 2013, Nujaifi received IPS at the Nineveh´s governorate building, in downtown Mosul. Just a few metres away, mass demonstrations against the government were conducted, denouncing alleged marginalisation of the Sunni population of Iraq at the hands of the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Nujaifi would regularly visit the square where the protests were held, openly showing support and giving incendiary speeches against Nuri al-Maliki, the then Prime Minister.

Today from Erbil, he insists that one of the main goals of the TV channel is “to convey the people of Mosul that they still have a government”, even if it´s in exile.

“The Islamic State stole our revolution from us,” laments Nujaifi late at night, just after the last member of the crew has left. They will resume work tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Trapped Populations – Hostages of Climate Change Mon, 10 Nov 2014 09:19:32 +0000 Ido Liven When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. Cyclone survivors in Myanmar shelter in the ruins of their destroyed home. Credit: UNHCR/Taw Naw Htoo

When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist. Cyclone survivors in Myanmar shelter in the ruins of their destroyed home. Credit: UNHCR/Taw Naw Htoo

By Ido Liven
LONDON, Nov 10 2014 (IPS)

Climate change is projected by many scientists to bring with it a range of calamities – from widespread floods, to prolonged heatwaves and slowly but relentlessly rising seas – taking the heaviest toll on those already most vulnerable.

When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist.

While many could be uprooted in search of a safer place to live, either temporarily or permanently, some may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape.

“People around the world are more or less mobile, depending on a range of factors,” argues Prof Richard Black from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, “but they can become trapped in circumstances where they want or need [to move] but cannot.”When a natural disaster strikes, people are sometimes left with no choice but to leave the areas affected. Yet, for some, even this option might not exist … they may become “climate hostages”, unable to escape

According to Black, “it is most likely to be because they cannot afford it, or because there is no [social] network for them to follow or job for them to do … or because there is some kind of policy barrier to movement such as a requirement for a visa that is unobtainable, in some countries even the requirement for an exit visa that is unobtainable.”

For the most vulnerable, climate change could mean double jeopardy – first, from worsening environmental conditions threatening their livelihood, and second, from the diminished financial, social and even physical assets required for moving away provoked by this situation.

A project on migration and global environmental change led by Black was one of the first to draw attention to the notion of “trapped populations”.

In its report, published in 2011 by the Foresight think tank at the U.K. Government Office for Science, the authors warned that “in the decades ahead, millions of people will be unable to move away from locations in which they are extremely vulnerable to environmental change.”

An example the Foresight report mentions is that of inhabitants of small island states living in flood-prone areas or near exposed coasts. People in these areas might not have the means to address these hazards and also lack the resources to migrate out of the islands.

The report warned that such situations could escalate to risky displacement and humanitarian emergencies.

In fact, past cases offer some evidence of groups of people who have become immobile as a result of either extreme weather events or even slow onset crises.

One such example, says Black, is the drought in the 1980s in Africa’s Sahel region, when there was a decrease in the numbers of adult men who chose to migrate – the same people who would otherwise leave the area.

“Under drought conditions they were less able to do so because that involves drawing on your assets – in the Sahel often assets would be livestock – and the drought kills livestock, which means you can’t convert livestock into cash, and then you can’t pay the smuggler or afford the cost of the journey that would take you out of that area.”

Nevertheless, Black argues that in many cases it would be especially difficult to distinguish people who remain because they can and wish to, from those who are really unable to leave. In addition, environmental change could also drive people to migrate towards areas where they are even more at risk than those they have left.

In the Mekong delta in southern Vietnam, researchers foresee climate change contributing to floods, loss of land and increased soil salinity. Facing these hazards, local residents in an already impoverished region could find themselves unable to cope, and also unable to move away.

“It would generally be income and assets that will determine whether people can stay where they are or need to relocate,” says Dr Christopher Smith from the University of Sussex, who is currently conducting a European Community-funded project assessing the risk of trapped populations in the Mekong delta.

“Within the short term, it would mostly be temporary movement, but in the future … there could be more permanent migration.”

According to Smith, “the Mekong, being such a long river that flows through so many different countries, will make [this case] quite unique in terms of changes to the water budget in the delta and, of course, factors like cultures and populations in the delta will play a part.”

Conclusions from the study are likely to be relevant to other cases around the world, and specifically to other low lying mega-deltas with similar characteristics, Smith adds.

In Guatemala, researchers found that relatively isolated mountain communities could also be facing the risk of becoming stranded by climate change.

According to a study published earlier this year, irregular rainfall could be posing a serious threat for the food security and sources of income of communities in the municipality of Cabricán who rely on subsistence rain-fed agriculture.

Yet, the risks associated with climate change are not confined to developing countries. Hurricane Katrina, which hit the south-east of the United States in 2005, offered a vivid example when the New Orleans’ Superdome housed more than 20,000 people over several days.

“That was to do with the fact that an evacuation plan had been designed with the idea that everybody would leave by car, but essentially there were sections of the population that didn’t have a car and were not going to leave by car, and also some people who didn’t believe the messages around evacuation,” says Black.

“And those people who were trapped in the eye of the storm were then more likely to be displaced later – so they were more likely to end up in one of the trailer parks, the temporary accommodation put on by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”

Scientists are wary of linking Hurricane Katrina, or any single extreme weather event, to climate change. Yet, studies show that a warmer world might not necessarily mean more hurricanes, but such storms could be fiercer than those that these areas are used to.

Beyond science, says Black, international organisations are aware of the issue. “I’ve had quite extensive discussions with UNHCR [the U.N. refugee agency], the International Organization for Migration, the European Commission and a number of other bodies on these matters. There is a degree of interest in this idea that people can be trapped.”

A paper on Populations ‘trapped’ at times of crisis written by Black with Michael Collyer of the University of Sussex and published in February, notes that while it might still be early to suggest specific policy measures to address this predicament, there are several steps decision makers can take, and not only on the national level.

“As long as we have limited information on trapped populations,” say the authors, “the policy goal should be to avoid situations in which people are unable to move when they want to, not to promote policy that encourages them to move when they may not want to, and up-to-date information allowing them to make an informed choice.”

Intergovernmental fora – and among them the loss and damage stream in international climate negotiations – are yet to address specifically the challenge of trapped populations, but Europe might already be showing the way.

A European Commission working paper on climate change, environmental degradation and migration that accompanies the European Union’s strategy on adaptation to climate change adopted in April 2013 mentions the risk of trapped populations, albeit implicitly only outside the region, and recommends steps to address the issue.

Reviewing existing research on the links between climate change, environmental degradation and migration, the authors note that relocation, while questionably effective, “may nevertheless become a necessity in certain scenarios” such as the case of trapped communities.

“The EU should therefore consider supporting countries severely exposed to environmental stressors to assess the path of degradation and design specific preventive internal, or where necessary, international relocation measures when adaptation strategies can no longer be implemented,” states the working paper.

Ultimately, the situation where individuals, families, and indeed entire communities, find themselves unable to move out of harm’s way is not unique to the effects of climate change – it can be other natural hazards such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions or human-induced crises like armed conflict.

