Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:48:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Conflict-Related Displacement: A Huge Development Challenge for Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/conflict-related-displacement-a-huge-development-challenge-for-india/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:19:53 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138896 In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Serfanguri relief camp in Kokrajhar, several tents were erected, but they were inadequate to properly house the roughly 2,000 people who had arrived there on Dec. 23, 2014. This single tent houses 25 women and children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
KOKRAJHAR, India, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

The tarpaulin sheet, when stretched and tied to bamboo poles, is about the length and breadth of a large SUV. Yet, about 25 women and children have been sleeping beneath these makeshift shelters at several relief camps across Kokrajhar, a district in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam.

The inhabitants of these camps – about 240,000 of them across three other districts of Assam – fled from their homes after 81 people were killed in what now seems like a well-planned attack.

The Asian Centre for Human Rights says the situation is reaching a full-blown humanitarian crisis, representing one of the largest conflict-related waves of displacement in India.

It has turned a mirror on India’s inability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and suggests that continued violence across the country will pose a major challenge to meeting the basic development needs of a massive population.

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Hunger is constant in the refugee camps, with meagre rations of rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt falling short of most families’ basic needs. Women are forced to walk long distances to fetch firewood for woodstoves. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Appalling conditions

On the evening of Dec. 23, several villages inhabited by the Adivasi community were allegedly attacked by the armed Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), which has been seeking an independent state for the Bodo people in Assam.

The attacks took place in areas already marked out as Bodoland Territorial Authority Districts (BTAD), governed by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

But the Adivasi community that resides here comprises several indigenous groups who came to Assam from central India, back in 150 AD, while hundreds were also forcibly brought to the state by the British to work in tea gardens.

Clashes between the Adivasi and Bodo communities in 1996 and 1998 – during which an estimated 100 to 200 people were killed – still bring up nightmares for those who survived.

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This child, a resident of the Serfanguri camp, is suffering from a skin infection. His mother says they are yet to receive medicines from the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

It explains why the majority of those displaced and taking shelter in some 118 camps are unwilling to return to their homes.

But while the tent cities might seem like a safer option in the short term, conditions here are deplorable, and the government is keen to relocate the temporary refugees to a more permanent location soon.

The relief camp set up at Serfanguri village in Kokrajhar lacks all basic water and sanitation facilities deemed necessary for survival. A single tent in such a camp houses 25 women and children.

“The men sleep in another tent, or stay awake at night in turns, to guard us. It is only because of the cold that we somehow manage to pull through the night in such a crowded space,” explains Maino Soren from Ulghutu village, where four houses were burned to the ground, forcing residents to run for their lives carrying whatever they could on their backs.

Now, she tells IPS, there is a serious lack of basic necessities like blankets to help them weather the winter.

Missing MDG targets

In a country that is home to 1.2 billion people, accounting for 17 percent of the world’s population, recurring violence and subsequent displacement put a huge strain on limited state resources.

Time after time both the local and the central government find themselves confronted with refugee populations that point to gaping holes in the country’s development track record.

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

With food in limited supply and fish being a staple part of the Assamese diet, it is common to see women and even children fishing in the marshy swamps that line the edge of the refugee camps, no matter how muddy or dirty the water might be. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Outside their hastily erected tents in Kokrajhar, underweight and visibly undernourished children trade biscuits for balls of ‘jaggery’ (palm sugar) and rice.

Girls as young as seven years old carry pots of water on their heads from tube wells to their camps, staggering under the weight of the containers. Others lend a hand to their mothers washing pots and pans.

The scenes testify to India’s stunted progress towards meeting the MDGs, a set of poverty eradication targets set by the United Nations, whose timeframe expires this year.

One of the goals – that India would reduce its portion of underweight children to 26 percent by 2015 – is unlikely to be reached. The most recent available data, gathered in 2005-2006, found the number of underweight children to be 40 percent of the child population.

Similarly, while the District Information System on Education (DISE) data shows that the country has achieved nearly 100 percent primary education for children aged six to ten years, events like the ones in Assam prevent children from continuing education, even if they might be enrolled in schools.

According to Anjuman Ara Begum, a social activist who has studied conditions in relief camps all across the country and contributed to reports by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), “Children from relief camps are allowed to take new admission into nearby public schools, but there is no provision to feed the extra mouths during the mid-day meals. So children drop out from schools altogether and their education is impacted.”

Furthermore, in the Balagaon and Jolaisuri villages, where camps have been set up to provide relief to Adivasi and Bodo people respectively, there were reports of the deaths of a few infants upon arrival.

Most people attributed their deaths to the cold, but it was clear upon visiting the camps that no special nutritional care for lactating mothers and pregnant women was available.

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy is one of hundreds whose schooling has been interrupted due to violence. The local administration is attempting to evict refugees from the camps, most of which are housed in school compounds, but little is being done to ensure the educational rights of displaced children. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Bleak forecast for maternal and child health

Such a scenario is not specific to Assam. All over India, violence and conflict seriously compromise maternal and child health, issues that are high on the agenda of the MDGs.

In central and eastern India alone, some 22 million women reside in conflict-prone areas, where access to health facilities is compounded by the presence of armed groups and security personnel.

This is turn complicates India’s efforts to reduce the maternal mortality ratio from 230 deaths per 100,000 live births to its target of 100 deaths per 100,000 births.

It also means that India is likely to miss the target of lowering the infant mortality rate (IMR) by 13 points, and the under-five mortality rate by five points by 2015.

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Scenes like this are not uncommon at relief camps inhabited by the Bodo community. Many families have accepted that they will have a long wait before returning to their homes, or before their children resume schooling. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

According to a recent report by Save the Children, ‘State of the World’s Mothers 2014’, India is one of the worst performers in South Asia, reporting the world’s highest number of under-five deaths in 2012, and counting some 1.4 million deaths of under-five children.

Nutrition plays a major role in the mortality rate, a fact that gets thrown into high relief at times of violence and displacement.

IDPs from the latest wave of conflict in Assam are struggling to make do with the minimal provisions offered to them by the state.

“While only rice, lentils, cooking oil and salt are provided, there is no provision for firewood or utensils, and hence the burden of keeping the family alive falls on the woman,” says Begum, adding that women often face multiple hurdles in situations of displacement.

With an average of just four small structures with black tarpaulin sheets erected as toilets in the periphery of relief camps that house hundreds of people, the basic act of relieving oneself becomes a matter of great concern for the women.

“Men can go anywhere, any time, with just a mug of water. But for us women, it means that we have to plan ahead when we have to relieve ourselves,” said one woman at a camp in Lalachor village.

It is a microcosmic reflection of the troubles faced by 636 million people across India who lack access to toilets, despite numerous commitments on paper to improve the sanitation situation in the country.

As the international community moves towards an era of sustainable development, India will need to lay plans for tackling ethnic violence that threatens to destabilize its hard-won development gains.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Marginalised Groups Struggle to Access Healthcare in Conflict-Torn East Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:25:19 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138875 Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

With international organisations warning that East Ukraine is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe as its health system collapses, marginalised groups are among those facing the greatest struggle to access even basic health care in the war-torn region.

The conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has affected more than five million people, with 1.4 million classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and human rights bodies as “highly vulnerable” because of displacement, lack of income and a breakdown of essential services, including health care.

Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

A complete lack of vaccines is threatening outbreaks of diseases such as polio and measles, while there are concerns for HIV/AIDS and TB sufferers as supplies of vital medicines dry up and disease monitoring becomes almost impossible.Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

Massive internal displacement because of the conflict – latest U.N. estimates are of 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) with the figure rising by as much as 100,000 per week – has also left hundreds of thousands living in sometimes desperate and unhygienic conditions, creating a further health risk and the chance that infectious diseases, such as TB, will spread.

But while there is a threat to healthcare provision from collapsing resources, some in the region are facing extra barriers to accessing health care.

Ukraine has one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world and the spread of the disease has been fuelled mainly by injection drug use. But, unlike in many Eastern European states, the country has been running for more than a decade an internationally lauded range of harm reduction programmes which have been credited with checking the disease’s spread.