The international community’s response to people moving in the face of such crises is most often based on giving them a status, such as “internally displaced persons”, “asylum seekers” or “refugees”.

But this would not be the appropriate response when people remain, argues Black.

For them, “the issue is not a lack of legal status – it’s a lack of options … Public policy needs to be geared around providing people with options, in my view, both ahead of disasters and in the immediate aftermath of disasters.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Massachussetts Schools Welcome New Students Who Fled Danger Sat, 08 Nov 2014 14:45:45 +0000 Jane Regan and Yuxiao Yuan By Jane Regan and Yuxiao Yuan
SOMERVILLE, Massachussetts, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

Pedro sought a safer life. He traveled to Somerville from Chalantenango, El Salvador on foot, by bus, car, and in the back of a tractor-trailer truck.

Now he’s one of 60 new students from Central America who have enrolled in Somerville Public Schools after making it to the Texas border on their own or with other children, part of a wave of 70,000 youth who crossed the border earlier this year. And the district is concentrating on when those students are going, not where they’ve been.“Whatever student comes to our district will bring strengths and will add to our diverse community and we want them here. We want to give them that message." -- Sarah Davila

“As soon as the student comes to Somerville, they are our students, period, and we don’t need to know, and we’re not interested in knowing about their residency status,” said Sarah Davila, the schools’ District Administrator of Programs, English Learner Education and Family and Community Partnerships.“We want them to be successful.”

Pedro – who, like other students in this article, is not being identified by his real name – had a perilous journey. He has a gash wound in his arm from an injury he got on the way. He ended up in a cell in Texas and then was bounced to an immigrant holding center in Florida before being reunited with his father, who works as a cook in Cambridge.

By the time he got to Somerville, he had a lung infection that landed him in the hospital.

But the hazards of his hometown justified the risky journey, he said.

“It’s really dangerous there,” Pedro said. “There are thugs who don’t leave you in peace.”

Maria, 15, lived with her grandparents, also in Chalantenango. She never remembers meeting her parents before arriving in Somerville.

“I told my parents that, since I was turning 15, I needed to be with them,” she said. “Living with your grandparents is not the same as living with your parents.”

Miguel, 16, came from San Vincente, El Salvador. Back home he lived with an aunt. His mother works for a local bakery here. Miguel said he had been harassed but never hurt by the local toughs. However, one of his friends was regularly ransomed, Miguel said, because he wore nice clothing. Local gang members assumed he had money. They demanded higher and higher payments. Then one day, the friend’s cousin disappeared.

“He suspected that the gang was responsible,” Miguel said. “So he and his family started to save up money and now he lives up here.”

Almost 70,000 young people, mostly from Central America, were apprehended at the U.S. border during fiscal year 2014 (Oct. 1, 2013-Sep. 30, 2014), up 77 percent from a year earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Most of them come from Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala.

Young migrants from those and all non-contiguous countries have the right to apply for asylum once they arrive. If their application is accepted, they get a court date and are then sent to a shelter or to the home of a family member, if one can be identified.

Those three countries are among the most dangerous in the world, according to 2012 United Nations statistics. Honduras had the world’s highest per-capita homicide rate in 2012: 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. El Salvador came in fourth, with 41.2 homicides per 100,000, and Guatemala was fifth, with a rate of 39.9 homicides per 100,000 people.

Adapting to the classroom

The youth who make it to the border and arrive in Somerville face tough odds, according to school counselors and teachers, but the district is ready to take them in. All children in Massachusetts have the right to free public education, regardless of immigrant status or national origin.

All children in Massachusetts have the right to a free public education, regardless of immigration status or national origin. Somerville takes that right seriously, said Sarah Davila, District Administrator of Programs, English Learner Education and Family and Community Partnerships for the Somerville Public Schools.

“Unaccompanied youth is a particular profile,” Davila added. “They come with particular needs and we need to respond to their needs.

“Whatever student comes to our district will bring strengths and will add to our diverse community and we want them here. We want to give them that message,” she said.

The Somerville Public School system calculates that about 60 new students will arrive each school year, but this year the numbers will be much higher. While some students who crossed the border enrolled during the previous school year, in just the first two months of this academic year 48 new students – some unaccompanied minors, others who came to the community with their families – have enrolled, Davila reported. Some of them are high school age but have only a third or fourth grade level.

“Knowing that we have an increase in beginner students…  we’ve shifted our cluster of courses,” Davila said.

Even beginning students take all their courses in English, but now there are more entry-level math and sciences courses. In addition to regular courses, all English language learners take English as a Second Language, many of them from Sarah Sandager.

On a recent morning, a classroom of ninth graders chanted, “Today is October 28, 2014!” before getting back their corrected homework – vocabulary worksheets. Sandager moved up and down the rows, cajoling one student to do a re-write, praising another.

“They have so many challenges,” Sandager explained in an interview. Some have left behind parents or siblings, others have to work 40 hours a week, she said.

“You’re dealing with more than just them learning a language. You have to think about their whole self. The social and emotional component,” she said.

Pedro misses his mother but talks to her on the telephone every day. His dream is to graduate and get a good job “so my family and I can live a better life.”

In the meantime, he hopes the Somerville community will make an effort to understand the immigrant wave from Central America.

“I hope they… look how things are in our countries,” Pedro said. “I just ask people to understand us and give us a little support that we might need and that they don’t discriminate against us.”

A version of this story appeared in the Somerville Journal and Somerville Neighborhood News.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Disciples of John the Baptist also flee ISIS Sat, 08 Nov 2014 09:20:50 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza One of the ancient yet vanishing Mandaean rituals in Baghdad, at the banks of the Tigris river. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

One of the ancient yet vanishing Mandaean rituals in Baghdad, at the banks of the Tigris river. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KIRKUK, Iraq, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

“Going  back home? That would be suicide. The Islamists would cut our throats straight away,” says Khalil Hafif Ismam. The fear of this Mandaean refugee sums up that of one of the oldest yet most decimated communities in Mesopotamia.

“We had our house and two jewellery shops back in Baiji – 230 km north of Baghdad – but when ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] took over the area in June we had to leave for sheer survival,” recalls Khalil Ismam from the Mandaean Council compound in Kirkuk, 100 km east of Baiji. That is where he shares a roof with the family of his brother Sami, and the mother of both.

The Ismams are Mandaeans, followers of a religion that experts have tracked back 400 years before Christ, and which consider John the Baptist as their prophet. Accordingly, their main ritual, baptism, has taken place in the same spots on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates for almost two millennia.

In the sixteenth century, Portuguese Jesuit missionaries attempted to convert them to Christianity in Basra (southern Iraq). Young Mandaeans were sent, often abducted, to evangelise far-flung Portuguese colonies such as today´s Sri Lanka. They were called the “Christians of St. John”, although Mandaeans solidly dissociate themselves from Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Ismams, a Mandaean displaced family, pose at the entrance of the Mandaean Council in Kikruk. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Ismams, a Mandaean displaced family, pose at the entrance of the Mandaean Council in Kikruk. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khalil Ismam and his brother, both jewellers in their late thirties, also come from Iraq´s far south. Talking to IPS, they explain how they moved to Baghdad in the 1980s, “looking for a better life”. After the first Gulf War in 1991, they were forced to relocate again, this time to Baiji. Today they are in Kirkuk but they have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

“The council has told us that we cannot stay over a month, but we still don´t know where to go next because ISIS is already at the gates of the city,” says Sami.

Among the little they could take with them, the silversmiths did not forget their sekondola – a medallion engraved with a bee, a lion and a scorpion, all of them surrounded by a snake. According to Mandaean tradition, it should protect them from evil."The most striking thing about the killings of Mandaeans in Iraq is that it ranges from monetary gain by the extremists to the more sinister reason of ethnically cleansing the population of Iraq to get rid of the entire population of Mandaeans” – Suhaib Nashi, General Secretary of the Mandaean Association Union in Exile

Talismans are likely among the few things they can stick to while Mandaean ancient rituals begin to disappear as their priests are driven into exile in the best case scenario. In Kirkuk, the dry bed of the Khasa River – a tributary of the Tigris – is not an option so the increasingly rare ceremonies are held in a makeshift water well inside the complex.

“Every two or three weeks a genzibra – Mandaean priest – comes from Baghdad to conduct the ritual but the road is getting more dangerous with each passing day,” laments Khalil Ismam, standing by the pond.

According to a report released by Human Rights Watch in February 2011, 90 percent of Mandaeans have either died or left the country since the invasion by the U.S.-led forces in 2003.

From his residence in Baghdad, Sattar Hillo, spiritual leader of the Mandaeans worldwide, told IPS that his community is facing their “most critical moment” in history, adding that there are around 10,000 of them left in Iraq.

But that was his assessment a few months before the ISIS threat in the region. Today, the situation has worsened considerably, as Suhaib Nashi, General Secretary of the Mandaean Association Union in Exile, sums up:

“In the past two months, our community in Iraq is suffering a real genocide at the hands of radical Islamists, and not just by ISIS”. Nashi told IPS that the situation is equally worrying in southern areas, where the followers of this religion are easy victims of either Shiite militias or common criminals.

“The most striking thing about the killings of Mandaeans in Iraq is that it ranges from monetary gain by the extremists to the more sinister reason of ethnically cleansing the population of Iraq to get rid of the entire population of Mandaeans,” denounces Nashi.

Seeking asylum

Khalima Mashmul, aged 39, is among the Mandaean refugees staying today at the local council. She tells IPS that she is originally from the south, but that she came to Kirkuk at the early age of 15, dragged by a forced population displacement campaign through which Saddam Hussein sought to alter the demographic balance of Kirkuk, where the Kurds are the majority.

Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen dispute this city which lies on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves. What Mashmul has called “home” for nearly 25 years is still considered as one of the most dangerous spots in Iraq. And she knows it well.

“My husband is a police officer. He lost his right leg and four fingers of one hand after a bomb attack last June. Despite his injuries, they still force him to keep working,” this mother of four tells IPS. Like the Ismams, they cannot stay indefinitely.

“We cannot go back home because my husband is threatened but we don´t have enough money to pay a rent,” laments Mashmul. Their only option, she adds, is that “Australia or any European country” grants them political asylum.

That is likely the dream of the majority in Iraq. In a report on the Iraq crisis released last month, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that 1.8 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since January this year. The report also adds that 600,000 of them need urgent help due to the imminent arrival of winter.

While many wait impatiently to move to a Western country, some others have opted for an easier relocation in neighbouring countries.

Chabar Imad Abid, one of the policemen – all of them Mandaean – managing security at the compound, tells IPS that he does not regret being left alone by his family, saying: “My wife and my five children are in Jordan and I will join them as soon as I can.”

“We have just been told that ISIS is gathering forces in Hawija – 50 km west of Kirkuk,” says the policeman, meaning that the offensive over Kirkuk is “imminent”.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Growing Up Among the Dead Mon, 03 Nov 2014 07:53:10 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza Ali Khalil and his son, Diar, pose by the coffins they have just arranged  for burial. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Ali Khalil and his son, Diar, pose by the coffins they have just arranged for burial. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
SEREKANIYE, Syria, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

The walls of the Association for the Martyrs of Serekaniye are covered with the portraits of those fallen in combat in this northern Syrian town. Ali Khalil has buried everyone and each of them with the help of Diar, his 13-year-old son.

Inside this building west of Serekaniye, 680 kilometres northeast of Damascus, Khalil invites IPS to hear some of the stories behind the myriad of pictures. The first one is that of his brother, Abid.

“He dreamed of being a journalist but he was hit by a sniper in November 2012. He was the first one I buried, and I have done the same with the rest ever since,” recalls this former merchant in his late thirties, before resuming his account.

“These three arrived completely charred; this one was beheaded, the same as those two further up” … Khalil points with his finger at just half a dozen among more than a hundred portraits staring at infinity.“5.5 million children have been directly affected by the war [in Syria], one in ten has become a refugee in a neighbouring country and around 8,000 of the latter crossed the border without their parents” – UNICEF

It was precisely the death of his brother which led him to set up this committee to support the families of the deceased. He is one of the ten members in charge.

“Other than arranging the burial, we assist families with money, food or blankets for the winter,” explains Khalil. The aid, he adds, comes from the Kurdish provisional government in northern Syria

After the uprising of 2011 against the Syrian government, the country’s Kurds opted for a neutrality that has forced them into clashes with both government and opposition forces.

In July 2012 they took over the areas where they form a majority, in Syria’s north. Today they rule over three enclaves in the north: Afrin, Jazeera and Kobani, the latter being known worldwide for the brutal and still on-going six-week siege at the hands of the Islamic State.

Redur Xelil, spokesman for the YPG (Kurdish acronym for People’s Protection Units), the militia defending the territory, told IPS that after Kobani, the battle in Serekaniye has been the bloodiest front for the Kurds in Syria.

A burial in Serekaniye for fighters fallen in combat against ISIS. Credit: Qadir Agid

A burial in Serekaniye for fighters fallen in combat against ISIS. Credit: Qadir Agid

Mahmud Rashid, 37, also volunteers at the martyrs´ house. He has two sisters and nine brothers, “all of them fighting, including a 60-year-old one.” He adds, however, that one of them, Brahim, fell into the hands of the Islamic State five months ago, and that they have had no news from him ever since.

“His wife showed up four days ago to get help. We handed her clothes for her seven children, blankets and 10,000 Syrian pounds [about 48 euros],” Rashid told IPS.

“I will be a soldier”

The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the truck carrying the last two coffins commissioned by the association. After they are taken into the room, Khalil and his son start to wrap them in the regular red cloth, to which they will add the yellow banner of the YPG and a crown of plastic flowers.