These have included opioid substitution therapy (OST) programmes available to drug users across the country. These are particularly important in East Ukraine because the majority of Ukraine’s injection drug users come from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

But local and international organisations working with drug users say that addicts’ access to life-saving treatment in those areas has come under increasing pressure since the start of the conflict and that it could be cut off entirely within weeks as supplies of methadone and buprenorphine used in the treatment run out and cannot be replaced.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine which runs many OST centres as well as other harm reduction programmes, has said that stocks of antiretroviral drugs, OST and other life-saving treatments will have run out by  February.  More than 300 OST patients in Donetsk and Luhansk have lost access to treatment since the conflict began, while a further 550 patients on methadone will run out of drugs soon if emergency supplies cannot be delivered.

U.N. officials in close contact with international organisations helping drug users as well as doctors in Donetsk have confirmed to IPS that clinics have only a few weeks’ worth of stocks of methadone left.

One doctor in Donetsk working on an OST programme, who asked not to be named, told IPS:  “There are serious problems with medicine supplies. The last shipments came in September last year and some patients have already had to finish their treatments. Many had been on it for a decade and in that time had forged new lives, put their, sometimes criminal, past behind them and had families. It was absolutely tragic for them when they stopped.”

It is unclear what will happen to all those no longer able to access OST treatment. Doctors say some have gone into detoxification, while others have moved to other cities in safer areas of Ukraine in the hope of continuing OST.

But with 60 percent of those receiving OST also being HIV positive, according to the Donetsk doctor, and reports that many are now turning to illicit drugs and needle-sharing again as access to OST is cut off, there are concerns that the disease, along with Hepatitis C which is rife among injection drug users, and tuberculosis, could be spread, and that the lives of many drug users will again be at risk.

OST patient Andriy Klinemko, who was forced to flee Donetsk with his wife when their house was destroyed in bombing last summer and who is now in Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine, told IPS: “OST patients in East Ukraine are being forced to move, but not all of them can and even those that make it to other regions may not be able to continue OST because there is no money left to run such programmes. It’s a bad situation and at the moment I really can’t see any way it’s going to get better.”

But drug users are not the only marginalised community struggling to access health care.

Historically, the estimated 400,000-strong Roma community in Ukraine has, like Roma in many other Eastern European states, faced widespread discrimination in society, including in employment and education.

They have also always had limited access to healthcare because many Roma lack official ID documentation which makes it difficult for many to obtain official health care, while widespread poverty also means services and medicines which require any payment are also inaccessible to most. Meanwhile, many Roma settlements are in remote locations, far away from the nearest health centres.

Dr Dorit Nitzan, head of the WHO’s Ukraine Office, told IPS: “Even before the conflict, Roma in Ukraine had limited access to curative and preventive health service. As a result, Roma children have extremely low vaccination coverage. Moreover, rates of tuberculosis and other communicable and non-communicable diseases are higher among Roma than in the general population.”

Discrimination is also a problem. Zola Kondur of the Chiricli Roma rights group in Ukraine, told IPS: “In terms of healthcare, Roma are among the most vulnerable in the country. They are treated badly because of their ethnicity.”

However, the problems for Roma have dramatically worsened since the conflict began. Some human rights groups have said that since the separatist regimes took power in the region, Roma have faced systematic violent and sometimes fatal repression.

According to a report this month of an international mission to monitor human rights

by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Roma living in separatist-controlled areas have been “subjected to open aggression from militants ….[who] have carried out real ethnic cleansing” against them. Many have fled and become IDPs, subsequently facing health struggles.

Dr Nitzan said: “As in every crisis, if not given special attention, marginalised and vulnerable groups are at higher risk. In Ukraine, many Roma lack civil documentation, and thus cannot be registered as internally displaced persons and are not included in the provision of any health services.

“Moreover, their inability to pay ‘out-of-pocket’ limits their ability to procure medication and/or services. Compounding this is that many Roma IDPs are residing at the margins of society, in remote geographical locations, where no services are available. All of these factors make health services inaccessible to Roma.”

Local rights groups say that Roma who have managed to flee to safe areas have often ended up homeless and starving after facing problems accessing aid because of a dismissive attitude from volunteers and staff at social institutions, while their lack of identification documents also prevented them from accessing any official help.

However, even those who have managed to find treatment have sometimes faced further problems.

Kondur told IPS: “In one case a Roma family moved from Kramatorsk to Kharkiv. A little boy had a heart problem brought on by the stress of the fighting and he was taken to hospital. One night, a group of young people broke the window of the boy’s hospital room, shouting ‘Gypsies get out’. The boy had a heart attack.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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OPINION: A New Era of Hemispheric Cooperation Is Possiblehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-a-new-era-of-hemispheric-cooperation-is-possible/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 18:34:54 +0000 Luis Almagro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138705 Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Luis Almagro, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, addresses the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Luis Almagro
MONTEVIDEO, Jan 18 2015 (IPS)

Two decades after the first Summit of the Americas, a lot has changed in the continent and it has been for the good. Today, a renewed hemispheric dialogue without exclusions is possible.

Back in the mid-1990s, at the time of the Miami summit, it was the time of imported consensus, models of economic and social development exclusively based on the market and its supposed perfect allocation of resources through the invisible hand.Today, all voices count, and if they do not, they will have to. The powerful club of the G8 turned into the G20; still, this is not enough to embrace the new reality of our hemisphere.

Hidden under a development rationale, the greatest wave of privatisation and deregulation took over the continent. The role of the state was reduced to be a facilitator of a process based on the principle of survival of the fittest. Solidarity, equity and justice were all values from the past and poverty a necessary collateral damage.

However, these values were in the top of the minds of the people of the hemisphere, who turned their backs to these policies and instead during the past 15 years, have forcefully supported the alternatives that combine economic growth with social inclusion, broadening opportunities for all citizens.

Economic growth went hand in hand with social inclusion, adding millions to the middle class – which today accounts for 34 percent of Latin Americans – surpassing the number of poor for the first time in the history.

If this was possible it was because governments added to the invisible hand of the market, the very visible hand of the state.

And this took place within the context of the worst post war global financial crisis that led to an unprecedented recession in the United States and Europe, which the latter still strives to leave behind.

Growth with social equity turned out to be the new regional consensus.

Today, this binds the region together.

Today, conditions are present to set up a more realistic cooperation in the Americas, where all members could partner in equal conditions, from the most powerful to the smallest islands in the Caribbean.

Today, nobody holds the monopoly over what works or does not; neither can anybody impose models because the established truths have crashed against reality. While in the 1990s social exclusion in domestic policies and voice exclusion at the international level were two sides of the same token, this in not any longer acceptable.

Today, all voices count, and if they do not, they will have to. The powerful club of the G8 turned into the G20; still, this is not enough to embrace the new reality of our hemisphere.

To the existing bodies, the region has added in this past decade the dynamic UNASUR in South America and CELAC in the Americas, thus leaving the OAS as the only place for dialogue among all countries of the Americas, whether large, medium, small, powerful or vulnerable.

But, governmental or inter-governmental actors by themselves are not the only answer to the problems of today´s world. Non-state actors of the non-governmental world, the private sector, trade unions and social organisations must be part of the process.

Leaders need to interpret the time in order to generate an agenda for progress, but progress that is tangible for people, for citizens, to whom we are accountable to.

Therefore, in a more uncertain international economic environment, we should focus on maintaining and expanding our social achievements and a new spirit of cooperation in the Americas can be instrumental for that.

The Summit of the Americas in Panama, in April 2015, may be the beginning of this new process of confidence building, where all countries can feel they can benefit from a cooperative agenda. This will be a historical moment because this time there will be no exclusions.

The recent good news on the diplomatic front related to the normalisation of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba and the participation of Cuba in the Summit represent an additional positive signal. Panama deserves the support of the entire region before and during the Summit.