They proceed with the precision conferred by a two-year routine so it barely takes them more than ten minutes. Shrouding the bodies, Khalil explains, is “much more laborious.” But he´s not alone.

“Diar helps me with everything and does whatever is needed. We are hand in glove,” the volunteer explains proudly, posing his hand over his son’s shoulders. Khalil has another son, Rojdar, who is 11 but cannot join them because he suffers from chronic hepatitis and never leaves the house.

In a report on the impact of three years of war on the health of Syria’s children released this year, Save the Children warns of the serious deterioration of sanitary conditions in the country. According to Save the Children, 60 percent of hospitals in the country have been destroyed and the production of drugs has decreased by 70 percent.

To these figures has to be added the fact that half of the doctors in the country have left. Of the 2,500 that a city like Aleppo needs, only 36 remain, says Save the Children. With representation in 120 countries, it is calling for “urgent action” so that children receive basic vaccination.

Meanwhile, it is far from easy to get a word from Diar. “Why don´t you want to talk now,” Khalil asks his son. “Tell him how much you loved your uncle; tell him you would spend the day together at the Internet café.”

Diar admits he has not much to do other than helping his father. “A majority of the children have left the city and the few remaining don´t dare to leave home because of the fighting,” explains the boy, without looking up from the ground.

For those who left, reality is far from bearable either. As noted by UNICEF in its 2014 report titled Under Siege: The devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria, 5.5 million children have been directly affected by the war, one in ten has become a refugee in a neighbouring country and around 8,000 of the latter crossed the border without their parents.

Other than the most visible effects, the psychological sequels are equally devastating: “Many Syrian children are in pure survival mode”, says UNICEF child protection specialist Jane MacPhail, who spends her days working with child refugees in Jordan. “They have seen the most terrible things and forget normal social and emotional responses.”

“Tell the journalist what you used to say during the days when the shelling lasted day and night: ‘You can throw as many bombs as you want but we will never leave’,” Khalil insists with his son, while the boy concentrates on carefully centring the crown of flowers on the second coffin.

Diar stands up only to say that he will join the ranks of the YPG as soon as he is 18. The war in Syria may be over after five years but that does not seem to matter to him.

“I will be a soldier,” Diar repeats, with his eyes still fixed on the ground. Until then, he says, he will help his father.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Russia’s Immigrants Facing Crackdowns and Xenophobia Mon, 03 Nov 2014 00:15:34 +0000 Pavol Stracansky By Pavol Stracansky
MOSCOW, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

Immigrants in Russia could face a wave of violence following thousands of arrests in a crackdown on illegal immigration which has been condemned not only for human rights breaches but for entrenching a virulent negative public perception of migrants.

More than 7,000 people were arrested across Moscow – and more than 800 already served with deportation orders – under Operation Migrant 2014 which ran between Oct. 23 and Nov. 2 in the Russian capital.

The scale of the operation and methods used by the authorities has left international and local rights organisations outraged.

They say police used violence during raids on thousands of locations, including work places, markets, lodgings, hotels and people’s homes. They said that some migrants were forcibly taken from their families with no information given to relatives of where they were being taken.“Operations like this [Operation Migration 2014] only reinforce negative images of migrants in Russia and increase violence towards them. Once Russians see images of the raids in the news they will rally to support the government's actions” – Tolekan Ismailova, Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights

Some were deported without proper procedures being observed, according to local lawyers while others claim many of an estimated up to 100,000 migrants detained had money confiscated by police before being released without their detention being recorded.

Tolekan Ismailova, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said: “This is simply an institutionalised way of intimidating migrants and their families. The operation violates Russia’s international obligations to respect human dignity and ban the practice of arbitrary detentions.”

But beyond the rights abuses, the highly-publicised raids are, critics argue, also helping foment and entrench a xenophobic attitude to migrants in wider society that increases the risk of violence against them.

Ismailova told IPS: “Operations like this only reinforce negative images of migrants in Russia and increase violence towards them. Once Russians see images of the raids in the news they will rally to support the government’s actions.”

The warnings come amid hardening attitudes towards what some Russian MPs estimate to be as many as 10 million migrants across Russia.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s large cities have been a magnet for migrants, mainly from former neighbouring Soviet states. Wages on offer in cities like St Petersburg and Moscow are often enough for immigrants to support entire families back at home. In some Central Asian countries, remittances sent home from workers in Russia account for as much as one-third of national GDP.

But successful assimilation of those migrants has been limited for a number of reasons. Migrants, especially those from Central Asia, have tended to interact within their own communities while support from Russian authorities and representatives of their own states has often been weak.

Rights groups say local employers routinely exploit migrants, refusing to give  them proper contracts, leaving them with no rights, often working in poor conditions and for low wages. Many are de facto working and residing illegally, and unable to access health care and pension systems.

Their situation also forces many to live in bad conditions and fuels criminality and violence in migrant communities, leading to further arrests and a perpetuation of negative attitudes towards migrants in wider society.

Ismailova told IPS: “Central Asian migrants are harassed because there is a culture of racism in Russia that perpetuates the stereotype that they are ‘black’ and they do the ‘black’ work in Russia. Many Russians have prejudices against Central Asians.”

Attitudes to migrants hardened in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008 and have worsened considerably since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.

Critics say that the Kremlin is pursuing a xenophobic and anti-migrant policy in an attempt to distract Russians from wider problems in society.

They point to Operation Migrant 2014 as just the latest in a string of recent highly-visible crackdowns seemingly aimed at reinforcing the public perception of illegal immigrants posing a threat.

Operation Illegal 2014, similar to Operation Migrant 2014, was conducted in St Petersburg from Sep. 22 to Oct. 10, resulting in charges being brought against 437 migrants. And just last month, draft legislation was heard in parliament which would increase the penalties for foreigners exceeding maximum stay periods in the country.

Rights campaigners also point to other methods being used to fuel distrust of migrants, including authorities’ encouragement of citizens to report migrants they suspect of working illegally to a special hotline which passes the information to the police.

According to Ismailova, “this is exactly the same strategy that was used by the KGB. It creates a sense of distrust among people and is a major obstacle against securing human rights for migrants.”

The raids, arrests, anti-immigrant legislation and rhetoric from public officials – last month Moscow’s mayor said that were it not for illegal immigrants Moscow would be the safest city in the world – are little more than a “PR exercise” designed to deflect attention from other issues.

Tanya Lokshina, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Moscow, told IPS: “With the ruble suffering an alarming drop, the government is apparently trying to divert people’s attention from concerns over living standards by turning their discontent towards migrants and, at the same time, demonstrating its own ‘effectiveness’  by attacking that ‘enemy’.”

Lokshina also said that “part of the problem with irregular migration is that employers don’t provide migrant workers with proper contracts. No one wants to work without a contract or permit – they do it because they have no other option. The government should ensure that migrant workers have contracts and relevant guarantees.”

Authorities have defended the need to tackle illegal immigration. They say that, among others,  illegal immigrants put a massive strain on state resources, particularly the health care system – migrants seeking medical help costs Moscow alone a reported 150 million dollars each year.

But rights campaigners say the government should be looking to strengthen migrants’ rights instead of enforcing repressive crackdowns.

They say authorities should give more notification to migrants to have residency and other documents in order before any raids are carried out and that a current three-month entry and exit visa regime for many migrants should be cancelled.

Even migration experts have openly questioned the policy of mass arrests.

Vyacheslav Postavnin, president of the Migration XXI Century foundation which cooperates with the Russian government working on migration policy, told Russian news agency TASS last week: “There are a lot of question marks around operations like this. I can see no quantitative value in them.

“Even if a thousand people were detained, there are thousands more that have not broken laws. The question is why were they arrested, taken away somewhere  and to some extent humiliated? What happens when it is found out that they are working legally?”

Others warn that the situation for immigrants is becoming increasingly fraught and there are serious concerns about the risk of violence against the immigrant community in the near future.

The Russian public holiday of Unity Day on Nov. 4 is often marked by massive nationalist and anti-migrant demonstrations in major cities and was last yearpreceded by violent riots in Moscow after an ethnic Azeri was alleged to have killed a Russian. Meanwhile, in St Petersburg, a migrant of Uzbek origin was killed during the national holiday.

When asked whether further violence against immigrants could be expected following the publicity around the arrests, Lokshina told IPS: “It’s certainly likely.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Iraqi Christians Seek Shelter in Jordan after IS Threats Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:59:01 +0000 Abuqudairi Marvin Nafee, an Iraqi Christian who fled to Jordan to escape the Islamic State, prays for “the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully”. Credit: Areej Abuqudairi/IPS

Marvin Nafee, an Iraqi Christian who fled to Jordan to escape the Islamic State, prays for “the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully”. Credit: Areej Abuqudairi/IPS

By Areej Abuqudairi
AMMAN, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

Watching videos and pictures on social media of the advance of the Islamic State (IS) inside Syria made it all seem far from reality to Iraqi Marvin Nafee.

“We did not believe it,” said the 27-year-old, “it seemed so imaginary.”

Only months later, his home city Mosul fell to the IS in two hours and he and thousands of Christians had to flee. Marvin made his way to Jordan, along with his father, mother and two brothers. “The Middle East is no longer safe for us. As Christians we have been suffering since 2003 and always feared persecution” – a 60-year-old Iraqi refugee

“There is nothing like peace and safety,” he told IPS from the Latin Church in Marka neighbourhood in Amman, which he has been calling home for the past two months.

In July, the IS  issued an order telling Christians living in Mosul to either convert to Islam, pay tax, or give up their belongings and leave the city. Failure to do so would result in a death penalty, “as a last resort”.

“Mosul is empty of Christians now. Everyone we know has left, except for a group of elderly in a care centre who were forced to convert to Islam,” Marvin said.

Since August, thousands of Iraqis have been streaming to Jordan through Erbil.

Caritas spokesperson Dana Shahin told IPS that 4,000 Iraqi Christians have approached the Caritas office in Jordan since August, and 2000 of them have been placed in churches.

Churches in the capital and the northern cities of Zarqa and Salt have been turned into temporary refugee camps, with families living in the yards and hallways.

In Maraka’s Latin Church, around 85 people share a 7×3 metre room. Children, elderly, men and women sleep on the floor with extra mattresses dividing the room to give them privacy. They use the cafeteria facilities to prepare meals using food items donated by Caritas.

“It was generous of Jordan to offer what it can, but this is not an ideal living situation for anyone,” says a 53-year-old woman, who gave her name as Um George.

Having been stripped of all of their possessions by the IS, most of them arrived in Jordan penniless and carrying little more than what they were wearing. “They [IS] searched everyone, including children, for money,” said Marvin’s 25-year-old brother Ihab. “We gave it all to them for the sake of safety,” he added.

The Islamic Charity Centre Society has provided pre-fabricated caravans to be used by families in the yards of churches, and a few families have been relocated to rental apartments shared by more than one family. Caritas provides basic shelter, food, medical treatment, and clothes. But a durable solution for these families is yet to be found.

“We are still evaluating their needs. Most of these families have fled with almost nothing,” said Andrew Harper, representative of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Jordan. His organisation registered an average of 120 new Iraqis every day in August and September, with more than 60 percent citing fear of IS as their reason for fleeing Iraq.

Around 11,000 Iraqis have registered with UNHCR this year, bringing the total number of Iraqis in Jordan to 37,067.

Jordan has been home to thousands of Iraqi refugees since 2003, and many of these live in dire conditions, struggling to make ends meet as aid funds dry up.  

“Iraqi refugees remain on the margin of donors and institutions,” says Eman Ismaeel, manager of the Iraqi refugee programme at CARE International in Amman.

Unable to work legally, Iraqi families live in the poorest neighbourhoods of East Amman and Zarqa city. They struggle to pay rent and send their children to school.

The new influx of Iraqi refugees has introduced a new challenge for aid agencies operating in resource-poor Jordan, which is already home to more than 618,500 Syrian refugees.

“We have more refugees than we have ever had since the Second World War, but resources are dire,” said Harper. “We are challenged every day, but we hope to get through with international support,” he added.

Most of the newly-arrived Iraqi refugees interviewed by IPS said that they want to be resettled in Western countries. “The Middle East is no longer safe for us,” said 60-year-old Hanna (who declined to give her last name). “As Christians we have been suffering since 2003 and always feared persecution,” she added, noting that she and her daughters had been covering their hair to “avoid harassment”.

But resettlement “in reality is a long process and is based on vulnerability criteria,” said Harper, and thousands of Iraqis in Jordan have been waiting to be resettled in Jordan for years.

Back in Marka, Marvin points to a picture of his house back in Mosul stamped in red with “Property of the Islamic State” and the Arabic letter Nfor Nasara (Christians). A Muslim friend who is still in Mosul sent him the picture. More bad news followed from his friend, who emailed to say that Marvin’s house had been taken over by IS members.

Although he has lost hope that one day he and his family will be able see a glimpse of Iraq again, Marvin still has faith that prayers can bring peace back. “We always pray for the safe Mosul from ten years ago where everyone co-existed peacefully.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Decline Before Fall of Berlin Wall Wed, 29 Oct 2014 18:22:21 +0000 Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin

Joseph Chamie is former director of the United Nations Population Division and Barry Mirkin is former chief of the Population Policy Section of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie and Barry Mirkin

As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the famous Berlin Wall leading to the reunification of the country and the end of the cold war, a little noted event occurred nearly two decades before the fall that ushered in a trend having profound consequences for the future of Germany as well as for Europe:  German births declined below deaths.

During the 20th century, except for a few years during the two world wars, the annual number of births exceeded deaths in Germany up until 1972. For every year since that fateful date, births have never exceeded deaths (Figure 1).

Source: Germany official statistics

Source: Germany official statistics

The historic demographic turnaround in Germany was not due to increasing deaths. On the contrary, the numbers of deaths during the 1970s and 1980s were decreasing and German life expectancies at birth increased by several years for both males and females over the period.