This will be a great opportunity to strengthen democratic values, the defence of human rights, institutional transparency and individual freedoms together with a practical agenda for cooperation for shared prosperity in the Americas.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Boko Haram Insurgents Threaten Cameroon’s Educational Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:41:04 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138644 A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MAROUA, Far North Region, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

“I’d quit my job before going to work in a place like that.” That is how a primary school teacher responded when IPS asked him why he had not accepted a job in Cameroon’s Far North region.

James Ngoran is not the only teacher who has refused to move to the embattled area bordering Nigeria where Boko Haram has been massing and launching lightning strike attacks on the isolated region.“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. " -- Mahamat Abba

“Many teachers posted or transferred to the Far North Region simply don’t take up their posts. They are all afraid for their lives,” Wilson Ngam, an official of the Far North Regional Delegation for Basic Education, tells IPS. He said over 200 trained teachers refused to take up their posts in the region in 2014.

Raids by the Boko Haram insurgents in the Far North Region have created a cycle of fear and uncertainty, making teachers posted here balk at their responsibility, and forcing those on the ground to bribe their way out of “the zone of death.”

Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened Cameroon in a video message on YouTube, warning that the same fate would befall the country as neighbouring Nigeria. He addressed his message directly to Cameroonian President Paul Biya after repeated fighting between militants and troops in the Far North.

Shekau was reported killed in September by Cameroonian troops – a report that later turned out to be untrue.

As the Nigerian sect intensifies attacks on Cameroonian territory, government has been forced to close numerous schools. According to Mounouna Fotso, a senior official in the Cameroon Ministry of Secondary Education, over 130 schools have already been shut down.

Most of the schools are found in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava and Logone and Chari Divisions-all areas which share a long border with Nigeria, and where the terrorists have continued to launch attacks.

“Government had to temporarily close the schools and relocate the students and teachers. The lives of thousands of students and pupils have been on the line as Boko Haram continues to attack. We can’t put the lives of children at risk,” Fotso said.

“We are losing students each time there is an attack on a village even if it is several kilometres from here,” Christophe Barbah, a schoolmaster in the Far North Region’s Kolofata area, said in a press interview.

The closure of schools and the psychological trauma experienced by teachers and students raises concerns that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education will be missed in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

Although both government and civil society agree that universal primary education could attained by the end of this year in the country’s south, the 49 percent school enrolment rate in the Far North Region, compared to the national average of 83 percent, according to UNICEF, means a lot of work still needs to be done here.

Mahamat Abba, a resident of Fotocol whose four children used to attend one of the three government schools there, has fled with his entire family to Kouseri on the border with Chad.

“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. But starting life afresh here is a nightmare, having abandoned everything,” he told IPS.

Alhadji Abakoura, a resident of Amchidé, adds that the area has virtually become a ghost town. “The town had six primary schools and a nursery school. They have all been closed down.”

Overcrowded schools

As students, teachers and parents relocate to safer grounds, pressure is mounting on schools, which have to absorb the additional students with no additional funds.

According to UNICEF figures for Cameroon, school participation for boys topped 90 percent in 2013, while girls lagged behind at 85 percent or less. However, participation has been much lower in the extreme northern region.

According to the Institut National de la Statistique du Cameroon, literacy is below 40 percent in the Far North, 40 to 50 percent in the North, and 60-70 percent in the central north state of Adamawa. The Millennium Development Goal is full primary schooling for both sexes by 2015.

“Many of us are forced to follow lectures from classroom windows since there is practically very limited sitting space inside,” Ahmadou Saidou, a student of Government Secondary School Maroua, tells IPS. He had escaped from Amchidé where a September attack killed two students and a teacher.

Ahmadou said the benches on which three students once sat are now used by double that number.

“It’s an issue of great concern,” Mahamat Ahamat, the regional delegate for basic education, tells IPS.

“In normal circumstances, each classroom should contain a maximum of 60 students. But we are now in a situation where a single classroom hosts over one hundred and thirty students,” he said. “We are redeploying teachers who flee risk zones…we are getting them over to schools where students are fleeing to.

“These attacks are really slowing things down,’ Mahamat said.

Government response to the crisis

The Nigerian-based sect Boko Haram has intensified attacks on Cameroon in recent years, killing both civilians and military personnel and kidnapping nationals and expatriates in exchange for ransoms.

To respond to the crisis, Cameroon has come up with military and legal reforms. A new military region was set up in the country’s Far North Region. According to Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o, “The creation of the 4th Military Region is meant to bring the military closer to the theatre of threats, and to boost the operational means in both human and material resources.”

Military equipment has been supplied by the U.S., Germany and Israel, according to press reports.

Mebe Ngo’oo said Cameroon will recruit 20,000 soldiers over the next two years to step up the fight against the terrorists. Besides the military option, Cameroon has also come up with a legal framework to streamline the fight against terrorism. An anti-terrorism law was passed by Parliament in December, punishing all those guilty of terrorist acts by death.

But opposition political leaders, civil society activists and church leaders have criticised it as anti-democratic and fear it is actually intended to curtail civil liberties.

Edited by Lisa Vives

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OPINION: Global Citizenship, A Result of Emerging Global Consciousnesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-global-citizenship-a-result-of-emerging-global-consciousness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-global-citizenship-a-result-of-emerging-global-consciousness http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-global-citizenship-a-result-of-emerging-global-consciousness/#comments Sat, 10 Jan 2015 11:56:54 +0000 Arsenio Rodriguez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138577

Arsenio Rodriguez is Chairman and CEO of Devnet International, an association that works to create, promote and support partnerships and exchanges among civil society organisations, local authorities and entrepreneurs throughout the world.

By Arsenio Rodriguez
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina, Jan 10 2015 (IPS)

Globalisation is an integral feature of modernity. It already has significantly advanced to transform local experiences into global ones, to unify the disparate villages of the world into a global community, and to integrate national economies into an international economy.

At the same time, however, the process of globalisation brings about the loss of cultural identity.

Arsenio Rodriguez

Arsenio Rodriguez

Many young people today grow up and live in a consolidating global world and define themselves as people not belonging to any particular culture. In 2013, 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, were legal international migrants, compared with 175 million in 2000 and 154 million in 1990.

To these figures one must add at least an estimated 30 million undocumented migrants.

As a result, more people in the world are intermarrying across cultural, ethnic and religious groupings. In Europe, for example, in the period 2008-10, on average one in 12 married persons was in a mixed marriage. Their children are exposed to hybrid cultural settings plus sometimes the host country setting if both parents are immigrants.

In 2013, more than one billion traveled internationally as tourists, thus increasing their firsthand knowledge of the world beyond their own borders. On the other hand, there are nearly three billion Internet users in the world today. More than a billion are connected in social networks across the planet.For many now, home is not bound to a specific location, but rather to a conscious experience of culture.

The interconnectedness of people today is beyond anything that has happened before in history. And to this one must add the ecological, cosmological and modern physics concepts that emphasise interconnectedness in the world at large and our appreciation of being on the same planet, the global village.

For many now, home is not bound to a specific location, but rather to a conscious experience of culture. People living between cultures feel more “natural” in a globalised world because it reflects the combination of different cultures, views and social belongings.

There is, however, as part of the global synthesis and interconnectedness process, a socio-cultural energy of resistance, acting as a counterforce. And although many people define and identify themselves as global citizens, the cultures and societies in which they live do not easily accept their status, and constantly try to place and categorise them.

Wherever they feel at home, they are simultaneously perceived as outsiders, tourists, and as members of a foreign culture. Simultaneously, as the world integration persists, cultural entrenchments, ethnic, religious and parochial groups resist, fearing the dissolving forces of globalisation, manifesting the resistance in fundamentalism, violence and tribal and ethnic wars.

Culture and globalisation have come to be understood as mutually exclusive and antithetical; the former is typically associated with one specific culture while the latter signifies the homogenisation of all cultures into one.

For the global citizen, self-understanding and cultural identity are defined by the lack of belonging to a specific culture. Global citizens lose their sense of belonging and become strangers to society, but in return they gain the freedom of self-expression and self-definition since they are unfettered by the normative constraints of culture and society.