Actually, Germany’s demographic turnaround was the result of declining births as the country’s fertility rate fell below the replacement level.

For nearly 40 years Germany’s fertility has hovered around 1.4 births per women, or a third less than the replacement level of about two births per woman.

Despite the sustained negative rate of natural increase, Germany’s population remained close to 80 million largely due to international migration.

At the time of reunification in 1990, Germany’s population numbered slightly more than 80 million. However, with large influxes of immigrants in the early 1990s, Germany’s population continued to grow and peaked at almost 84 million about a decade ago. Since then, the country’s population has fallen slightly to about 83 million.

While admittedly the future remains uncertain, the likely paths for Germany’s key demographic components over the coming decades appear reasonably evident. First, mortality rates are expected to remain low as well as improve. Consequently, German life expectancies at birth are expected to increase by six years by mid-century, reaching 83 and 88 years for males and females, respectively.

Second, while fertility may increase somewhat from its current level of 1.4 births per woman, among the lowest in Europe, few expect that it will return to the replacement level any time soon. Approximately 20 percent of the women eventually remain childless and few couples are choosing to have more than two children. Recent population projections anticipate fertility likely increasing to 1.6 births by mid-century and 1.8 births by the century’s close.

Third, in contrast to fertility and mortality, future levels of international migration for Germany are considerably more volatile and therefore difficult to anticipate. The German government currently encourages immigration to address long-term demographic concerns as well as short-term labor force shortages.

Recently released figures for 2013 indicate the highest level of immigration to Germany in 20 years, yielding a net immigration of 437,000 or more than double the number of excess deaths over births.

While the future population size of Germany could follow a number of possible scenarios, the overall conclusion of most population projections is the same: a smaller German population in the future. For example, if fertility and life expectancies increased slightly and net migration levels were moderate, Germany’s current population of 83 million would decline to slightly below 73 million by mid-century.

However, if Germany’s current low fertility were to remain unchanged, its projected population in 2050 would be 69 million.

If some how German fertility rose steadily back to the replacement level by 2050, its population size at that time would still be a couple million less than today. Aside from large-scale immigration, Germany’s fertility would need to increase rapidly to avoid a smaller future population.

Even if fertility were to rise instantly and remain at the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman – an unlikely yet instructive scenario – Germany’s population would change little, hovering around 84 million at mid-century.

Germany’s future population is also being impacted by immigration, which is offsetting declines due to negative natural population change as well as the sizeable numbers leaving Germany. If immigration were to cease, the decline in Germany’s population would even be greater than noted above, falling to 67 million by 2050.

In addition to being less populous in the future, Germany’s population will be decidedly older. Germany’s current median age of 46 years – the world’s second highest after Japan – is expected to increase to 51 years by 2050. Also, the proportion of the German population aged 65 years and older is projected to increase from a fifth to more than a third.

Consequently, Germany’s potential support ratio is expected to fall to half its current level by mid-century, declining from about 3 to 1.5 persons aged 20 to 64 years per person 65 years or older.

An evident consequence of Germany’s ageing population is the raising of its retirement age incrementally from 65 to 67 years. Also, the proportion of the population aged 55 to 64 years who are in the work force has risen to 62 percent from 39 percent in 2002.

A further consequence of Germany’s demographics is its perception as a nation. Twenty-five years ago, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl declared that Germany “is not and can never be an immigration country”. Clearly, that is no longer the case.

Germany now hosts nearly 10 million immigrants or 12 percent of its population. Also, recently Germany has become the second most popular immigration destination after the United States, overtaking Canada and Australia.

Only two countries have more immigrants than Germany: Russia and the United States. Most immigrants to Germany come from other European countries, particularly from Italy, Poland, Russia and Turkey.

Despite those demographic changes, Chancellor Angela Merkel has concluded that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have “utterly failed.” Nevertheless, recognising Germany’s ageing and declining population, she has also made clear that immigrants are welcome in Germany and the nation needs immigrants, but mainly from other European countries.

The changing demographics also have consequences for the relative population standing of European countries. After the Russian Federation with a population of 144 million, Germany’s population of 83 million is the largest population in Europe, followed by France and the United Kingdom at 63 and 62 million, respectively.

By mid-century, however, differential rates of demographic growth are expected to result in Germany’s population falling to fourth place, below the populations of both France and the United Kingdom.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Asia: So Close and Yet So Far From Polio Eradication Fri, 24 Oct 2014 06:41:05 +0000 IPS Correspondents A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By IPS Correspondents
KATHMANDU/PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The goal is an ambitious one – to deliver a polio-free world by 2018. Towards this end, the multi-sector Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is bringing out the big guns, sparing no expense to ensure that “every last child” is immunised against the crippling disease.

Home to 1.8 billion people, roughly a quarter of the world’s population, Southeast Asia was declared polio-free earlier this year, its 11 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste – joining the ranks of those nations that live without the polio burden.

United in the goal of eradicating polio, an infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can result in paralysis within hours, governments across the region worked hand in hand with community workers, NGOs and advocates to make the dream a reality.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of polio cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide." -- Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan
According to GPEI, immunisation drives reached some 7.5 billion children over the course of 17 years, not just in city centres but also in remote rural outposts. During that time, the region witnessed some 189 nationwide campaigns that delivered over 13 billion doses of the oral polio vaccine (OPV).

High-performing countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan eradicated polio a decade-and-a-half ago while India, once considered a stubborn hotbed for the disease, clocked its last case in January 2011, thus bringing about the much-awaited regional ‘polio-free’ tag.

But further north, dark clouds in the shapes of Afghanistan and Pakistan blight Asia’s happy tale. Together with Nigeria, these two nations are blocking global efforts to mark 2018 as polio’s last year on this planet.

Celebrating success from Nepal to the Philippines

For countries like Nepal, home to 27 million people, the prevalence of polio in other nations in the Asian region threatens its hard-won gains in stamping out the disease.

“There’s always fear that polio may see a resurgence as the disease hasn’t been eradicated everywhere,” said Shyam Raj Upreti, chief of the immunisation section of Nepal’s child health division (CDH).

Anxious to hold on to the coveted polio-free status, Nepal recently introduced the inactivated injectable polio vaccine (IPV) into its routine immunisation programme, the first country in South Asia to do so.

“While the oral polio vaccine has been the primary tool in polio eradication efforts, new evidence shows that adding one dose of IPV – given to children of 14 weeks by intramuscular injection – to the OPV [schedule], will maximise immunity to poliovirus,” Upreti explained.

He credits his country’s success to a high degree of social acceptance of the importance of child health in overall national development. “Female health volunteers play a key role in making the community understand why immunisation is important,” he said, adding that these volunteers provide services to some of the poorest segments of the population.

Between 1984 and 2011, Nepal’s immunisation coverage more than doubled from 44 to 90 percent. Ashish KC, child health specialist at UNICEF-Nepal, said that immunisation programmes didn’t stop even during the ‘people’s war’, a brutal conflict between the Maoists and the Nepali state that lasted a decade and killed 13,000 people.

“We understood that [we] needed a multi-sector approach, so service delivery was decentralised, and access was made easier,” KC told IPS. “Immunisation went beyond health, it became a part of [our] development plans.”

Such a mindset is also apparent in the Philippines, where the government recently decided to include the IPV into its national health plan, making it the largest developing country to do so.

According to a press release by Sanofi Pasteur, the multinational pharmaceutical company working closely with the Philippine government on its eradication initiatives, many Filipinos feel deeply about polio, having had a prime minister who was a survivor of the disease and lived with lifelong disabilities as a result.

“What’s striking about the Philippines is how strong a partnership there is around vaccinations,” said Mike Watson, vice president of vaccinations and advocacy at Sanofi Pasteur, referring to the unprecedented support shown by government officials and civil society at an event in Manila earlier this month that ended with several children receiving the IPV, the first of some two million children who will now be vaccinated every year.

“Getting the vaccine out to distribution centres on the smaller islands obviously poses a logistical challenge, but the Philippines has proven it’s really good at that,” Watson told IPS.

He added that strong networks of community health workers have enabled the Philippines to move into the “endgame”, the last stage in global eradication efforts that will require the 120 countries that aren’t currently using the IPV to introduce it by the end of 2016, representing one of the biggest and fastest vaccine introductions in history.

Over 5,700 km away from the Philippines, however, lives the lingering threat of polio, with thousands of children still at risk, and hundreds suffering from the debilitating results of the disease.

Pakistan’s polio troubles

This past June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended a travel ban on all those leaving Pakistan without proof of immunisation, in a bid to prevent the spread of polio outside the country’s troubled borders.

But absent swift political action, travel bans alone will not staunch the epidemic.

A 2012 Taliban-imposed ban on the OPV has effectively prevented over 800,000 children from being immunised in two years, health officials told IPS.

In 2014 alone, Pakistan has recorded 206 cases of paralysis due to wild poliovirus, the most savage strain of the disease. Last week, 19 new cases of this strain were brought to the attention of the authorities.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide,” Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan, told IPS.

The situation is most severe in the northern tribal areas, where the Taliban has used both violence and terror to spread the message that OPV is a ploy by Western governments to sterilise the Muslim population.

“The militancy-racked Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) accounts for 138 cases, while the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has 43 cases,” Pervez Kamal, director of health in FATA, told IPS.

North Waziristan Agency has registered 69 cases, while the Khyber Agency and South Waziristan Agency are struggling with 49 and 17 cases respectively.

In a tragic development, an 18-month-old baby girl named Shakira Bibi has become the latest in a long line of polio victims. Her father, Shoiab Shah, told IPS that “Taliban militants” were responsible for depriving his daughter of the OPV.

In an unexpected twist, a military offensive aimed at breaking the Taliban’s hold over northern Pakistan has given health officials rare access to hundreds of thousands of residents in the tribal areas.

With close to a million people from North Waziristan Agency fleeing airstrikes and taking refuge in the neighbouring KP province, community health workers have been delivering the vaccine to residents of displacement camps in cities like Bannu and Lakki Marwat.

Still, this is only a tiny step towards overcoming the crisis.

Altaf Bosan, head of Pakistan’s national vaccination programme, said 34 million children under the age of five are in need of the vaccine but in 2014 alone “about 500,000 children missed their doses due to refusals by parents to [defy] the Taliban’s ban.”

The government has now elicited support from religious leaders to convince parents to submit to the OPV programme.

“Islamic scholars from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt [and] Afghanistan have issued a fatwa [edict], reminding parents that it is their Islamic duty to protect their children against disease,” Maulana Israr ul Haq, one of the signatories, told IPS.

According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for nearly 80 percent of polio cases reported globally, posing a massive threat to worldwide eradication efforts.


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Central Asia Hurting as Russia’s Ruble Sinks Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:35:04 +0000 David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev By David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev
BISHKEK, Oct 23 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Pensioner Jyparkul Karaseyitova says she cannot afford meat anymore. At her local bazaar in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, the price for beef has jumped nine percent in the last six weeks. And she is not alone feeling the pain of rising inflation.

Butcher Aigul Shalpykova says her sales have fallen 40 percent in the last month. “If I usually sell 400 kilos of meat every month, in September I sold only 250 kilos,” she complained.On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

A sharp decline in the value of Russia’s ruble since early September is rippling across Central Asia, where economies are dependent on transfers from workers in Russia, and on imports too. As local currencies follow the ruble downward, the costs of imported essentials rise, reminding Central Asians just how dependent they are on their former colonial master.

The ruble is down 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, in part due to Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The fall accelerated in September as the price of oil – Russia’s main export – dropped to four-year lows. The feeble ruble has helped push down currencies around the region, sometimes by double-digit figures.

In Bishkek, food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent over the past 12 months, says Zaynidin Jumaliev, the chief for Kyrgyzstan’s northern regions at the Economics Ministry, who partially blames the rising cost of Russian-sourced fuel.

In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remittances from the millions of workers in Russia have started to fall. In recent years, these cash transfers have contributed the equivalent of about 30 percent to Kyrgyzstan’s economy and about 50 percent to Tajikistan’s. As the ruble depreciates, however, it purchases fewer dollars to send home.

Transfers contracted in value during the first quarter of 2014 for the first time since 2009, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said last month, “primarily due” to the downturn in Russia. The EBRD added that any further drop “may significantly dampen consumer demand.”

“A weaker ruble weighs on [foreign] workers’ salaries […] which brings some pain to these countries,” said Oleg Kouzmin, Russia and CIS economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

This month the International Monetary Fund said it expects consumer prices in Kyrgyzstan to grow eight percent in 2014 and 8.9 percent in 2015, compared with 6.6 percent last year. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan should see similar increases. A Dushanbe resident says he went on vacation for three weeks in July and when he returned food prices were approximately 10 percent higher. In Uzbekistan, the IMF said it expects inflation “will likely remain in the double digits.”

The one country unlikely to feel the pressure is Turkmenistan, which is sheltered from the market’s moods because it sells its chief export – natural gas – to China at a fixed price.

One factor that could sharply and suddenly affect the rest of the region is a policy shift at Russia’s Central Bank, which has already spent over 50 billion dollars this year defending the ruble. Some, like former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, have condemned efforts to prop up the currency, arguing that a weaker ruble is good for exports.

The tumbling ruble and the drop in the price of oil have helped steer Kazakhstan’s economy into a cul-de-sac, slowing growth projections, forcing officials to recalculate the budget, and suggesting the tenge is overvalued. The National Bank already devalued the currency by 19 percent in February.

On Oct. 21, National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov urged Kazakhs not to worry about another devaluation, but investors grumble that he said the same thing less than a month before February’s devaluation.

Another devaluation would send a distress signal to investors, says one Almaty banker. Astana “lost a fair bit of credibility last time,” the banker said on condition of anonymity, fearing new legislation designed to combat panic selling.