The world is in the midst of a great transition. Prevailing business as usual models are not going to work for a nine billion, highly consumptive society. Scientific, business and government authorities throughout the world agree that we need to align our production and consumption cycles, our markets, with the natural cycles of our life support systems.

And our fragmented approaches are not efficient or effective enough to accomplish this. We need a global consciousness and a global citizenship.

Not a global government but a federated international system based on collaboration and cooperation, rather than competition and hegemony, linking citizenry in their respective communities and countries on issues of common interest and with respect for the cultural diversity.

And it cannot be not just be governments participating in this concerted effort of international cooperation. Private business stands today as the most powerful sector in the planet. However, it has yet to assume a corresponding responsibility in shaping the future of the societal context in which it is embedded and on which it ultimately depends.

A new world-culture is emerging through an integral vision, which is independent of existing traditions and conserved values. It is initiating a new way of thinking in terms of an indivisible totality, and it discards the relative values of comparison in favour of the recognition of the intrinsic worth of everything and everyone.

Increasing numbers of people, communities, even corporate enterprises are increasingly understanding this interconnectedness and the advantage of cooperation and collaboration as a business model.

The movement to global citizenship should be to connect people committed to create a just, peaceful, and sustainable world, to accelerate a cohesive global movement of personal and social transformation, reflecting the unity of humanity.

True global citizens aim to connect caring communities, groups, and individuals at a global level, to promote understanding of humanity’s underlying unity and advance its expression through peace, social justice and ecological balance.

Anyone who transforms his/her perception of the world from one of me against “the other”, of “us” versus “them”, into a unified perception that recognises the interconnectedness of life starts to belong to the global citizenship movement.

This emergence is already happening everywhere as people are becoming conscious at many levels of political organisation, that the functioning of the life support systems that underwrite the well-being and prosperity of humanity is at risk.

There is broad consensus amongst the world’s scientific, business, intergovernmental and non-governmental communities that: (a) we need to align our production and consumption cycles and our markets with the natural regenerative cycles of nature; (b) prevailing business-as-usual models based on intense and wasteful consumption are not going to work for the expected nine billion inhabitants; (c) there is an urgency to change our ways; and (d) piecemeal approaches are not effective or scalable enough.

Sustainable solutions are there, people are already making a difference, making things happen. All we need to do is a wide-range scaling up and a fast acceleration of this process.

We have a systems problem, so we need a systemic solution. There is only one force on earth that is powerful enough to fix this – all of us. We need to collaborate consciously in the largest enterprise, ever to be set in motion; one that contains all others –a truly global citizenry and for this we need a massive cultural change in our consciousness.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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From the American Dream to the Nightmare of Deportationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-the-american-dream-to-the-nightmare-of-deportation/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 17:41:50 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138536 People deported from the United States arriving at the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in the capital of El Salvador. Their country receives them with very few initiatives for labour and social reinsertion. Credit: Courtesy DGME

People deported from the United States arriving at the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in the capital of El Salvador. Their country receives them with very few initiatives for labour and social reinsertion. Credit: Courtesy DGME

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Jan 6 2015 (IPS)

Julio César Cordero’s American dream didn’t last long. He was trying to reach Houston, Texas as an undocumented immigrant but was detained in Acayucán in southeastern Mexico. And like thousands of other deported Salvadorans, he doesn’t know what the future will hold.

Cordero’s head hangs low as he climbs off the bus that brought him back to the capital of El Salvador. He carries only a plastic bag with a few items of clothing – and broken dreams.

“I want to offer my son a better future, so I’ll probably try again next year,” Cordero tells IPS as he reaches the immigration office, on the east side of San Salvador, the dropping-off point for migrants detained in Mexico on their way to the United States.

An estimated 2.5 million Salvadorans live in the United States, the great majority of them without papers. Initially many went there fleeing the 1980-1992 civil war that left 80,000 dead and disappeared in their country.“The mistaken reasoning of bankers is that if they lend a deportee 10,000, tomorrow morning he’ll be in New York because he’ll use the money to pay for a new trip.” -- César Ríos

“On the other hand, it’s a relief to be back in my country again,” Cordero adds.

At least two flights from the United States and three buses from Mexico bring back around 150 deportees every day. The authorities are alarmed by the sheer numbers. In the first 11 months of 2014, a total of 47,943 deportees reached the immigration office – 43 percent more than in the same period in 2013.

The migration authorities project a total of 50,000 deportees for 2014 – a heavy burden for this impoverished Central American country of 6.2 million people, where unemployment stands at six percent and 65 percent of those who work do so in the informal sector of the economy.

The army of returning migrants does not have government support programmes to help with their reinsertion in the labour market, deportees and representatives of civil society organisations told IPS.

Many of them have put down roots in the United States, and they return to this country with no support network and with the stigma of having been deported, because the impression here is that most of those sent home are gang members or criminals.

“We just want a hand to help us find jobs, open a business or get a loan,” says Antonio, who preferred not to give his last name.

Antonio lived in San Francisco, California from 2005 to 2010, where he worked caring for the elderly, and as a cook in restaurants. But he came back because his mother fell ill. He tried to return in 2012, but was caught after crossing the Mexico-U.S. border.

“The return is hard,” he says. “I came back without a cent, and with a huge pile of debt.”

Antonio wants the government to help returning migrants gain access to bank loans. He says that when they try to start over again in El Salvador, setting up a microenterprise, they run up against the impossibility of getting credit.

“The mistaken reasoning of bankers is that if they lend a deportee 10,000, tomorrow morning he’ll be in New York because he’ll use the money to pay for a new trip,” César Ríos, the director of the Salvadoran Institute for Migrants (INSAMI), tells IPS.

INSAMI is promoting a project to provide support for deportees in their reinsertion into the productive life of the country, in terms of job opportunities as well as access to credit.

One of the biggest problems faced by the deported migrants is that they have no documents to prove the work experience they gained in the United States.

One of the measures included in the project is for the Salvadoran government to issue certificates recognising the work experience they obtained in the United States, to help them find jobs in El Salvador.

“We’re not criminals; we deserve a chance,” Antonio repeats several times.

In El Salvador there is a widespread but erroneous idea that the majority of those who are deported from the United States belonged to gangs or were involved in other kinds of criminal activities.

Because of the stigma surrounding deportation, some of them covered their faces when they got off the buses that brought them home, the day IPS visited the migration office.

The ones who are flown back from the United States actually wear handcuffs on the plane, and when they land in the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport, they are met by a heavily armed police cordon.

“The reception they are given is not a welcome; they are treated as criminals,” Karla Salas, a researcher at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University’s (IDHUCA) Human Rights Institute, told IPS.

This procedure reinforces the stigma and the impression that they are criminals, added Salas, who in 2013 participated in an IDHUCA study carried out between January and March 2013, which is about to be published under the title “Deported Dreams”, on the social impacts of deportation on returned migrants and their families.

Preliminary data from the study show that 70 percent of those deported have never been accused of a crime.

And of the remaining 30 percent, the crimes they were accused of in the United States included assault, drunk driving and drug possession, according to the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME), the migration office.

The migration authorities recognise that the reception given the returnees is not appropriate, and say they are working to improve it.

“The idea is to make the reception given our fellow countrymen more humane,” DGME spokesman Mauricio Silva told IPS.

Silva said the government is working to bring together public and private institutions and agencies to create programmes to help deported migrants rejoin the labour market.

For example, financing is needed to restart a pilot project that benefited 20 people with financial support for setting up microenterprises in late 2012. It was implemented with funds from the Canadian government and coordinated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Antonio was one of the beneficiaries of that programme. He was given 1,400 dollars and opened a pizza parlor. Things were going well until his business was robbed and went under. Now he is trying to get a loan to start over again.

For now, the only thing offered by the government is training in trades for mechanics or electricians, for example, as well as legal aid for migrants. It also provides letters of recommendation, to help deportees find work.

INSAMI’s Ríos said the deportations will move ahead at the same pace, despite the Nov. 20 announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama that a priority would be put on deporting felons rather than families.

The president issued an executive action that will provide temporary residency permits and jobs to some five million undocumented immigrants, including parents of young people who are legal residents or U.S. citizens, as long as the parents entered the country before January 2010.

It also covers young people who went to the United States before January 2010, as children.

But Obama clarified that deportations were not about to stop.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Syrian Refugees Between Containers and Tents in Turkeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 15:31:33 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138495 The Harran camp for Syrian refugees was one of the last to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Harran camp for Syrian refugees was one of the last to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
HARRAN and NIZIP, Turkey, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

“We ran as if we were ants fleeing out of the nest. I moved to three different cities in Syria to try to be away from the conflict, but there was no safe place left in my country so we decided to move out.”

For Professor Helit – who was describing what he called the indiscriminate bombing of cities and burning of civilian houses by the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad when he fled his country two years ago – this “moving out” meant taking refuge across the border in Turkey in one of the so-called “accommodation camps” provided by the Turkish government.

Helit and his 10 children – five daughters and five sons – fled on December 31, 2012, hitch-hiked a lift in a truck to the border with Turkey, and then made their way to the refugee camp in Harran, 20 kilometres from the Syrian border.The Syrians refugees living in Harran have tried to reproduce the lifestyle they had in their homeland, but every family has a sad story to tell – many have lost relatives in the conflict and others still have members in the battlefields fighting the regime

The camp in Harran was one of the last camps to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers.

For more than thirty years Helit had been the headmaster of a school in Syria before the outbreak of the armed conflict in Syria in March 2011. He now runs the camp school for 4,700 Syrian children of all ages.

Harran is divided into small neighbourhood-like communities with names such as Peace, Brotherhood and Fraternity, alluding to universal values. Seen from outside, the camp seems like a prison, but the gates of the Harran camp are always open so that families can leave and visit shopping centres nearby.

The Syrians refugees living in Harran have tried to reproduce the lifestyle they had in their homeland, but every family has a sad story to tell – many have lost relatives in the conflict and others still have members in the battlefields fighting the regime.

Professor Helit showed IPS the classrooms and common areas frequented by Syrian students aged between 13 and 16, the walls decorated with paintings by the students which, he said, are an “expression of their feelings and pain.”

“We will never stop fighting for our independence,” he added. “We will resist until the end.”

Stories like that of Professor Helit can be found everywhere in refugee communities along the border, although not all have the “luxury” of container housing.

Syrian children going to school on a cold morning in the tent refugee camp in Nizip, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Syrian children going to school on a cold morning in the tent refugee camp in Nizip, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

In most camps, like the one in Nizip in the province of Gaziantep – an important industrial city in eastern Turkey – families of up to eight people live in tents.

Nizip lodges 10,700 Arabic Syrians, mostly from Aleppo and Idlib – both towns which were targeted by the al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda.

But the Nizip camp is also the setting for an interesting initiative in which its residents are being given the chance of electing their own neighbourhood community representatives. This pioneering initiative is now in its second year.

“This was the first time I ever voted. I don’t understand much about how it works but in Syria there was only one candidate and didn’t matter if we voted or not because the result was already defined”, Mustafa Kerkuz, a 57-year-old Syrian refugee from Aleppo, told IPS.

According to Demir Celal, assistant director of the Nizip camp, this is the first time that Syrians have able to vote freely. “We aim to teach them what a free election looks like,” he said.

The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey now stands at two million, according to Veysel Dalmaz, head of the Prime Ministry’s General Coordination for Syrian Asylum Seekers, who warns that the country has nearly reached full capacity for humanitarian assistance even though Turkey has “an open door-policy in which no one coming from Syria is refused and we do not even discriminate which side they are on.”

So far, the Turkish government has allocated more than five billion dollars to humanitarian aid through the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkey (AFAD).

According to Dalmaz, there has never in history been a case of mass migration from one country to another in such a short period of time as the migration from Syria to Turkey, and “there is no country that has managed to absorb so many people in so little time.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Pakistan’s Tribal Areas Demand Repatriation of Afghan Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pakistans-tribal-areas-demand-repatriation-of-afghan-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-tribal-areas-demand-repatriation-of-afghan-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pakistans-tribal-areas-demand-repatriation-of-afghan-refugees/#comments Thu, 01 Jan 2015 13:09:06 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138467 Afghan refugees in Pakistan number some three million. Most crossed the border in 1979 during the Soviet invasion and have lived in Pakistan for generations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Afghan refugees in Pakistan number some three million. Most crossed the border in 1979 during the Soviet invasion and have lived in Pakistan for generations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 1 2015 (IPS)

They number between two and three million; some have lived in makeshift shelters for just a few months, while others have roots that stretch much further back into history. Most fled to escape war, others simply ran away from joblessness.

Whatever their reasons for being here, Afghan refugees in Pakistan all now face a similar plight: of being caught up in the dragnet that is sweeping through the country with the stated goal of removing ‘illegal’ residents from this South Asian nation of 180 million people.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 1.6 million Afghans are legally residing in Pakistan, having been granted proof of registration (PoR) by the U.N. body. Twice that number is believed to be unlawfully dwelling here, primarily in the northern, tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.

“Forced repatriation will expose us to many problems." -- Gul Jamal, an elderly Afghan refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan
Most arrived during the Soviet invasion of 1979, the chaos of war squeezing millions of Afghans out of their embattled nation and over the mountainous border that stretches for some 2,700 km along rocky terrain.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and what was then known as the North-West Frontier Province, now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), offered an easy point of assimilation, the shared language of Pashto bridging the divide between ethnic Pashtun Afghans and the majority Punjabi population.

But what began as a warm welcome has turned progressively sour over the decades, as Afghans are increasingly blamed for rising crime, unemployment and persistent militancy in the region.

The Dec. 16 terrorist attack on a school in the KP’s capital Peshawar – which killed 132 children – has only added fuel to a fiery debate on the status of Afghan refugees, who are accused of swelling the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated militant groups operating with impunity in the tribal areas.

Three days after the massacre, on Dec. 19, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak convened an emergency cabinet meeting to demand the immediate removal of all Afghan refugees, claiming that the grisly attack on the Army Public School was planned in Afghanistan.

His call for repatriation joined a chorus that has been growing steadily louder in northern Pakistan as the average citizen struggles to come to terms with an era of terrorism that has resulted in over 50,000 deaths since 2001, when the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan prompted a second wave of immigration into Pakistan.

A heated national debate eventually resulted in a decision to allow lawful Afghan residents to remain in the country until the end of 2015, at which point plans would be made for their safe return.

A previous plan, which followed on the heels of a Peshawar High Court order to repatriate Afghan refugees by the end of 2013, did not see the light of day, largely as it would have entailed over a billion dollars in international assistance.

Afghans own 10,000 of the 20,000 shops in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and also run a range of informal businesses, such as street stalls where they hawk goods. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Afghans own 10,000 of the 20,000 shops in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and also run a range of informal businesses, such as street stalls where they hawk goods. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Tired of waiting for government action, however, local authorities have taken the law into their own hands by embarking on a major crackdown on Afghan refugees.

“About 80 percent of crimes in KP are committed by Afghans,” alleged KP Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani.

“They are involved in murders and kidnapping for ransom, but they disappear after committing these crimes and we cannot trace them,” he told IPS.

“Therefore we demand that those having PoR be restricted to camps, and those without [their papers] sent home,” added the official, whose province is home to an estimated one million Afghans.

Police Officer Khalid Khan says his force is arresting roughly 100 people each day. “Every house is searched,” he told IPS, adding that even those who live in “posh localities” are being investigated as possible unlawful residents.

Terror and crime are not the only problems for which Afghans are being blamed. Trade and industry experts here claim that illegal ventures established by refugee communities have destroyed local businesses.

According to Ghulam Nabi, vice president of the KP Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Afghans run 10,000 of the estimated 20,000 shops in Peshawar; but since they are not registered residents, they are not subject to the same taxes as Pakistani shop-owners.