“They need to be much more careful about how they handle expectations going forward. And that is affecting how things are happening this time. People seem to be a lot more dollarised compared to a year ago and more hesitant to hold large tenge balances.”

“My personal position?” the banker added. “I’m not holding tenge.”

Meanwhile, a mystery investor has been propping up the tenge by selling hundreds of millions of dollars a day, according to Halyk Finance in Almaty. On Oct. 21 “a larger player, again offsetting the intraday trend, sold about 650 million dollars,” Halyk said in a note to investors.

On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, central banks have dipped into limited reserves to ease their currencies’ slides. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz som has fallen by 12 percent against the dollar this year, the Tajik somoni by about 5 percent. The World Bank said this month it expects the somoni to sink further.

Renaissance Capital’s Kouzmin cautions against the bank interventions in Central Asia, which use up reserves and widen trade deficits. “It makes sense for the national banks of these countries to let currencies depreciate to some extent to keep national competitiveness,” he told

Overall, the slowdown in Russia has long-term effects on Central Asia. “Portfolio investors look at the region as a whole. If you’re a CIS fund, the news on Russia has been bad and has caused the withdrawal of funds” from the region, said Dominic Lewenz of Visor Capital, an investment bank in Almaty. “So the trouble in Russia has hit things here.”

GDP growth projections have fallen markedly across the region, but nowhere near the levels seen during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Everything, it seems, depends on Ukraine. Any worsening scenario there would have “far-reaching implications” for the region, possibly on food security, according to the EBRD.

Back at the bazaar in Bishkek, Orunbay Jolchuev was forced this month to increase by 15 percent what he charges for flour. But at least sales have not been affected. “We all need flour, we all need to eat bread, macaroni, dough,” Jolchuev said. “It’s not something people can cut back even if it becomes too expensive.”

Editor’s note:  David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor. Timur Toktonaliev is a Bishkek-based reporter. This story originally appeared on

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pacific Climate Change Warriors Block World’s Largest Coal Port Sat, 18 Oct 2014 20:49:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands A Pacific Climate Change Warrior paddles into the path of a ship in the world’s biggest coal port to bring attention to the impact of climate change on low-lying islands. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for

A Pacific Climate Change Warrior paddles into the path of a ship in the world’s biggest coal port to bring attention to the impact of climate change on low-lying islands. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for

By Lyndal Rowlands

Climate Change Warriors from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled canoes into the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, Friday to bring attention to their grave fears about the consequences of climate change on their home countries.

The 30 warriors joined a flotilla of hundreds of Australians in kayaks and on surfboards to delay eight of the 12 ships scheduled to pass through the port during the nine-hour blockade, which was organised with support from the U.S.-based environmental group"Fifteen years ago, when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away." -- Mikaele Maiava

The warriors came from 12 Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Micronesia, Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Niue.

Mikaele Maiava spoke with IPS about why he and his fellow climate change warriors had travelled to Australia: “We want Australia to remember that they are a part of the Pacific. And as a part of the Pacific, we are a family, and having this family means we stay together. We cannot afford, one of the biggest sisters, really destroying everything for the family.

“So, we want the Australian community, especially the Australian leaders, to think about more than their pockets, to really think about humanity not just for the Australian people, but for everyone,” Mikaele said.

Speaking at the opening of a new coal mine on Oct. 13, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that “coal is good for humanity.”

Mikaele questioned Abbott’s position, asking, “If you are talking about humanity: Is humanity really for people to lose land? Is humanity really for people to lose their culture and identity? Is humanity to live in fear for our future generations to live in a beautiful island and have homes to go to? Is that really humanity? Is that really the answer for us to live in peace and harmony? Is that really the answer for the future?”

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate warriors were aware that their fight was not just for the Pacific, and that other developing countries were affected by climate change too.

“We’re aware that this fight is not just for the Pacific. We are very well aware that the whole world is standing up in solidarity for this. The message that we want to give, especially to the leaders, is that we are humans, this fight is not just about our land, this fight is for survival.”

Pacific Climate Change Warrior Mikaele Maiava from Tokelau with fellow climate change warriors at the Newcastle coal port. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for

Pacific Climate Change Warrior Mikaele Maiava from Tokelau with fellow climate change warriors at the Newcastle coal port. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for

Mikaele described how his home of Tokelau was already seeing the effects of climate change,

“We see these changes of weather patterns and we also see that our food security is threatened. It’s hard for us to build a sustainable future if your soil is not that fertile and it does not grow your crops because of salt intrusion.”

Tokelau’s coastline is also beginning to erode. “We see our coastal lines changing. Fifteen years ago when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away.”

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate change warriors would not be content unless they stood up for future generations, and did everything possible to change world leaders’ mentality about climate change.

“We are educated people, we are smart people, we know what’s going on, the days of the indigenous people and local people not having the information and the knowledge about what’s going on is over,” he said.

“We are the generation of today, the leaders of tomorrow and we are not blinded by the problem. We can see it with our own eyes, we feel it in our own hearts, and we want the Australian government to realise that. We are not blinded by money we just want to live as peacefully and fight for what matters the most, which is our homes.”

Tokelau became the first country in the world to use 100 percent renewable energy when they switched to solar energy in 2012.

Speaking about the canoes that he and his fellow climate warriors had carved in their home countries and bought to Australia for the protest, he talked about how his family had used canoes for generations,

“Each extended family would have a canoe, and this canoe is the main tool that we used to be able to live, to go fishing, to get coconuts, to take family to the other islands.”

Another climate warrior, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, brought members of the United Nations General Assembly to tears last month with her impassioned poem written to her baby daughter Matafele Peinam,

“No one’s moving, no one’s losing their homeland, no one’s gonna become a climate change refugee. Or should I say, no one else. To the Carteret islanders of Papua New Guinea and to the Taro islanders of Fiji, I take this moment to apologise to you,” she said.

The Pacific Islands Forum describes climate change as the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.”

“Climate change is an immediate and serious threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication in many Pacific Island Countries, and for some their very survival. Yet these countries are amongst the least able to adapt and to respond; and the consequences they face, and already now bear, are significantly disproportionate to their collective miniscule contributions to global emissions,” it says.

Pacific Island leaders have recently stepped up their language, challenging the Australian government to stop delaying action on climate change.

Oxfam Australia’s climate change advocacy coordinator, Dr Simon Bradshaw, told IPS, “Australia is a Pacific country. In opting to dismantle its climate policies, disengage from international negotiations and forge ahead with the expansion of its fossil fuel industry, it is utterly at odds with the rest of the region.”

Dr. Bradshaw added, “Australia’s closest neighbours have consistently identified climate change as their greatest challenge and top priority. So it is inevitable that Australia’s recent actions will impact on its relationship with Pacific Islands.

“A recent poll commissioned by Oxfam showed that 60 percent of Australians thought climate change was having a negative impact on the ability of people in poorer countries to grow and access food, rising to 68 percent among 18 to 34-year-olds,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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