He told IPS his department has been “urging” the federal government to repatriate Afghans so locals can continue to do their trade. He also alleged that refugees’ demand for housing has pushed rents to unaffordable prices.

Besides hosting hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, the KP is also saddled with scores of displaced Pakistanis, the most recent influx arriving in the midst of a government military campaign in North Waziristan Agency aimed at rooting out insurgents from their stronghold.

Abdullah Khan, a professor at the University of Peshawar, told IPS that two million displaced Pakistanis from adjacent provinces are now residing in KP, many of them in makeshift ‘tent cities’ erected in the Bannu district.

According to Khan, Afghanistan’s gradual return to democracy has paved the way for safe return for refugees. He, along with other experts and officials, see no further reason for Pakistan to continue to host such a massive international population within its borders – especially with so many domestic issues clamouring to be dealt with.

Former cricket legend Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) party rules the KP province, has also echoed the demand.

“The government issues 500 Pakistani visas to Afghans at the Torkham border [a major crossing point connecting Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province with FATA] everyday but an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people cross the border daily,” he said on Dec. 18.

“The illegal movement takes place because we don’t have a system to track these people and their activities here,” he added.

In a bid to rectify gaps in the system, police in KP are now blocking cell phones belonging to Afghans and taking steps to regulate the movements of refugees who may be in violation of their visa status.

But many Afghan residents claim the allegations are unfounded, while those who have lived here for generations consider Pakistan their home. Others are simply afraid of what will be waiting for them if they do go back.

Gul Jamal, an Afghan elder, told IPS that while his family was eager to return, the situation back home was “extremely precarious”.

“There are no education or health facilities, and no electricity,” he claimed, adding that job opportunities too are few and far between in Afghanistan.

He hopes the Pakistan government will “take pity” on his people. “Forced repatriation will expose us to many problems,” he explained.

In an interview with IPS on Dec. 22, Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch categorically stated that legal refugees would stay on until the end of 2015 as per the government’s agreement with UNHCR.

“The registered Afghan refugees have never been found to be involved in terrorism-related incidents in the country and they won’t be sent back against their will,” Baloch stressed.

“The government will protect legal Afghan [immigrants] against forced repatriation,” he asserted.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.S. Twists Arms to Help Defeat Resolution on Palestinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 21:02:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138462 Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 31 2014 (IPS)

The United States re-asserted its political and economic clout – and its ability to twist arms and perhaps metaphorically break kneecaps – when it successfully lobbied to help defeat a crucial Security Council resolution on the future of Palestine this week.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS, “Did [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry manage to pull the rug out from under Palestine by convincing supportive Nigeria to abstain during the 13 calls he made to world leaders to torpedo the resolution?"Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena - it just has not yet been effective at using it." -- Nadia Hijab

“Or did the U.S. pressure Palestine to go to a vote now, [in order] to ensure failure, since the Jan. 1 change in Security Council composition favours the Palestinians?”

If so, what promises of future support did it make? asked Hijab.

The resolution failed because it did not receive the required nine votes for adoption by the Security Council. Even if it had, it likely would have still failed, because the United States had threatened to cast its veto.

But this time around, Washington did not have to wield its veto power – and avoid political embarrassment.

The eight countries voting for the resolution, which called for the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories by the end of 2017, were France, China, Russia, Luxembourg, Argentina, Chad, Chile and Jordan.

The two negative votes came from the United States and Australia, while the five countries that abstained were the UK, South Korea, Rwanda, Nigeria and Lithuania.

A single positive vote, perhaps from Nigeria, would have made a difference in the adoption of the resolution.

Days before the vote, Kerry was working the phones, calling on dozens of officials, who were members of the Security Council, pressing them for a vote against the resolution or an abstention.

According to State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke, one such call was to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, which ensured an abstention from Nigeria, a country which was earlier expected to vote for the resolution.

After the vote, there were three lingering questions unanswered: Did the United States put pressure on Palestine to force the vote on the draft resolution on Tuesday since the re-composition of the Security Council would have been more favourable to the Palestinians, come Jan. 1?

And why didn’t Palestine wait for another week to garner those votes and ensure success?

Or did they misjudge the vote count?

Beginning Jan. 1, the composition of the Security Council would have changed with three new non-permanent members favourable to Palestine: Malaysia, Venezuela and Spain.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general who keeps track of Middle East politics, told IPS it is beyond a misjudgment of the vote count or miscalculation of the timing when in only a few days there would have been more likely positive votes by Malaysia, Spain and Venezuela.

“The actual intent of the Palestinian Administrative Authority from that failed move – and with whom it coordinated discreetly – remains to be politically observed,” he said.

“It is a tactical and strategic retreat at the expense of the universally supported inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, as stipulated in a succession of clearly assertive resolutions (including on statehood; right of return/or compensation; Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories; inalienable people’s rights).”

These rights, he said, have been endorsed by an overwhelming majority when the Palestinian cause was predominant in U.N. deliberations, and when Palestinian leadership was united in its quest and all Arab states, let alone most of the international community, were solidly behind it.

Sanbar said political logic would suggest maintaining what was gained during a positive period because any new resolution in the current weak status within a tragically fragmented Arab world will obviously entail a substantive retreat.

“It may be more helpful if efforts were mobilised to sharpen the focus on implementation of already existing resolutions and gain wider alliances to accomplish practical steps based on an enlightened knowledge of working through the United Nations rather than merely resorting to it on occasions when other options fail,” Sanbar declared.

Still, Hijab told IPS, whatever the case, many Palestinians breathed a sigh of relief that the resolution did not pass because it would have given a U.N. imprimatur to a lower bar on Palestinian rights.

The resolution implicitly accepted settlements with talk of land swaps and watered down refugee rights with reference to an agreed solution, effectively handing Israel a veto over Palestinian rights.

She said the Palestine Liberation Organization/Palestine will now be forced to take some meaningful action to maintain what little credibility it has with the Palestinian people.

“Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena – it just has not yet been effective at using it,” she said. “It must urgently do so in 2015 – the 2335th Palestinian was killed by Israel this week as it colonises the West Bank and besieges Gaza – while Palestinian refugees suffer in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.”

Hijab said the Palestinian people need respite from this cruel reality, and they need their rights.

After the vote, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, told the Council: “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”

But she warned Israel, a close U.S. ally, that continued “settlement activity” will undermine the chances of peace.

Riyad Mansour, U.N. ambassador to Palestine, told the Council, “Our effort was a serious effort, genuine effort, to open the door for peace. Unfortunately, the Security Council is not ready to listen to that message.”

On the heels of the failed resolution, Palestine took steps Wednesday to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – specifically to bring charges of war crimes against Israel – even though the U.S. Congress, which is virulently pro-Israel, has warned that any such move would result in severe economic sanctions.

“There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the Security Council has let us down — where shall we go?” Abbas said Wednesday, as reported by the New York Times, as he signed onto the court’s charter, along with 17 other international treaties and conventions.

“We want to complain to this organisation,” he said, referring to the ICC. “As long as there is no peace, and the world doesn’t prioritise peace in this region, this region will live in constant conflict. The Palestinian cause is the key issue to be settled.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Guantánamo Paradoxes Tested in Uruguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/guantanamo-paradoxes-tested-in-uruguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guantanamo-paradoxes-tested-in-uruguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/guantanamo-paradoxes-tested-in-uruguay/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 16:08:54 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138459 The six freed Guantánamo detainees line up to hold a Uruguayan baby. In this picture, Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy holds up the infant while Syrian Ali Hussein Muhammed Shaaban watches. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

The six freed Guantánamo detainees line up to hold a Uruguayan baby. In this picture, Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Abis Ourgy holds up the infant while Syrian Ali Hussein Muhammed Shaaban watches. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Dec 31 2014 (IPS)

In the summery afternoon of a beachside neighbourhood not far from the Uruguayan capital, nothing could sound more unusual than the Muslim call to prayer chanted by Tunisian Abdul Bin Mohammed Ourgy, a few days after being freed from the United States military prison in Guantánamo, Cuba.

One of the first acts of Ourgy and the five others who arrived in Uruguay Dec. 7, after 12 years behind bars, was to figure out their new coordinates and find the orientation to Mecca, the Saudi city faced by the Muslim world during prayer.Political perversities have placed on their shoulders the burden of demonstrating that prisoners at Guantánamo can be freed without the risk of turning into what, according to Washington's latest version, they never were: terrorists.

It is not surprising that anybody subjected to Guantánamo’s living conditions would find a lifeline in religion, homeland traditions and family memories.

But religion has lost none of its relevance for these men since they were suddenly introduced to a strange culture – Western but not U.S. or European— with a language different from both their native Arabic and from the English they were forced to speak with their jailers in Guantánamo.

The group of four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian is still bound by the silence imposed by Washington regarding their experiences in the prison. IPS met with them for the second time Dec. 30 in the house where the Syrians are living in downtown Montevideo. A few are already speaking some Spanish and struggling to adjust to their new reality.

Contacts with relatives have been established and the men are now looking for ways to reunite with their families, with the support of the Uruguayan government.

Syrian Jihad Deyab – well known because he protested his detention for years through hunger strikes and litigated against the U.S. force-feedings— is gaining strength and hoping to join his wife and three children soon.

His lawyer, Cori Crider, told IPS that “we had appealed Judge Gladys Kessler’s decision denying us relief from various force-feeding practices, when he was released. We have now asked the Court of Appeals to vacate that judgment on the basis that the government ceased its illegal conduct by transferring him, but that request hasn’t been decided.”

Yet “Deyab is still part of the case in which we say the video-tapes of his force-feedings should be made public,” led by 16 media organisations under the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution, and “he very much supports what the media are trying to do,” she said.

After the shock of liberation, the six men are still struggling to fully understand where they are and to match as much as possible their beliefs and expectations for a new life with Uruguay’s social norms.

Difficult, but necessary, is to reconcile the diverse social and political expectations and interests surrounding the group since the government of José Mujica decided to host them as refugees on humanitarian grounds.

With just 3.3 million people, Uruguay is “almost empty,” Palestinian Mohammed Tahamatan told IPS. He finds this is a wonderful fact.

This country was made by successive migratory waves, but it didn’t receive many new immigrants for a long time. On the contrary, it has tended to lose its own population, particularly through young people chasing better opportunities abroad.

However, the economic prosperity of the last decade attracted a modest but constant influx of foreigners: Spaniards, Peruvians, Dominicans, Indians and Pakistanis. This is something new for a society which has become excessively homogenous and whose representations of the Middle East and the Muslim world are still heavy loaded with exoticism.

“Exoticism is not good… and it comes with a certain degree of fear of Islam,” Javier Miranda, human rights director for the Presidency of Uruguay, told IPS. Awareness of this “is part of our own development as a society,” he added.

Social expressions of solidarity with the 42 refugees from the Syrian civil war who arrived in Uruguay last October, and those shown to Guantánamo’s former inmates while they were visiting a street market, are genuine.

But it is yet to be seen how much of it is determined by this sense of exoticism or by the international attention this country has gained for adopting these policies. Furthermore, as the beneficiaries are a small group of people, such solidarity entails a very low economic and social cost.

Such a reception is absent for the Peruvian, Bolivian or Dominican immigrants who escape from poverty in their countries and are not flagged by any governmental campaign. Some of them have even been victims of labour exploitation and trafficking.

For the governing party, the centre-left coalition Frente Amplio, it is vital to ensure the success of the resettlement schemes of the Syrian conflict refugees and the former Guantánamo inmates.

In both cases, Mujica cited the goal of “setting an example” for neighbouring countries. A successful integration would silence critics and ease fears of perceived or real risks. Thus controlling developments and avoiding outbursts become crucial.

Since the release earlier this month of four inmates who were repatriated to Afghanistan, there are now 132 prisoners in Guantánamo, 63 of them cleared for release. Out of the remaining 69, 10 are currently or have been on trial and 59 are labelled as dangerous by authorities who, nevertheless, recognise there is inadequate evidence to prosecute them in court.

At least one of the six men transferred to Uruguay is willing to advocate for more South American countries hosting Guantánamo’s inmates, IPS learned.

The Uruguayan experiment is also subject to U.S. expectations. The most paradoxical is to avoid the outcome that persons unfairly imprisoned for many years become, once free, active enemies of the U.S.

The same government who produced their criminal files declared in 2009 there was no evidence against them and they could be released.

The same government which forced them to fly to Montevideo shackled and blindfolded sent to the Uruguayan authorities a letter ensuring that “there is no information that the above-mentioned individuals were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or allies.”

The same government campaigning for the hosting of further Guantánamo inmates by third countries has a Congress which has banned this possibility in its territory.

Some local analysts in Uruguay have questioned which of the two versions should be believed. If Washington lied in the files, it could be lying now again, they argue.

This analysis ignores a basic guarantee of the rule of law: that it is guilt, not innocence, which must be proven.

The “war against terror” led by the U.S. since 2001 is seriously discredited in Uruguay. But its narrative has coloured public opinion. People have not expressed outright rejection of the six freed men, but opinion polls carried out this year show support of just 20 per cent for their arrival.

Washington insisted on banning any image of the release. Yet the world has already seen the first pictures of these men in the street, at the beach or holding a baby, as featured in this story.

These photos counterbalance the only produced so far by the U.S. military apparatus: the exasperated faces of the inmates with shaved heads and long beards.

Dressed like any Uruguayan men, it would be so easy for them to just blend into the crowd and live their lives in privacy. But they are media celebrities and subjects of surveillance for the intelligence services of a number of countries.

Under all these circumstances, nobody should expect 100 per cent success, not the least because they are traumatised. However, political perversities have placed on their shoulders the burden of demonstrating that prisoners at Guantánamo can be freed without the risk of turning into what, according to Washington’s latest version, they never were: terrorists.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ruble’s Rout Breeds Uncertainty for Central Asian Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/rubles-rout-breeds-uncertainty-for-central-asian-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rubles-rout-breeds-uncertainty-for-central-asian-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/rubles-rout-breeds-uncertainty-for-central-asian-migrants/#comments Fri, 26 Dec 2014 16:05:43 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138428 Migrant workers ride in a bus through northern Kazakhstan in May 2014 on their way to find employment in Russia. As the value of the Russian ruble continues to fall, labour migrants from Central Asia say they are less inclined to work in Russia. Credit: Konstantin Salomatin

Migrant workers ride in a bus through northern Kazakhstan in May 2014 on their way to find employment in Russia. As the value of the Russian ruble continues to fall, labour migrants from Central Asia say they are less inclined to work in Russia. Credit: Konstantin Salomatin

By EurasiaNet Correspondents
TASHKENT, Dec 26 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Sardor Abdullayev, a construction worker from eastern Uzbekistan, had planned to go to Russia next spring to join relatives working construction sites in the Volga River city of Samara. But now, he says, “I am better off staying at home and driving a taxi.”

As the value of the Russian ruble plummets and Russia’s economy tumbles into recession, millions of Central Asian migrants have seen their real wages dwindle. On top of that, Russian authorities are introducing new, expensive regulations for foreigners who wish to work legally in the country.The return of tens of thousands of labour migrants and the prospect of them joining the vast pool of the already unemployed is making some officials nervous.

Some Uzbek migrants in Russia now say they are contemplating a return home. Such an influx of returnees could have uncertain ramifications for their impoverished country.

According to Russia’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, there are about three million Uzbek labour migrants in Russia, the most from any Central Asian country. Others estimate the number of Uzbeks could be twice that.

Unofficial estimates put their remittances in 2013 at the value of roughly a quarter of Uzbekistan’s GDP. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are even more dependent on labour migrants, with remittances contributing the equivalent of 30 percent and roughly 50 percent to their economies, respectively.

Data from Russia’s Central Bank shows that the funds Uzbeks send home dipped nine percent year-on-year during the third quarter of 2014. Analysts predict the fall will continue. The Russian business daily Kommersant estimates that remittances fell 35 percent month-on-month in October alone.

That was before the ruble, which has steadily fallen since Russian troops seized Crimea in February, nosedived earlier in December. Thanks to Western sanctions, the low price of oil, and systemic weaknesses in Vladimir Putin’s style of crony capitalism, the currency has lost roughly 50 percent against the dollar this year. Most migrants convert their rubles into dollars to send home.

“My salary was 18,000 rubles a month, which several months ago would be equivalent to 500 dollars. Now, it is less than 300 dollars,” Sherzod, a 29-year-old from the Ferghana Valley who was working at a shop in Samara, told EurasiaNet.org.

Sherzod returned home in November and he is not planning to go back to Russia. “The salary is too low.”

It is not only falling wages that labour migrants must consider. Starting on Jan. 1, Russia will require labour migrants to pass tests on Russian language, history and legislation basics, as well as undergo a medical examination and buy health insurance (the entire package will cost migrants up to 30,000 rubles (currently about 500 dollars), by some accounts).

The Moscow city government is also more than tripling the fee for work permits, from 1,200 rubles monthly to 4,000 rubles (currently 64 dollars).

Citizens of countries that are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which will come into force on Jan. 1, will not be affected by the new regulations. That adds an incentive – some might say pressure – for migrant-feeder countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to join. (Kyrgyzstan is hoping to join in early 2015).

Sherzod, the Uzbek labourer, says that faced with falling real incomes, many Uzbeks working in Russia find themselves in a quandary. Thousands are eager to return home. But many simply do not have funds to buy a return ticket. Others worry about being seen in their native villages as failures.

Russian media outlets have quoted a migrant community leader who projected new requirements for guest workers, along with the falling ruble, will prompt up to 25 percent of migrants to leave Russia in the coming months.

With fewer dollars entering Uzbekistan, the Uzbek sum has fallen 15 percent against the greenback on the black market, according to several Ferghana-based shop owners interviewed by EurasiaNet.org. (The tightly managed official exchange rate has declined about 11 percent against the dollar this year. To help support it, from Jan. 1 fruit and vegetable exporters will be required to sell 25 percent of their hard currency earnings to the state at the official rate, Interfax news agency reported Dec. 18).

Despite the economic fallout from Russia, Uzbek leaders remain open to doing business with the Kremlin. During a visit to Tashkent on Dec. 10, Putin wrote off most of Uzbekistan’s 890-million-dollar debt. That deal paved the way for new loans from Moscow. It is unclear what Uzbek leader Islam Karimov promised in return.

Uzbek authorities and well-connected businessmen claim they are prepared to manage the economic fallout, and the large number of returning migrants.

“We have numerous [state-sponsored] urban regeneration construction projects across the country. One can say that the whole of Uzbekistan is a massive construction site. So if migrants return, many of them will find work,” Nazirjan, a former government official who how heads a private construction company in the Ferghana Valley, told EurasiaNet.org on condition his surname not appear in print.

On Dec. 15, President Karimov signed a decree that increased state employees’ salaries by 10 percent. Still, the return of tens of thousands of labour migrants and the prospect of them joining the vast pool of the already unemployed is making some officials nervous.

“The SNB [former KGB] has instructed local authorities and mahalla [neighbourhood] committees to create lists of labour migrants who are returning from Russia. The arrival of migrants usually increases the crime rate, and local authorities have also been instructed to be more vigilant,” a secondary school teacher in the Ferghana Valley told EurasiaNet.org.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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School Dropout Rate Soars for Afghan Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:10:54 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138370 Thousands of children attend free schools in Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade - after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can't afford to pay for private school. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Thousands of children attend free schools in Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade - after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can't afford to pay for private school. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Dec 22 2014 (IPS)

“Our children quitting school is the greatest pain we have suffered during our troublesome lives here,” says Multan Shah, a vegetable-seller in a shantytown of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

Once a resident of the capital Kabul, war drove Shah to relocate to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 1985, where he settled in the Jallozai refugee camp. He lived hand-to-mouth but was able to send his two sons and daughter to a free school run by a foreign-funded NGO."My daughter weeps when her brother goes to school every morning." -- Noorullah Ahmedzai

Thousands of children have benefitted from such schools in some Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade – after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can’t afford to pay for private school.

“My two sons graduated from sixth grade this March but we couldn’t enroll them in the next grade because we don’t have money to pay the fee,” Shah says.

Gaffer Ahmed, principal of the Mirwais Public School in Peshawar, says they used to get assistance from local NGOs and individuals for free education of students up to tenth grade, but that ended in 2010.

“Many students aren’t able to continue their education as they can’t bear the cost now,” he confirms.

Ahmed says his school had provided free education to a few gifted students, but that most Afghan refugees in Pakistan faced harsh economic conditions and a majority of parents couldn’t pay the expenses. He himself is unable to afford it.

“Private schools charge about 10 dollars per month. I earn 60, which is too little to pay for my children’s tuition,” he laments.

Mastoora Stanikzai, director of the Abu Ali Senna Afghan Teachers’ Training Institute in Peshawar, is worried about the growing number of dropouts.

“Only 7,000 students reached grade 12, out of 230,000 students admitted every year to Afghan schools in Pakistan,” she says, fearing what the future holds for these children.

Private schools number about 270, while the free primary-level schools run by NGOs number about 100, she says.

Stanikzai says some schools also offer two-year diploma courses in midwifery and business administration to refugee students in collaboration with the Afghanistan government.

Her institute has trained 1,350 teachers, half of them women. About 125 teach at the Afghan schools.

Pakistan has 1.9 million legally registered Afghan refugees and an equal number who are unregistered, according to U.N. figures. The free schools require refugees to show a Proof of Registration card to enroll their children.

“Non-availability of funding has affected the female students the most,” says Stanikzai, who also heads the Refugee Women’s Organisation. “People wanting to admit their daughters to school are finding it hard in view of the cost.

“As a result, we see young girls and boys wandering the streets, collecting garbage,” she says.

Farkhanda Maiwandi, 11, tells IPS that she used to go to a school in the Khazana refugee camp in Peshawar, where she passed grade six.

“After that I sat home because my father, a daily labourer, cannot spare the money to enroll me at a private school. It is painful to be out of school but we don’t have a choice,” she says.

Maiwandi says that she knows at least 10 girls who quit school. “Only a few girls managed to get admitted to grade seven because their parents could afford it,” she says.

Noorullah Ahmedzai, an Afghan refugee in the Haripure district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is extremely upset over the lack of education for his two children.

“My one son and one daughter studied at a refugees’ school in a camp. Last year, they completed grade six and were told that they wouldn’t be given further education because they have to get admitted to a private school,” he says.

“We have enrolled my son at school but my daughter is staying home because I don’t have money to pay the fees for both,” he says.

“My daughter weeps when her brother goes to school every morning. She now takes lessons at home from her brother. I have a dream to see my children educated,” he says.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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‘Cyclone College’ Raises Hopes, Dreams of India’s Vulnerable Fisherfolkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138357 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 Kanchipuram 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 Tripolihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=138323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138323 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.

Defenceless

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 Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138288 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”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/whats-good-for-island-states-is-good-for-the-planet/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 21:41:42 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138130 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 destinydlb@gmail.com

 

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OPINION: Climate Justice Is the Only Way to Solve Our Climate Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-justice-is-the-only-way-to-solve-our-climate-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-justice-is-the-only-way-to-solve-our-climate-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-justice-is-the-only-way-to-solve-our-climate-crisis/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 19:13:54 +0000 Jagoda Munic http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138033 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 Commondreams.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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When Social Unrest Vents Itself on Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/when-social-unrest-vents-itself-on-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-social-unrest-vents-itself-on-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/when-social-unrest-vents-itself-on-migrants/#comments Sun, 30 Nov 2014 07:49:36 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138018 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 Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/athens-sit-in-highlights-catch-22-for-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=athens-sit-in-highlights-catch-22-for-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/athens-sit-in-highlights-catch-22-for-refugees/#comments Sat, 29 Nov 2014 13:31:13 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138012 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 Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:13:33 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137868 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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